Gold Country California is not a single place; it is a region defined
by a by-gone era when gold fever affected the entire country. The foothills of the Sierra were the scene of frenetic activity during
the 1850’s, swelling the population and forever changing the cultural
and economic landscape. Gold country extends roughly from Nevada
City to Chinese Camp, mirroring a California Gold Rush map.
The evidence of the Gold Rush is subtle, except in the boom towns that
quickly defined the era. Highway 49 is the best route for
exploring gold country. Many side trips into the hills and
vineyards are available, as are cross points to see the many rivers
that once served the miners. Gold Country visitors can spend a
day or a week touring authentic towns, hiking in the foothills, rafting
the rivers and sipping wine in a tasting room.
Explore the history behind the California Gold Rush with our free printable map.
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