Get Outside in California’s Gold Country

What isn’t there to do outside in El Dorado County? Hiking, biking, golf, rock climbing, water sports, skiing, snowboarding, camping. When it comes to outdoor adventure, El Dorado County has it all!

The American River through El Dorado County offers an unforgettable experience for water lovers. Made famous by the 1849 Gold Rush, this is the river where James Marshall first discovered gold. Today the South Fork is California’s most famous whitewater river. Both the upper and lower sections of the American River promise great rapids and gorgeous scenery. The upper section of the American River quickly becomes a rollicking ride over countless rapids such as Meat-grinder, Racehorse, Triple Threat, and the infamous Troublemaker. The South Fork is an intermediate Class III adventure that’s appreciated by rafters of any age and skill level.

Year-round golfers have several options to hit the links, against the backdrop of foothill forests or at scenic mountain courses. Over 100 miles of horse trails wind through the steep American River canyons and along the American River. The most famous one is the Western States Trail, which runs 100 miles from Lake Tahoe to Auburn, with over 20 miles in the Auburn State Recreation Area.

Amid the gorgeous scenery of Lake Tahoe, Desolation Wilderness, and the Sierra, you’ll find many classic rock-climbing spots, including multipitch trad, sport routes and top rope crags. In addition, there’s a wide variety of climbs, ranging from moderate slabs to expert crack climbs.  

Bikers can explore a variety of trails at the lower elevations ranging from pristine single-track to beginner-friendly double-track. At Sly Park, riders can roll through the Sierra foothills’ diverse woodlands with rewarding downhills on the 6.5-mile loop south of the lake or take the loop around the lake with a flat, double-wide trail suited for beginner and intermediate riders. The Cronan Ranch Trail System, Salmon Falls, Foresthill Divide and Fleming Meadow are all great places to ride in the foothills. Lake Tahoe is a mountain biking mecca when it’s not snow season.

Speaking of snow, from world-class skiing and riding to thrilling backcountry snowmobiling, sleigh rides and snow play, your winter adventures are endless. Heavenly Mountain Resort, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Kirkwood Mountain Resort offer the best of Alpine sports. If adrenaline isn’t your thing, there are places throughout the county for family fun in the snow. Tube Tahoe’s 500-foot, groomed tubing lanes provide resort quality conditions all season long. Adventure Mountain is the highest sledding destination in Lake Tahoe, with breathtaking views from the top of Echo Summit and a base elevation of 7,400 feet.

You are in gold country, after all, so think hiking, biking, gemstone mining, exploring caverns, steam trains, historical sites, festivals, street fairs, and of course, panning for gold.

Key Recreation Areas

Sly Park Recreation Area Located just 13 miles east of Placerville off Highway 50 at Pollock Pines, the area features forests and nine miles of hiking and equestrian trails surrounding picturesque Jenkinson Lake. Swimming and boating are popular activities, with two boat ramps and many beaches available to swimmers. Sly Park offers both day use and overnight camping with 191 campsites.

El Dorado National Forest/Crystal Basin Recreation Area — The region’s diverse recreational opportunities include fishing, hiking, camping, horseback riding and cycling.

Desolation Wilderness — Hike, cross-country ski or ride horseback through nearly 64,000 acres of sub-alpine and alpine forest, granite peaks, and glacially formed valleys and lakes. Travel is restricted to hikers and pack stock. No motorized vehicles allowed. A permit is required for day and overnight use.

Rubicon Trail — Considered the “Granddaddy” of all four-wheel trails – a 10 on most scales – the route traverses the Devil’s Post Pile made up of thousands of tons of boulders and passes Spider and Buck Island Lakes. Winter storms carve out a different trail among the rocky sluices and granite slabs, providing new challenges each year. Almost all four-wheeling is at 3 to 5 miles per hour or less.

South Fork American River — The river offers recreation for all ages, including rafting, gold panning, kayaking and canoeing, camping and fishing.

Auburn State Recreation Area More than 100 miles of mountain biking, hiking and equestrian trails cross the steep canyons and both forks of the American River. About 20 miles of the Western States Trail pass through the park. This trail hosts the world-renowned Tevis Cup 100-mile Endurance Horse Ride and the annual Western States 100 Endurance Run. 

Lake Valley State Recreation Area — Ringed by mountains, Lake Valley State Recreation Area features a championship 18-hole golf course. Since the elevation is over 6,000 feet, shots carry farther in the thin mountain air. In the winter, the recreation area has snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. 

State Parks, Gold Panning and Mines

Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park: Set on the west shore of Lake Tahoe, with two miles of unspoiled lakefront, this park is home to 175 campsites with places to hike, paddleboard, kayak and more.

Gold Bug MineThe 362-foot hard rock mine, gift shop, stamp mill, Hattie’s Museum, blacksmith, gem panning and hiking trails are open daily, just one mile from Historic Main Street in Placerville.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park – For a nominal fee, visitors can grab a pan and take gold-panning lessons — with guaranteed results.

Gold panning (hands and pan only) is allowed only on the northeast shore of the river by Mt. Murphy.

Scenic Drives & Tours

Enjoy drives around scenic Lake Tahoe, stop for apples along Apple Hill, or cruise the curves of Historic Highway 49. See many things that typify El Dorado’s rustic beauty along the Divide Adventure Loop.

Outdoor Itineraries