With autumn in full season and winter whispering just around the corner, it’s time to get the family in the car and explore an outing in the foothills that is sure to create memories lasting a lifetime. For a great overview we provide portions of Betty Sederquist’s article from Sierra Foothill Magazine which presents a perfect overview of places to go and things to see. Enjoy your exploration! OLDTOWN PLACERVILLELocated on Highway 50, Placerville dates back to the earliest days of the California Gold Rush. Then, tents and crudely built cabins sprouted lickety-split in what was called Dry Diggins. Soon a series of lynchings gave rise to another name for the rowdy gold camp, Hangtown; a noose-choked mannequin dangling above Main Street offers a macabre reminder of those days. The town now sports a more genteel name (placer refers to surface gold, relatively easy to find in the early days of the Gold Rush), solid brick structures, intriguing alleys, ornate B&Bs, and anchored by its massive white courthouse, serves as the El Dorado County seat. Cozy Main Street sports antique stores and art galleries, and restaurants abound in many flavors and themes.COLOMAOn January 24, 1848, James Marshall, a carpenter supervising construction of a sawmill along the South Fork of the American River for aspiring land baron John Sutter, saw something glittering during morning inspection of the tailrace. The gold he discovered set off the greatest gold rush in history. Today kids not only gawk at the old buildings in Coloma in Marshall Gold State Historic Park, but stroll along the river or, if it’s not too hot, hike up to Marshall’s Monument (the discoverer’s ornate burial place) and then along the Monroe Ridge Trail, which offers sweeping views of the river valley far below.WHITEWATER RAFTINGThrills, chills and family bonding are all part of the whitewater rafting experience on the South Fork of the American River. Clear waters, exciting rapids and beautiful scenery are some of the ingredients that make this the most popular whitewater rafting river in the West. Several dozen commercial companies, many in business on the river for decades, stress safety mixed with a lot of fun. Kids as young as eight enjoy the adventure. Policies on swimming ability vary according to the outfitter; some require an ability to swim while others say that ability to follow instructions is the most important asset for river safety and comfort. The Lower Gorgea four to six-hour time commitmentis well-suited to families, since the river moves relatively slowly for the first part of the adventure, allowing paddling practice before hitting bigger, Class III waters. Inexperienced, solo rafters should not attempt the more challenging water on their own.APPLE HILLBack in the 1950s, western El Dorado County was a sleepy agricultural region, sustained by pear harvests and not much else. Then pear blight hit, decimating the orchards. In 1964, several Camino-area growers with a few apple orchards on hand united to create the Apple Hill Growers Association. The group has now grown from the 16 original owners to over 55 ranches. Today, folks of all ages enjoy the home-baked goodies, fruit such as super-sweet apple varieties, pears or berries, antique car and tractor shows, pony rides, pumpkin patches in late September through October, cut your own Christmas trees in November and December, and more. Many of the ranches feature picnic areas, weekend craft booths and homegrown music.SLY PARKBring on the marshmallows, your water wings and favorite campfire songs. Sly Park, which surrounds Jenkinson Lake, is a great family setting for camping, swimming, hiking, fishing and picnicking. Tall, fragrant pines frame 159 campsites, available by reservation. Amenities are rustic, consisting of vault toilets and water faucets; no hookups are available, although a dump station is available at the park entrance. In addition, several group campgrounds, including an equestrian campground, are available. Folks can rent pedal boats, canoes, kayaks, dinghies and small, motorized fishing boats on a first-come, first-served basis at the Stonebraker Boat Ramp, about 2.5 miles from the park entrance.CHAW’SE (INDIAN GRINDING ROCK STATE PARK)A massive limestone slab, called Chaw’se, pockmarked with over 1,100 acorn grinding holes, attests to the presence of the first Californians, the northern Miwok, who came here for thousands of years to prepare the core food staple that kept these Native American groups thriving. Today, ancient oak trees shade a campground, picnic area, a reconstruction of a large native roundhouse and a regional Indian museum that traces the history of these peoples and offers hands-on activities for families. Stop by on a September weekend for the Chaw’se Big Time Indian Celebration, when dancers in traditional regalia perform sacred dances in the roundhouse and vendors demonstrate traditional crafts and serve up Indian tacos.BLACK CHASMOnly a few minutes north of Chaw’Se at 15701 Pioneer-Volcano Road is the closest publicly accessible cave to El Dorado Hills. Black Chasm offers spectacular underground formations of stalactites, stalagmites and rare helictite crystals. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 because of these crystals that sometimes resemble a wall of sparkling spun glass, the cave is the most recent in the U.S. open to the public (2000). Up to 20 visitors at a time go on the sometimes-damp 50-minute tour. At one stop, gaze far below to an azure pool. After the tour, families can sift pre-packaged bags of gem-containing dirt in a search for treasure. Crack-your-own geodes and mineral displays in the gift shop also inspire budding geologists.GOLD MINESTales of toils of early-day gold miners become more vivid when presented not in a boring classroom, but 550 feet underground in a network of mine tunnels. At Sutter Gold Mine, accessible just south of Amador City on Highway 49, visitors don hard hats, board the “Boss Buggy Shuttle,” zip 1,495 feet into the mine and listen as a guide shares what early-day miners endured as three-man teams hammered and drilled into rock for ten hours a day, their work illuminated only by a feeble candle. For a few seconds, the guide extinguishes all the lights as the group sits in a “safe” room equipped with emergency supplies. On a short walk, visitors see displays of “improved” drills that nevertheless broke miners’ bodies or dissolved their lungs with silica dust. The hour-long tour includes close-up looks at quartz veins, bits of gold and fools’ gold. Another publicly accessible but smaller mine is only minutes from El Dorado Hills. Hangtown Gold Bug Park is at the northern edge of Placerville. The 61-acre park features shaded picnic areas, hiking trails and the eight-stamp Joshua Handy Stamp Mill, once used to crush gold ore. Wander into the small museum/gift shop, pay a fee, don a hard hat, and explore 352 feet of the Gold-Rush-era mine, open for tours daily from April to October.THE CONFLUENCESwimming, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, fast-flowing water (stay away from fast, sometimes fatal stretches of river in spring and early summer), rugged terrain and the ninth-highest bridge in the world are all here at the junction of the North and Middle forks of the American River. Accessible from Auburn via Highway 49 with its hairpin turns down into a steep river canyon, the Confluence is at the heart of the 42,000-acre Auburn State Recreation Area, with over 100 miles of trails. The Quarry Road Trail, an easy walk suitable for families with young children, leads from the south side of the Highway 49 bridge along the Middle Fork about a mile along an old railroad bed to some ruins. Scramble up the hill here about a quarter of a mile for a gander at spectacular cliffs that mark an old limestone quarry. Upriver from the quarry, the riverside trail becomes more rugged. Gold Rush mining camps with names such as Murderer’s Bar crowded the river banks more than 150 years ago but were long ago washed away by flood waters.CALAVERAS BIG TREESFew trees on earth get bigger than giant sequoias, which can live 4,000 years. At Calaveras Big Trees State Park two groves of these trees tower over the heart of a 6,000-acre mostly pine forest near the Stanislaus River. The giant trees, the largest of which is about 30 feet in diameter, have drawn tourists since Gold Rush days. Most visitors meander along a 1.5-mile-long handicapped-access trail in the North Grove. In addition, there are five primitive, environmental walk-in sites. Kids enjoy daily campfire and junior ranger programs as well as a variety of nature walks. A shaded picnic area offers a respite from the walk.To find out more about these and other sites check out the California State Parks web site.
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