Fall Road Trip Through California’s Gold Country
By Chris Epting, KOA Travel Correspondent
No trip to California is complete without exploring the classic gold country located not far from Sacramento along historic Highway 49, named in honor of that famous year when the first rush of people flocked to California in search of those famous yellow flakes discovered in the stream by James Marshall the year before.
The Placerville KOA is perfectly situated so that you can explore the heart of gold country while also camping in one of the cradles of some of the prettiest country in all the state. Tucked among the pines in a quaint little spot called Shingle Springs, the Placerville KOA sits in a slice of historic California paradise.
Placerville & Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
My first recommendation would be to visit nearby Placerville. Perfectly preserved from the mid-1800s, it’s a charming place to stroll replete with many antique shops, historic hotels and interesting places to eat. Its nickname is “Hangtown” because of all of the hangings that occurred here way back when, when this was a central hub for the mother lode region’s mining operations.
To truly understand and experience the history of the gold rush, from Placerville it’s just a short drive to Coloma, where you’ll discover the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. The 1850s come to life here along the south fork of the picturesque American River in one of California’s prettiest valleys. Explore the remnants of this genuine ghost town, pan for gold and take part in everything from rope making to candle dipping, Dutch oven cooking and more—the park does a wonderful job bringing the past life. And walking along the trail of the river, you’ll be able to stand in the exact spot where Marshall first discovered gold. A large statue of him up on a hill features him pointing down at the precise spot where history was made.
Another stop along Highway 49 worth considering is the small town of Angels Camp. Similar to Placerville, it’s a wonderfully preserved mid-1800s town that harkens back to the Gold-discovery era. Angels Camp also has the benefit of a visitor named Mark Twain. As the story goes, in the fall of 1865, Twain spent many hours in the local Angels Hotel where the owner told him the story of a frog jumping contest that had taken place earlier in the summer. The miners in the area had plenty of time on their hands and so gambling on frogs became a popular pastime. In fact, small fortunes were won and lost on those jumpy green amphibians. Twain went on to write his famous short story entitled “The Celebrated “umping Frog of Calaveras County” based on this area.
In addition to all of the Twain history here, there’s a terrific walking tour to guide you and don’t miss the Angels Camp Museum. There’s also a nearby grove of giant Sequoia trees, some of the tallest ones in the state, which truly add to any California experience. Worth the short (1.5 mile) hike through the shaded and fragrant grove.
Another town along 49 is San Andreas, also located in Calaveras County and loaded with historic sites. It was settled by Mexican gold miners in 1848 and it’s where the notorious highwayman Black Bart was infamously jailed. In fact, at their terrific Museum, you can actually visit the jail cell where he slept.
If you give yourself 2 to 3 days camping at the Placerville KOA, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the area and fully immerse yourself in the traditions and practices of historic gold miners. It’s one of the most interesting and engaging places for young children, but even if you’re all by yourself or with your significant other, California’s Gold country is an affordable and thoroughly unforgettable place to visit. Of course, after long days exploring historic towns and potentially gold filled streams, you will also have a great place to spend the night tucked up in the woods under the stars – just make sure you don’t forget to visit the three little goats down by the main office.
Chris Epting is an award-winning journalist, travel writer and author of 25 books including “Roadside Baseball” and “James Dean Died Here – the Locations of America’s Pop Culture Landmarks.” And he loves all of KOA.