Exploring California’s Gold Rush Country

Sierra Foothills Skiing and Gold Country
Left photo by Corey Rich / Top right photo courtesy Heavenly Ski / Bottom right photo Shutterstock

California’s Gold Rush swept throughout the Sierra Foothills, as evidenced in the colorful names that remain, from Angels Camp to Copperopolis. Today, Highway 49 meanders past historical sites as well as winery tasting rooms. 

Start at Marshall Gold Discovery Park in Coloma, where in 1848, James Marshall first noticed shiny flakes in a sawmill tailrace. Soon, nearly 100,000 would-be gold diggers descended on the area to seek their fortune—many didn’t make a cent. 

Today, visitors can try gold panning at Sutter’s Mill and other locales. Columbia State Park near Sonora preserves a Gold Rush-era town with shops and restaurants.

Delve beneath the surface at underground mines and caves. A national natural landmark, Black Chasm Cavern near Volcano was used for scenes in the movie The Matrix Reloaded. In addition to viewing stalactites and stalagmites, visitors can try geode cracking and gemstone mining.

The Statue of Liberty could fit inside Moaning Cavern Adventure Park near Murphys. Three-hour caving adventures offer options of hard-hat rope rappels and zip lines. California Cavern State Historic Landmark in Mountain Ranch holds rare beaded helictites. Spelunkers can test their inner-world mettle by trekking through the knee-deep, sticky clay.

Photo courtesy California State Parks

And Don’t Miss…

Upper Amador County hooks into Highway 50 toward Lake Tahoe. In winter, snow sports fans schuss the slopes of top resorts, including Heavenly, Kirkwood, and Sierra-at-Tahoe. In Calaveras County, 1,680-acreBear Valley Mountain and Lodge provides family-friendly skiing and snowboarding.

Come summer, Get On Your Mark Cycling in Murphys features bicycling excursions with vineyard tours. For rugged terrain, mountain bikers and hikers head to Carson-Iceberg within the Stanislaus National Forest near Markleeville, or follow the Mokelumne Coast to Crest Trail. 

The American River, site of Marshall’s original gold find, roils with whitewater rafting thrills from April to September. O.A.R.S. runs the Class III rapids on the American’s South Fork, including gourmet adventures with regional wines.

Published on November 24, 2015
Topics: California Travel GuideTravel