A Guide to California’s Gold Country

The California Gold Rush brought miners in search of fortune to Northern California. When gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, the area officially became a hot spot, and now its surrounding areas in the Sierra Nevadas are some of the most sought-after camping destinations in the country. Today, the area boasts a mix of metropolitan cities, historic downtown streets, miles of hiking trails, tree-laden parks, and gorgeous lakes and rivers. 

The diverse and storied culture of Gold Country attracts visitors from near and far for good reason. The destination has something for everyone, from thriving arts scenes to award-winning wineries to the great outdoors. 

Ready to take a trip to California Gold Country? Read more to learn about some of the counties and cities to visit, what to do, and why the history is so special. 

Sacramento 

Welcome to the capital city, where urban living blends with local history and impressive natural wonders. Founded in 1849, the city features many old world and historical charms in its location where the Sacramento River and American river merge.

Gold was discovered in Coloma in 1848 at Sutter’s Mill, and even today, you can still experience wooden sidewalks and olden feel in Old Sacramento, a settlement that grew out of Sutter’s Fort. Known for its contemporary culture, Sacramento is incredibly diverse, forward-thinking, and the fastest growing city in California. 

  • Activities: Set up camp nearby and explore life on the river, with rafting, kayaking, canoeing and more water sports. Looking for more adventures on land? Go for a walk in Old Sacramento and visit Sutter’s Mill, where gold was discovered, or maybe even book a wagon ride through the old town. The California State Railroad Museum is also a must-see, and you can learn more about the Transcontinental Railroad’s construction. 
  • Tower Bridge: Not to be confused with the crossing of the same name in London, this California state landmark connects Sacramento and West Sacramento across the Sacramento River. 
  • Capitol Mall: Washington D.C. isn’t the only city with a mall: the Capitol Mall in Sacramento connects West Sacramento to Downtown Sacramento. At the end of the mall, you’ll find the California State Capitol Building, and you can visit the State Capitol Museum.
  • Hawks Public House, 1525 Alhambra Blvd: Stop by this East Sacramento hot spot for a bite to eat at the gastro-pub style restaurant run by a husband and wife team. Next door: you’ll find the sister restaurant, where you can grab a coffee or something sweet.  
  • Mixed Bag, 2405 K Street: Pick up a postcard to send to a friend or another small trinket to always remember your time spent in Sacramento at this midtown institution.

Folsom

Folsom is known for so much more than the Johnny Cash song and the eponymous prison. It’s a fixture of the California Gold Country landscape. Dubbed “Granite City” by the founder Joseph Libbey Folsom, the town got its start as a haven for miners seeking a fortune in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The rich location features the nearby Folsom Lake and the Folsom Dam, which provides flood control for Sacramento County.

  • Activities: Folsom has many bike paths, and it’s a great place to explore on two wheels. The American River Bike Trail, which starts in Sacramento, ends in Folsom. There are also plenty of trails for hikes and walks, including one named for Johnny Cash.
  • Folsom State Prison, 312 3rd Street, Represa, CA: Want to sing those blues? Pay a visit to the Folsom Prison Museum to learn about the landmark’s history. Although there’s a dark side to the locale, the museum highlights all aspects of the history, as well as information on its historic nature — and that landmark Johnny Cash concert. 
  • Livermore Community Park, 6004 Riley Street: This local park offers bike trails, sports complexes, fields, and even a water park. Rent a picnic pavilion for an event or just take a stroll and enjoy the scenery. 
  • Sweet Dozen Cones, 807 Sutter Street: Satisfy your sweet tooth at this one of a kind local business where the decision between donuts and ice cream is just to have both. The local family business has been handed down through the generations, and it’s a favorite spot among the locals. 
  • Gaslight Co. 718 Sutter Street: Live music is on the menu at this local joint. Stop by for open mic night on Wednesdays, or enjoy weekday happy hour from 3-6pm. Experience the local music scene, every weekend Thursday – Sunday, with some of the best live musicians in town. 

El Dorado County

This rugged and picturesque county just outside of Sacramento has seen a boom in population in recent years as the capital city grows and expands. Located within the Sierra Nevadas, El Dorado County is comprised of a hilly landscape populated by local lakes and tall trees. The area stretches from the northeast corner of the Lake Tahoe Basin to historic Gold Country. 

The area also contains several lakes and rivers, including the American River, Echo Lake, and Fallen Leaf Lake, and it is ideal for camping, hiking, and rafting excursions. 

  • Activities: River rafting down the American River is one of the highlights of any stay in El Dorado County. Kayaking, boating, or fishing nearby in the river or a lake could be a great continuation of an exciting day on the water. In the winter, skiing and snowboarding are great options at the local Heavenly Ski Resort or Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort. Camping, hiking, and spending the day on the water is an ideal way to unwind and enjoy from spring to fall. 
  • American River Resort: Are you looking to experience the best of the Sierra Nevadas? Set up camp at American River Resort, where you can host a family event, plan a weekend getaway, or get your glamping on. There are a plethora of different lodging options, from tents to RV hookups to cabins, and the location on the American River in the Sierra Nevadas puts plenty of outdoor fun right at your fingertips. 
  • Madrona Vineyards, 2560 High Hill Road, Camino, CA: Wine country is alive and well in El Dorado County, and Madrona Vineyards boasts rolling views and delicious Rhone and Bordeaux varietals in their tasting room. Known for the wine-pairing dinners, this vineyard makes for a nice evening outing after a day of fun on the water. 
  • The Purple Place, 363 Green Valley Road, El Dorado Hills, CA: Dine at this original roadhouse in El Dorado Hills, which won the Traveler’s Choice Award from Trip Advisor. Enjoy restaurant events like Wine Wednesdays and experience local wines. The outdoor patio is a great way to take in the beautiful weather with a pint and a good meal. 
  • El Dorado County Museum, 100 Placerville Drive, Placerville, CA: Learn more about the Gold Rush and the Transcontinental Railroad at this local museum. 

Placer County 

Placer County is in the heart of the California Gold Rush, and it stretches from the Sacramento suburbs all the way to Lake Tahoe, encompassing both residential and wilderness areas. Placer’s name takes its origins from the Spanish word for gravel containing gold flecks. The process of separating gold from other rocks is called “placer mining.”

Enjoy the north shore of the epic lake, and discover some smaller lakes and streams in the area for kayaking rafting and more. Placer County is also full of natural forestland, where you can find trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

  • Activities: Life on Lake Tahoe is really the crown jewel of Placer county, and any day spent on the water is a good day, with tons of aquatic adventures at your fingertips. If you’re planning to stay in town for the day, the Gold Rush Museum in Auburn is a great stop for anyone who wants to learn more about the era in California history. 
  • Placer County Courthouse, 101 Maple St., Auburn, CA: Visit this active courthouse and museum to learn more about Placer County’s history with a one-hour guided tour. 
  • Lake Tahoe: Located at the northeast corner of Placer County, Lake Tahoe is one of the wonders of California. A visit to Placer County isn’t complete without a day (or two or three) spent on and around Lake Tahoe. 
  • Moksa Brewing Company, 5860 Pacific Street, Rocklin, CA: Order up a flight of craft beers at this local brewery, where you’ll find a great atmosphere, food, and most importantly tasty beers. Enjoy eats from a local food truck as you taste everything on tap. 
  • Four Sisters Cafe, 9050 Fairview Drive, Suite 165, Roseville, CA: For a great breakfast before a day of exploring Gold Country, Four Sisters Cafe has you covered. Located in the Galleria Mall in Roseville, there is easy access to local sightseeing nearby.

Rancho Cordova

This metropolitan destination is in Sacramento County and Gold Rush Country and earned its name from the nearby vineyard. Located near the American River, Rancho Cordova has a burgeoning arts scene and two urban farms that serve the community. There are also plenty of pedestrian walkways and biking trails for exploring the city on foot or wheels.

  • Activities: Rent a bike or lace up your walking shoes and enjoy a day on the American River Parkway. Over 30 miles of hiking, biking, and riding trails run near the gorgeous tributary, and the views are not to be missed. Looking for fun for the whole family? The Sacramento Kids Museum in Rancho Cordova is a great option to keep the children engaged with some interactive exhibits that adults will enjoy as well. 
  • Hagan Park, 2197 Chase Drive: This community park has an aquatic center, athletic fields, a dog park, a petting zoo, fishing pond, steam trains, and more!
  • Soil Born Farms, 2140 Chase Drive: Shop the local marketplace or learn about how the farm works from the people who run it. 
  • West Wind Drive-In, 9616 Oates Drive: Enjoy a unique movie theater experience at this all-digital drive-in, where you can enjoy feature films under the stars. 

Plan your trip to California Gold Country today!

California’s Gold Country offers so many pleasures from arts to farms to wineries to lakes, and there’s no better way to enjoy your visit than by getting outdoors and camping at American River Resort. From romantic getaways to family vacations to group events, plan your next trip to American River Resort and spend your days on the many lakes and rivers, hiking trails, and historic downtowns. Whether you want to spend the day at a museum, go shopping, or live life on the water, American River Resort has everything you need for the perfect getaway.

Book your trip to American River Resort in California Gold Country today!