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Placer County's historic railroad town midway between Sacramento and Truckee offers rich history and outdoor fun

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The woodsy town of Colfax marks the transition between Central California's golden grasslands and Tahoe's high mountains. A little elevation gain makes the difference: Driving east from Sacramento, your car climbs from sea level to 2,400 feet, and a canopy of leafy oaks ushers you into Colfax. This Gold Rush–era town is rich in trees, railroad history, and outdoor recreation.  

Where to Eat in Colfax

There's something about a wide ribbon of highway that makes car passengers hungry, and Colfax's cozy downtown caters to those needs. Stave off morning crankiness with Buzz Thru Joe's array of specialty coffee drinks. For hearty appetites, Dine N Dash whips up three-egg omelets, sticky-sweet Belgian waffles, and six different versions of eggs Benedict.  

At lunch or dinner, head for pub food at TJ's Roadhouse—patty melts, garlic fries, and burgers served on homemade onion rolls. Homie Joe's Tacos tempts spicy palates with perfectly seasoned carnitas and pleasingly plump burritos, and Il Pizzaiolo bakes Neapolitan-style pizzas in an 800-degree, wood-fired oven.

What to Do in Colfax

The town’s small size makes it easy to crisscross in an afternoon. Stroll through the historic downtown district, where a series of 18 historic markers bring into focus just how enormous an impact the discovery of gold and the arrival of the railroads had on daily life here back in the mid-19th century. Visit the restored 1908 Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, which houses the Colfax Heritage Museum. Vintage ephemera salvaged from Colfax's pioneering days—farming tools, antique pharmacy bottles, children's toys—are on display, as are exhibits on the town's role in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. You'll learn why the community was named after Schuyler Colfax, U.S. vice president from 1869 to 1873. (A bronze statue of Colfax stands on Railroad Street.) 

Because the town is perched just below the snow line—the hills get a few inches once or twice a winter—you can hike Colfax's trails year-round. Just outside of town is a virtual wilderness reached only by rigorous hikes into steep canyons. Admire a stunning display of spring wildflowers along the historic Stevens Trail, which descends 3.5 miles to the North Fork American River. Take a dip at an old-fashioned swimming hole along the Codfish Creek Trail. Rent a boat, fish, and tent camp at Rollins Lake. Or just wander the oak-clad hills surrounding the Weimar Institute, where autumn turns the forest burnished gold.  

Where to Stay in Colfax

Enjoy bed-and-breakfast comforts at Sierra Sun Cloud Inn, perched on a hilltop dotted with ponderosa pines. For a modern-style stay with a tried-and-true chain, book a room at the Best Western Colfax, constructed in 2021. Or step back in time at the three-story Dutch Flat Hotel, one of the grand dames of the 19th century. Built in 1852 and lovingly restored in 2003, its nine guest rooms are filled with tasteful period antiques.

Explore Gold Rush Towns Near Colfax  

Colfax is centrally located for exploring the northern Gold Country. Head 20 minutes west on Interstate 80 to visit Auburn, a hotspot for mountain biking and endurance running. At day's end, weary athletes gather at Old Town’s bustling breweries and eateries. Or drive north on Highway 174 to artsy Grass Valley, rich in galleries and public murals. Visit Empire Mine State Park, one of California's oldest and most productive gold mines, or taste Sierra foothill wines at local vineyards LucchesiSierra Star, and Avanguardia. A few miles away, charming Nevada City looks much as it did in the 19th century, filled with Victorian buildings and broadleaf trees planted during the Gold Rush.  

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