History

Trail tales: Unearthing Deer Valley’s mining legends with guided history hikes

Those who join the hikes can learn about the almost 1,200 miles of tunnels and shafts beneath the nearby mountain peaks—four times more excavation than required to build the New York City subway system and the many fortunes that were made from the silver mines.

PARK CITY, Utah — This summer, step into the past and onto the trails with Deer Valley’s guided history hikes, running monthly on Sundays. These hikes are a great way to take a walk on the “wild side” of Deer Valley, where the history of mining meets the rugged beauty of the hiking trails, along with a sneak peek of explosions and natural disasters.

The Ontario Mine #3
Ontario Mine #3. Photo: TownLift

The hikes take participants on a journey through five different hiking-only trails at Deer Valley, offering a rare glimpse into the area’s storied past. One of Deer Valley’s most seasoned hiking guides, Jennifer Franklin, led TownLift on a trek starting at Ontario Mine #3. The trek included notable stops, such as the old water tank used after the great Park City fire and a peek at what remained after the great landslide over 50 years ago.

These are just a few of Franklin’s tales of the relics left behind on the ski mountain, and this is barely scratching the surface:

What's left after the landslide that took place in the 1960's. Look closely at the bottom to see the remnants of the administrator's house.
What’s left after the landslide that took place in the 1960s. Look closely at the bottom to see the remnants of the superintendent’s house.

The 1960s Landslide:
A massive landslide that occurred in 1967 and 1968 moved the superintendent’s house, and the boulders clogged a canyon. The slide’s damage remains to this day, creating a massive cliff band, giving some insight into the major geological changes that can occur in the area.

Daly West Mine Explosion of 1902:
A tragic explosion due to explosives being stored in the bottom of the mine killed 25 miners and nine more (and a horse) at another location due to noxious gasses traveling through the tunnel. This disaster prompted the adoption of a state law forbidding the underground storage of large amounts of explosives.

Unearthed Explosives (even in present-day):
During the construction of the Montage hotel in 2008, 21 cases of “weeping explosives” were found, leading to a 2.5-week construction halt and about a $3.5 million construction delay. After the discovery, the foreman called the fire department and then the bomb squad, and both said that this wasn’t a job for them. As Franklin described, they said “they wouldn’t touch that,” so they referred them to an explosives specialist from Idaho who was brought in to neutralize the threat and charged them about $1,000 per hour. 

The hikes are led by knowledgeable guides like Franklin. Franklin loves to tell fascinating stories of the land where Deer Valley now sits and share her own personal experiences from her time living in Park City (Franklin lives in her own small piece of the town’s history).

Deer Valley hiking guides Don Winsor (left) and Jennifer Franklin (right).
Deer Valley hiking guides Don Winsor (left) and Jennifer Franklin (right) stand in front of the old aerial tram towers for the mines. Photo: TownLift

For instance, until the passage of a state law in 1896, miners worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, earning $2.75 to $3.00 a day, which was relatively high compared to railroad workers. They used brass tags to check in and out, and these tags are displayed throughout the Brass Tag restaurant within the Lodges. 

Those who join the hikes can learn about the almost 1,200 miles of tunnels and shafts beneath the nearby mountain peaks—four times more excavation than required to build the New York City subway system and the many fortunes that were made from the silver mines. This includes the Hearst fortune, which was established from the Ontario mine’s profits. George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst, purchased the Ontario claim in 1872 for $27,000 and it generated $50 million in revenue.

Ontario Mine in Park City - date unknown.
Ontario Mine in Park City – date unknown. Photo: Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History

These stories and many more transport hikers to another time, allowing them to imagine a life in Park City’s colorful history.

While the Sunday monthly guided hikes are tailored to intermediate-plus hikers, Deer Valley also offers private guided hikes that accommodate all fitness levels for those seeking a more tailored experience. 

Whether you’re looking to learn about the area’s history or simply enjoy the stunning scenery, Deer Valley’s guided history hikes are a must-do this summer. The next hike takes place this Sunday, June 23, with a few spots still open. Register for the historic guided hikes on Deer Valley’s website

For more information or to book a private guided hike, visit Deer Valley’s hiking page.

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