We discovered the Hiller Tunnel at Malakoff Diggins State Park purely by accident, after we had already hiked most of the Diggins Loop trail and were hot, thirsty, and tired. Our main interest at that point was in getting back to the car for lunch — but once we noticed the sign, we didn’t hesitate before turning off the main trail to hunt for the tunnel entrance. After very cautiously descending some slippery rocks toward the ditch, we still weren’t sure we were in the right place as the tunnel remained out of sight behind some boulders until we were all the way at the bottom.
Since we were visiting the park in a dry September, there was very little water in the creek bed near the entrance; but I could hear water running not far away, upstream through the trees. The Big Guy was the first one down, and he spotted a baby garter snake. By the time I arrived, it was long gone. Oh well!
The 600-foot-long Hiller Tunnel was the original drainage dug by the miners to move waste water and dirt away from the pit. However, the hydraulic mining process quickly left the pit at a lower elevation than the tunnel, so in 1872 construction began on the much longer North Bloomfield Drain Tunnel (7,874 feet).
We chose not to explore the inside of the tunnel, but it seems that plenty of other people have! One brave guy named Justin did it in the middle of winter; there was snow on the ground, and he had to wade through knee-deep water in spots. Kevin Knauss went through the tunnel “just for fun” while exploring the nearby Humbug Trail. I would really love to return to Malakoff Diggins State Park, to spend a few days hiking all the great trails (more than 20 miles worth) and enjoying the natural fragrance of fresh air and the pine forest.
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