See how California’s 1849 gold discovery transformed the
countryside throughout the central Sierra foothills. Highway 49 runs
straight through California Gold Country from Nevada City to Chinese
Camp. The service towns, mines and mills boomed and then crashed in a
dramatic cycle still evident in the region.
© Paige Falk
Panning for ore in the Sierra foothills made many Gold Rush miners rich.
Explore Gold Country by following Highway 49 and the smaller roads into
the foothills to the east. You will also find hiking trails,
rafting rivers, wineries and small orchards in the hills. Many
small inns and restored hotels along the route offer accommodations,
often with a historic theme.
Some of the highlights of this destination include:
Attractions: Numerous Gold Rush-era towns, wineries, Moaning Caverns
Towns: Sacramento, Nevada City, Placerville, Sutter Creek, Amador
City, Volcano, Jackson, Mokelumne Hill, Angels Camp, Arnold, Murphys,
Columbia, Sonora, Jamestown, Chinese Camp
Lakes and Rivers: Folsom Lake, American River, Mokelumne River, Cosumnes River
National Forests: Tahoe National Forest, El Dorado National Forest
State Parks: Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, Marshall
Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Calaveras Big Trees State Park,
Columbia State Historic Park
SCENIC DRIVES: The hunt for gold in the 1840’s transformed a large section of the
Sierra foothills. Today, historic towns (ghost and otherwise),
mines and museums cover a region almost 150 miles long. Highway
49 is the north/south spine, offering an easy route to follow, loaded
with interesting diversions. Now, many of the towns are
agricultural centers or retirement communities but it is not hard to
find evidence of Gold Rush-era life. Wineries, some new and some
revitalized, dot the hillsides – many with tours, picnic areas or
The most notable towns are Sutter Creek, Downieville, Columbia, Grass
Valley, Jamestown, Murphys, Nevada City, Sonora and Nevada City.
You can pick up 49 anywhere along the route. Starting in Nevada
City, this well-preserved Gold Rush town has numerous inns and
guesthouses as well as an easily walkable center of town. Head
south to visit the Empire Mine State Historic Park where you’ll get a
taste of what the big mining operations were all about.
At Coloma, stop for a visit to another state park, Marshall Gold
Discovery (where you may try panning for gold yourself) or to connect
with outfitters for river rafting trips on the American River. Further
south, Placerville’s Main Street still retains buildings from the
SIDETRIP: At Plymouth, take E16 up into the hills to visit the
many wineries in the area, many of which offer tours, tastings and
Back on 49, a string of small mining-related historic towns Amador
City, Sutter Creek, Jackson, Mokelumne Hill, San Andreas, Angels Camp,
Altaville, Columbia, Sonora, and Jamestown all offer visitors a
different taste of life 150 years ago. Some have more services or
authenticity than other’s but each is worth a stop. For a really
different version of the Gold Rush experience, stop at Chinese Camp,
now a ghost town.
SIDETRIP: Take Highway 88 towards Volcano and Pioneer to visit
Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park (sacred grounds of the Miwok
Indians) or stop at Volcano to see an unrestored Gold Rush town.
SIDETRIP: At Altaville, take Highway 4 towards Murphys and
Arnold. Murphys is a lovely little town near two famous caverns open to
visitors. Or, stop for another small collection of wineries on the way
(or contact the Calaveras Wine Association). The big attraction here is
nature – the peaceful groves of giant sequoia trees with hiking trails