**Note: This week will be a little different because I’m focusing on several state historic parks in the urban area of Sacramento, California, rather than a particular wilderness camping area state park. This post will attempt to briefly summarize a range of the many exciting things to do and see in the area. Rest assured I won’t stray from the blog’s main theme often, unless it’s to give you some really interesting information!
Sacramento became the gateway to the Sierra Nevada gold country during the rush of 1849-50, serving as a stopping point between the mines and the docks of San Francisco. You too can make Sacramento your base camp for exploring the city and for day trips to the nearby lakes, rivers and mining towns.
Although tons of development has altered the urban landscape over the years, you can still visit authentic sites to get a glimpse of life during the California Gold Rush. Since most people think of the beach and Hollywood when they hear “California”, Gold Country is a great place to visit to see what else the state has to offer. This region is one of my favorites because the city skyline seems to pop out from the flat fields of all the farming communities and suburbs surrounding it.
There is much to do and see in the Golden State’s capital city of Sacramento. Most of it is in the same part of town so you can easily walk from one to the other or take a city bus—which is what you’ll want to do because street parking is extremely limited.
Selected Sacramento Area Attractions:
- Sutter’s Fort: Learn about pioneer life (complete with costumed demonstrations) at this former trading post established by John Sutter. (Gold was discovered a few miles away at his saw mill).
- River Recreation: The Sacramento River offer many exciting activities, including fishing, boating, waterskiing, white-water rafting, and my personal favorite–inner tubing.
- Governor’s Mansion State Historic Park: Built in 1877 and bought by the state in 1903, this lavish Victorian mansion has housed 13 governors and their families, including Earl Warren and Ronald Reagan.
- Old Sacramento: Walk the wooden sidewalks past 53 historic buildings that now house dozens of shops and restaurants along the cobbled streets of this national landmark.
- California State Railroad Museum: If you’re an Iron Horse enthusiast, don’t miss the 21 beautifully restored locomotives and cars displayed in life-sized dioramas. (I had never seen so many old trains up close until coming here on a 5th grade field trip). There’s even a steam-powered excursion train on weekends from April to September to take you on a 40-minute round-trip ride along the Sacramento River levees.
- Cal Expo & State Fair: The State Fair takes place in late August, but the Expo complex hosts year-round events and has its own RV park (also see info below).
- ARCO Arena: professional sporting events (home of the Kings NBA team) and entertainment available year-round. RV parking is $30.
Can’t Miss Day Trips:
- Columbia State Historic Park: Drive up 2100 feet in the mountains to this living mining town 119 miles Southeast of Sacramento. Thanks to good attention to detail, this town has been meticulously maintained as it was in the late 1800s. You can pan for gold, make your own candle (I still have mine from our 4th grade field trip), and drink Sarsaparilla in a saloon. Don’t forget to try the old-fashioned candy; the baseball-sized jawbreakers are legendary!
- City of Chico: A friendly college town with lots of charm 90 miles north of Sacramento on Highway 99, Chico is nestled among flowering fruit and nut orchards and lush rice fields (great for winter bird watching). Don’t miss the 3,670-acre Bidwell Park, a hub of hiking, biking, golfing, picnicking, swimming and other recreational activities.
- Lake Oroville State Recreation Area: This man-made lake features the tallest earthen dam in the nation (770’ above the Feather River stream bed) and offers camping, boating, fishing, swimming, water skiing, horseback riding and more. An RV dump station is available and max camper length is 31-35 ft., depending on campground. Entry fees are for one vehicle and one legally towed vehicle. Additional vehicles will be charged nightly. This could be a good stopping point on your way to Lassen Volcanic National Park (about 48 mi East of Redding on SR 44) and other points North.
Where to Stay: I recommend staying in one of the Sacramento area RV Parks and using a tow vehicle to negotiate the mostly one-way street traffic near the downtown attractions.
Sacramento Shade RV Park has full hook-ups, is pet-friendly and allows RVs up to 45’ long. It is easily accessible from I-5 (the major N-S artery), I-80 (E-W to Reno, NV) and SR-50 (to Lake Tahoe), which are the primary highway routes to Sacramento.
The Cal Expo RV Park in Sacramento puts you right in the middle of the action with a water park and horse racing on site. The park features picnic areas, full hook-ups, pull thru sites, a dog run and more. They have daily, weekly and monthly rates for both 30-amp and 50-amp service.
Rancho Seco Recreational Area is located 25 miles south of downtown and is open year-round. RV sites have water/power hookups and there is a dumping station for $5 (no charge for registered campers). There is a 14-day maximum stay; make reservations at least 2 weeks in advance. Leashed pets are allowed at no charge. For information and reservations call 916-732-4913 (Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.).
49er RV Ranch: This Good Sam Park in Columbia allows you to camp out where miners’ wagons stayed 150 years ago. With 30/50 amp full hookups, WiFi, and sites up to 50′, you’ll have all the comforts of today while surrounded by rustic buildings and authentic mining equipment.
Gridley Inn & RV Park: Located between Chico and Sacramento near Lake Oroville, this pet-friendly Good Sam Park in small-town Gridley offers full hook-ups (+ cable TV and phone service) at each site. They have pull thru sites up to 65′ long, a putting green and a swimming pool.
Weather/Climate: Summers in the Sacramento River Valley are warm (at least 80°F with 50% humidity) while winters are cool (40°-60°F) and often foggy or rainy. Dress in layers for maximum comfort and flexibility.