Gold Country, California is one of our favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations for those who want to see a different side of the Golden State. Home of the original gold rush that forever changed a nation, this region is within striking distance of both Lake Tahoe and Sacramento, making it an achievable and creative destination for those who love history, outdoor adventure, farm-to-table food, and know how to enjoy a booming wine and beer scene.

Whitewater rafting the South Fork American river, Coloma, El Dorado County

This story was created in partnership with Visit USA Parks.

Day 1: Zipline, Hike, Sip Wine & Farm-to-Tap Brews

Morning
After flying into Sacramento International Airport, begin your road trip toward the city of Rocklin. Only 30 minutes away from baggage claim, Quarry Park Adventures is the perfect place to cure yourself of any jet lag! Located in a 60-foot deep, 160-year old granite quarry, this family-friendly adventure park features ziplines, a ropes course, rappel wall, and more! From there, quench your thirst on the robust Placer Wine and Ale Trail at one of the 20 wineries in the area. Several farm breweries offer unique experiences, including GoatHouse Brewing, where you can play with kid goats between sips of farm-to-tap brews. The best part of all these options is that the wineries and breweries are all within close proximity to each other, so every one of your travel buddies can find something to their taste.

Afternoon
In between stops, stretch your legs with a short hike on any number of trails at the 1,200-acre Hidden Falls Regional Park right in the heart of wine and beer country. Come dinner time, you will surely be ravenous! Indulge in the farm-to-table philosophy of Placer County at any number of nearby restaurants. That evening, overnight at the SpringHill Suites or any other hotel or bed and breakfast in the Auburn area to set yourself up for another day of adventure.
Whitewater rafting the South Fork American river, Coloma, El Dorado County

Day 2: Go Whitewater Rafting, Take a History Lesson, And Drink More Beer

Morning
The adventure begins in earnest on day two! Spend the morning whitewater rafting on the famous American River. The South Fork is a great place to start for families, beginners, or novice rafters, pairing fun and splashes with stunning scenery and maybe a grand finale at Folsom Lake. More experienced river-runners may prefer the adrenaline pumping rapids of the Middle Fork. You will find a wide assortment of rafting guides and experiences to fit your skills and comfort level in California’s Gold Country. And if a single morning on the water isn’t enough for you, you can book trips up to two days long.

Afternoon
That afternoon, dig into the history of the area on a walking tour and visit to the Placer County Museum. Don’t forget to visit the historic and photogenic Auburn Fire House and Bell!   

Evening
Next, reward your efforts with a refreshment on the patio at Pour Choice—a unique craft coffee bar and taproom. That evening, stay in Old Town Auburn for dinner at either Auburn Alehouse or the Alehouse Annex across the street for award-winning ale and American fare. Other local craft beer options in town include Crooked Lane, Moonraker, and Knee Deep; all of which have rotating food trucks most evenings. 

Argonaut Cafe, Coloma, El Dorado County

Day 3: Become a Part of California’s Gold Rush History

Morning
Continue on Historic Route 49 to Placerville by way of legendary Coloma. It was here that gold was first discovered in 1848, changing the fate of California and the entire nation forever. (There’s a reason we call it Gold Country, California!) Take a hike in the Auburn State Recreation Area at Lake Clementine or Cronan Ranch, followed by lunch at Argonaut Farm to Fork Cafe. 

Afternoon
Then, check out where the gold rush began at Marshall Gold Discovery State Park! The whole family will enjoy learning to pan for gold and exploring the museum and the many original and restored buildings. Even the volunteers are dressed in period clothing to bring the experience to life.

Evening
Watch the sunset and sip some local wine from one of 70 wineries in the region. Lava Cap is a particular favorite! For dinner, try Smith Flat House (pictured above), whose restaurant is accessed through the original entrance to an 1800’s goldmine. Overnight in Placerville at the woodsy North Canyon Inn or another nearby hotel.

Gold bug park and mine, El Dorado County

Day 4: Celebrate Your Time in Gold Country with Wine & BBQ

Morning
On your last day enjoying Gold Country, explore a real mine only a mile away from downtown at Gold Bug Park and Mine. After you’ve tried your luck panning for gold a second time, dig into lunch at one of the great choices on Main Street, like The Farm Table or Heyday Cafe. Afterward, stroll to the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi and pick up a souvenir. 

Afternoon
Take an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on a unique guided tour of David Girard Vineyards. You’ll enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, learn more about regional history, and taste unique and exclusive wines. There’s also a cheese tasting to follow! Finally, tuck into a savory dinner at the iconic Poor Red’s BBQ—a former stagecoach stop turned popular roadhouse. Poor Red’s is known for its award-winning barbecue and signature Golden Cadillac Cocktail—a perfect choice to savor your wonderful road trip through Gold Country, California.