It’s almost difficult to know where this Sierras and Gold Country tourism and vacation guide should begin with all there is to see and do in this California area. How about…
…in tiny Coloma (site of the state’s first gold discovery on January 24, 1848, where you can try your hand at panning, too), or
…in Grass Valley (where you can descend a mine shaft at the Empire Mine State Historic Park), or
…in Sutter Creek (with lovely shops, galleries and restaurants housed in converted, century-old buildings), or
…in Jamestown (and its restored landmark 1859 Historic National Hotel with nine B&B rooms and a charming public restaurant)?
If you get thirsty along the way, there are several award-winning wineries in Calaveras County, some of which also produce olive oil and honey. That’s just a sampling to whet your appetite. We’ve only just begun, and the fabulous Gold Country wineries are just one California Gold Country tourism component you should explore — albeit a very enjoyable one!
As you peruse the Sierras and Gold Country travel articles, you’ll learn about Lake Tahoe, which is about 80 miles northeast of Sacramento – so pure that it’s 99.7% clear (you’ll have to see it to believe it!) – and the equally stunning surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The lake and its environs are enjoyed by both summer-water and winter-snow enthusiasts and by everyone from tree-huggers to gamblers. Mark Twain once said of Lake Tahoe: “Surely the fairest picture the whole Earth affords,” and we all know Twain wasn’t one to exaggerate! California Highways 89 and 28, Nevada Highway 28 and Federal Highway 50 combine to provide an approximately 75-mile loop around the lake. It’s a beautiful drive and definitely a worthwhile afternoon’s activity.
During the winter months, the region averages 360 inches of snow annually and is home to North America’s largest concentration of ski resorts. With around 20 resorts to chose from (including Squaw Valley Resort, host of the 1960 Winter Olympics), there is ski terrain to challenge all skill levels, plus snowboarding, sledding and snowmobiling opportunities, too, of course.
Driving about five hours south from the Lake Tahoe area, you will arrive at what many consider the Golden State’s crown jewel, Yosemite National Park. (Click here for our Yosemite Vacation Ideas Guide and further details.) It has it all, really – lush groves of giant Redwoods, majestic waterfalls and massive granite walls and domes. The 750,000-acre, 1,200 square-mile park contains thousands of lakes and ponds, 1,600 miles of streams, 800 miles of hiking trails and 350 miles of roads.
Yosemite’s temperatures will vary with elevation, and conditions can change rapidly, so wise travelers dress in layers and always carry some kind of rain gear. Precipitation is most predominant during the January-through-March winter months, but storms are also commonplace during the transitional spring and fall seasons, and summer can bring spectacular thunderstorms. To avoid the worst of the crowds, try to plan your Sierras and Gold Country Yosemite trip during winter, spring or fall – any season but summer.
And, again, be sure to bring your camera! Ansel Adams shot his most famous photos here, and the park is extremely popular with professional and hobby nature photographers.
Northeast of Yosemite and near Mono Lake, photographers will also likely enjoy a stop at Bodie State Historical Park. Bodie is an honest-to-goodness ghost town, deserted since the 1930s in a most eerie fashion – residents just moved on for some reason, leaving all their belongings behind. Current park authority requires that it remain in a state of “arrested decay” (i.e., no repairs are made to the structures), and it provides a striking photo-shoot location – perfect for black-and-white or sepia-tone photos. The late-afternoon-into-sunset lighting is optimal.
Driving southeast through the Sierra National Forest, you will pass through the Mammoth Lake area and arrive at Bishop. About another hours’ drive will take you to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, whose resident trees are estimated to be more than 4,600 years old and believed to be the oldest living trees on Earth.
Two other national forests blanket this area, Inyo and Sequoia, serving as frames for two more geological jewels – Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Despite their close proximity, the two parks are quite different. Sequoia National Park encircles 14,495-foot Mt. Whitney (the highest mountain in the lower 48 states) and is home to a tree called “General Sherman,” the largest tree in the world and believed to be the world’s largest organism, as well. Kings Canyon National Park takes its name from the narrow chasm – one of the deepest in this country – cut by the Kings River.
Here are some articles where you can learn more about California’s Sierras and Gold Country vacation destinations and the extraordinary experiences you can enjoy there:
Note: Information in this article was accurate
when it was published, but hours, prices, etc.
change constantly. Please confirm details
with local contacts before traveling.