Sacramento, the state capital of California may not stand out instantly in mining circles but surrounding areas are firmly embedded in the history of gold mining, not to mention its closeness to the Sierra Nevada Mother Lode.
About 45 miles northeast of Sacramento lies Coloma, the location where in 1848, James W. Marshall discovered gold on the American river at Sutter’s Mill. That day, January 24 to be exact, was not only a big one for Marshall, but shaped an important part of American history – the California Gold Rush.
The next seven years after this discovery saw one of the largest movements of gold prospectors from across the world to California. The search for gold riches brought more than 300,000 people to the region. This boosted the region’s economy and population, in the process fast-tracking California’s march to statehood.
Let’s have a look at the areas around Sacramento that made the cut for gold prospectors to explore:
In this town, the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park provides an opportunity to prospect for gold at the site where James Marshall discovered gold. It’s also an ideal place for picnics in the beautiful woodlands with several miles of river available for recreational gold panning.
Auburn has a similar mining history to Coloma due to their proximity to each other. The Auburn State Recreation Area is a public site that is available for gold panning. It is located about one mile south of Auburn, travelling on Highway 49. The area covers the Middle and North Forks of the American River which makes available 40 miles of gold panning opportunities.
Within the Auburn State Recreation Area, one location known as Mineral Bar campground which is located where the Colfax – Iowa Hill Road crosses the American River, may also be a good place to prospect for gold. It’s about 2 miles East of Colfax. Many other rivers and creeks in the area contain gold.
Further up Highway 80 in Colfax, prospectors can also access gold panning areas at the Bear River Campground.
Eldorado National Forest
About 56 miles northeast of Sacramento is the Eldorado National Forest. It surrounds the original California gold discovery site at Coloma, gives this area an advantage based on the numerous gold-bearing rivers and streams found in the region. Gold panning and the use of metal detectors is allowed in the forest provided there is no surface disturbance (which requires filing of a Plan of Operations with the local Ranger District).
Dredging requires a permit from the California Department of Fish and Game (which is presently impossible to obtain.)
Gold panning locations within the forest include the Cache Rock area and the PiPi Campground area. Many other areas suitable for panning can be suggested by the local Ranger Districts. It’s important to obtain maps from the Forest offices to identify mining claims and private lands.
When gold was discovered in the vicinity of this town, it was given the name “Gem of the Southern Mines.” The Angels Camp and areas around New Melones Lake were large gold producers during the gold rush era with hundreds of mines in the nearby mountains.
The rivers that drain from the mountains have been found to contain placer gold. These include the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers.
The town of Downieville is about 100 miles northeast of Sacramento. It is located at the end of the gold-rich Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was founded in 1849 and named after Major William Downie who led an expedition of miners that discovered gold on the North Fork of the Yuba River.
The areas near this town with gold panning opportunities include:
South Yuba River State Park
Located on the South Fork of the Yuba River, this park has several sites where prospectors can search for gold. At the park, gold panning demonstrations are held on a regular basis and participants get the opportunity to find gold in the river.
Union Flat Campground
About 6 miles east of Downieville is the Union Flat Campground. Located along Highway 49, this is another fantastic place to engage in gold panning on public land. The site is inside the Tahoe National Forest and is the only place on the North Yuba River where recreational gold panning is accessible to the public.
Also Read: Gold Mining on the Yuba River in California
Oroville (Feather River)
Most locations along Feather River near Oroville have produced a lot of gold over the years. Rich Bar, Bidwell’s Bar, Cape and the Union Cape are some of the most productive sites on the river around Oroville. Along the Middle Fork branch of Feather River (about 25 miles north of Downieville), is another site known as Nelson Point.
Dozens of smaller creeks with abundant gold feed into the Feather River. These tributaries flow from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, an area that has a labyrinth of gold-bearing lodes and drainages with a history of producing millions of dollars worth of nuggets.
While gold has been mined in the Sacramento area for more than a century, its abundance to date is in no doubt. Although dredging has been essentially banned in most areas, prospectors have a choice of other methods such as sluicing and panning to recover gold in the region.
The proximity of Sacramento to the Sierra Nevada Mother Lode makes the surrounding areas, rivers and creeks, rich hunting grounds for prospectors.