Hiking, biking, golf, rock climbing, water sports, skiing, snowboarding, camping. When it comes to outdoor adventure, the Gold Country has it all! Whether you are an adrenaline junkie or a nature lover, the region has something for everyone.
National & State Parks
California is home to nine national parks and close to 300 state parks. The gem of the National Park System, Yosemite National Park, is situated in the Gold Country with entrances from three counties: Madera, Mariposa, and Tuolumne. Yosemite may be best known for its magnificent waterfalls and breathtaking granite peaks, but the park is full of dramatic valleys, lush meadows, giant sequoias, and a vast wilderness. Visitors can hike, camp, bike, rock climb, raft or just look up at El Capitan in awe. The state park system offers dozens of options for outdoor recreation including the Auburn State Recreation Area, Marshall Gold State Historic Park, Emerald Bay State Park, D.L. Bliss State Park, Donner Memorial State Park, and Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The terrain of Prairie City State Vehicle Recreation Area varies from flat grasslands to rolling hills to cobbled mine tailings – evidence of the search for gold in the 1800s – which creates exciting trails for motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and 4-wheel drive vehicles.
Hiking & Biking
Yosemite National Park is home to many legendary hikes, whether you have your eye on conquering the summit of Half Dome or are looking for an experienced guide to take you on a multi-day hike through the High Sierra. The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is a spectacular site and hikers can take a five mile hike to Wapama Falls. Submit trails completed in Tuolumne County to earn a virtual badge through Visit Tuolumne County’s Trail Heads Program. On the southern side, the Wawona Meadow Loop Trailtraverses one of the largest meadows in Yosemite National Park. The trail is horse-friendly, dog-friendly, and bike-friendly, too. Hikers and bikers on the Arnold Rim Trail will see breathtaking vistas with panoramic views stretching from Mt. Diablo in the Bay Area to snowy Mt. Lyell on the high eastern slopes of the Sierras near Yosemite. El Dorado County is home to arguably some of the most scenic hiking in the United States. At Sly Parkriders can roll through the Sierra foothills’ diverse woodlands with rewarding downhills on the 6.5-mile loop south of the lake or take the loop around the lake with a flat, double-wide trail suited for beginner and intermediate riders. The Lake Clementine Trail is a gorgeous panoramic hike along the North Fork of the American River that passes underneath the Foresthill Bridge, the tallest bridge in California, and leads to the cascading waterfall of the North Fork Dam at Lake Clementine. Several other hiking and biking trails are located throughout the Auburn State Recreation Area, including sections of the famed Western States Trail that traverses 100 miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn. Hidden Falls Regional Park in Auburn offers 30 miles of multi-use trails with great views for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
The Tahoe Rim Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail are just two of the of the region’s vast trail networks boasting unimaginably gorgeous vistas. You’ll find beautiful hiking throughout the foothills with its rolling hills, diverse vegetation, and wildlife. Just east of Sierra City, the Pacific Crest Trail winds itself across Haypress Creek, then emerges at the Yuba River at Loves Falls creating spectacular waterfalls. The sleepy Gold Rush town of Downieville transforms into a mountain bike mecca with world-class downhill and cross-country trails. Downieville has become synonymous with seemingly endless single-track trails running through heavily forested ridgelines, canyons, and mountain streams and rivers and is the home of the 14-mile, 4000-foot descent of the world-famous Downieville Downhill.
“Down the hill” in Sacramento, bikers flock to the 32-mile paved American River Parkway Trail, which follows the river from Sacramento through Rancho Cordova to Folsom. For more leisurely exploration, hop on tandem and four-some bikes that are big enough for the whole family in Old Sacramento. Rent a road or mountain bike to explore the trails around Lake Natoma in Folsom or just cruise on an e-bike around town.
The American River through El Dorado County offers an unforgettable experience for water lovers. Made famous by the 1849 Gold Rush, this is the river where James Marshall first discovered gold. Today, the South Fork is California’s most famous whitewater river. Both the upper and lower sections of the American River promise great rapids and gorgeous scenery. The upper section of the American River quickly becomes a rollicking ride over countless rapids such as Meat-grinder, Racehorse, Triple Threat, and the infamous Troublemaker. The South Fork is an intermediate Class III adventure that’s appreciated by rafters of any age and skill level. The North Fork and Middle Fork of the American River in Placer County offer intermediate-advanced Class III-IV+ adventure with spectacular scenery. In Sierra County, the Yuba River provides great Class 4 and 5 whitewater rafting nearly all summer long. Bass Lake is a year-round vacation spot just 19 miles from Yosemite National Park’s south entrance. Bass Lake offers plenty of activities including swimming, water sports, and boating.
The Sac State Aquatic Center on Lake Natoma, home to world class rowing championships, offers an assortment of watercraft rentals from boats and kayaks to stand up paddle boards and windsurfers. If you don’t have your own, SUPs and kayaks can be rented at many points along the river. Families can enjoy California’s 4th largest reservoir, New Melones Lake –located off Highway 49. This beautiful environment offers endless gorgeous days of swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing, camping, hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. The Folsom Aquatic Center, open year-round, offers aquatic fitness activities including lap swim, lessons, aqua aerobics, and a water slide and kids pool activity area.
Rock climbing is having a moment. Between films like “The Dawn Wall” and “Free Solo” and its inaugural spot in the Tokyo Olympics, it seems like everyone is getting into the sport—or at least watching! Gold Country is home to some of the best rock climbing in the west. Why not take a lesson from the Yosemite Mountaineering School? Guides will get you on the highest—or tamest—peaks of Yosemite National Park. While in the area, a stop at the Mariposa Museum and History Center to check out its newest exhibit that traces the history of rock climbing in the Yosemite Valley. Nearby, Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides provides outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels the opportunity to experience rock climbing in Yosemite National Park, and the surrounding wilderness. Revered for their “Backcountry Gourmet” menus and signature “Alpine Start” coffee, this outfitter offers a first-rate approach to spending time in the backcountry.
In Placer County, Donner Summit is a must-do for climbers looking for quality and variety. This destination features trad, multi-pitch trad, sport climbing, and bouldering. Or head into the Auburn Quarry and scale the limestone cliffs of Cave Valley.