Tucked away in the folded foothills of the Sierra Nevada, California’s Gold Country is an unforgettable destination where the state’s past, present and future come together.
This historically important region that once drew thousands of prospective gold miners from around the world is again largely undiscovered, but those who make the trip will find historical, natural and cultural treasures in El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras counties. See colossal sequoias, rappel into caverns and explore 19th century towns that are home to a new Gold Country of wine, cuisine and outdoor adventure.
History of the Gold Rush
California is the most populated state in the USA and has the eighth-largest economy in the world, but before the mid-1800s, the Golden State was just countryside with small sleepy settlements. Quiet village life, however, soon ended after gold was discovered in 1848 in the American River near Coloma.
There, James Marshall, a sawmill employee, found flakes of the precious metal in the river, sparking the California Gold Rush. The Gold Rush of 1849 led to the largest mass migration in U.S. history, as more than 300,000 gold seekers from across the USA and abroad flocked to California in hopes of striking it rich. Although gold mining started declining after 1852, settlement in California continued, and the state burgeoned into what it is today.
Mining for gold in Coloma, California
Perfect Terrain for Winemaking
Along with picks and shovels, many of the fortune seekers who came to California also brought grapevines, planting vineyards near the mines. Though the local wine industry experienced a lull once the gold petered out, it started to take off again in the 1970s, and the Sierra Foothills American Viticultural Area was approved. Now, thanks to a recent influx of creative new winemakers, Gold Country is one of the most fascinating wine regions in the West.
Zinfandel began as the region’s calling card, but in the past decade or so, winegrowers have started demonstrating the region’s full potential by planting an impressive range of varieties that do surprisingly well. At least, it's surprising to those who have never visited Gold Country.
It’s only when you visit and have the chance to travel along the narrow highways and country roads that you can fully appreciate diversity of the terrain. The foothills and valleys of El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras counties present an inspirational tapestry of microclimates, soil profiles and sun exposure for growing grapes. For winemakers, the varied terrain is like a candy store with an array of tempting choices. In fact, it’s hard to find a vineyard of eight hectares or more planted to a single variety.
This land filled with adventures in winemaking and wine tasting also holds an exciting range of activities to round out your wine-tasting day. The unique selection of outstanding wines in Gold Country is putting the region on the map, making it a must-see destination for those just getting into wine as well as oenophiles.
Wine-tasting shop in Gold Country
Among the vineyards of Amador County is the wonderfully rustic Amador Flower Farm. This incredible garden features over 1,000 varieties of daylilies and 5,5 hectares of greenery, including growing grounds, a plotted plant area and 1.6 hectares of demonstration gardens. In addition to natural wonders, Amador is rich in history. You can encounter remnants of the region’s gold-digging past in the town of Jackson during the self-guided walking tour, which leads you to 45 historic establishments.
To see more Gold Rush history, head to Gold Bug Park and Mine in El Dorado County. You can descend into the 19th century hard-rock mine, view a functioning stamp mill model, pan for gems and explore the grounds and picnic area. The county’s colorful history is also evident in downtown Placerville, where you’ll find an array of antique stores, specialty shops, galleries, and unique restaurants housed in 19th and early 20th century buildings.
In Calaveras County, Calaveras Big Trees State Park is a favorite among outdoor enthusiasts. Magnificent and awe-inspiring, this stand of giant sequoia redwood trees –some dating back nearly 2,000 years – has two hiking trails. The longer, eight-kilometer trail passes the park’s largest tree, the Agassiz, measuring 7.6 meters wide and 76 meters tall. You also won’t want to miss Moaning Cavern Adventure Park and downtown Murphys.
Redwoods in Calaveras Big Trees State Park