Five More Cool Things to Do in Gold Country

Because there are so many interesting activities in the Gold Country of the Sierra Foothills, we’re going to provide a few more suggestions for fun things you can do when in the area. Our first excursion took us into Calaveras County, so we’re going back for more, then we’ll explore a little farther out, into adjoining Amador County.

1. Murphys Wineries
If you’re in Murphys, check their local wineries. Several great local wineries call Murphys home, and you can taste your way through several either right in Murphys or with just a quick trip out of town. In downtown Murphys, stop by the tasting room for the Black Sheep Winery. Formerly located just outside town, they have moved into the center of the business district, and their wines are always worth the trip. Their “signature” wine is “True Frogs Lily Pad” in White, Red, and Rose, with an amusing label of cartoon frogs sharing a glass of wine, but they also do some great other wines. Their cabernet savignon will have you wanting bottles to take home, and their zinfandels are among some of the best I’ve encountered, spicy and jammy. Their Fortissimo red is an amazing port-style red.
Just out back of town, you will find the palatial grounds of Ironstone Vineyards. Come in to taste and check out their 44 pound gold leaf specimen in their museum! Ironstone also hosts periodic special theme events, including a Concours d’ Elegance. With a selection of reasonably-priced Ironstone wines, as well as notable reserve wines, including old-vine zinfandel, Ironstone delivers both wine and entertainment on many different levels.

If you’re looking for entertainment to go with your wine, the Stevenot Winery is the place to be. While you can taste their award-winning wines in Murphys, visiting the actual winery is worth the trip. Their tasting room is in a beautiful building overlooking picnic areas and has looming rocky cliffs (reputed to contain caves) behind. Located in a beautiful valley back behind town, they host an array of musical and theatrical weekends on the property, throughout the year. My personal favorites are their Tempranillo, a very drinkable red, and their Orange Muscat and Muscat Canelli, both delicious sweet wines that are hard to find.

2. Moaning Cavern
Moaning Cavern lies just off the road between Murphys and Columbia, and features cave tours, a heart-stopping rappel, and zip-line adventures! This cave was the underground hollow that supported an ancient extinct geyser, and is one of the deepest caves you’re likely to meet, 163 feet in the main chamber, big enough to house the Statue of Liberty with room to spare! The exhalations from the cave made a moaning sound, and led to an Indian legend that the cave housed a monster that devoured children. (It appears to have also devoured several unfortunate Natives who fell into the cave thousands of years ago. Ancient remains, dated to up to 9000 years ago, have been found there.) Even the walking tour is not for the faint of heart, as it involves 234 stairs, in a spiral staircase. The very adventurous can book a strenuous wild cave tour through the heart of the underground beneath its 163-foot depth, reaching even further into the depths of the earth. You can also rappel into the cave, through the original entrance. It’s an amazing experience, but not for the faint of heart. Halfway down, you must take a “leap of faith” off the final rock ledge, and slide down the rope in your harness with nothing around you but air! Not inclined to explore the underground? Try a zipline trip down into the valley below.

3. Sutter Creek
Sutter Creek is a picturesque Gold Rush tow where Captain Sutter , of Gold Rush fame, harvested lumber prior to the discovery of gold at Coloma, and later tried his hand at gold mining. Nowadays, it serves as the gateway to the wine country of Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley. You can also taste wine right in town at Sutter Creek Wine Tasting, which hosts wines from three local family vineyards: Le Mulet Rouge, Crystal Basin Cellars and Gold Hill Winery. It hosts events throughout the year, from celebrations of the local wine harvest to music to theater productions. Check their web site, as events are constantly changing! In the past, I’ve encountered a Halloween Festival one year, a chili cookoff, and an antique auto show. There’s even “Bark in the Park,” where you and your dog can help support the local Humane Society. One thing is for certain: there’s always something interesting going on in or near Sutter Creek!

4. Jackson Rancheria
The Jackson Rancheria is one of the best Indian casinos, and it just keeps getting better! This Old West theme casino back of Jackson is located in a beautiful setting, and has comfortable rooms and some great restaurants. It offers lots of slot machines and table games for anyone who likes recreational gambling. I’m only a passing gambler, who tends to play the low end slot machines, but I still like to go to the Jackson Rancheria. I’ll spend a little time with the slots, then head to one of their restaurants. They even have a Vietnamese restaurant specializing in pho, a hearty noodle soup that is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes. They also have grilled meats over noodles and Vietnamese-style sandwiches, which are very tasty and hard to find. The Raging River buffet also offers great selections, ranging from Asian to Italian, to good old American cuisine, for $5 at breakfast, $10 at lunch, or $17 for dinner. They also have a Sunday brunch. If you stay at the hotel, you can also order up a limo for a specially tailored wine tour of the nearby Shenandoah Valley wineries, which are especially known for zinfandel and muscat wines. Kesler’s Mercantile allows you to shop for everything from gourmet foods to perfume, to clothing.

5. Indian Grinding Rock
Also back of Jackson, but a little harder to find, is Indian Grinding Rock. This collection of Native petroglyphs and grinding mortars is located adjoining a grove of magnificent oak trees that provided abundant acorns for processing into mush by the local Miwok tribe. Its trees and stones now protected by the State Historic Park, Indian Grinding Rock also has a museum showcasing the local Native people, plus a reconstructed Round House, where ceremonies are still held by the local Miwok tribe whose ancestors carved its stones and harvested its acorns. There is also a campground adjoining the site.

Stroll through the park’s trails and enjoy the ancient oak trees. The centerpiece of the park is, of course, the ancient stone bench where acorns were ground for meal, decorated with hundreds of amazing petroglyphs. Spot footprints of various animals, check out sun disks, curving lines, and mysterious symbols whose meaning is lost in time. It’s a great place to bring a picnic and spend the afternoon.

Want more information on the attractions discussed here? Check them out on the web to learn more and get directions.

Murphys, Queen of the Sierras

Black Sheep Winery
221 Main Street
Murphys CA
(209) 728-2157

Ironstone Vineyards
1894 Six Mile Road
Murphys, CA 95247
(209) 728-1251

Stevenot Winery
458 Main Street #3
Murphys, Ca. 95247
Tasting Room (209) 728-0148
Need directions to the winery? Check in town. It’s a bit out of the way.

Moaning Cavern Park
5350 Moaning Cave Road
Vallecito, CA 95251
Call for additional directions:

Sutter Creek

Sutter Creek Wine Tasting
85 Main Street
Sutter Creek, CA 95685

Jackson Rancheria Casino and Hotel
Off highway 88. Check their web site for driving directions, as many resources do not include their location.
(800) 822-WINN

Indian Grinding Rock SHP
State Historic Park
14881 Pine Grove-Volcano Road
Pine Grove, CA 95665

Jane Beckman

Jane 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.

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