Just a few minutes’ drive from Boise, tucked near Lucky Peak, lies a relic of Idaho’s past. Once a gold mine owned by a prominent Boise businessman, the site is now a destination for hikers seeking a little solitude and a taste of history.
Information on Adelmann Mine — named for owner and Boise businessman Richard C. Adelmann — is sparse. Hiking website AllTrails labels the trek “Alderman Mine,” but there are no on-trail markers or signs to assure you that you’re headed in the right direction.
But the hike, which comes in around 5 miles round trip, is a moderate one if you know where to start.
A steep ascent and scenic views of the Boise mountains
The unofficial trailhead to Adelmann Mine is at the Boise River Wildlife Management Area headquarters off of Idaho 21. The entirety of the hike is on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, though Idaho Fish and Game manages the area, which serves as a critical wintering range for mule deer and other wildlife.
Krista Biorn, a wildlife biologist who manages the Boise River WMA, advises hikers to park outside the gate that leads to the headquarters to avoid having their vehicles locked inside. From the gate, head west across the property and past the WMA buildings to follow the dirt road back into the hills.
The first mile of the hike is a cinch. It follows a packed-dirt service road, with open meadows on each side.
There’s one unpleasant bit — the WMA is home to a roadkill pit where Idaho Fish and Game leaves animal remains to decompose or else be cleaned up by predators. The trail passes that pit around the 1-mile mark, so if you’re squeamish, be prepared.
The smell wasn’t too bad on a cool May evening when I hit the trail, but as the days start to get hotter (and during midday) the smell may get stronger. It’s a small site, so it doesn’t take long to get upwind of the odor.
About a mile up the trail, there is a creek. In 2016, a wildfire tore through the WMA, burning nearly 5,000 acres and leaving skeletons of trees that form an eerily beautiful archway that frames the stream as you follow it back into the hills.
Here is where the difficult terrain begins. The pathway narrows to a single track littered with loose rocks. Be sure to wear shoes with good tread — there is even more gravel near the mine.
The next mile of the trail features a background of beautiful wildflowers on the ascent of a fairly punishing uphill stretch. You’ll gain about 1,300 feet in elevation from the trailhead to the mine itself, and the bulk of that rise occurs over the second mile. The lupine, phlox and arrowleaf balsamroot are a welcome distraction from the wave of hills you’ll have to summit.
“Once you hit those higher elevations, you’ll start to see native plants and shrubs,” Biorn said. “It’s a pretty spectacular spot for native vegetation.”
With about a half-mile remaining, you’ll crest a hill and glimpse the old mine outbuilding. From here, the trail starts to even out in elevation, but watch your step — there’s a steep cliff to the right and loose rocks on the trail, which becomes a bit more narrow.
Approaching the outbuilding, the old mineshaft is on the left. Rocks have caved in and blocked off the shaft, but the metal rails that once connected the mine and outbuilding remain embedded in the trail.
Up ahead you pass a corrugated metal warehouse, cross a small stream and arrive on the gravelly strip of trail that meets the top of the outbuilding. (Neither the outbuilding nor the mineshaft is in use anymore, and the land they sit on is BLM-owned. I stuck to the trails and avoided any other buildings, including the nearby warehouse, in case they overlapped on private land.) A wood plank leads into the top of the building, though the wood is clearly very old, so I wouldn’t walk on it.
A steep, gravelly, overgrown footpath leads to the bottom of the structure, where you’ll find old mining tools and equipment left behind when operations ceased in the mid-1900s. Some of the equipment and walls are already marred by graffiti, so be careful to avoid further disturbing the site.
Seeing the old mine up close is certainly the big draw for this trail, but the nature views from the top are just as breathtaking. From 5,000 feet up, you get an unobscured view of the rolling Boise Mountains and the snowcapped peaks beyond.
If you’re looking for some solitude near the city, this trail is a great option. I encountered only one other person on the trail on a weekday afternoon.
Plan to take about 3 hours round trip from the trailhead — that’ll give you plenty of time to take in the sights at the top of the hill. Biorn said access is limited from October to the beginning of May to protect wildlife wintering there, so plan to make this a spring or summer trip.
History of the mine
The history of the Adelmann mine is murky.
“Unfortunately, mining records are not very consistent,” said Angie Davis, a library assistant with the Idaho State Historical Society.
Davis was able to trace mines in the Lucky Peak area to the Adelmann family, for whom a Downtown Boise building is still named. Richard C. Adelmann was a saloon keeper, architect and miner, according to historian Arthur Hart. He owned the “Adelmann group” of mines in the Black Hornet District.
It’s not clear exactly when the structure now referred to as Adelmann Mine was built. Old geology and mineral records show mining activity in the area dating back to 1903. Similar records list Adelmann Mine as a gold mine that also yielded silver, lead, pyrite and quartz.
The Black Hornet mines were never as fruitful as those in other parts of the state.
“The mines were discovered and worked from underground in the late 1800s and early 1900s with intermittent development work and very little production since then to about World War II,” said Virginia S. Gillerman, a research geologist with the Idaho Geological Survey. “Production overall was modest to low.”
Today, wildlife biologist Biorn said, private owners still have a claim on the area and mine it by hand for gold.
From Interstate 84, take Exit 57 toward Idaho City on Idaho 21. Head north on Idaho 21 for 10.3 miles. Hilltop Station on your left serves as a half-mile warning. Turn left toward the Boise River Wildlife Management Area offices. There are about four parking spaces outside the gate.