Travel back to the Gold Rush era on Highway 49, where charming mining towns dot the route, surrounded by the panoramic vistas and bubbling streams of the western Sierra Nevada foothills. The 300-plus mile road—also known as the Gold Rush Trail and Gold Chain Highway—begins in Oakhurst before heading north to a string of historic towns that have maintained their 1850s charm.
Stop by the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa for a quick Gold Rush history lesson, and take a gander at Hotel Jeffrey, a historic spot in Coulterville that claims John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt as past visitors.
Depending on the time of year, just north of Coulterville you can head east on Highway 120, aka Tioga Pass, into Yosemite National Park (weather permitting, check current conditions for road closure information).
Or, if your journey continues north, you can dive deeper into Gold Rush history in Jamestown, either on board an antique steam locomotive at Jamestown’s Railtown 1897 State Historic Park or as you pan for gold. Continue on to Sonora, a classic Mother Lode town. Dine on New American cuisine in a Gold Rush-era building with exposed stone walls at the Diamondback Grill, or sip a sarsaparilla at nearby Columbia State Historic Park, where costumed guides lead historic tours.
Highway 49 passes through multiple counties, including Calaveras County, where a May trip would not be complete without witnessing the frog jumping contest at the Calaveras County Fair and Frog Jump Jubilee, one of the longest running events in California. To break up your drive with a thrill, strap yourself in for a zip line ride into Angels Camp’s Moaning Cavern—a chamber big enough to hold the Statue of Liberty.
For more Gold Country exploration ideas, continue your journey on the California Gold road trip.
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 pioneer, 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.
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...
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,...
Columbia State Historic Park presents the Gold Rush in living, breathing color. Costumed docents do more than lead tours of this carefully preserved Mother Lode town; they actually live and work here in a variety of period-appropriate shops and...