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Al Seib/Getty Images

South Fork American River

South Fork American River
River-raft on a Gold Country favorite, with glamping too

The South Fork of the American is the people’s river. Rafting this waterway is perfect for anyone age 7 to 77 (or more), ideal for first-timers, yet still fun for repeaters. This Class II-III paddle provides a thrill or two—like the infamous Troublemaker rapid—but there’s little chance of bouncing out of your raft. (And if you do, it’s usually nothing more than a refreshing dunk and no-big-deal hoist back into the raft.) This quintessentially Californian trip even includes a Golden State history lesson: The river runs right past the spot where the 1849 Gold Rush began, at Sutter's Mill in Coloma.

A slew of companies guides half- and full-day trips on the South Fork, with trips offered April into September. For a spoil-yourself twist, consider joining a two-day trip with EarthTrek Expeditions, which will set you up in a riverfront tent with comfy cots (bring your own sleeping bag). Conquer the South Fork’s Lower Gorge on Day 1, and you’ll be ready for the wilder eight-mile Upper Gorge on Day 2, where rapids like Triple Threat and Meatgrinder leave you dripping wet and grinning from ear to ear. Your guides cook and serve you meals, including a Wild West barbecue on weekend trips. It’s your job to relax and take in the sunset from your cabin’s deck, which juts out over the river.

Another luxurious way to paddle the South Fork is on American Whitewater Expeditions' two-day excursion. Taste wines at premiere El Dorado County vineyards on one day and go rafting on the next. Meals and camping are included.

Valley in California's Gold Country
Laura Flippen

Central California

Discover Gold Country

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12
March
Average (°C)
Mar - May
26°
High
6°
Low
June - Aug
33°
High
13°
Low
Sept - Nov
30°
High
6°
Low
Mar - May
26°
High
6°
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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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 capital is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this...

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Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

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

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Laura Flippen
July

Back in 1854, the first California State Fair was held in San Francisco, with the cows standing on display in Mission Dolores. The fair moved to Sacramento for good a few years later, but the...

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Lucas Himovitz
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A Shop Owner in the California Gold Country town of Nevada City,
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 north-east of...

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Lorres Gold Mine

Empire Mine State Historic Park

Tour a Gold Rush mansion then go underground

Get a one-two punch of experiences with a visit to this remarkable site in Grass Valley, roughly 60 miles north-east of Sacramento. First, spend...

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From Gold Rush history to 8th wonders 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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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 white water-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 throw-back charm and a mine-full of historic artefacts, this park presents the Gold Rush in living, breathing colour. Costumed docents...

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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 north-eastern region of California, with wine making here dating back to the Gold Rush days...

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Jenny Martin

Murphys

Explore a blossoming country town with big-city appeal

Like San Francisco in the mid-1800s, Murphys was one of California’s richest boom towns, but this appealing town in Calaveras County still feels...

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 than...

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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...

Jamestown's Railtown 1897

Jamestown

Climb aboard majestic locomotives for a cruise through the Sierra foothills

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...

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Sutter's Fort State Historic Park was the first permanent European settlement in the Central Valley.
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Amazing Agritourism Experiences

From almonds and olives up north to avocados, oranges, and dates in the 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-...

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 that status...

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Courtesy of California Craft Brewers Association
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