Rediscover Gold in the Sierra Foothills

Although the California Gold Rush of 1849 is long past, the quaint towns and fertile land of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains still whisper “gold.” Peaches, pears, apples, nuts, and wonderful wines are the prizes of today.

There’s so much to do in Gold Country. The colorful lore of the Gold Rush lives on in historic parks, caves, and museums throughout this three-county area—El Dorado, Amador, and Calaveras. It’s a unique opportunity to explore and learn about this exciting chapter in American history—and to fall in love with the wines along the way.

Placerville was named after the placer deposits found in the river bed. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Placerville, an old mining town on the California Gold Rush Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just 40 miles east of Sacramento, El Dorado County is located in the breathtaking Sierra Foothills in the heart of Gold Country. With spectacular Sierra Mountains spanning more than 1,800 square miles and elevations ranging from just a few feet to more than 10,000 feet above sea level, El Dorado County is one of the most diverse and naturally beautiful places you’ll ever visit.

Start your journey in the town where gold was first unearthed by millwright James Marshall in January 1848. He and his partner, John Sutter, tried to keep the discovery quiet, but within a year newcomers were arriving in Coloma every day.

Just down Historic Highway 49 you’ll find historic Placerville, established as a supply center for the surrounding mining camps. Placerville is just minutes from over 50 farms and ranches of the Apple Hill region as well as award-winning wineries. Worthwhile stops include Grace Patriot Wines for a great wine tasting experience in a majestic setting and Boa Vista Orchards, part fruit stand and part farmers market.

Continuing south on the Gold Rush Trail, Amador County beckons with beautiful rustic vistas, historic downtowns, and rolling scenic vineyards. Most of the county’s some 40 wineries are located in laid back, and lovely Shenandoah Valley. Two roads loop through, making wine touring an easy experience. Here also is the Amador Flower Farm, carpeted with daylilies in every imaginable color throughout the summer.

Walk down Jackson’s historic Main Street, stopping by the National Hotel, one of the oldest establishments in California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk down Jackson’s historic Main Street, stopping by the National Hotel, one of the oldest establishments in California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador’s gentle hills turn rugged in higher elevations. Walk through hundreds of grinding stones and petroglyphs at Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park. Explore restored gold rush-era towns, Jackson and Sutter Creek the largest, and charming Amador City—population 200—among the smallest.

Walk down Jackson’s historic Main Street, stopping by the National Hotel, one of the oldest establishments in California. Have extra time? Take a tour of the Kennedy Gold Mine, just north of town on Highway 49. At 5,912 feet, it is one of the world’s deepest gold mines.

After a healthy dose of history, head north a few miles to Sutter Creek. Once a bustling city of miners, the downtown area now boasts several wine tasting rooms, antique shops, and restaurants.

It has been 150 years since a young Mark Twain published “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a hilarious yarn set in Angels Camp that gave this gold country town a place in literary history.

Bella Piazza Winery in the Shenandoah Valley, Amador County. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bella Piazza Winery in the Shenandoah Valley, Amador County. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s nine miles up Highway 4 from Angels Camp to the neighboring gold rush town of Murphys. Once a hodgepodge of miners’ tents and lean-tos, Murphys has aged well. A stroll down tree-lined Main Street transports visitors back to the mid-1800s with buildings bearing thick stoned walls, iron shutters, and pastoral gardens. Its leafy streets are lined with white picket fences, oaks and sycamores, eateries, and wine tasting rooms.

Unique from any other wine region, you can literally do wine country on foot in Murphys. There are over 25 wineries here and 20 of them have tasting rooms within walking distance from one another along Murphy’s historic downtown. Picturesque vineyards and destination wineries are nestled in the nearby rolling hills.

Outside of town, the pastoral landscape gets rugged with massive granite mountains and miles of underground caverns. In fact, Calaveras has more public caves than any other county in California.

On the outskirts of Murphys, Ironstone Vineyards offers visitors a varied experience that only begins with its approachable wines.

A picturesque village, Murphys is known today for its many natural attractions including caverns for public viewing, a charming Main Street with unique shops, spectacular wineries, and art galleries. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A picturesque village, Murphys is known today for its many natural attractions including caverns for public viewing, a charming Main Street with unique shops, spectacular wineries, and art galleries. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

“May be you don’t,” Smiley says. “May be you understand frogs, and may be you don’t understand ’em; maybe you’ve had experience, and may be you an’t only a amature, as it were. Anyways, I’ve got my opinion, and I’ll risk forty dollars that he can outjump any frog in Calaveras county.”

—Mark Twain, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, 1865

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