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California: Five Cool Things to Do in Calaveras County

California’s Gold Country offers a lot of activities for the adventurous traveler. Calaveras County has a string of fascinating sites and attractions within easy driving distance from Highway 49 that can take you both back in time and connect you to amazing experiences.

1. Columbia
Columbia State Historic Park is California’s answer to Williamsburg. In this meticulously-preserved Gold Rush town, you can experience a taste of what life was like in the 1850s. Pan for gold, or ride the historic stagecoach! Not only do they offer regular walking tours on weekends, but volunteers in period costumes are in residence the 2nd Saturday of every month, to give you a feel for what the town was like during the 19th century. The Fallon House Theater performs plays and melodramas in a historical setting. Columbia also hosts regular special events, from concerts to art shows. The Fall Season is especially rich in events, ranging from banjo contests and chili cookoffs to harvest festivals and jack o’ lantern carving!
There are also numerous local restaurants offering a variety of fare, and hotel and B&B accommodations are available within Columbia itself.
2. Angels Camp
Angels Camp is a picturesque Gold Rush town that offers a wide variety of activities throughout the year. Mark Twain put Angels Camp on the map with his story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” and Angels has adopted the Jumping Frog as its mascot, enough that it’s sometimes called “Frogtown.” Every year, people gather for the Jumping Frog Jubilee, where frogs from across America compete. But that’s not all Angels has to offer. Its picturesque business district abounds with interesting shops and restaurants, and the Angels Camp Museum, which offers mining relics from Frogtown’s past. There are also ongoing events at the local Calaveras County Fairgrounds
3. Calaveras Big Trees
Calaveras Big Trees is one of the least known sites of Giant Sequoias. While Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks get more attention, the trees at Calaveras Big Trees have been an attraction since the earliest days.  In the North Grove, you can walk through groves of giants that were famous in the 19th century, or hike into the South Grove to experience the sequoias in an undeveloped natural grove. A State Park since 1931, the North Grove is easily accessible and you can see the remains of the Discovery Tree, a stump where a dance floor and  bowling alley were built (!), or marvel at trees like Pioneer Cabin Tree. The South Grove, purchased in 1954, can be reached from the trailhead at the end of a gorgeous drive to the south, that crosses the Stanislaus River. This drive alone is a fantastic trip through spectacular scenery, even if you don’t take the hike. Camping is available inside the park.
4. Murphys
Murphy’s was called “The Queen of the Sierras,” and was named “One of the Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America” by Frommers. Check out the historic Murphys Hotel, where General Grant stayed, or sample great local wine at the Black Sheep Winery, in the heart of town. For such a small town, Murphys boasts an amazing array of excellent restaurants, offering gourmet fare. Have a picnic next to a babbling stream in Murphys  Park, or follow Six Mile Road past the park to explore the Ironstone Winery. You can find everything from music events to the local Irish festival. Murphys is a happening place!
5. California Caverns/Cave City
A fascinating complex of striking caverns, California Caverns, also known as “Cave City” has been an institution since the earliest days. Celebrated figures of the era visited these caves, and its complex rooms of amazing stalactites and stalagmites are thought to have been the inspiration for the caves in Mark Twain’s novel “Tom Sawyer.” Once, the entire town of Cave City stood here, including a hotel for cave tourists, and the cave housed a chapel that was popular for weddings. Now, you can explore the historic cave on a walking tour, or opt for a “wild cave” tour into the depths of “Middle Earth.” Turn off State 49 at Jackson and follow the signs back to its remote valley.

Because you just can’t cover all the Cool Things in Calaveras County in one article, we’ll return later, and give you another five cool things to do. You’ll definitely want to go back for more!

Columbia State Historic Park
For General Information: info@columbiacalifornia.com
209-536-1672
http://www.columbiacalifornia.com

Angels Camp

http://www.angelscamp.com

Calaveras Big Trees State Park
1170 California 4
Arnold, CA 95223
(209) 795-2334
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=551

Murphys, Queen of the Sierras
http://www.visitmurphys.com

California Caverns
9565 Cave City Road,
Mountain Ranch, CA 95246
(866) 762-2837
http://www.caverntours.com/CalifRt.htm

Editor's Note: Have a question or comment? Leave a message in the comments below.

Jane BeckmanJane Beckman is a reformed workaholic who has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil. Her passions are food, wine, cooking, travel, and history, in no particular order. In fact, they tend to feed into each other. She might be found cooking over a fire at a historic adobe one weekend, eating crabcakes at a 19th century hotel in downtown Gettysburg on another, or getting lost on a back road, only to find an amazing park or hidden gem of a winery. Her family's love of exploring back roads has always influenced her, as did her father's love of exotic foods. Living in Hawaii at the age of 5, she acquired a taste for poke, pickled octopus, and poi. Japan hooked her on mochi and udon noodles, as well as Japanese kimono. When she was growing up on the Central Coast of California, her parents taught her how to be a "resident tourist" and find things even the locals didn't know about. She continues in that tradition, keeping an eye out for the unique and unexpected.

  • Sonya

    I just went to the Armstrong National Forest over Labor Day weekend. The trees are so magnificent!

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