California Road Trips - 50 Life-Changing Adventures - 80

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP

40

Golden Chain Highway
Travel back to the Gold Rush era on Highway 49, where
charming mining towns dot the route, surrounded by the
panoramic vistas of the western Sierra Nevada foothills

features a well-preserved core of 19th-century buildings that are now
the homes of restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, and antique shops.

(Download a self-guided walking tour from the Nevada City Chamber
of Commerce's website.)
Head south on Highway 49-your route for the entirety of your
journey, with one worthy exception-to visit the remarkable Empire
Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley. Start at the visitor center to
learn about one of California's oldest and richest gold mines, where,
in the course of a century, 5.8 million ounces of gold were extracted.
Peek into an actual shaft, the portal to a staggering underground
maze of 367 miles.
Next stop is Auburn, where history mixes with great wine and
outdoor sports such as hiking and mountain biking. Take advantage
of trails in the Auburn State Recreation Area, then sample the "Gold
Crush"-a local reference to Placer County's growing number of
wineries. Good wines attract good restaurants, and Auburn has a
bumper crop of them lining the streets in the Old Town district.
Continue southeast, to the foothills of the Eldorado National Forest to
the east, to Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where gold
was first discovered in California. Here, in the tiny town of Coloma, a
sawmill employee named James Marshall first spotted glints of the
precious metal in the river's silt. The 1849 Gold Rush was on. Coloma's
population grew fast, and its historic buildings are now part of
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.
For the next stop, you'll discover a different side of Gold Country
during a whitewater trip. The most popular rafting river in the West,
the American River is an inviting jumble of churning rapids, deep
pools, and tumbling cascades. Each of its three forks serve up their
own style of fun, and outfitters offer everything from half-day floats
S OU T H F O R K A M E RIC AN RIVER

to white-knuckle multi-day adventures.
Continue south to visit wineries that have been producing awardwinning vintages in unpretentious wine country dating back to the

THI S H I STO R I C CA L I F O R NIA R OU TE, also known as the

1850s. An explosion of tasting rooms and restaurants has added

Golden Chain Highway, is named after the intrepid prospectors who

a jolt of grape-fueled energy to the foothills, where wineries now

arrived to the area in 1849. Pan for treasure like a 49er, raft down

produce a wide range of varietals, most notably Zinfandel. To sample

lively rapids (or cruise a mellow-moving fork), and explore historic

the new boom, head to Plymouth for trendy tasting rooms and sleek

towns with authentic Old West flair. Discover a new generation of

restaurants like Taste.

restaurants, inviting shops, and charming B&Bs.
Your trip begins in Nevada City, the forest-wrapped hamlet of

Finish your trip with a short detour off Highway 49 to visit
Columbia State Historic Park, where the Gold Rush era is re-created
in living, breathing detail. Costumed docents lead tours of this

Victorian-era homes and tree-lined streets 60 miles northeast of

preserved mother lode town, where you can ride on a stagecoach,

Sacramento. Originally settled in 1849 as a mining camp, Nevada City

drink a sarsaparilla soda, and see a working blacksmith's forge.

2-3
days

S TA R T Nevada City
F I N I S H Columbia State Historic Park

M O S T K I D - F R I E N D LY S TO P Gold Discovery Museum in Coloma

80
VISITCALIFORNIA.COM

131
miles

I N S I D E T I P Summers
in this part of the state
can get hot, and weekends
become crowded, so for tours
and outings, aim for early
mornings during the week.

PHOTOGRAPH: JJUSTIN BAILIE

pioneers who've struck gold with outstanding wineries, farm-to-table


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California Road Trips - 50 Life-Changing Adventures

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of California Road Trips - 50 Life-Changing Adventures

Contents
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California Road Trips - 50 Life-Changing Adventures - 1
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