With all the glitz and gloss that's part of the modern Colorado mountain resort scene, it's sometimes hard to imagine that Summit County's towns were all founded by gritty mountain men who scraped at the mountains with picks and shovels and hand-blasted daring tunnels in their quest for gold.
But it's easy to get in touch with the area's history thanks to the hard work of local nonprofit groups dedicated to preserving what's left of that era, from remnant railroad tracks and trestles, to quaint one-room school houses and historic cabins.
Here are a few spots to get you started exploring Summit County's heritage:
- Just a few miles from Copper Mountain, the award-winning Frisco Historic Park and Museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting the town’s heritage and history.
Headquartered in a Main Street schoolhouse that's on the National Register of Historic Places, the historic park is the ideal place to trace how Frisco evolved a from trapper camp to mining and railroad boomtown, then shrunk back to a nearly deserted shell, and boomed again with the advent of recreational skiing.
Wandering around the old log cabins offers a glimpse at what life was like back in the hardscrabble years, and shady grassy areas tucked away along the back alleys are perfect for a picnic.
From mid-June to late August, the park features lively Wednesday lunchtime talks, each covering different historic topics, and this summer, there are three scheduled free town tours focusing on Frisco's history (June 21, July 19 and Aug. 16). Meet at the Schoolhouse Museum on Main Street at 10 a.m. for the town tours.
Two other big history themed events are coming up in the next few weeks. On July 6, Frisco celebrates Founder's Day, with gold panning, burro rides, historical re-enactments and live music at the park's gazebo.
And July 11, a Mark Twain character will join Dr. Colorado (Tom Noel) for a presentation on Colorado's legendary historical creatures, including fur-bearing trout and jackalopes.
- For a real taste of what it was like to work underground in search of gold, visit the Country Boy Mine, near Breckenridge, where you might even find your own nugget when you pan for gold in the waters of Eureka Creek.
The mine tours start every hour on the hour and take you deep into the ground, showing how the miners shored up their tunnels with giant logs and blasted through solid rock to pry the gold-bearing ore from the bowels of the mountain.
Visit the Summit Historical Society online for more information on historic sites, museums and tours, and if you like this story, send a message on Twitter to @CopperCondos, and we'll write more about Summit County history. If you're planning trip to the high country, browse our rental page for great deals on condos at Copper Mountain and Frisco.