Gold Country is a region that spans more than 100 miles along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
In 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter's sawmill along the American River. Word quickly spread to the east with tales of easy riches just waiting to be plucked off the ground. This prompted a massive and expedient migration to the west in what is now known as the '1849 Gold Rush'.
Very few gained the wealth that was expected and instead found hardship and struggle in the many shanty towns that popped up along the Sierra foothills. After most of the gold was panned, sluiced, mined and stripped from the hills, many of these '49ers' either returned back home or headed to San Francisco for city life and stable income. Today, Gold Country follows Highway 49 from Nevada City in the north all the way down south of Yosemite. Many of the original mining camps remain as historic towns like Grass Valley, Auburn, Placerville, Jackson, Angels Camp, Jamestown and many more.
All of these towns feature original Victorian homes, historic
hotels and a plethora of historic sites. In addition, not only does
Gold Country retain a rich gold-mining past, but it also offers many
other attractions including recreational lakes, natural caverns,
giant sequoias, Native-American sites, wineries and much more.
The northernmost towns include Grass Valley, Nevada City and Auburn. All three are accessible from Interstate 80 between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. Visit what was once the largest and richest gold mine at Empire Mine State Historic Park. Visitors can join a tour and actually enter the mine for an eye-opening glimpse into the life of an 1800's miner. Visit Cousin Jack's Pasties in Grass Valley for a taste of traditional miner fare.
The Holbrooke Hotel is one of the
oldest hotels in the region and is a Registered Historic Landmark.
Directly off Interstate 80 is the town of Auburn where you'll find a
quaint, historic portion of town and the county courthouse that today
serves as the County Museum. Just a short distant south on Highway 49
lands you at Auburn State Recreation Area where there is a
picturesque bridge along the American River and great opportunities
for hiking, swimming, whitewater rafting, gold panning, fishing,
camping and much more.
Heading south on Highway 49 through Cool, California you'll find Coloma, perhaps the most historic point in all of California. Marshall's Gold Discovery State Historic Park is in Coloma where, in 1848, James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's sawmill.
There you'll find a museum of historic artifacts, portions of the original town and a reproduction of Sutter's mill situated in the original location along the American River. Further south where Highway 49 intersects Highway 50 is Placerville. Originally known as 'Hangtown', it was renamed Placerville to honor the gold panners that were referred to as 'placer miners' back in the day.
Peruse the shops and historic buildings of downtown Placerville.
Stay in the historic Carey House Hotel on Main Street and enjoy a
gourmet pot pie at Z-Pie. Step into an original Gold Country gold
mine at Gold Bug Historic Park and try your hand at gold panning.
Visit a local winery or head up Highway 50 to Apple Hill for some
country-fresh produce and homemade apple pie.
Continuing south on Highway 49, there are several small towns worth stopping at to explore including Plymouth, Drytown and Sutter Creek. At the intersection of Highways 49 and 88 is Jackson where there are multiple sites to visit. Visit the Kennedy Mine for a view of a large-scale mining operation. Several recreational lakes are just west of Jackson and offer opportunities for boating, swimming, water skiing, fishing, camping and more.
Head up Highway 88 to Indian
Grinding Rocks State Historic Park to see the largest Indian mortar
rock in all of North America. Join a tour that heads deep inside a
gold mine at Sutter Gold Mine. Visit one of several local caverns
including Black Chasm and Masonic Caves. Black Chasm features an
underground lake worth seeing. Every year beginning in March,
Daffodil Hill opens to the public for one month and offers viewing of
over 4 acres of blooming daffodils. Feeling lucky? - try your hand at
the Jackson Rancheria Indian Casino.
Further south on Highway 49 lands you at our favorite Gold Country region. If you only plan to visit Gold Country once in your life, the region encompassing Angels Camp, Murphys, Sonora and Jamestown is where you should go.
Angels Camp lays claim to the only movie theatre in Gold Country, which was once used to entertain miners with dancing girls and theatrical plays. Every year the Calaveras County Fair hosts their frog jump contest at the fairgrounds just outside of Angels Camp. This contest was made famous when Mark Twain wrote a short story about the event called, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County". Main Street has a 'Walk of Fame' where winning frogs are forever memorialized with brass plaques, similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The nearby town of Murphys has a historic hotel and bar where bullet holes can still be found in the walls and ceiling dating back to the 49er days.
Murphys is the hub for Sierra Foothill wineries and
has tasting rooms along Main Street for just about every local
winery. Nearby is Calaveras Big Trees State Park, which features a
protected grove of giant sequoias and campgrounds. Several caverns
await adventurous explorers including California Cavern, Mercer
Caverns and Moaning Cavern. Moaning Cavern offers a rope repel of 165
feet to the cave floor. To the west of Angels Camp, New Melones Lake
offers opportunities for boating, swimming, water skiing, fishing,
camping and more.
Between Angels Camp and Sonora is Columbia State Historic Park. Columbia represents a gold town as it would've been during the 49er era. Park employees dress in period clothing and perform duties like candlestick making, blacksmith and stagecoach driving. Visitors are welcome to try their hand at many trades of the period. Stagecoach rides are available and two historic hotels offer stay within the park for definitely the most authentic 1800's experience in Gold Country. Just a few more miles down the road is Jamestown where you'll discovery Railtown 1849 State Historic Park.
Original steam trains are on display along with an authentic station.
Take a ride on an original steam engine train that once supplied
timber to the local gold mines. Jamestown also has two historic
hotels worth considering for your stay, the National or Jamestown
Hotels. One even claims to have a resident ghost.
Gold Country is our favorite region in California for its history, beauty, accessibility and endless recreational activities. With an average altitude of 1,500 feet, it has a temperate climate where snow is a rarity. It is centrally located between big cities like Sacramento and Fresno and vacation hotspots like Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. Because of their locations off of major highways connecting Sacramento to Lake Tahoe, Auburn and Placerville can become extremely congested during the summer months and on weekends.
these times may benefit your overall experience in these towns. The
residents of Gold Country are welcoming and eager share their
knowledge. You think all the gold was mined out of here in the 1800s?
Think again - gold panning is still available throughout the region
and plenty of gold is still being found. Be sure to converse with the
local shop owners to get details and tips if you plan on trying your
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