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Rob Brodman

The American River

The American River
Rush for gold, rush for adrenaline

The most popular whitewater-rafting river in the West, the American tumbles through the Gold Country, an inviting jumble of churning rapids, deep pools, and tumbling cascades. While its rich riparian ecosystem long supported Native American tribes, the next wave of humans—the legendary ‘49ers—saw the waterway as means to their fortune, panning for gold in the river silt and blasting banks with hydraulic spouts, hoping to reveal veins of the precious metal. While remnants of old mining equipment still poke up in or near the river, the rush for gold has mostly been replaced by the rush for adrenaline. Each of the American’s three forks serve up their own style of watery fun, and outfitters offer everything from family-friendly half-day floats to white-knuckle multi-day adventures.

Which fork works for you? The most popular is the South Fork, with Class II-III rapids that are perfect for families and first-time rafters. The lower segments of the North and Middle Forks offer easy Class II rapids—a great place to try out whitewater canoeing or kayaking. But it’s a whole other story upriver, with upper segments of both forks boasting Class IV-V rapids with names like Bogus Thunder and Texas Chainsaw Mama.

"There is nothing quite like spending the night alongside the river, trout rising on the surface of the silvery water as evening falls and a frieze of stars paints the night sky."

While day trips are always a blast—especially on hot summer days when good-natured water fights between rafters break out with inviting frequency—there is nothing quite like spending the night alongside the river, trout rising on the surface of the silvery water as evening falls and a frieze of stars paints the night sky. Some outfitters go all out to create unique getaways; O.A.R.S. offers craft beer-tastings on some of its overnight trips.

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Laura Flippen

Discover Gold Country

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53
November
Average (°F)
Sept - Nov
87°
High
43°
Low
Dec - Feb
60°
High
38°
Low
Mar - May
80°
High
44°
Low
June - Aug
92°
High
56°
Low

Bumping up against the west side of the Sierra Nevada Range, on California’s eastern side, the Sierra foothills that make up the Gold Country are California Classics.

Discovery of gold in 1848 sparked the largest mass migration in U.S. history, with more than 300,000 pioneers heading west.

Here, the state’s past, present, and future merge into one unforgettable destination. Pan for gold like a 49er, bike through meadow-and-oak countryside, and raft a rapid-filled river, then explore historic towns with Old West architecture and a new generation of pioneers, opening up outstanding wineries, farm-to-table restaurants, inviting shops, and charming B&Bs.

Sep 7 - Sep 9
Rub elbows with craft-beer makers and sample all manner of California brews at this annual three-day event

Beyond being the state capital, Sacramento has staked its claim as one of California’s nerve centers for great craft beer. This annual event, first launched in 2015, further enhances...

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Courtesy of California Craft Brewers Association
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SPECIAL FEATURE
Spend a few nights in California’s prospecting past—while enjoying plenty of 21st-century comforts

It’s no coincidence that the state highway running through the Sierra Nevada foothills is number 49. This is Gold Country, where, starting in 1849, a reef of gold-bearing quartz ...

5 Classic Gold Country B&Bs
Courtesy of Hanford House Inn
SPECIAL FEATURE
Find whitewater rafting fun for all—from newbies to nerves-of-steel experts

Think of a river, and chances are you’ve got your own daydream. Maybe you want to float on inner tubes, or maybe your style is to careen through raucous rapids in an eight-person inflatable raft....

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Groveb/Getty Images
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During California's Gold Rush, over 25 million ounces of gold were mined from the Sierra Nevada foothills.
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Spotlight: Sacramento

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Golden past, bright future

Like many cities, California’s state capitol is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this...

California Auto Museum
Richard Cummins/Getty Images

California Auto Museum

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This shrine to cool motors of all types has plenty to see and do

While many museums ask visitors to look but not touch, the California Auto Museum, in Sacramento, abides by the opposite policy. “...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini UFOs. Artisanal cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers’ markets...

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Laura Flippen
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Laura Flippen

Nevada City

Great food, wine, and shows find a home in the Mother Lode

This forest-wrapped hamlet of handsome Victorian-era homes and tree-lined streets 60 miles/98 kilometers northeast of Sacramento is one of the...

SPECIAL FEATURE
From Gold Rush history to the 8th wonder of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

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Amy Meredith/Flickr
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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Auburn

Explore an ideally situated Gold Country town with a sporty side

History and modern culture merge with outdoor adventure in this appealing town on the west side of the Sierra Nevada. While Auburn has long been...

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Marshall Gold Discovery

See where the rush for gold started

Driving the sleepy stretch of winding Highway 49 between Auburn and Placerville, it’s hard to believe the region was the booming heart of one of...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Take on whitewater rapids, pan for gold and explore California history

Pluck a bit of gold from a riverbed scoured by the original ’49ers. Descend deep into the earth to check out unusual rock formations. Get your heart racing with a ride down whitewater rapids. For...

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Laura Flippen

Columbia State Historic Park

Step into the 1850s in this Gold Country gem

With throwback charm and a treaure trove of historic artifacts, this park presents the Gold Rush in living, breathing color. Costumed...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Elegant estates, relaxed wineries, urban tasting rooms

Elegant estates at the end of country roads lined with vineyards? Check. Low-key wineries housed in converted barns? Check again. Urban wine trails with hip in-town tasting rooms? Yup,...

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Laura Flippen

Sip Wine in the Gold Country

Sample vintages from old vines and new varietals

The roots of old Zinfandel grapevines run deep in this northeastern region of California, with winemaking here dating back to the Gold Rush days...

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Jenny Martin

Murphys

Explore a blossoming country town with big-city appeal

Like San Francisco in the mid-1800s, Murphys was one of California’s richest boom towns, but this appealing town in Calaveras County still feels...

September

“Mountains. Magic. Music.” The tagline of this lively, four-day event says it all. Families and fans are encouraged to turn the event into a giant camping party, and there’s tons of space for...

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Courtesy of Strawberry Music Festival
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Jenny Pfeiffer

Apple Hill

Wine, beer, a bliss-out spa—and juicy, sweet apples

Autumn in the Gold Country means clear blue skies, fiery red grapevines, and an invigorating snap in the air. It’s apple season too, with more...

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Jenny Ella Pfeiffer

Moaning Cavern

Walk, climb, or rappel into a subterranean wonderland

Discovered by miners in 1851, this vertical chamber near Angels Camp is so massive it is the largest public cavern in California—big enough to...

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Jamestown

Climb aboard majestic locomotives for a cruise through the Sierra foothills

The Hollywood film industry’s attraction to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park has helped keep its steam-hissing locomotives and railroad cars...

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Sutter's Fort State Historic Park was the first permanent European settlement in the Central Valley.
SPECIAL FEATURE
Hands-on fun for all at farms, ranches, and fields statewide

From almonds and olives up north to avocados, oranges, and dates in South, the Golden State has a crop (or 10) for nearly every stretch of terrain. After all,...

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Tai Power Seeff
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Trip 4 days 10 stops

California Gold

Whitewater Rafting, Tucked-Away Wineries
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Begin your trip in the center of the state, home to the capital city of Sacramento. Like many cities, California’s state capital is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this low-key city, with microbreweries, gastropubs, and trendy boutiques...

The American River  VCW_D_GC_T7_WellsFargo_Columbia_Flippen_Webdam-1280x642

With throwback charm and a treasure trove of historic artifacts, this park presents the Gold Rush in living, breathing color. Costumed docents do more than lead tours of this carefully preserved Mother Lode town—the state’s second largest city at the peak of the Gold Rush; they actually live and...