About Sierra Nevada Foothills: Gold Country
Sierra Nevada Foothills: Gold Country
Winding along Hwy-49 through the rolling foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, this small area is packed with small towns which have barely changed in appearance since the gold-rush days of the 1840s triggered their settlement. As usual, the journey can be undertaken in either direction. To the north, you’ll reach our coverage of Gold Country: The Northern Mines at Placerville; in the south at Mariposa, it leaves you perfectly placed to continue to Yosemite National Park.
Unlike the larger, more modernized towns of the Gold Country: The Northern Mines, the communities of the Southern Mines lie far from freeways and the state’s present-day population centers. In some, like Angels Camp (typical of the area’s eccentricities, Angels Camp has a curious relationship with frogs) and Jamestown, the tourist appeal of wooden awnings and wooden sidewalks is milked to the maximum and gift shops and boutiques are everywhere. In others, such as Coulterville and Mokelumne Hill, also among the best places to visit, things seem barely to have altered in a hundred years, and nothing better epitomizes the true nature of the Gold Country than pushing through the swing-door entrance to the local saloon in one of these evocative towns.
The peaceful and verdant landscapes of the region – these days, many local livelihoods depend on the apple orchards which cover the hillsides – do little to suggest the violence of the frontier days, when some of these now placid towns had mines which produced millions of dollars’ worth of gold and held single-male dominated populations where heavy drinking, brawling and vigilante hangings were commonplace.
Evidence to bring alive that period lies within the small but copiously-stocked historical museums, of which every town has one, and which, after the picture-postcard Old West architecture loses its novelty appeal, provide the region’s main source of interest.
If you’re heading here do it between April and October: outside these months, snowfalls are likely and many museums and visitor services are closed.
One AMTRAK (www.amtrak.com) bus service operates buses from Sacramento to Placerville, but there is little public transportation onwards, so if you’re able to drive hire a car.