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  • Gold Rush Towns
  • Gold Rush Towns
  • Gold Rush Towns

Gold Rush Country

There's gold in them hills! Well, at least there used to be. When news that gold had been discovered in the Sierra Nevadas swept across the country in 1849, it prompted a rush of prospectors, all seeking their fortune. Soon to be known as '49ers' they came from near and far, and a rash of Wild West towns sprang up in their wake. Those settlements linger on today, both as thriving communities and long-deserted outposts - meaning even today you can visit a Gold Rush town.

Stretching from Nevada City in the north to Angels Camp in the south, the Gold Rush towns are strung out like pearls along aptly named Highway 49.  Many of them have retained the feel of old frontier towns, and Nevada City has a wealth of Victorian homes and storefronts - buildings that Mark Twain would have seen when he visited, as well as US President Herbert Hoover who lived and worked here as a gold miner.

Elsewhere, Jamestown has such a look of the Wild West still that it's regularly used as a movie set, and provided the backdrop for films like High Noon. Amador City, Sutter Creek and Coloma at the heart of gold country have lovely restored boardwalks, period stores and historic 19th-century buildings. And abandoned ghost towns like Brodie stand as eerie reminders that the Mother Lode  eventually gave out, and for many there was no longer a reason to stay.

Many of these towns have preserved mines, plus there are museums bursting with exhibits from Boom Town days, as well as restored period attractions which plunge you right back into the mid-1800s. In some places you can even still have a go at panning for gold. So who knows - visit a Gold Rush town and you might return home richer!

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Grass Valley

Grass ValleyOver half of California's total gold production came from Grass Valley mines, the biggest and richest being the Empire Mine; it once had 367 miles of shafts and from 1850 to 1956 produced nearly 6 million ounces of gold. Visit not only this but the North Star Mining Museum and the house of Lola Montez - notorious Gold Rush singer and dancer.

Colombia State Historic Park

Most of Colombia's 15,000-strong population left once its mines stopped yielding gold in the 1850s and today it is preserved with much of its mining equipment and buildings still intact. There are Wild West hotels and saloons; old-style stores; a newspaper office; a Wells Fargo office; you can even take a stagecoach ride round town.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Park

It was here in Coloma that James Marshall found the first gold nugget back in 1848, while constructing a sawmill for John Sutter. There's a replica of the mill he was building, plus a Gold Discovery Museum and buildings left abandoned by migrant Chinese miners. You can also pan for gold in the American River.

Ghost Towns

Volcano, near Jackson, was once a thriving mining town with 8,000 inhabitants. By 1867 most mining had stopped and the present population of around 100 now lives among buildings left over from the mid-19th century - some still functioning, others deserted, or picturesquely ruined and preserved.

Jumping Frogs!

It was a story told by a barman in Angels Camp in 1865 that inspired Mark Twain to write 'The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County'. In memory of this, there's been a jumping frog contest taking place here every year from 1928. 'The Jumping Frog Jubilee', with plenty else going on besides, takes place in the third week of May.

Time Difference:
GMT- 8hours

Closest Airport:
Sacramento international Airport (approx. 13 hours and 25 minutes, indirect flight) San Francisco International Airport (approx. 11 hours, direct flight)

Getting around:
Hiring a car is the best way to discover the hidden gems of California’s Gold Country. Car hire is available from £21 per day.

You’re going to need an ESTA:
For anyone travelling to the USA, the US authorities have imposed a requirement for passengers travelling under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP), to register for Electronic Travel Authority. Just fill in the online application form which you can find at You will need to apply for entry via ESTA at least a minimum of 72 hours prior to travel.


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