Once the third-largest city in California, Placerville swelled in size during the Gold Rush thanks to the precious metal found first in streambeds and rocky hillsides, and later underground. Explore the boomtown history of this El Dorado County town at Gold Bug Park and Mine. Once a working hard-rock mine, this attraction has been delighting visitors for more than 40 years with a hands-on look at the area’s motherlode-chasing past.
Located on Big Canyon Creek, the waterway where early treasure hunters panned for gold, Gold Bug Park and Mine is a 57-acre green space dotted with 19th-century structures. Guests can explore at their own pace by way of an optional self-guided audio tour or with a docent as their guide.
Hike along the streambed to trace the footsteps of Placerville prospectors who set up shop shortly after James W. Marshall struck gold in nearby Coloma in 1848—a discovery that transformed the fate of the American West. After most of the shiny nuggets had been scooped up and wealth could no longer be found in the water, mines were built to harvest gold from the rock.
Traverse the 352-foot-long horizontal shaft in Gold Bug Mine to feel the same chilled air that miners experienced nearly 200 years before and see the well-dented quartz where hundreds of pickaxes left their mark. Those opting for the guided tour can also venture into the earth at Priest Mine. Connected to Gold Bug through an air shaft, the “Priest” is thought to have earned its name as the location of regular worship services conducted by a pious prospector.
More Attractions in Gold Bug Park and Mine
While you’re in the park, visit the Joshua Hendy Stamp Mill to learn how gold was extracted from ore by way of a man-powered machine that crushed rock into dust. See both the original mill and a working reproduction as it pounds away. Don’t miss the Cornwall Mineral Collection with dozens of varieties of rare minerals, harvested from around the world. In the working blacksmith shop, watch craftspeople tend to the furnace, creating items you can purchase at the park’s gift shop.
Hike to the Meager House, the historic former summer home of William Meagher, the owner of Gold Bug’s rights, and take time to browse Hattie’s Gold Rush Museum with interpretive exhibits on mining methods and local history. Kids will love spending time at the panning toughs where they can search for gems among the rocks and river silt.
Things to Do Near Gold Bug Park and Mine
After a day at the gold mines, seek out Placerville’s other natural resource: wine. Boeger Winery and Lava Cap Winery both have tasting rooms open to the public, featuring varietals grown in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Extend your trip to explore the surrounding El Dorado County, where you’ll find seasonal food at restaurants such as Argonaut Farm to Fork Café in Coloma, craft breweries including South Lake Tahoe Brewing Co., and plentiful hiking options in El Dorado National Forest. Discover more to do in the towns near Placerville area.