Things to Do Before or After an American River Trip
Parks in the Area
The Marshall Gold Discovery State Park is located in the city of Coloma, California, where it borders the South Fork of the American River. In 1848, James W. Marshall was building the Sutter Sawmill when he spotted tiny flecks of gold in the tailrace. The word of his discovery quickly spread, and thousands of people flocked to California to get their share of the fortune. In this park, visitors can dive into the history of the California Gold Rush, try their hands at panning for gold, or take a scenic bike ride or hike through the park.
To experience Gold Rush history, you can visit on a Living History Day, as hosted by the Gold Discovery Park Association! This reenactment event occurs every month on the second Saturday. Historical re-enactors wear period attire and demonstrate many aspects of life during the gold rush. Families are welcome to explore the history of the California Gold rush; there are many hands-on activities for children.
Gold Panning lessons are available for only $7 per person through the Eureka Experience Program! Supplies are provided while you learn how to pan for gold during the 45 minute lesson, and pans are available for purchase if you choose to try your hand at panning in the South Fork of the American River! Please note that panning is only allowed in designated areas.
The Junior Ranger Program is available to children interested in exploring Marshall Gold Discovery State Park to become a Junior Ranger! The program is free, and Junior Ranger patches are available $2 in the Gold Rush Mercantile. You must complete the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park Junior Ranger program to be eligible to purchase a patch.
|Day Pass, 1 Adult||$8|
|Event (children 5 years old and under free)||$8|
Winter hours vary, and the park is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Please see the home page for more details. There is no access fee, but donations are greatly appreciated. Many spaces are also available to rent for Weddings and Special Events.
The park is open 7 days a week, with summer hours (Labor Day to Memorial Day weekends) from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
310 Back Street
Coloma, CA 95613
The Dave Moore Nature area explores multiple habitats of the Sierra foothills on a short, mile-long loop between the parking lot and the South Fork of the American River. Take a moment to explore the tailing piles and creek channels created by Chinese laborers during the Gold Rush. The nature park is free to enter. It is also pet friendly and accessible to wheelchairs and baby strollers; this is a beautiful place to watch birds, picnic, or take a jog.
The park is open 7 days a week from 8AM to sunset. There are no access fees, but donations are appreciated and will fund the maintenance of the park.
Del Oro Ln & Highway 49
Lotus, CA 95651
The Henningsen-Lotus Park is a great place to spend the day with your family, with 51 acres of land available for various activities. The park includes a public boat launch on the South Fork of the American River, a beach for swimming, two soccer fields, and a softball / little league complex. It also includes a short loop for jogging or walking. Dogs are welcome.
The park is open 7 days a week from 8AM to dusk. Entrance into the park is $5 for a private vehicle. Fees to put-in and take-out rafts, use the ball field, use the soccer field, or rent the pavilion can be found on the Henningsen-Lotus Park home page.
950 Lotus Road
Lotus, CA 95651
The Cronan Ranch Trails Park is located near the South Fork of the American River in Pilot Hill, California. This park features 12 miles of trails which explore various Sierra Nevada habitats, from grassland to riverside to woodland; the park serves as a nature corridor, and it contains an abundance of native flora and fauna. This ranch has experienced rich history since it was developed by the California Pacific Railroad in 1887, acquired by Michael Cronin in 1918 for agricultural development, and eventually purchased by Francis Bacci in 1945. This portion of Bacci Ranch was acquired in 2004 by the American River Conservancy for recreation and wildlife conservation purposes.
Visitors are invited to go hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding along the expansive trails of the Park. A map can be found here.
Pedro Hill Rd & Highway 49
Pilot Hill, CA 95664
Folsom Lake is nestled at the base of the Sierra foothills; this State Recreation Area offers a wide variety of activities for visitors. The park boasts 95 miles of trails for a range of activities including hiking, camping, running, biking, and horseback riding. On the water, there are opportunities for fishing, boating, and water skiing. A wealth of information can be found on the Folsom Lake SRA website, including hours of operation, rules and regulations, and information on boating on the lake.
Boat ramp and campground information can be found in the map at the end of the Folsom Lake SRA Brochure. Hiking and riding trails, including designated horse assembly locations, can be found in this map. Please check the Folsom Lake SRA website for day use and camping fees.
7755 Folsom-Auburn Road
Folsom, CA 95630
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you can get rid of him for a whole weekend.”
Fishing on the South Fork of the American River is abundant, with plenty of rainbow and brown trout in the waters. Trout up to eight pounds are regularly caught in the area, though the rainbows are more common between 10 and 12 inches.
The California Department of Fish and Game release catchable trout each year; the trout season begins in April and lasts into summer. Much of the best fishing is available below Chili Bar during weekdays. Boat access can be difficult on some days, though, due to lower water releases from the dam; please refer to Dreamflows for the water release schedule.
Fishing licenses are required for every person starting at age 16. Fishing licenses are sold at local stores, including the Sutter Center Market, Ponderosa Park, Camp Lotus, and the Coloma Resort.
Trails: Hiking, Biking, and Horseback Riding
There are many trails in the Coloma Valley which are great for hiking, biking, or horseback riding. Many of the trails are shared between many activities, so be sure to keep an eye out for each other. Visit the American River Conservancy website for a comprehensive list of trails they manage.
Easy Hiking & Jogging: For easily accessible hiking and jogging opportunities, both the Dave Moore Nature Area and the Hensington Lotus Park offer short, easy trails which are wheelchair accessible.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Park: Hiking Only
If you’re looking for a short adventure, then the Discovery, Monument, and Monroe Ridge trails in the Marshall Gold Discovery State Park are a great option. These trails can be hiked individually, but they create a 4 mile loop exploring the history and scenery of Coloma when combined.
Monroe Trail: To find the trail, head southeast out of the Marshall Gold Discovery State Park. When Highway 49 veers sharply to the east and turns into Coloma Road, take a right onto Cold Springs Road. Take a right onto Monument Road and follow this to a parking area. Please note that parking is strictly enforced and cars should only be left in designated areas.
The trailhead is located a short ways back down Monument Road from which you just came, where a sign for the Monroe Trail will direct you towards the right. In its 2.3 miles, the Monroe Trail will take you to Vista Point, where you can overlook the Coloma and Lotus valleys; the path then descends to the Monroe orchard, where you’ll learn about the Monroe family – a black family which established themselves in the Gold Rush era and had a strong influence in the history of Coloma.
Cross Highway 49 to continue onto the Discovery Trail.
Discovery Trail: From the North Beach Picnic Area, follow the easy path down to the site where John Marshall discovered gold. You can also explore the sawmill replica here, and there are various historical buildings where you can learn about the Gold Rush settlement. After you’ve explored all the historical sites and shops, you can continue onto the Monument trail.
Monument Trail: Follow signs from the Discovery Trail to the Monument Trail, which will climb a half mile to the James Marshall Monument, where a larger-than-life statue of Marshall points towards the gold discovery site. If you started on the Monroe trail, this trail will bring you back to your car.
310 Back St
Coloma, CA 95613
Cronan Ranch Trails Park: Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding
This expansive park features 12 miles of trails in varying difficulty; the trails cover grassy hills, shaded woodland, and riverside environments. The park has been designated for recreation and wildlife conservation by the American River Conservancy, the Bureau of Land Management, and other partners interested in protecting the beautiful vistas along the South Fork of the American River.
For mountain bikers and horseback riders, these trails are great for riders of all abilities. There are both easy, gentle slopes and steep, more difficult treks. The 12+ miles in Cronan Ranch connects to the larger South Fork American River Trail system for additional biking.
Many different recreational activities are encouraged in this park, so expect to share the trails with other hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. Dogs are welcome.
Pedro Hill Rd & Highway 49
Pilot Hill, CA 95664
Folsom Lake State Recreation Area: Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding
There are multiple trails in this SRA for bike use. The Salmon Falls trail is particularly popular with intermediate / advanced bikers, with 8.5 miles of scenic lakeside views. Park at the Salmon Bridges lot and bike to the Peninsula campground; the trail is not a loop. This map is a great resource for all the bike-designated and multi-use trails in the SRA.
If you’re bringing horses, the Granite Bay area has hitching rails, a water trough, and chemical toilets. Additional horse assembly areas can be found on this map.
South Fork American River Trail: Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding
The hiking enthusiasts who aren’t satisfied with the Monroe, Discovery, and Monument trails loop might be more interested in the South Fork American River Trail. The network of trails stretch 25 miles between the Greenwood Creek Area in Coloma and the Salmon Falls Bridge near El Dorado Hills. The trails vary in difficulty and include the trails in the Cronan Ranch Trails Park. More information can be found at the American River Conservancy; there is also a map for reference.
The two most easily accessible trailheads are the Magnolia trailhead (across from Venezio Vineyards) and the Cronan Ranch trailhead (between Pilot Hill and Coloma).
780 Salmon Falls Rd
El Dorado Hills, CA 95762
Horseback Riding Info
This ranch features boarding, lessons, and an extensive trail system. They’re located in Cool, CA (about a 15 minute drive from the South Fork of the American River). Please check their website for more information.
The Divide Horseman’s Association is a great resource for information on horseback riding in the Coloma, Lotus, and Auburn areas. They hold regular events in the area.
Other Popular Mountain Biking & Cycling Trails
Foresthill Divide Loop: Everyone from beginners to advanced bikers will enjoy this 13 mile loop along the Divide between Foresthill and Auburn. Scenery include vistas into the Middle Fork of the American Canyon and the North Fork of the American Canyon. The trailhead is located 6 miles past the Foresthill Bridge on Foresthill Road.
Magnolia Loop: This loop contains 2+ miles of trails and is great for children. The Magnolia loop is located across from the Venezio Winery on Highway 49.
South Fork American River Trail: These 25 miles of trail link the Greenwood Creek Area in Coloma to the Salmon Falls Bridge in the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area; it also passes by the Cronan Ranch Trails Park. The trail includes beautiful scenery along the South Fork of the American River.
Gold Panning on the South Fork of the American River is extremely regulated due to the impact it can have on the environment. There are two main options:
Private Property – You may pan on private property as long as you have the owner’s permission. This includes private campgrounds, as long as those panning are registered guests.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Park – Gold panning lessons are available for $7 per person through the Eureka Experience Program. Pans are also available for purchase if you choose to try your hand at panning on your own. Panning is allowed (and encouraged) in the park on the northeast shore of the river by Mt. Murphy Road bridge across from the park museum.
Panning supplies are available for purchase in many local shops, including Sutter Center Market, Ponderosa Park, Coloma Resort, and Ceccardi’s Feed Store.
In 1848, two important historical events occurred in Auburn, CA: first, gold was discovered by James Marshall at the Sutter Creek Mill, thus prompting one of the greatest mass migrations of the history of the world. Second, wine was brought to the Sierra Nevada Foothills, thus beginning a rich history of excellent wine making.
As the Gold Rush brought more and more settlers across the United States, European winemakers established vineyards throughout the hills. The climate and soils of the Sierra Foothills are remarkably similar to those of outstanding European wineries, making the gold country region an ideal location to produce excellent wines. In the 1920s, winemaking was impeded and stopped almost entirely as winemakers struggled during the depression and prohibition.
In the 1960s, though, winemaking returned to the Sierra Foothills as winemakers remembered the excellent growing conditions of the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Since then, the region has made a name for itself as a destination for boutique, family-owned wineries featuring unique wines.