California

Gold Country

The epicenter of California history is in Gold Country, and it still entices visitors to the area today. Get a feel for old California as you visit historic gold towns and museums nestled in the Sierra foothills. But it’s not just about old California; you’ll experience some of the best winemakers and farm to table advocates around. The food and wine culture they are cultivating is the real 'gold' in Gold Country.

The varied landscape of rolling hills, forests, caves, and fast rivers means it’s also an adventurer’s paradise. Get your adrenaline pumping while squeezing through caves, rafting down swift rivers, hiking the hills, or simply going for a drive on the rolling Gold Rush Trail. Gold Country always has, and still does, speak to the adventurous spirit.

Main Photo © Kirsten Alana

Adventure Highlights

Go white water rafting on the South Fork of the American River.

Explore the seldom seen helictites in Gold Country’s Black Chasm Cavern on a hour long exploratory walk deep underground.

With rolling hills and elevation changes from 900 feet to 9000 feet, Gold Country is a hiker’s paradise.

Step off the platform, race your friends, and zoom across the beautiful Gold Country foothills at speeds up to 35 miles an hour, in a 1/4 mile zip line race to the landing tower.

Strike it rich and try you hand at gold panning on the South Fork of the American River in Coloma.

Visit Amador City’s Whitney museum dedicated solely to telling the adventurous stories of women during the gold rush.

Ride a historic steam train at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.

Go on an underground caving expedition and daringly explore by climbing, belly crawling, and trudging through knee-deep cave clay with lighted helmets to show the way.

Photo © Kirsten Alana
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Destination Facts

  • The Gold Rush sparked the biggest mass migration in the history of the world. Between 1848 and 1852, California's population grew from 14,000 to 223,000.
  • At 143 years of age, the Original Grandpere Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills is the oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in California.
  • The state motto is “Eureka!”, a Greek word translated "I have found it!" The motto was adopted in 1849 and originates from the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada.
  • El Dorado County is home to more than 70 grape varieties, 2,000 acres of grape vines, and has been producing wine for 170 years!
  • There was a Civil War ‘battle’ fought in the little gold rush town of Volcano in Amador County. The canon used (but never fired) is on display in the town today.
  • The Sierra foothills range in altitude from 1,200 to 3,200 feet creating hundreds of microclimates.
  • Inside Black Chasm Cavern you’ll find formations called “soda straws”, rippling flowstones in arrays, and the exceedingly rare helictites.
  • More than 80% of the gold in Mother Lode is still yet to be found, making gold panning in the region even more enticing!
  • The South Fork of the American River boasts the most popular whitewater rafting and kayaking west of the Rockies.
  • The historic Country Store in the gold rush town of Volcano is the oldest continuous operating market in California since 1852.
  • Amador County was first Hispanic county in California.
  • In Volcano you’ll find a multitude of California “firsts”: First theater group, first private school, first law school, first legal hanging in Amador County, and the first astronomical observatory in California.

Road-Trip Itinerary

If you are coming from the High Sierra region, Gold Country is a great place to add some days onto your Mountain itinerary and get exposed to the Sierra foothills, as well as a dose of California history. After all of those high mountain adventures, slow down and enjoy some of the top culinary experiences in the region. Gold Country is easily accessible from Sacramento airport. You don’t have to drive far out of Sacramento to start finding the hidden gems of Gold Country, starting with Gold Rush Trail.

Day 1

From Sacramento, start in the southern part of Gold Country and step back into time on a steam locomotive. Stop at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park for a ride on a historic steam engine train through the foothills of Gold Country. For those who want a real hands-on experience try their ‘crew for a day’ tour! Head east and breath in the fresh pine air and get a taste of Yosemite with a stay at the Rush Creek Lodge. Hike around the area, and be sure to make up some signature S’mores at the fire pit before turning in. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 2

Drive north up historic highway 49 also known as Gold Rush Trail. Wind through the heart of Gold Country stopping at little towns along the way. This route connects all of the historic gold towns. Stop at California Cavern near San Andreas and get ready to walk, crawl, squeeze, and trudge through the historic “Mammoth Cave”. If you are looking for a more laid back cave adventure then head to Black Chasm Cavern further up Highway 49 near Volcano. Here you simply walk through the cave on a path and stop at a series of viewing platforms. It’s here where you’ll find the incredible collection of rare helictites. And if you are lucky you may even get a “cave kiss”; the seeping droplets of water that continue to sculpt this underground masterpiece. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 3

The town of Volcano may be small with only 130 people, but it’s rich with history. Wander around the Gold Rush-era buildings with signs indicating their historic significance and be sure to stop at the Civil War canon as well as the old theatre building and general store. Step back in time at the refurbished St. George Hotel, and keep your eyes peeled for ghosts. Have lunch at Volcano Union Inn and be treated to some of the most delicious wine and food pairings highlighting local foods and wines. After lunch get a little ‘wine’derlust and explore El Dorado wine country. There's an old stigma that it's too hot to grow good grapes in Gold Country, however wineries like Grace Patriot Wines are shattering that stigma and producing award-winning wines that you can’t miss! Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 4

Get ready to scream today as you do the ultimate Gold Country adventure, white water rafting on the American River! They will furnish everything you need, all you have to do is paddle. After a morning of taking on the rapids, head into the historic town of Coloma and grab some lunch at the Argonaut Café for some delicious farm to table food in a relaxing environment near the river. Stop in at the Gold Discovery Museum and Visitor Center to learn all about the first discovery of gold in the area. Then end your day trying to strike it rich by working on your gold panning technique on the northeast shore of the river by the Mt. Murphy Road Bridge. Photo © Kirsten Alana