Discover the Adventure
Follow the Gold Rush Trail

Your Route Through Northern California's Gold Country

The gold rush trail - Highway 49 - runs through the heart of California's Mother Lode country from southern-most Oakhurst to Vinton in the northeast, a full 307 miles of the original routes followed by 49ers and other gold seekers in the mid- to late-1800s.

For a real adventure that you can undertake today, retrace the footsteps of the Argonauts, the original 49ers, and those who came after them - from their arrival in San Francisco, up the Sacramento River to Sutter's Fort and Old Sacramento, and all along the routes and trails they followed.

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The Gold Rush Trail: Do You Know Where to Start?

Map of Highway 49
Map of Highway 49

There are many ways to get to Highway 49, and you can pick it up anywhere.

Where ever you start along the way, you're assured of a wonderful visit to California's Gold Country with lots of beautiful scenery, historic sights, and entertaining things to do.

But, if you're really interested in reliving history, we'd like to make a suggestion: try retracing the footsteps of the original 49ers!

No, I'm not talking about boarding a steamship for Cape Horn or outfitting a covered wagon for a trek across the prairies.

But you could start by exploring San Francisco's Gold Rush role, where many a 49er found himself first placing foot on California soil!

From The City, follow the course of the Sacramento River to discover Old Sacramento and Sutter's Fort. Then head up the American River to Coloma and Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

You've now arrived at the Gold Rush Trail, Highway 49!

Explore Coloma and Marshall Gold Discovery SHP, then head north to the city of Auburn, where panning for gold still occupies some people today, and Nevada County with the hard rock mines of Grass Valley (Empire Mine SHP) and Nevada City (Malakoff Diggins SHP). Don't forget to also visit North Star Mining Museum while you're there. Continue northeast along Highway 49 and make your way to Downieville in Sierra County, looking much as it did back in 1850, and via Loyalton to Vinton, northeastern terminus of the Gold Rush Trail.

Or head south where you'll find more evidence of Gold Rush fever.  Placerville (formerly "Old Dry Diggins," and then "Hangtown") was Wild West Central in the 1800s, and home to more hard rock mining - most notably Gold Bug Mine.

Plymouth (Daffodil Hill country), Amador City (where a group is working to reopen the old Keystone mine), Sutter Creek (more famous for its wineries today than its gold), and Jackson (producer of more than half of the gold mined from the Mother Lode) all produced both placer gold and hard rock gold.

Angels Camp and Calaveras County are famous for gold mines, caverns, and jumping frogs. Gold panning, hard rock mining, and hydraulic mining were all part of Columbia State Historic Park), Sonora, and Jamestown in Tuolumne County.

After passing through Mariposa (which has many mementos of gold mining days and is still actively mined), Highway 49 culminates at Highway 41 near Oakhurst, which really did much better business out of providing supplies to surrounding mines and lumber companies than it did out of gold.

But, while this is the end of the Highway 49 Gold Rush Trail, it is by no means the end of gold mining in Northern California! There are many areas outside the range of Highway 49 where gold was discovered in the 1800s and, in fact, through parts of the lower Sierra Nevada foothills (particularly between Snelling and Merced) you can find substantial evidence of the gold dredging activities from the late 1800s.

How did the 49ers get to the goldfields once they'd reached San Francisco? Let's find out:

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