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Getaway Guide: Exploring California Gold Country

October 5, 2012 10:30 AM

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gold country big trees header Getaway Guide: Exploring California Gold Country

(credit: Kristi Marcelle)


The California Gold Rush started in 1848 when John Marshall discovered gold in the town of Sutter’s Mill. By 1849 droves of people streamed West in search of the mother lode. These miners or 49ers as they were called, settled into the towns in the Sierra Mountains and river valleys. Today, these towns are the gateway to wineries, antique shops, historical sites, and cave, mine and gold panning tours and adventures.

Getting There

Several different counties make up Gold Country and Calaveras County, home of the jumping frogs made famous by Mark Twain, is a good base. It is located 350 miles north of Los Angeles and 75 miles south of Sacramento. Take the 5N, merge onto CA-4 E toward Downtown Stockton/CA-99/Angels Camp. Next merge onto CA-99 S/CA-4 E toward Fresno and finally take the CA-4/Farmington Rd exit, turn Right and follow it to Main Street in Murphys. Estimated travel time from Los Angeles is just over six hours.

gold country gold panning 300 Getaway Guide: Exploring California Gold Country

(credit: Kristi Marcelle)

Things to Do

Goldrush Originals Gold Panning

1227 S Main St
Angels Camp, CA 95222
(209) 736-0044
More Info

This two to four hour tour is the real deal. The tour leader, Mike, is a miner who shows guests a glimpse of what it takes to find gold. This is a hands-on experience where guests dig with shovels and then pan for gold in the nearby river. Gloves and water shoes are recommended.

gold country calif cavern Getaway Guide: Exploring California Gold Country

(credit: Kristi Marcelle)

Cave & Mine Adventures

Several Locations
Calaveras County
866-762-2837
More Info

Take a guided tour of Black Chasm, Moaning or California Cavern. Each has unique qualities and Moaning Cavern has added activities like ziplining and rockwall climbing. If you only have time for one cavern visit, California Cavern is a good bet. It has the most variety of rooms filled with stalagmites and stalactites. There is one area where visitors need to crouch down to enter otherwise the cavern rooms are wide enough for groups to stand without being crowded together. Bring a sweatshirt if you get cold easily.

val du vino wine tasting Getaway Guide: Exploring California Gold Country

(credit: Kristi Marcelle)

Wine Tasting

Main Street
Murphys, CA 92651
More Info

There are almost twenty wineries in downtown Murphys making it convenient to walk from one to another with shopping in between. Murphys is a haven for artists and many of the tasting room counters are works of art. Tasting fees are nominal at $3-$5 per tasting; shops and tasting rooms close at 5 PM.

gold country big trees Getaway Guide: Exploring California Gold Country

(credit: Kristi Marcelle)

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

1170 E. Highway 4
Arnold, CA 95223
(209) 795-3840
More Info

The big trees here are giant sequoias. Flat walking trails meander through a grove where visitors get up close with the large trees and can even stand on the trunk of a huge sequoia that was once used as a dance floor. There are guided hikes and during summer the park rangers offer hour long nature programs for kids including a walk through the creek.

gold country columbia state park Getaway Guide: Exploring California Gold Country

(credit: Kristi Marcelle)

Columbia Historical Park

11255 Jackson Street
Columbia, CA 95310
(209) 532-3184
More Info

Columbia Historical Park is a restored historical gold rush town. It’s touristy but interesting for a short stop. There are stage coach rides, dress up rooms and pin bowling for the kids and restaurants and shops including an authentic candy shop where you can watch them make the day’s confection.

gold country natural bridges Getaway Guide: Exploring California Gold Country

(credit: Calaveras County Visitors Bureau)

Natural Bridges

Highway 4 to Parrots Ferry Road.
Go about 4 miles and park at the marked trail head.
Located between Angels Camp and Columbia, 3 miles south of Moaning Cavern
Vallecito, CA 95251
More Info

The natural bridges are a series of swim-through caves. Coyote Creek carved a path through the limestone caves and visitors swim or float from one end to the other through frigid water. It’s about a twenty minute walk on a dirt path from the parking lot to the creek. There are no facilities at the bridges. Water shoes are recommended.

gold country winery Getaway Guide: Exploring California Gold Country

(credit: sxc.hu/sponger)


Where to Stay

Villa at Val du Vino Winery

692 French Gulch Road
Murphys, CA 95247
(209) 795-2203
More Info

The Villa at Val du Vino Winery is a three bedroom, three bath house located on the grounds of the Val Du Vino wine tasting room, within a five minute walk to the picturesque town of Murphys where there are many restaurants, shops and wine tasting rooms. With a gourmet kitchen, small pool and basketball court it’s booked often. There is a 10% discount for Val du Vino wine club members (it’s free to join).

Murphys Suites

134 Highway 4
Murphys, CA 95247
(209) 728-2121

Murphys Suites sits on the edge of downtown Murphys. It offers one and two bedroom suites with refrigerators and microwaves. It’s not fancy but it is spacious and the room configuration works well for families. There is a pizza restaurant in the adjoining parking lot and many restaurants in downtown Murphys.

Where to Eat

Firewood Restaurant

420 Main Street
Murphys, CA 95247
(209) 728-3248
More Info

Wood fired pizzas, tacos and burgers are the main fare at this casual order-at –the-counter restaurant in downtown Murphys.

Snowshoe Brewing

2050 Highway 4
Arnold, CA 95223
(209) 795-2272
More Info

Try the local brew while dining on burgers, salads and main entrees. The restaurant is close to Calaveras Big Tree State Park. There is a game room for kids or adults that need a diversion.

Kristi Marcelle is a travel writer and regular contributor at Ciao Bambino. http://www.ciaobambino.comShe loves planning travel adventures with her family, a good glass of wine at the whining hour and the Green Bay Packers. Follow her on Twitter.https://twitter.com/kristimarcelle
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