California’s Gold Country is a broad region east of the Central Valley centered around a 300 mile long stretch of State Highway 49 that passes through towns that originated during the gold rush. Many tourists pass it up in favor of the state’s more popular tourist destinations, but intrepid travelers will get to experience a unique and beautiful area full of attractions that offer an authentic slice of California history and local culture. When planning your next rafting trip you might think about exploring this varied and fascinating region. Take some time, get out of your car and wander the streets of this place known as the Mother Lode.
Our Main Tuolumne and Cherry Creek rafting trip meeting spots are about a 2.5 – 3 hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area. Consider arriving the night before your rafting trip and overnighting in Sonora, Groveland, or Jamestown. Travelers from the Bay Area usually drive to Yosemite via State Highway 120 and on their way will pass through the southern end of Tuolumne County, so named for the river that forms its southern border. Take a slight detour off 120 where State 108 veers north towards the town of Jamestown.
Founded in 1849 by gold seekers, Jamestown is a good place to stretch, gas up, browse antiques, have lunch or dinner and maybe enjoy a taste of one of the local wines at the Gianelli Vineyards Tasting Room or if you prefer, a select cigar and spirit at Stogies Gold Country Lounge. Jamestown was the site of the filming of several major movies including My Little Chickadee starring W.C. Fields, where co-star Mae West uttered the lines, “Funny, every man I meet wants to protect me. I can’t figure out what from.” Some of that movie was filmed at what is now Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. In addition to seasonal steam and diesel-powered train rides, a visit to Railtown includes tours of the vintage locomotive roundhouse and machine shop and other related exhibits. Movie paraphernalia used in filming some other classic train sequences is also on display. Early risers can enjoy breakfast at the Woods Creek Cafe on Hwy 49 before the drive to our trip meeting spots.
Sonora, the County seat was known as the “Gem of the Southern Mines” during the Gold Rush and many historic buildings remain. The old downtown is dotted with restaurants, antique stores, and other points of interest. The Diamondback Grill in Sonora is a great place to meet and catch dinner the night before or after your trip. The new Bourbon Barrel cocktail lounge is quickly becoming a local favorite and is a great place to meet, enjoy food (the brisket sandwich is awesome), and sample from over 140 varieties of bourbon, from classics like Woodford’s Reserve to a variety of lesser known small batch craft bourbons. Both are located a short walk from several hotels located in the historic downtown area. There are several wineries in the nearby hills, and just outside Sonora you can taste hand-crafted hard cider and apple brandy at the Indigeny Reserve.
A bit farther north on state highway 49 lies Columbia State Park. Columbia is a preserved mining town dating from the 1840’s. There are several unique dining options and the local saloons serve an authentic Sarsaparilla as well as select microbrews. Columbia has one of the largest collections of gold rush era buildings in California, definitely worth a walk around town, and the Columbia Candy Kitchen has been the home of fine handmade confections since the 1800’s, their crafted chocolate ranks with the best, try the chocolate covered pine nut log. The songwriter and poet Woody Guthrie visited and stayed in Columbia for a period in the early 1940’s and wrote about his visit in his novel, Bound for Glory. Columbia photo by Michael Sharps.
Sonora and Columbia are both an easy stop over for our California rafting guests. From Sonora it is just a one-hour drive to our meeting spots for Cherry Creek and Tuolumne River rafting trips. Discover more about the area on the Sonora Trip Advisor page or the Tuolumne County Visitors Website.
The historic town of Groveland, located on State Hwy 120 on its way to Yosemite National Park has several charming lodging and dining options. You can whet your whistle and enjoy a meal at the Iron Door Saloon, California’s oldest continuously operated drinking establishment. Lodging options include the award-winning Groveland Hotel and nearby Hotel Charlotte. Groveland is located just a 15 minute drive from our meeting spots for Tuolumne and Cherry Creek rafting trips. Visit the Groveland Trip Advisor page for more options.
Merced 1-Day and Half-Day rafting trips meet near the town of El Portal, just outside Yosemite’s Arch Rock Entrance Station on State Highway 140. Highway 140 follows a path from the Central Valley city of Merced for approximately 70 miles to the Park entrance. About half way into that trip it intersects with Highway 49 at the town of Mariposa, named for the Spanish word for butterfly after Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga encountered and noted the large number they found here in 1806. Mariposa boasts the oldest court house in California, built in 1854 on land donated by John C. Fremont. It is a about an hour from our meeting place for Merced rafting trips. There are several lodging and dining options, and some authentic local watering holes worth checking out. You can find out more on the Mariposa Trip Advisor page.
Top photo courtesy of Creative Commons.