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Discovery of gold in 1848 sparked the largest mass migration in U.S. history, with more than 300,000 pioneers heading west. The effects of the California Gold Rush were substantial, helping lead California into statehood in 1850. Although the gun fights of yesteryear & raucous boomtowns are long gone, you still have an opportunity to stake your own “claim” in the High Sierra… even if only for a few hours.

Matelot Gulch Mining Company

Image appears courtesy: Visit Tuolumne County

Right smack dab in the center of the Columbia State Historic Park is the Matelot Gulch Mining Company. The Matelot Gulch Mining Shop was originally a bee keeper’s cabin, moving to its present location in the 1900’s. To this day, the structure remains the only building privately owned in the park and has been family owned & operated for over 50 years. Like many mines of the 1850s, they funnel water to Columbia so that you can get your chance to pan for gold just like they did.

For more options, visit the Tuolumne County page & explore all the gold panning adventures to be had in the region.

Gold Rush Originals

Photo By: Patrick Works – Appears Courtesy: Calaveras County Visitors Bureau

There’s something magnetic about a miner. Maybe it’s the freedom. Or that they’re always exploring. Or perhaps the optimistic hope that they’ll strike it rich so they can live the “dream.” Mike Darby of Gold Rush Originals has that spark. Part musician, artist, historian, gold panning expert and 100% pure fun, he’s the ultimate guide to lead you to one of their favorite spots to find gold. Yes, there is still gold in them thar hills! And if you’re in the area, don’t forget to stop by the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. You’ll find the statue of James Marshall pointing to the site of the first gold discovery.

Cardinal Mine

Image appears courtesy: Bishop Visitor Center

Even though the Gold Rush slowed down significantly by 1855, prospecting & mining continued to expand throughout the state. Instead of individuals finding nuggets in a river, the industry transformed into a more sophisticated business. From drilling deep mine shafts with expensive equipment, it took a lot more work to pull ore from the ground. A great example of this is the Cardinal Mine just outside of Bishop. While the mine is no longer working, the Cardinal Village that housed the miners has been transformed into a vacation destination. If you do visit, be sure to ask for the “Secret Map” so that you can explore the surrounding region & get a glimpse of the past.

Nearly a century and a half later, the history of the California Gold Rush lives on. Instead of reading about it in history books, why not experience it in person. You’ll come home with a better understanding & a great story to tell.

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

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