California's Gold Rush: A Highway 49 Driving Tour from Auburn to Placerville

This blog follows my VoiceMap audio driving tour California's Gold Rush: A Highway 49 Driving Tour from Auburn to Placerville.  As you drive along some of California's most peaceful backroads, we will share the history of the California Gold Rush and visit the towns of Auburn, Placerville and Coloma, where gold was first discovered in January 1848.  To bring this story to life we weave in excerpts from miners' diaries.  

You may download a souvenir brochure for this tour here.  We have also created a companion brochure, Hiking and Walking Tours of the Gold Country.  Download that here if you are interested.  

If you are interested in this audio driving tour, it is available at VoiceMap and listed under Placer County.  To use VoiceMap, you will need to download the VoiceMap app from the Apple Store or Google Play. The app is free, this audio driving tour, which is one of four that takes you along the Mother Lode from Auburn to Jamestown currently sells for $11.99. 

Our drive from Auburn to Placerville takes us along the spectacular American River, where there are plenty of places to get out and explore.  On this tour we will: 

  • Visit Marshall Gold Discovery State Park where gold was first discovered by James Marshall
  • Learn how gold was mined
  • Learn how miners traveled to California during the early years of the gold rush 
  • Explore Gold Bug Mine, an actual hard-rock mine from the late 1880's
  • Take in the beauty of the peaceful, untouched backroads of California
  • Hike along the Gerle Loop trail at Magnolia Ranch
  • Hike to the Black Hole of Calcutta Falls
  • Do a little wine tasting

This driving tour covers about 32 miles of highway and can be completed in about 2 hours without any stops.  On the other hand, this is your adventure.  You may stop where you want, when you want, and for as long as you want.   Or just use this guide to create your own trip.  Happy Adventures and enjoy the tour! 


Valero Gas Station 1650 Lincoln Way, Auburn

This driving tour begins in the parking lot at the Valero gas station located at 1650 Lincoln Way, Auburn California.  If at all possible please park with your car facing in the direction of the large cement statue of a gold prospector and the red and white Hook and Ladder #2 building.  The Food Shop should be on your left or behind you. The freeway will be to your right.  Before we head out on the road here is a bit of background on the history of Auburn.

Originally the Valero gas station where you are parked was the site of the Orleans Hotel, built in 1853 it was the central hub of Old Town Auburn.  In the historic picture above the Orleans is to the left in the location of the Valero. This drawing is of Commercial Street.  You will notice the buildings on the right still look the same today.  

When U.S. Route 40 was expanded into an interstate freeway and routed through Old Town Auburn in the late 1950s, the Shell Oil Company purchased the Orleans Hotel property, tore it down and built a gas station.  Though the Orleans could not be saved, its demolition helped preserve countless others historic buildings in Auburn through a historic preservation campaign. 

Orleans Hotel - Auburn 1939

Now look directly across the street, you should see the large statue of a gold prospector.  To the left of the statue is a public restroom located in a brown western style building. 

Next to that on the left will be a red and white building. The sign on the front reads "Hook and Ladder #2". With fires being a constant threat to gold rush towns, this firehouse was erected in 1891 and was in continuous use until 1954. 

Founded on an initial gold strike that quickly attracted miners, saloonkeepers, merchants, and gamblers, Auburn was much like any other early mining camp.  But whereas other towns were quickly abandoned after the easy placer gold played out,  Auburn maintained its population and continued to grow becoming the Placer County seat in 1851.  In 1865 the Central Pacific Railroad’s western leg of the First Transcontinental Railroad, reached town.

Claude Chana, a French emigrant, was the first to find gold in Auburn. His gold strike in May of 1848 was about a quarter mile south of Old Town, on the Auburn Ravine. Though Claude quickly moved on to stake his claim elsewhere, his likeness remained behind in the form of the 45-ton concrete statue in front of you.  Auburn dentist Ken Fox created this piece of art in the 1970s out of rebar, wire mesh and cement. 

Behind the statue of Claude Chana is the Claude Chana Park.  In this park you will find a number of artifacts from the gold rush.  

If you would like to explore this portion of old town before we leave on our driving tour, check out our walking map of old town in the companion brochure, Hiking and Walking Tours of the Gold Country.  If you do decide to explore on foot just park on the street near the gas station.  

Alright let's get going.  Use caution and exit the Valero station. Turn left onto Lincoln Way and make an immediate left onto Commercial Street and head up the hill.

At the yield veer right onto Maple Street. Built in 1855 the Victorian buildings on your right at one time served as a hospital.

Ahead and to your right watch for the dome of the Auburn Courthouse.   

At the traffic signal use the right lane to turn right onto Lincoln Way.  On your right watch for the Classic Revival style courthouse.  Built in 1898, this courthouse operates as an active Superior Court and is the Placer county seat.  
Located on the first floor of this courthouse is a museum that presents an overview of Placer County, from the early Nisenan Native Americans through the latter half of the 20th century.  It also includes the Placer County Gold collection, the renowned Pate Collection and the original Thomas Kinkade painting, "Auburn Centennial." Admission to this museum is free. 

Next door to the courthouse is the historic Colonial Revival-style Brye house.  Built in 1882 for Fred Brye a local butcher.  

At the end of the block turn left onto Sacramento Street.  Most of this block, which is known as Auburn's Chinatown, was rebuilt after the 1863 fire.   

picture c. 1950s

Chinatown consisted of a hotel, general store, bakery, blacksmith and Chinese laundry during the gold rush, today you will find breweries and restaurants.  The Brewery Auburn Alehouse Restaurant at 289 Washington has a long history.  After the fire of June 1855 swept through the Auburn Ravine, consuming 80 structures in its path, including the Empire Hotel, Orleans Hotel, and livery stable, the American Hotel would rise from the ashes at this location on Washington.  It would become the future home to both the Shanghai Restaurant (shown above) and the Auburn Alehouse (shown below).   In 1896, the Yue family opened the Shanghai Restaurant.  This restaurant was run by the Yue family for over 100 years.  In 2005 it closed and in 2007 the Brewery Auburn Alehouse opened in its place.  

On your right, after Brewery Lane, the western-style brown wood building is the Joss Museum and Chinese History Center. 

This building served Auburn's Chinese community as a meeting house, place of worship, and school.

At the traffic signal, use the left turn lane to turn left on to Auburn Folsom Road. We are on our way to East Auburn, a section of town that grew up around the Auburn Railway Station in 1865.   


Continue on Auburn-Folsom Road.  To your left the dome of the Auburn Courthouse will come into view.  At the traffic signal, use the right turn lane to turn right onto Lincoln Way.

To your left will be the Pioneer Methodist Episcopal Church, built in 1858 it is the oldest church in Placer County.

Ahead, the three-story red brick building, built in 1894, was originally the Odd Fellows Hall.

Continue straight past St. Joseph Catholic Church which was built in 1911, and the  art deco style State Theatre built in 1930, to Center Square.

This square is halfway between the Auburn courthouse in Old Town and the train station in East Auburn.  Use the left lane to turn left onto High Street.    

Corner near Center Square 

Use the right lane ahead to turn right at the traffic signal by the clock tower onto Lincoln Way.   


At the turn of the 20th Century, businesses relocated to this block from Old Town to be closer to the train station.

Two architectural standouts in this western-style town are the Beaux Arts style Placer County Bank building on your left built in 1913.  

 And to your right the California Mission style Auburn Promenade was built in 1912.  

Watch for the bell tower and flag poll ahead in the distance.

Turn right into the parking lot after the First Foundation Bank sign and park near the bell tower, the large cement statue, and Southern Pacific box car to visit the Gold Rush Museum.   

This was the location of the Auburn railway station which opened in 1865. Built by the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California, it was part of the 690-mile route from Sacramento to Utah Territory.

In 1869, when Leland Stanford ceremonially tapped in the “Golden Spike” at Promontory Summit this railroad line became part of North America’s first transcontinental railroad, 1,911 continuous miles of railroad constructed between 1863 and 1869 that connected San Francisco to Council Bluffs, Iowa.  

The Champagne Photo (Golden Spike / May 10, 1869 by Andrew J. Russell)

Today this is the site of the Gold Rush Museum. This museum is free and open Friday through Sunday from 1 to 4pm.  Even if you arrive when the museum is closed there are quite a few artifacts and informational plaques to see on the surrounding grounds. 

Check out the Bell Tower, which was originally built in 1889, it was placed here in 1902.  It was used to alert the volunteer firefighters to muster with buckets and shovels to fight a fire in town.

Explore the area around the large cement statue called “The Chinese Coolie” which was created by Auburn dentist Ken Fox, the same artist who created "The Gold Prospector" we saw at the beginning of our tour.  Created in 1972, this statue stood outside the doctors dental practice for years before it was moved here in 1989.

It represents the historical significance of the Chinese worker in the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad through the Sierra Mountains of California.  The term “coolie” which is considered demeaning today, was used in years past to describe unskilled Asian laborers.  

The Train Depot, which houses the Gold Rush Museum was constructed in 1902 and was the fourth railroad depot on this site. 

Once you have explored the area exit the parking lot and turn right back onto Lincoln Way. At the second stop sign, turn right onto El Dorado.  

The red building to your left at the corner was Auburn's first Firehouse, Hook & Ladder #1.  Originally constructed in 1888, it was moved to this location in 1973 and restored.  

Continue along Highway 49, the north-south thoroughfare which passes through many of the historic gold rush communities that line the Mother Lode, the principal vein of hard-rock gold deposits in California. 

Highway 49 (Vinton to Oakhurst)

Named after the “49ers”, waves of immigrants who raced into the area looking for gold in 1849, this highway was first listed as a State Route in 1934, and appeared on the California Department of Transportation road map in 1938.  Also known as the Golden Chain Highway, it stretches 326 miles from Vinton, in the north to Oakhurst, in the south.

For the next mile you may notice cars parked off the highway to your right.  These are the locations of various trailheads in Auburn State Recreation Area.

During the second half of the 1800's this area was crowded with hard-living gold miners.  Today this park, located along the two forks of the American River, offers a wide variety of recreation opportunities such as boating, fishing, gold panning and river rafting.  There are also 100 miles of mountain biking, hiking and equestrian trails that wind through the steep American River Canyon.  We will be stopping at one of the trails, the Black Hole of Calcutta Trailhead shortly for a hike. 
This is a very popular hike and the free parking fills up early in the day.

Up ahead turn right, follow Highway 49 toward Cool and Placerville. Cross the bridge over the North Fork of the American River and continue on Highway 49.  Parking for our hike will be on your right just after you cross the bridge. Below is a map of the hike. 

The trailhead gate is near the bridge and parking. 

The Black Hole of Calcutta trail is 2 miles out and back.  Picturesque and mostly level, this hike takes you alongside the North Fork of the American River along an old railroad bed and bridge for the Mountain Quarries Railroad.  
This is one of the numerous hiking trails that make up the Auburn State Recreation Area. 

Bridge over North Fork American River - Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge in Background

In 1910 the Mountain Quarries Company of San Francisco contracted the Duncanson-Harrelson company to construct a railroad bridge to cross the American River just below the confluence of the North and the Middle Fork, near their limestone quarry.  The bridge was  designed by civil engineer John B. Leonard out of reinforced concrete.   The Mountain Quarry Railroad Bridge (also known as No Hands Bridge) was a single track, railroad bridge that measured 482 feet long, 15 feet wide and is 70 feet tall.  It took 300 men nearly two years to construct, and cost $300,000.  This railroad which operated between 1912 and 1942 was used to bring sandstone and limestone up the American River to Auburn. Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 11, 2004.  

Mountain Quarries Railroad 

Much of the trail is level.  

But some parts a bit rocky. 

Looking from Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge (also known as No Hands Bridge)  back to highway. 

Historic plaques near No Hands Bridge. 

Rock steps down to wooden bridge over falls.

Falls just a trickle in March 2022.

After visiting this trail, head back out on the highway and continue straight along Highway 49 toward Cool.  While you drive try to image what it must have been like thousands of years before the gold rush miners arrived.  

Thousands of years ago, this area was inhabited by the Nisenan native people. Living between the Sacramento River and the Sierra Mountains in dome-shaped homes that were typically built of a combination of tule, earth and wooden poles, these Native American's lived in villages made up of extended family groups, with their own unique language, religion, and culture.

This area offered the Nisenan year-round food sources, whether it be through hunting, gathering, or fishing. Their most abundant source of food came from the acorn of the oak tree.  In the fall acorns were harvested and stored in a granary where they would be used year-round to make a mush which was one of their staples. 

Granary shown on left house on right 

Men typically were the ones to hunt for wild game.  Deer, elk and rabbits were hunted in the open while bears were hunted during the winter months when they were hibernating. Fishing was also popular in regions close to rivers. Freshwater fish like salmon, sturgeon, and trout were among the most popular.

(2 pictures above taken at Chaw'se Museum Indian
Grinding Rock State Park visited on the 3rd tour in this series) 

The Nisenan were initially unaffected by the European-American expeditions in the early nineteenth century.  And though some Native Americans initially engaged in mining activities during the gold rush, the native population dropped precipitously from approximately 9,000 to 2,500 by 1895 as the mining and other commercial activities led to the appropriation of their land, and decimation of their food sources.

As you continue along the highway you will begin to get a glimpse through the trees of the Cool-Cave Valley Rock Quarry an open pit working quarry considered the largest working limestone deposit in the county.  This quarry has been a major source of limestone since the closing of the Mountain Quarries in 1942. 

The next town we arrive in is Cool,  formerly known as Cave Valley, after the quarry, was a very productive placer mining site as well as stagecoach stop in the 1850s.

For 364 days out of the year, Cool is a quiet rural town with one stop sign, a western style strip mall with a general store, saloon and gas station.  But once a year in March thousands of endurance runners descend on this tiny town for the Way Too Cool 50K Endurance Run. 

After you pass the western style strip mall on your right, stay in the center lane as you approach the stop sign ahead. Then continue straight on Highway 49 toward Placerville. 

Enjoy your drive along the rolling hills dotted with quaint farmhouses while we take you back in time to the 1840s.

John Sutter (c. 1850)

Swiss immigrant John Sutter (1803 - 1880) 
established Sutter’s Fort near what would become Sacramento in 1841.  His original intention was to establish an agriculture and trading community called New Helvetia. Short on lumber for this new village, Sutter hired American carpenter John Marshall in 1847 to head the construction of his water-powered sawmill on the South Fork of the American River, about 50 miles from Sacramento. 

Illustration of Sutter's Fort 1840s

It was an icy cold morning on January 24th, 1848. Marshall and his crew were up early managing the millrace, the current of water that turns the water wheel and powers the sawmill.  As Marshall cleared a deeper channel under the waterwheel, he noticed yellow flakes in the bedrock under the mill.

Sutter's Mill 1850

Marshall shared his findings with Sutter who determined the flakes were indeed gold.  At first, they attempted to keep their discovery secret. But on March 15th, 1848, the headline of the Californian newspaper read “Gold Mine Found.” And word was out.

Californian March 15, 1848

As the news spread, so did gold fever, unleashing what historians consider is the largest migration in United States history. Approximately 300,000 migrants from around the world, known collectively as 49ers, descended on California on the eve of its statehood in 1850.

49ers came by covered wagons, ship, mule or foot.  Those that came from the eastern states had two optional sea routes.  The 17,000 mile voyage around South America that took at least five months, or a 5,350 mile trip through the Isthmus of Panama.

John Doble, who left behind a very detailed journal chronicling his daily life during the gold rush from 1851 to 1861, took the Panama route.  He left his home in Indiana with only a carpet bag of belongings on October 27, 1851, and arrived in San Francisco 68 days later. 

Here is a synopsis excerpted from John's journal of the first part of his journey.


“Arrived at Buffalo in time for the 8 o'clock train to Albany. From Albany took the Splendid Steamer Isaac Newton to New York.  I paid .50 cents for a berth and arrived November 14.”

“Checked out the Daniel Webster that had arrived last night. A number of us found it suitable and booked passage to San Francisco. The cost, $180 for a berth near the gangway and $135 for transportation across the Isthmus. All payable in advance."

Daniel Webster Steamer (1854)

“The Webster left November 22nd.  We sailed at exactly 3 o'clock.  Winds strong and cool from the west.  The vessel rocked and shook, but I managed to escape the journey without sickness.  Steerage was very much crowded, passengers who found it disagreeable sleeping below deck slept on the upper decks which was very pleasant.  We made land on the 10th day out and anchored in Greytown Bay 2 days later.

“We left the Daniel Webster and boarded a ferry up the San Juan River to El Castillo.  The outlets of the river were so narrow our boat rubbed brush on both sides.  We were much amused by the antics of the monkeys and cries of the parrots.  Many of us had brought foodstuffs from New York.  Those that had not were obliged to buy from those that had.”

“After a few days we landed at El Castillo.  I bought bread for $1 a pound and ham for .50 cents a pound.  We set off again, this time on a steamer.  Here the river widened and emptied into Lake Nicaragua which we crossed without issue, and readied to begin our land journey.”

“After breakfast the Native Buckaroos arrived with their mules.  Each passenger was allowed one mule.  The roads were bad, the top dry enough to walk on but not enough to support a mule. I found I could have got along better without the mule.  At the summit some enterprising Yankee’s had built a canvas house where we procured refreshments.  I paid .10 cents for coffee. Bread, and meat $1 per pound.”

 Crossing the Panama by Bungo 

“I led my mule down the summit most of the way.  It took two days to get across the land which is only 12 miles across.  At San Juan Del Sud we boarded the Steamer Gold Hunter and steamed up the coast, stopping many days at Realajo, Guatimala.”

Ships at the San Francisco Waterfront 1855

“Returning to sea we arrived in Acapulco on the 16th of December 1851. December 18th, we set off for San Diego, stopping only a short time here to take on provisions as our captain wanted to beat the Steamer Northerner to San Francisco. We arrived in San Francisco the 2nd day of January 1852 just 8 hours behind the Northerner.”


The next town we will drive through on our driving tour is Pilot Hill.  There are few historic buildings still left in this town.  One is the three-story red brick house shown below. 

This is Bayley House, it was constructed in 1861 by Alcander Bayley. The old barn behind the Bayley house is used for weddings and other events.  

Next door to Bayley House is California’s first Grange Hall.  Built in 1880 by Mr. Bayley. Look for the stone and bronze historical marker nearby. 

Continue along the highway and enjoy your view of roaming cattle and horses along this peaceful stretch of road.    

Soon the scenery changes from ranching to agriculture. 

Vineyards begin to dot the side of the roadway.  We highly suggest a stop at Everhart Vineyards if you happen by this way Thursday through Sunday.  Watch for Lilyama Road and turn left for Everhart Cellars  & Hart to Hart Vineyards.

This charming wine room offers wine flights paired with a variety of gourmet cheese and charcuterie.  The day we visited there was a food truck on site, offering a picnic like atmosphere. 

We enjoyed our tasting of their award winning wines by the shade of the heritage oak trees, as we viewed the vineyards and rolling hills that surround the Everhart Vineyards.

  Speaking of rolling hills, that is our next stop. 
 The Magnolia Trailhead for the Gerle Loop. 

Head back to the highway and turn left, in just a few hundred yards turn right into the parking lot for the Magnolia Trailhead.  

From the parking lot of the Magnolia Ranch Trailhead you may access a number of great trails, but the one we are hiking on this tour is the Gerle Loop shown in the map above or check out our Companion BrochureThere is a restroom at this trailhead and parking here is free. 

This 2 ½ mile, easy to moderate mostly flat trail, crosses over rolling foothills, passing through oak woodlands and skirts along the American River before returning inland.  

It is best spring through fall but especially during wildflower season starting in late March. This is very popular for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. 

Alright, we hope you enjoyed stretching your legs along Gerle Loop.  Time to get back on the road.  In 5 miles we will arrive at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where you will have the opportunity to visit the site where James Marshall discovered gold on that cold January morning of 1848. 

While you drive, we will tell you a bit about the two methods of gold mining commonly used during the gold rush, lode which is also known as hard-rock, and placer mining.

Placer deposits are areas of gold that have settled into pockets in the upper layers of the ground.  Lode deposits are found in quartz veins buried deep underground. 

Placer mining, which is the simplest form of gold mining, is the practice of separating gold from sand or gravel.  There were several methods. Panning, which is the most basic, involves swirling a mixture of gravel and water in a pie shaped pan. As the light materials spill over the side, the heavier gold nuggets or gold dust are left behind in the pan.

Sluice Box drawing by Henry Sandham (1883)

Rocker drawing by Henry Sandham (1883)

Other forms of placer mining employed the used of a sluice box, rocker, or long Tom.  These devices were usually made of wood and capable of processing larger amounts of gravel. 

To work a placer mine, all miners had to do was simply stake their claim and start panning for gold.   The gold nuggets they found loose in the stream were called placer gold.  Once these “easy pickings,” dried up, miners used other methods to go deeper into the top layers of dirt using a long Tom or sluice box.
The sluice box was set at a slight downhill tilt, miners then shoveled dirt into the box, ran water over the top and with any luck there would be  gold left behind in the box.

Hydraulic Mining Drawing by Henry Sandham (1883)

Another method used was called hydraulic mining. One of the cheapest methods of recovering gold, the process entailed directing a highly pressurized stream of water at hillsides.  This washed soil, land and gravel down through a series of sluices that separated the gold.   Though productive in exposing gold, this method was outlawed in 1884 as it was very destructive to the environment, washing tons of mud away from hillsides and leading to severe erosion. 

Yet if there was any gold left in them thar hills, miners were going to find a way to get it.  Bucket line dredgers, popular starting in 1898, consisted of conveyor belts lined with large buckets.  As these systems floated along rivers the conveyor belt rotated the buckets along the river bottom, dredging or grabbing up loads of dirt. These loads were deposited into a container behind the dredger where the materials were sorted for gold. 

Watch for the sign for Marshall Gold Discovery State Park.  Park in the Sawmill Parking Lot.  It will be on your left. 

There is a restroom in this parking lot and a ranger kiosk.  Pay the $10 parking fee and request a park map.  Or use this map below that we took off of our copy.  

Here you may take a short walk to view the Sutter’s Mill Replica and Monument near the American River, and view a number of artifacts from gold rush days.   

Walk back toward the parking lot and visit the exhibits on the river side of the highway, the Sutter's Mill Timber display, Millworkers House, Grange, Gun Shop, Argonaut, Post Office and Blacksmith shop.

On the weekends during the spring and summer many of the small buildings are open and turn into living history museums as docents in period costume relate stories of the gold rush at Millworkers House, and Marshall's Blacksmith.      

From here, cross the street and explore the exhibits on the other side of the highway.  These include the two stone buildings that were erected in 1859 that house a Chinese apothecary and gold mine exhibit.  

Here you will also find a picnic area, gift store, numerous gold rush artifacts, park museum and wagon exhibit.  

If you are ready to continue with this driving tour exit the parking lot and turn left and pass the Grange and blacksmith shop. Follow the highway to the right through the town of Coloma.  This  town was built around Sutter's Mill on the site of a Nisenan village.  The name Coloma comes from the Nisenan word, Cullumah which means beautiful. 

We are on our way to visit the Marshall Monument.  At the intersection ahead continue straight through the intersection toward Gold Hill.

Watch for the Marshall Monument sign coming up on your right. Follow the sign and turn right onto Monument Road. We are on our way to visit the Marshall Monument which is James Marshall's burial site. 

James Marshall (1810 – 1885)

James Marshall was born in New Jersey in 1810. He arrived in California at Sutter's Fort in 1845 and was hired by John Sutter to construct a sawmill. This sawmill site needed three things, an abundance of trees, a large source of water, and a passable road.  This location in Coloma was the perfect synergy of all three.  After Marshall discovered gold near the sawmill, the dream of Sutter’s New Helvetia vanished as workers from Sutter’s Fort caught gold fever and headed to the gold fields.  With lumber no longer necessary, Sutter's Mill shut down.

Continue past the parking area and follow the sign that points right to Marshall Monument.  Turn right onto the narrow one-way road.  This road circles around the Marshall Monument.   

There is a small parking area to the right if you want to get out and take a look at the statue and read the informational plaques. Otherwise continue around the circle and you will come back to the intersection again.  Turn left and follow the sign pointing toward Marshall's Cabin.  


This narrow road will switch back and forth a number of times as we make our way to a replica of James Marshall's cabin ahead, so please use caution.

Up ahead you will pass a replica of James Marshall's cabin. Marshall was not a particularly good businessman and failed to profit from the many opportunities the gold rush offered.  He died nearly penniless in 1884 at the age of 74.

 Across from the cabin is St. John’s Catholic Church built in 1858.

Up ahead take the fork to the right and follow the road toward Placerville. On the right you will pass Emmanuel Church.  It was built in 1855 by the Episcopalians and Methodists.  At the stop sign continue straight onto Highway 49.  

While you drive, we will continue with John Doble's story.   We left off when he arrived in San Francisco January 2, 1852. 

John spent just a few days in San Francisco.  The following excerpts are of synopsis of his experience.


“We landed at the Pacific Wharf and our first care was to find a house to get dinner and leave our trunks.  We then went and got shaved and our hair cut.  Cap and me paid .25 cents for a shave and .50 cents for a haircut. I then went out to hunt for my brother Abner who I had not seen for better than two years.  I found him a work in his shop in the City on California Street between Kearney and Montgomery.  I will leave to those similarly situated to imagine our joy at again meeting each other for I can’t describe it.”

“We went to supper at the Philadelphi house and after took a walk over the City and visited all the gaming house along Clay Street.  That night I found little sleep as the vermin were too abundant.”

“The next day, I returned to Abner’s, our conversation was of home to which I never grow tired.  That evening we visited all the Dance houses on Pacific Street, which were all crowded.”

“After availing ourselves to all San Francisco had to offer, it was time for Cap and me to prepare for the mines.  We visited several auction rooms and purchased a pair of blankets, two heavy woolen shirts, a knife with leather scabbard and other necessities.  At the goods store I bought heavy double soled knee boots at $2.50 a pair.  I also purchased English cheese at .17 cents, potatoes 1 ¾ cents a pound and bottled ale $2.50 per dozen. The next day Cap and me would set out for the mines.”


We continue with John's adventure in the mining camps on the next driving tour in this gold rush series, Hard-rock mining in California: A Highway 49 driving tour to Jackson in Amador County. 

Continue driving our next stop will be the Luse Ditch Flume and Red Shack Trailhead. This trailhead will be 
across the street from the Red Shack Produce Stand which is pictured above. 

The Luse Ditch Flume is named after George and John Luse who managed the flume in the 1920s, it was used to carry water from Placerville to mining and ranching operations in the Gold Hill area. The Luse brothers raised dairy cattle and harvested orchards as well as mined a gold claim nearby.  The ditch water was necessary to support all these enterprises. Though it no longer exits, it was the largest ditch flume in El Dorado County, measuring 153 feet high and 750 feet long. 

The Luse Ditch and Red Shack Trail is a 2 1/2 mile out and back hike which crosses the historic Luse Ditch and ends at the South Fork of the American River. A map of the hike is shown above, or check out our Companion Brochure

The first mile is an 800-foot downward slope to the river’s edge. This means that the return hike is an 800-foot upward climb. 

We are not going to sugar coat this, it is a challenging hike, Cal Fire even uses it for endurance training for their firefighters.  The views of the river are worth the effort but if you are in any way turned off by a challenging hike we do not recommend the walk.   

Head back out on the highway, our next stop is Gold Bug Mine.  Located on the outskirts of Placerville, this mine is just 10 miles south of Coloma.  By late 1848, the Big Canyon Creek nearby was running rich with gold.  Tents lined the stream; stakes were claimed, and prospectors easily plucked their fortunes in gold.   But as with most placer panning operations, this too ran out and miners turned to lode or hard rock mining. 

Lode mining, which began in Big Canyon Creek in the 1880s, is the method where prospectors mine gold from quartz buried deep in the hillside or underground.  

Using picks and shovels miners followed the drift of the thin dark orange veins running through the white quartz.  Following the drift required digging a hole in the side of a mountain. After the first vein played out quickly a larger vein was discovered across the canyon and a new hole dug in 1888.  This became the Hattie Mine, opened by William Craddock and named after his daughter Hattie.  However it too played out and in 1926, John McKay took over the mine and followed a new drift at a right angle deep into the ground. This mine would ultimately became the Gold Bug Mine. 

Most of the hard-rock mining in Gold Bug Mine happened during the 1920s and 30s not during the gold rush. Though some of the richest deposits of gold were found here, it is not known how much gold was actually removed from this mine, as no records were kept.

In 1965, the City of Placerville acquired the Gold Bug Mine property from the Bureau of Land Management and developed it into a park.

As you enter the outskirts of Placerville, watch for Spring Street.  Turn left on Spring then slow and make a left at the intersection ahead onto Pleasant Street. Continue onto Bedford Avenue and follow the sign for Gold Bug Mine. 

Turn right into the entrance to Gold Bug Mine and park near the Museum Store. Parking here is free, but a ticket for an audio self-guided tour of the mine, as well as entrance to the stamp mill and blacksmith may be purchased in the Museum Store.  There are several informational plaques and gold mining artifacts scattered throughout the park.  

A visit to Gold Bug Mine Park is a step back in time to the mid 1800's.  Here you will experience what it was like to be a hard-rock miner during the gold rush era.  This park is open daily April to October and weekends from November through March. 

Scattered throughout the park are artifacts from the gold rush years as well as informational plaques which explain the history of the area. 

From the Gold Bug Mine, exit the park the way you arrived and turn left onto Bedford, then right onto Pleasant Street.  Turn right onto Spring Street and follow this into Old Town Placerville. 

We finish this portion of our gold rush series tour in the parking lot at the intersection of Sacramento Street and Main Street in Placerville.  This parking lot is next to the El Dorado Savings Bank and offers 2 hours of free parking.  

Placerville, also known as Dry Diggings or Hangtown, is just eight miles from Coloma where gold was discovered. It began as a mining camp in a narrow ravine with a seasonal creek. The town prospered quickly and then continued to thrive as businesses shifted from gold mining, to agriculture and logging.

This marks the end of our driving tour.  We hope you have enjoyed your drive through California’s gold country from Auburn to Placerville and all the stops in-between.

If you are interested in taking a self-guided walking tour of Old Town Placerville you may find a map in our companion brochure Hiking and Walking Tours of  the Gold Country.

On our next tour, Hard-rock mining in California: A Highway 49 driving tour to Jackson, we visit the California Gold Rush towns of Fiddletown, Amador City and Sutter Creek as well as visit the picturesque Shenandoah Valley. 

Until next time, Happy Adventures!


Photographs by L. A. Momboisse unless listed below: 

Coloration Christmas Time in Auburn by Abe Stern - The Placer a Voice of History 

Black and white Orleans Hotel demo - The Placer a Voice of History 

Black and white Orleans Hotel 1939 - Online Archive of California

Picture Shanghai Restaurant - Auburn Alehouse Newsletter 

Chinese New Year February 2018 in front of Joss House Auburn - Facebook 

The Champagne Photo (May 10, 1869 by Andrew J. Russell - Golden Spike National Park Service

Illustration Map of Highway 49 - Guide to the Mother Lode

Two period pictures of the Mountain Quarries Railroad - Mountain Democratic 

Picture of John Sutter - Wikipedia 

Illustration of Sutter's Fort from 1840s - Gleason's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion Wikipedia

Black and white picture of original Sutter's Mill 1850 - Daguerreotype by R. H. Vance Wikipedia

Excerpt from Californian March 15, 1848 - Theresa Hupp Author 

Routes to the California Gold Fields - Kids Britannica 

Daniel Webster Steamer - Wikipedia Commons 

Cross the Panama Isthmus by Bungo - Isthmian Crossing 

Ships at the San Francisco Waterfront 1855 - Boomtime San Francisco 

Sluice Box and Rocker drawings by Henry Sandham - Library of Congress 

Hydraulic Mining by Henry Sandham - Library of Congress 

James Marshall - Wikipedia 

San Francisco 1848 - Sketch by J. C. Ward - Wikipedia 

Map of Yerba Buena (San Francisco) November 1847 - Watson, Douglas, An Hour's Walk Through Yerba Buena ( 

Miners Code of Arms - Britton & Rey lithograph (1856) - Calisphere

Four Black and White pictures from Gold Bug Mine - Gold Bug Park Education

Excerpts paraphrased from John Doble are from John Doble's Journal and Letters from the Mines, Volcano, Mokelumne Hill, Jackson and San Francisco, edited by Charles L. Camp.  Volcano Press published 1999.