Southern Mother Lode.
California's rich gold history can be explored in the Southern Mother Lode - spanning from Oakhurst to Sutter Creek. Hwy 49 is the main access to this area.
Get an overview of the colorful history of the Gold Country in Oakhurst, just south of Yosemite National Park, examine period mining equipment and tour a 19th-century jail, a blacksmith shop, and a school. Nearby, the resort area of Bass Lake offers opportunities for boating, fishing, and waterskiing.
Learn about Native American life in North Fork at the Sierra Mono Museum with its artifacts, basketry, and food-preparation displays. Walk the Mono Wind Nature Trail. Nearby, Mammoth Pool invites camping and water sports.
In Mariposa, see one of the worlds largest gem collections at the California State Mining and Mineral The Mariposa County Museum and History Center features gold-mining memorabilia, a miners cabin, and a Native American village.
Coulterville, listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its undisturbed rusticity, once boasted 50 saloons. Exhibits at the Northern Mariposa County History Center bring to life those bygone days.
Historic Groveland is the site of the states oldest continuously operating saloon. Pan for gold in Jamestown, to the northwest. Well-preserved Jamestown has served as the backdrop for many movies, including High Noon, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Back to the Future III. Ride the rails at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.
You also can step back in time in Sonora, amid early-California adobe structures and Victorian homes. Tour the Tuolumne County Museum, housed in Sonora's 1857 courthouse and jail, for its paintings and Western photographs.
Another favorite film location is nearby Columbia, preserved as a state historic park. Ride a stagecoach, sip a sarsaparilla, and pan for gold. Explore Hidden Mine, the states only operating hard-rock mine, which is carved into a hill.
In Murphys, join Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, and Black Bart in the guest log of the Murphys Hotel. Wineries, and shops add to the towns charms. Head east toward Arnold to see the giant sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
To the west is Angels Camp, noted for its annual contest in May, the Jumping Frog Jubilee, inspired by Mark Twain's fictional story. Three caves in the vicinity (California, Mercer, and Moaning Caverns) offer guided tours.
In San Andreas, trace the steps of gentleman-bandit Black Bart at the Calaveras County courthouse and jail, now a museum. North of Angels Camp is Mokelumne Hill, once a rollicking Gold Rush town.
In the county seat of Jackson is the Amador County History Museum, housed in a 19th-century home furnished with period antiques. Shoppers will appreciate the antiques and gift shops along Main St.
East of Jackson, near the tiny town of Volcano, visit Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, where Mi-Wuk Indians once lived. At Sutter Creek, take a self-guided tour past historic structures, and browse the antiques shops. Wine is the new gold in the nearby Shenandoah Valley.