California Gold Country Day Trip
Nestled between the High Sierra and the Central Valley you will find California’s Gold Country. The ten counties that make up this region of the state offer rustic towns that began as small mining camps. Today these same towns are a perfect place to discover the Golden States colorful past. Historic museums, state parks, walking tours, scenic drives, gold panning , mine tours are just a few of the activities that await the traveler to Gold Country.
Tuolumne County is steeped in history, with numerous historic Gold Rush towns to visit that transport you to the Old West. These towns, however, are not relics of the past. They are still alive and kicking, and you can learn about what makes them breathe and thrive today, as well as their fascinating past.
Sutter Creek is the Gold Country’s greatest walkable town. On foot, there are many reminders of the great Gold Rush era, such as Knight Foundry, the Sutter Creek Cemetery, and Preston Castle — one of the earliest and best reform schools in the United States.
The Sutter Gold Mine is located in the Sierra Nevada Foothills of Northern California’s gold country. Sutter Gold Mine is specifically located on Highway 49, north of Sutter Creek and south of Amador City. This little gem is worth a family visit and is only a short drive from Sacramento or a couple hours from the Bay Area. Lincoln Mine is one of several historic mines near Sutter Gold Mine. Leland Stanford was able to use the profits from this mine to help fund the Central Pacific Railroad and, later, Stanford University.
Black Chasm National Natural Landmark
A 3,000 square foot Visitors Center provides information on Black Chasm. The 50-minute Tour follows a series of platforms, stairs and walkways. Walking Tours are a great way for visitors of all ages to learn about the Black Chasm Cavern. A wooden walkway has been built to take you through the cavern’s main room and show off the unique rock formations hanging from the ceiling.
North Star Powerhouse Mining Museum
10933 Allison Ranch Road, Grass Valley, CA 95949
Displays of mining equipment and artifacts from the 1880’s. The Empire Mine State Historic Park is the site of the oldest, richest, hard rock gold mine in California.
Among the many antique items on display are a working stamp mill and the world’s largest Pelton wheel, a waterwheel that provided power to the North Star Mine from the creek. A large photo collection traces mining history, and there are hands-on demos for children. On the lawn beside an old powerhouse on Wolf Creek, there’s a lovely, shady spot for a picnic.
Historic Kennedy Gold Mine
12594 Kennedy Mine Rd, Jackson, CA 95642
The mine is famous for being one of the deepest gold mines in the world. One of the tallest head frames in existence today can be seen at the Kennedy Mine. See the stamp and gold recovery mill, tailing wheels and a steam boiler.
According to the California Department of Conservation, the Kennedy Gold Mine was discovered in 1860, reorganized in 1886, and operated continuously until 1942, producing approximately $34,280,000 in gold. The Kennedy Mine is home to one of the world’s tallest head frames. The mine also had one of the largest stamp mills in the Mother Lode, which moved tailings using massive wooden wheels, some of which are still standing today.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park
1170 CA-4, Arnold, CA 95223
The park features spectacular groves of giant sequoias in their natural setting. Activities include cross-country skiing, hiking, mountain biking and bird watching.
Calaveras Park is intended to be a park for all weather conditions and is open all year. Some park facilities are closed during certain seasons of the year, particularly winter. Even in the dead of winter, there are opportunities for adventure.
The Discovery Tree, located near the beginning of the North Grove loop, should not be overlooked. Though it’s actually a massive stump, the sight of this helipad-sized remnant leaves a lasting impression on many. The tree was still standing when expeditions from the east coast first reported on it in 1852, but it was cut down within a year. The widely publicized felling provoked controversy and was a major catalyst for the conservation movement.
Ironstone Vineyards Heritage Museum
1894 6 Mile Rd, Murphys, CA 95247
Ironstone’s Heritage Museum has the largest Crystalline Gold Leaf specimen in the world. Also features a vast display of natural gold specimens acquired from modern-day prospectors.
The Heritage Museum, established as a tribute to the Gold Rush, displays treasures from the 19th century gold mining era as well as Miwoks (the early Native American inhabitants who lived in this area). This wonderful collection contains, to name a few items, photos, mining maps, and personal articles carried from “Old Countries” all over the world.
The Heritage Museum also has a large collection of natural gold specimens from modern-day prospectors who are still active in the Sierra Foothills. Visitors to the museum can purchase a wide range of books and instructional resources, as well as Gold Rush-era artifacts and souvenirs.
Historic Grass Valley
The town of Grass Valley is located in Northern California, in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Foothills. This is a genuine California Gold Rush town with a rich history. Grass Valley is both traditional and eccentric, making it well worth a visit.
Grass Valley’s claim to historic fame is embedded in the vast amounts of gold discovered and extracted from its rich underground mines. Many interesting mining towns to visit.
The historic downtown area has a diverse selection of stores, the majority of which are independently owned. There is also a historic landmark hotel and some tasty restaurants in town. There are also numerous outdoor activities nearby.
There are historic landmarks all through town that date back to the days of the Gold Rush. There are gold rush artifacts, mining equipment, and supplies used to crush tons of gold during its heyday. As you walk around town, you’ll notice these interesting artifacts in both the downtown area and on residential streets.
Nevada County Traction Company
402 Railroad Avenue Nevada City, CA 95959
Board a Train for a half hour ride to History Hill where a tour guide takes you through the Chinese Cemetery. The three mile ride takes you through 15 acres of trees.
John Martin founded the Nevada County Traction Company in 1901. The first 70-pound rails were installed three weeks after construction began on June 1, 1901. Glenbrook, the line’s midpoint, received a power generation plant and a three-stall car barn. The route, which opened in October 1901, ran from Boston Ravine up Mill Street to East Main Street in Grass Valley, then over Spring Hill to Glenbrook, on to Sacramento Street, turning left and ending on Broad Street in Nevada City. A total of $217,000 was spent on five miles of track, four cars, a service car, and the power plant-car barn. The one-way fare was a nickel.
One of the most visually appealing and intriguing Gold Country towns, with excellent shopping on Main and Commercial streets. The historic district, including 93 buildings, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nevada City is among the most interesting of California Gold Rush towns.
Admire the Nevada Theatre, which was built in 1865, and the Instagram-worthy Firehouse No. 1, which was built in 1861 and now houses a museum highlighting local history. The National Hotel is the state’s oldest surviving operating hotel.
Empire Mine State Historic Park
The oldest, largest, and richest gold mine in California. The Empire Mine State Historic Park offers a variety of different tours. A new underground tour opens soon. The 853-acre state historic park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains has been preserved since 1975 and has been frozen in time for visitors to see and explore. A visitor center is located within the park, as are many of the mine’s original buildings, including the restored gardens and historic home of former mine owner — William Bourn, Jr.
Visitors can walk through the mine yard and even descend 50 feet into the mine shaft entrance, which contains an incredible 367 miles of abandoned and flooded shafts/tunnels. The main shaft is said to be 11,000 feet long and a mile underground.
This little foothill town was founded in 1848 and two years later Placer gold was discovered. Angels Camp is built on hills honeycombed with mine tunnels. “Home of the Jumping Frog”.
Angels Camp is a welcoming community of about 3,000 people. The town is a great day trip for learning about California’s Gold Rush history. The town has been designated as California Historical Landmark No. 28. It is well-known for its gravel mining and as one of the Mother Lode’s most productive quartz mining sections.
A small Gold Rush town located in Tuolumne county. There are antiques, steam train rides, gifts, souvenirs and gold panning. From the architectural style of its buildings along Main Street to Railtown, a state park that has sustained a still-functioning steam locomotive repair and maintenance facility, California’s past lives on in Jamestown 1897 State Historic Park.
The Historic National Hotel in Jamestown was built in 1859 and has survived two devastating fires as well as several renovations over the years. It was a speakeasy during prohibition, a brothel, a gambling parlor, and is now a hotel with a resident ghost named Flo.
Gold Bug Park & Mine
2635 Gold Bug Ln, Placerville, CA 95667
Located in Placerville You can go underground into this historical gold mine. Discover first hand just what hard-rock gold mining was like. The mine tour lasts about 30 minutes, and you simply walk through the mine, stopping at each number, and then playing the app to learn about each one.
El Dorado County Historical Museum
104 Placerville Dr, Placerville, CA 95667
Located just north of Highway 50, the museum features displays and artifacts from El Dorado County’s history. An authentic wheelbarrow built by John Studebaker at a small shop in Placerville is one of the most famous items on display. John, like his brothers, was a wagon maker by trade. One of their wagons is also on display at the museum. After spending time in California building wheelbarrows for miners, “Wheelbarrow Johnny” returned home and founded the Studebaker automobile company with his brothers.
Although mining managed to bring many people to California, once the gold ran out, those who stayed became loggers, cattle and sheep ranchers, dairymen, fruit growers and vintners, and others. Several exhibits expand on the story.
California State Mining and Mineral Museum
A collection of over 13,000 mineral specimens. The Fricot “Nugget”, a rare specimen of crystallized gold discovered in t 1864 is on display at the museum.
The museum is committed to educating families and students about the significance of mining and minerals in our history, environment, and future. They provide free activities for kids and youth groups, such as our Junior Ranger Program.
Every year, they also give hundreds of students school tours about geology, rocks and minerals, the gold rush, and mining history. Teachers and youth groups are encouraged to contact the museum about our free, hands-on, fun, and educational programs, which also support California state curriculum standards. Custom tours can also be organized for large groups.