Discovering Northern California
Nevada County

Nevada County: Mother Lode Country

Nevada County, probably more than any other area of Northern California, grew up out of the California Gold Rush. Gold was commercially mined in the county almost continuously from 1849 through the mid-1950s.

Over the years, nearly every method of extracting gold known to man has been used in the county of Nevada at one time or another: from panning, sluicing, cradling, and dredging of placer gold to hard rock mining deep into the ground, and hydraulic mining that wipes out entire mountain sides.

Nevada County: Gold Rush History

By the mid-1870s placer gold was already getting harder to find in sufficient quantities to strike it rich, so many of the adventurer miners were leaving the area.

But a Mother Lode vein had been discovered underground and people began to turn to underground mining via the hard rock and hydraulic methods.

Underground and hydraulic mining require expensive equipment and soon the mining of gold became a business that needed significant investment to get under way.

Wealthy mine owners began to build large hard rock and hydraulic mining sites that hired hundreds of men.

Hard Rock Mining

Simply put, hard rock mining is the term that describes digging down into the ground to excavate veins of precious metals or gems; gold, in the case of Northern California and Nevada County.

Hard rock mining requires the knowledge, skills, and experience to know where to dig, how to shore up the shafts and tunnels against collapse, how to move men and ore in and out of the mines efficiently, and so forth.

Mine owners began to look abroad to find the expertise they needed.

Most of those who immigrated to California and were hired to work the hard rock mines were the Cousin Jacks and Cousin Jennies, tin and copper miners from Cornwall, England. And you'll see their influence throughout the county, even today.

Hydraulic Mining

This technique uses high-pressured streams of water sent through hoses with giant iron nozzles attached - called monitors - to blast large areas of land (mountains and canyon walls, actually) to dislodge rock material and wash it through enormous sluices to extract the gold.

Although hydraulic mining made many people rich and enriched the economy of California by several millions of dollars, it was devastating to the environment. Washing away entire hillsides and sluicing the water, earth, and sediment into streams and rivers, this practice caused severe flooding, made rivers unnavigable, and deeply buried good farmland in mining sediment.

The largest hydraulic mining site in California was at Malakoff Diggns in Nevada County.

Nevada County Today

While clinging to and honoring its past as a major player of the raucous California Gold Rush, Nevada County has much besides history and historic sites to offer its current residents and modern day visitors.

Most of the county consists of the extraordinary beauty of its rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, parks and wildflowers, forests and savannas.

Recreational opportunities include biking (both road and mountain), boating on lakes and rivers, camping (from resort to backcountry), fishing, gold panning, golf (no fewer than nine courses), hiking, swimming, white water rafting, and winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding.

Arts and culture include over 20 galleries, performing arts groups and theaters, as well as fairs, festivals, and special events that range from Penn Valley's Mule and Donkey Show to Grass Valley's Cornish Christmas to Nevada City's Wild & Scenic Film Festival.

There are farms and vineyards galore, restaurants aplenty, and wineries and breweries producing some mighty fine beverages.

Visit Grass Valley to discover its quiet, unassuming nature, its used bookstores and funky boutiques, its Cornish customs, and its historic hard rock mine, the Empire.

Spend some time in Nevada City to experience its spirit of creativity and free-thinking bohemian, its film festivals, artisan fairs, and Mardi Gras celebrations.

Explore the former rail-town-turned-ski-town of Truckee to be charmed by its Western vibe, historic architecture, fine eateries, and fabulous outdoor opportunities that span all the seasons.

Stop in at the small burg of Rough and Ready for some really small town adventures - living history days, Sunday morning performances by the Fruit Jar Pickers (specializing in sing-alongs, country, bluegrass, and gospel), and locals chatting on the porch of the market and deli.

And be sure to breeze on over to Penn Valley where you'll find people who embrace the outdoors and wildlife, their community, and their events. It's home to South Yuba River State Park: Bridgeport, a great place for bird and wildflower walks, living history programs, gold panning demos, swimming, and hiking.

We'll be bringing you more from Nevada County soon, so check back:

  • Attractions
    From North to South and West to East!
  • Beaches
    All along the coast and beyond!
  • Communities
    From the biggest to the smallest!
  • Parks and Preserves
    State Parks, Nature Preserves, and drive-through trees!

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