Empire Loop  
USGS 7.5' Map: Empire
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Moderate - 7 FR 171 4.5 9,860 to 10,800 ft. Rock - 1
Water - 2
4-5 hours
County: Clear Creek
Adopted by: Mile Hi Jeep Club, Patrol 2 P.O. Box 8293
Denver, CO 80202
Managed by: Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest,
Clear Creek Ranger District
101 Chicago Creek Road
P.O. Box 3307
Idaho Springs, CO 80452
Summary: The Empire Loop 4WD road drops over the western flank of Red Elephant Hill crossing Mill Creek to the other side of the valley. It loops west, crossing Mill Creek again before returning to the ridge on Red Elephant Hill.
Attractions: Creek Crossings
Natural - closed by heavy snows.
Best Time: June - Typically snowed in
July - May still be snowed in, north facing side
August - Best
September - Best
October - Be aware of early snow storms
Trail Heads
Camping: There are dispersed camp sites on the southern part of the Empire Loop.
Base Camp: This would be a good area to base camp. Other 4WD roads in the area include Red Elephant Hill, the Bill Moore Lake, Democrate Mountain, Spring Creek, and Saxon Mountain.
Fall Colors: Very Good - There are many groves of aspen along Mill Creek.
Navigation: From I-70 westbound, take Exit 232, US Hwy 40 to Empire. Turn right on Main St. (North Empire Road) and follow the road to a parking area, approximately 1 mile.
History: North Empire was up Lion Creek about a mile above Empire at the fork where Lion Creek and North Empire Creek meet. In the fall of 1860 Henry DeWitt Clinton Cowles and Edgar Freeman discovered wire gold deposits on Eureka Mountain and Independence Mountain. Henry also discovered the first true fissure silver lode in Colorado naming it the Ida Silver. Silver Mountain was named for this discovery, but interestingly the mountain produced mostly gold with only a small amount of silver. North Empire became a tight camp crammed in the gulch along with the surrounding mines and mills.

Many mines were developed through the 1860s and 1870s. The Gold Fissure Mine was a large operation made up of five claims. Above the town was the Atlantic Mine and up the valley was the Conqueror Mine owned by Colonel John Dumont. The Conqueror mine and tunnel were developed in the 1870s. In 1910 W.S. Pryor expanded the Conqueror boarding house which sat near the mine and mill. In 1960 it still remained with its long porch and two story design. Since then it has burned down. The Benton Mine also put up a company owned boarding house for its miners.

In 1878 hydraulic mining arrived in North Empire. Timothy G. Negus, Frank M. Taylor and Robert S. Morrison organized the Empire Ditch and Placer Company to mine the soth slope of Silver Mountain. With capital of $400,000 they began washing the 40 acres owned by the company. The Negus Placer Mine produced $50,000 in 1878-1879. A few years later Judge R. E. Rombauer and Amos Morse worked the Pauline and Coupon mines with hydraulics.

In the 1890s with the mines producing large amounts of ore the Great Empire Cable Railroad Company announced plans to construct a cable railroad up the gulch from Empire to North Empire. The tracks of the Colorado Southern Railroad were extended to Empire, but the cable railroad never came to be. During the early 1900s when mining was bust, the Gold Dirt was producing enough to stay alive. In 1934 many properties merged to become the Minnesota Mines Company which created another flurry of activity until World War II when the government closed down gold mining with Order L-208.
From the parking area at the large tailing pond the road will climb up North Empire Creek for about 1.5 miles through four switchbacks passing the old mine tailings, and some building remains of the Conqueror Mine complex. After the fourth switchback the first intersection will be with a bypass up and to the left that is narrow and full of large rocks. If you stay to the right the road will continue through another switchback and reconnect with the rocky chute bypass. Just past this reconnection point will be another intersection. Continue to the left on FR 171.1. The right, FR 171.2A will loop back and dead end after about a mile.

In less than a quarter mile you will come to another intersection. Take the right onto the Empire Loop 4WD road. The left is Bill Moore Lake 4WD road, FR 183.1. Shortly you will pass through some private property before coming to another intersection. Take the right to stay on FR 171.1. The left is FR 171.3C, a connection back to FR 183.1. In just under three quarters of a mile will be another intersection. Take the left heading down to Mill Creek to stay on FR 171.1. The right is the end/start of the Red Elephant 4WD road, FR 171.3A.

The road will wind down through the trees before reaching the Mill Creek crossing. The other side will climb through the trees and within a mile pass an old log cabin. The road continues through the trees passing another building foundation before looping southwest along the edge of the James Peak Wilderness. You will drop down to Mill Creek once again and cross at an upper section of the creek. From here the road climbs back toward Red Elephant Hill. At the next intersection take the left to stay on FR 171.1. The right is FR 171.3C which connects with FR 183.1. In less than a half mile you will be back at the road you came in on, thus completing the loop.
Data updated: July 17, 2013        4WD Road driven: July 12, 2011        Copyright 4X4Explore.com - 2000-2013