Feel the (Gold) Rush in El Dorado County

The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill brought tens of thousands of treasure hunters stampeding into California from all over the world. These ’49ers established hundreds of instant mining towns along the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada, many of which still exist, linked by historic Highway 49. These communities are living reminders of the area’s rich history for a new generation to discover.

El Dorado County played an integral role in the Gold Rush and settlement of California. It was in Coloma on January 24, 1848, that James Marshall first discovered gold. The Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is open year-round and features a replica of the original sawmill where gold was first found, a museum, guided walking tours, gold panning, and a blacksmith. The park is also home to the newly christened Gam Saan (Gold Mountain in Cantonese) Trail, a 2.5-mile trail dedicated to the rich history and contributions of the Chinese 49ers and miners in Coloma. The town, situated on the American River, is a mecca for outdoor adventure where hiking, mountain biking, fishing, camping, whitewater rafting, and kayaking are enjoyed year-round.

El Dorado County is the site of the first Japanese Colony in America, Wakamatsu Farm. Established in 1869, visitors are drawn to this Japanese American “Plymouth Rock” and the legendary grave of young Okei-san, the first Japanese immigrant buried on American soil.  American River Conservancy privately owns this 272-acre landmark Farm as a pilgrimage site and a community place to experience cultural history, natural resources, and sustainable agriculture. 

Placerville is a charming California gold rush town named after the placer gold deposits found in its riverbeds and hills in the late 1840s. Its treasured heritage is reflected in the historical nineteenth-century architecture of its downtown, though you’ll find heritage throughout the city limits, which run from Smith Flat to County Fairgrounds. Historic Main Street features unique shops, antiques, fine art galleries, and restaurants. You’ll find small-town charm with a backdrop of Gold Rush history. Don’t miss Placerville Hardware Store, “the oldest Hardware Store West of the Mississippi.” Just a mile north of Main Street is a hidden gem – the Gold Bug Mine. Take a self-guided audio tour through an exploration 352 feet into a real hard rock gold mine – and a chance to pan for your own gems. The park boasts more than 60 acres with picnic areas, hiking trails, a historic stamp mill, gift shop, and a working blacksmith shop.

For a different kind of history, head to Camino and visit the farms of the Apple Hill Growers. Rooted in regional history, this cooperative of more than 50 family farms produces a lot more than apples! Founded in 1964 by the 16 original ranchers, visitors today can sample and sometimes pick their own apples, pears, stone fruit, berries, flowers, and vegetables. Don’t forget to sample some of the foothills’ best wines, hard ciders and baked goods. For a glimpse of the past, check out the oldest apple tree in the county at Larsen’s Apple Barn and Bakeshop Ranch. Apple Hill is perfect for families, foodies and history buffs alike.

Gold Rush Itineraries and Story Ideas: