Depending on who you ask, California is known for many things. Sun, beaches, skiing, national parks, and even world class cuisine. A place of contrasts. It can be argued that this wealth of activities wouldn’t be possible without the Gold Rush. This is what caused the biggest migration in US history and helped California achieve statehood in 1850. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to pan for gold, here’s where to go gold panning in California High Sierra.
Columbia State Historic Park
How could we have this list without highlighting the town that was the “gem of the southern mines.” Founded as a boomtown in 1850, in under three years it became one of the LARGEST cities in the state with more than 30,000 denizens. Although the population dipped after the Gold Rush, it’s citizens realized they needed to preserve it for future generations. And in 1945, the governor did just that by making the downtown area a state historic park. Visitors can now feel and see what it was actually like back in its heyday. See merchants dressed in 1850’s attire. Coal smoke wafting in the air from the blacksmith shop. A stagecoach pulling into town. And of course, try your hand at panning for gold at the Hidden Treasure Gold Mine.
Just to the south on the flanks of the Sierra is another jewel on the necklace of historic mining towns. Many of the buildings you’ll find off Main Street date back to the late 19th Century including several hotels. The National Hotel & Restaurant and Jamestown Hotel offer the perfect mix to experience the past but with modern, comfortable amenities. Jamestown was one of the few that experienced not one but TWO gold rushes in its history due to advancements in extracting gold.
Many of the shops in town can provide the tools needed to seek your fortune by wading into the South Fork of the American River like the 49’ers. We suggest trying your hand at panning with an outfitter like Gold Prospecting Adventures. Then finish off the trip with a ride on Hollywood’s most famous train – Sierra #3 or one of the many other one-of-a kind adventures surrounding the area.
Just like the flakes of gold that run through the Calaveras River, the county of Calaveras is home to some of the finest places to go gold panning in California High Sierra. A good place to start your adventure is a visit to the Angels Camp Museum. See one of the largest collections of carriages in the nation along with over 30,000 square feet of Gold Rush history including gold panning.
A bit further to the north not too far from Pine Grove you’ll find the Roaring Camp Mining Company. Nestled deep in a canyon on the banks of the Mokelumne River, this former 49’ers camp was too difficult to reach. As such, it’s now home to a real gold mine that you can visit. It’s also where you can mine your own gold by panning, sluicing, and dry washing.
Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad
Madera County is filled with culture and history that you can see and experience in person. Dip your hands and relive the excitement of the Gold Rush Era by panning for gold at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. Then finish off the day with an exciting 4-mile railroad excursion aboard a powerful steam train that was actually USED to log trees in the late 19th century.
How about combining a trip to see a natural treasure as well as an opportunity to strike it rich. It’s just one of many unique things to be enjoyed in and around Mariposa County on your way to Yosemite National Park. Seek your fortune alongside old-time miners at the historic mining site at Prospect Yosemite. Then head north to take in gold rush history at the Northern Mariposa County History Center located in Coulterville.
You may not get rich quick, but you’ll find a wealth of stories to share and a better appreciation for the original miners. Or… you may shout out “Eureka, Eureka” just like James Marshall, the 1st person who discovered gold.
Author: Alex Silgalis
Alex Silgalis is an outdoors travel writer who enjoys snowboarding, mountain biking, or having a cold one from a local mountain brewery. See more of Alex’s work at https://localfreshies.com
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