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Flat agricultural lands of the Central Valley meet the rounded Sierra foothills


Scenic Drives  · Historic Gold Country

Historic Gold Country - Highway 49 - Sacramento - Nevada City - Sutter Creek - Jackson - Sonora

Gold Country California is not a single place; it is a region defined by a by-gone era when gold fever affected the entire country. The foothills of the Sierra were the scene of frenetic activity during the 1850’s, swelling the population and forever changing the cultural and economic landscape. Gold country extends roughly from Nevada City to Chinese Camp, mirroring a California Gold Rush map.  
The evidence of the Gold Rush is subtle, except in the boom towns that quickly defined the era. Highway 49 is the best route for exploring gold country. Many side trips into the hills and vineyards are available, as are cross points to see the many rivers that once served the miners. Gold Country visitors can spend a day or a week touring authentic towns, hiking in the foothills, rafting the rivers and sipping wine in a tasting room.

Explore the history behind the California Gold Rush with our free printable map.

Historic Gold Country Scenic Drives

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Scenic Drive Index Print/Zoom

SCENIC DRIVES: The hunt for gold in the 1840’s transformed a large section of the Sierra foothills. Today, historic towns (ghost and otherwise), mines and museums cover a region almost 150 miles long. Highway 49 is the north/south spine, offering an easy route to follow, loaded with interesting diversions. Now, many of the towns are agricultural centers or retirement communities but it is not hard to find evidence of Gold Rush-era life. Wineries, some new and some revitalized, dot the hillsides – many with tours, picnic areas or tastings.

The most notable towns are Sutter Creek, Downieville, Columbia, Grass Valley, Jamestown, Murphys, Nevada City, Sonora and Nevada City.

You can pick up 49 anywhere along the route. Starting in Nevada City, this well-preserved Gold Rush town has numerous inns and guesthouses as well as an easily walkable center of town. Head south to visit the Empire Mine State Historic Park where you’ll get a taste of what the big mining operations were all about.

At Coloma, stop for a visit to another state park, Marshall Gold Discovery (where you may try panning for gold yourself) or to connect with outfitters for river rafting trips on the American River. Further south, Placerville’s Main Street still retains buildings from the 1850’s.

SIDETRIP: At Plymouth, take E16 up into the hills to visit the many wineries in the area, many of which offer tours, tastings and picnic grounds.

Back on 49, a string of small mining-related historic towns Amador City, Sutter Creek, Jackson, Mokelumne Hill, San Andreas, Angels Camp, Altaville, Columbia, Sonora, and Jamestown all offer visitors a different taste of life 150 years ago. Some have more services or authenticity than other’s but each is worth a stop. For a really different version of the Gold Rush experience, stop at Chinese Camp, now a ghost town.

SIDETRIP: Take Highway 88 towards Volcano and Pioneer to visit Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park (sacred grounds of the Miwok Indians) or stop at Volcano to see an unrestored Gold Rush town.

SIDETRIP: At Altaville, take Highway 4 towards Murphys and Arnold. Murphys is a lovely little town near two famous caverns open to visitors. Or, stop for another small collection of wineries on the way (or contact the Calaveras Wine Association). The big attraction here is nature – the peaceful groves of giant sequoia trees with hiking trails and campsites.


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A miner panning for gold during California's "Gold Rush"

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