California’s Gold Country offers many treasures for the hiker. Most of the gold in California’s Gold Country was mined long ago, but the wonderful scenery in the High Sierra foothills remains, a favorite of hikers and history buffs.
Highway 49 pays tribute to the Gold Rush and links a wonderful collection of restored mining towns and parks that preserve the heritage of that colorful era. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Empire Mine State Historic Park, and other Gold Country parks preserve tunnels, trails, mines, and mountains made famous by the 49ers.
Also on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada are the famed giant sequoia groves of Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The “Big” in the park name is no exaggeration; sequoias are the largest living things on Earth.
The Gold Country is a splendid destination in autumn. Autumn colors the trees in the Sierra foothills with gold and other fall hues.
Highway 49 winds its way for about 350 miles through the Gold Country, a region that requires two to three packed days to explore. Choose to camp in or near the California state parks en route or make a “base camp” in a B&B or other lodging then venture out to explore the marquee Gold Country state parks—Empire Mine SHP and Marshall Gold Discovery SHP. Calaveras Big Trees State Park is well worth an entire day on its own.
And wait, there’s more. Hike around Indian Grinding Rock SHP and see the impressive bedrock mortars and a reconstructed Miwok village. And you just have to take a long walk around Columbia SHP and see this restored gold rush town. After you take a hike, take the train. Head for Jamestown and visit Railtown 1897 SHP, where steam train trips are offered from April through November.
On your tour along Highway 49 south of Sacramento, The Trailmaster recommends a trio of trails in California State Parks. These are easy to moderate hikes that offer a great intro to the scenic treasures of California’s Gold Country.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park Monument Trail and Monroe Ridge Trail add up to a fine Gold Country ramble that offers great views, both panoramic and close-up of what is likely the single most important locale in California history. This hike (4-mile loop) visits the Marshall Monument, where a bigger-than-life figure holds a bigger-than-life gold nugget and points to the spot where he made the discovery that put California on the world map.
Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park Check out the amazing grinding rock—a 173-foot length of bedrock with 1,185 mortar cups, and truly something to behold. Then join two short trails: North Trail begins near the museum, follows a low ridge and loops back to a reconstructed Miwok Village. South Nature Trail tours meadowland, oak woods, plus stands of sugar pine and ponderosa pine.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park The “Big Trees” in the park name is a tip-off: Two groves of giant Sequoia redwoods are the highlights of Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Most visitors tour the easy-to-access North Grove, while hikers in the know head for the park’s more remote South Grove, which has ten times the number of big trees and is far less visited than North Grove. North Grove is protected in a “Natural Preserve,” the highest category of environmental protection offered by the state park system. South Grove Trail is 5 miles round trip with a modest 400-foot elevation gain.
Interested in more hikes in California’s Gold Country? Check out my guide, Hike Southern California