From the historic towns of Jackson and Sutter Creek, follow winding State 26 to grinding rocks, Volcano, and mysterious mines.
Length of trip: 1 day
Total mileage: 29.9mi/48.1km
SUTTER CREEK. Morning means a jolt and cinnamon French toast at Thomi’s Coffee & Eatery , tucked into the lower level of a big white house on Main Street (40 C Hanford St.; 209-267-1108). Now go for the gold at Sutter Gold Mine , where you don a hard-hat to head deep underground for a real taste of a miner’s life. INFO (209) 267-1344; Sutter Creek Visitor’s Center
JACKSON (4.3mi/6.9km; 11 min). Follow State 49 to this history-rich (and shop-rich) town. Take a self-guided walking tour see 150-year-old cemeteries, gold and gem jewelers, former saloons, and the remarkable St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church (724 Main St). INFO (209) 267-9249; Amador Council of Tourism
VOLCANO (12.4mi/20km; 20min). Follow State 26 through dense oak forests and head north on Pioneer Volcano Rd to Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark . Go underground again, this time to look for stalactites, stalagmites, curtains, flows, and bizarre, straw-like formations called helectites. In spring, swing by Daffodil Hill on Gopher Flat/Shaker Ridge Road to see some 300,000 bulbs in bloom.
INDIAN GRINDING ROCK (1.8mi/2.8km; 4min). Follow trails to this state park’s signature stones, used by native Miwok to grind acorns. The Chaw'se Regional Indian Museum, a beautiful recreation of a traditional Indian roundhouse, displays baskets, Native American tools, and other items.?INFO (209) 296-7488; Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park
SUTTER CREEK (11.5mi/18.4km; 22 min). Finish your loop tour with a cool drink at upstairs deck of Bellotti’s , in the American Exchange Hotel. The hotel first opened in 1854 as a lodging, post office, and one of the area’s first exchange. Or try Susan’s Place , where you can sample a rotating list of Sierra Foothills wines by the glass or bottle. INFO (209) 267-1344; Sutter Creek Visitor’s Center