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Jamestown by Jon Robson/Flickr

Gold Panning in Jamestown

Gold Panning in Jamestown
Search for treasure on your own or with a pro

It’s unbelievable but true: you can still wade into the shallows of the South Fork of the American River and find flecks of gold, just like the fortune-seeking pioneers did over a century and a half ago at Sutter’s Mill. One of the best places to do it is in Jamestown, one of California’s original Gold Rush towns. In fact, Jamestown has seen two separate gold rushes in its history: the first in 1849, and a second boom in the 1880s, when new ways of mining helped uncover more gold.

To try your hand at prospecting you don’t need much more than some simple tools, a good attitude, and a pair of water shoes or boots (old trainers work well too). Shops around town sell gold pans-ask to be shown the special swirl technique that helps separate tiny bits of gold from worthless river silt. A small trowel can also help dig up river silt for panning. Admittedly, it is hard to know what’s what in the bottom of your pan, especially with plenty of 'fool’s gold' (technically worthless iron pyrite glittering in the bottom of your pan). For better luck, plus geological and historical trivia while you search and swirl, try panning with a guide.

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Laura Flippen

Discover Gold Country

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46
January
Average (°F)
Dec - Feb
60°
High
38°
Low
Mar - May
80°
High
44°
Low
June - Aug
92°
High
56°
Low
Sept - Nov
87°
High
43°
Low

Bumping up against the west side of the Sierra Nevada Range, on California’s eastern side, the Sierra foothills that make up the Gold Country are California Classics.

Discovery of gold in 1848 sparked the largest mass migration in U.S. history, with more than 300,000 pioneers heading west.

Here, the state’s past, present, and future merge into one unforgettable destination. Pan for gold like a 49er, bike through meadow-and-oak countryside, and raft a rapid-filled river, then explore historic towns with Old West architecture and a new generation of pioneers, opening up outstanding wineries, farm-to-table restaurants, inviting shops, and charming B&Bs.

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Vacationland

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49

Cruise along the Golden Chain Highway to discover gourmet eateries, classic inns, hilltop wineries, and all sorts of history

A road trip on historic Highway 49 doesn’t simply take you from point A to point B—it also transports you to the past. Begin in Old Town Auburn...

Sep 7 - Sep 9
Rub elbows with craft-beer makers and sample all manner of California brews at this annual three-day event

Beyond being the state capital, Sacramento has staked its claim as one of California’s nerve centers for great craft beer. This annual event, first launched in 2015, further enhances...

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Courtesy of California Craft Brewers Association
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SPECIAL FEATURE
Spend a few nights in California’s prospecting past—while enjoying plenty of 21st-century comforts

It’s no coincidence that the state highway running through the Sierra Nevada foothills is number 49. This is Gold Country, where, starting in 1849, a reef of gold-bearing quartz ...

5 Classic Gold Country B&Bs
Courtesy of Hanford House Inn
SPECIAL FEATURE
Find whitewater rafting fun for all—from newbies to nerves-of-steel experts

Think of a river, and chances are you’ve got your own daydream. Maybe you want to float on inner tubes, or maybe your style is to careen through raucous rapids in an eight-person inflatable raft....

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Groveb/Getty Images
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During California's Gold Rush, over 25 million ounces of gold were mined from the Sierra Nevada foothills.
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Spotlight: Sacramento

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Golden past, bright future

Like many cities, California’s state capitol is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this...

California Auto Museum
Richard Cummins/Getty Images

California Auto Museum

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This shrine to cool motors of all types has plenty to see and do

While many museums ask visitors to look but not touch, the California Auto Museum, in Sacramento, abides by the opposite policy. “...

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Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini UFOs. Artisanal cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers’ markets...

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Laura Flippen
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Laura Flippen

Nevada City

Great food, wine, and shows find a home in the Mother Lode

This forest-wrapped hamlet of handsome Victorian-era homes and tree-lined streets 60 miles/98 kilometers northeast of Sacramento is one of the...

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From Gold Rush history to the 8th wonder of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

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Amy Meredith/Flickr
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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Auburn

Explore an ideally situated Gold Country town with a sporty side

History and modern culture merge with outdoor adventure in this appealing town on the west side of the Sierra Nevada. While Auburn has long been...

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Marshall Gold Discovery

See where the rush for gold started

Driving the sleepy stretch of winding Highway 49 between Auburn and Placerville, it’s hard to believe the region was the booming heart of one of...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Take on whitewater rapids, pan for gold and explore California history

Pluck a bit of gold from a riverbed scoured by the original ’49ers. Descend deep into the earth to check out unusual rock formations. Get your heart racing with a ride down whitewater rapids. For...

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Rob Brodman

The American River

Rush for gold, rush for adrenaline

The most popular whitewater-rafting river in the West, the American tumbles through the Gold Country, an inviting jumble of churning rapids, deep...

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Laura Flippen

Columbia State Historic Park

Step into the 1850s in this Gold Country gem

With throwback charm and a treaure trove of historic artifacts, this park presents the Gold Rush in living, breathing color. Costumed...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Elegant estates, relaxed wineries, urban tasting rooms

Elegant estates at the end of country roads lined with vineyards? Check. Low-key wineries housed in converted barns? Check again. Urban wine trails with hip in-town tasting rooms? Yup,...

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Laura Flippen

Sip Wine in the Gold Country

Sample vintages from old vines and new varietals

The roots of old Zinfandel grapevines run deep in this northeastern region of California, with winemaking here dating back to the Gold Rush days...

September

“Mountains. Magic. Music.” The tagline of this lively, four-day event says it all. Families and fans are encouraged to turn the event into a giant camping party, and there’s tons of space for...

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Courtesy of Strawberry Music Festival
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Jenny Pfeiffer

Apple Hill

Wine, beer, a bliss-out spa—and juicy, sweet apples

Autumn in the Gold Country means clear blue skies, fiery red grapevines, and an invigorating snap in the air. It’s apple season too, with more...

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Jenny Ella Pfeiffer

Moaning Cavern

Walk, climb, or rappel into a subterranean wonderland

Discovered by miners in 1851, this vertical chamber near Angels Camp is so massive it is the largest public cavern in California—big enough to...

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Jamestown

Climb aboard majestic locomotives for a cruise through the Sierra foothills

The Hollywood film industry’s attraction to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park has helped keep its steam-hissing locomotives and railroad cars...

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Sutter's Fort State Historic Park was the first permanent European settlement in the Central Valley.
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Hands-on fun for all at farms, ranches, and fields statewide

From almonds and olives up north to avocados, oranges, and dates in South, the Golden State has a crop (or 10) for nearly every stretch of terrain. After all,...

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Tai Power Seeff
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Trip 4 days 10 stops

California Gold

Whitewater Rafting, Tucked-Away Wineries
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Begin your trip in the center of the state, home to the capital city of Sacramento. Like many cities, California’s state capital is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this low-key city, with microbreweries, gastropubs, and trendy boutiques...

Gold Panning in Jamestown VCW_D_GC_T7_WellsFargo_Columbia_Flippen_Webdam-1280x642

With throwback charm and a treasure trove of historic artifacts, this park presents the Gold Rush in living, breathing color. Costumed docents do more than lead tours of this carefully preserved Mother Lode town—the state’s second largest city at the peak of the Gold Rush; they actually live and...