State Parks: California Gold Country- Sacramento and environs

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February 2, 2009

**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.

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  3. bob

    Love the Gold Country and Hwy 49 trail. we stay at a 1k camp called the Ponderosa between Placerville and Aurborn on the river 2-3 times a year and have enjoyed the State Park of Coloma where the saw mill was. Its 9 miles from Placerville . There is a lot to see in all of the old towns and small roads that are off of hwy 49. Great wineres and good site seeing. Its not far from Sacramento up Hwy 50. and you should enjoy it. bob

  4. santa skip

    we were campcround hosts at Penninsula CG at Fulson lake it was a very nice area ,close to town yet very quiet and peaceful with lots of wildlife.

  5. Thank you for the comments–this is just the kind of feedback I was hoping for! It’s great to get tips from y’all about other interesting places nearby that I didn’t mention. These pointers will help other RVers decide which out-of-the-way little towns and trails to explore on their next adventure through the area. I agree that there’s a lot of fun to be had in touring the U.S. by highways and back roads that you might miss by taking the interstate.

    I’ll try my best to mention dates/times for events, but it’s not always possible with the amount of space I have to work with. In those cases I will link to pages on destination web sites that list information about local events. Sometimes there is so much to do and see in the surrounding area that I may only be able to list basic information about various attractions. Then it’ll be up to you to investigate further into the things that appeal to you and the rest of your RV posse.

    I’m hoping this blog can be a jumping-off point for brainstorming your next trip–especially if y’all keep posting comments with these great tips and travel hints! You never know, your comments could have just the right information someone else was looking for in planning their latest RV adventure. (By all means, please post a comment to share how your trip went if you were inspired by someone’s advice on where to go and what to see).

    As always, feel free to post a comment with suggestions on which state/national parks I should discuss next. I can’t guarantee I’ll discuss all of them, but I will spread the love around to cover all regions of North America (not just the U.S. West Coast).

  6. GMAs

    First off… good article Christina…
    We have been going to the northern part of the State now almost on a monthly basis. Not only do we go to enjoy the area… but also we use the RV when we go out in the field and enjoy meeting the locals at these placed.

    May I recommend that you take a trip up highway 120/108. 120 breaks off and goes into the national park …Yosemite…. it is the back way into the park.. however if you contenue on up 108 you run into historic Oakdale, the movie back lot by the still active gold mine.. jamestown where another historic rail park , with train that you see a lot of in the movies.. such as in back to the future…as some remember pettycoat junction and green acers … where it goes through the old studio set… yes you can ride on it daily… we still make movies up in that area for the western look… contenueing on up you can then venture over to Columbia state park where you can step back in time to a western town. Lots of actors and extras practice over their as the whole town is a historic auth park that includes a working blacksmith shop, wells fargo stage and lots of historical artifacts of the way it was back then. Ahhh contenuing up the 108 will take you to the town of twainheart. This was a favorite place of Mark Twain and has campgrounds abound.

    Another favorite route is highway 4 going out of Stockton. Here you go through farm ranch lands and again up into the mountains. Our favorite destination is the darnells which was a old waggon train route from the east into calif. A lot of the old circle campground are still their. the final stopping part is when you get to Alpine lake, a old indian pow wow stomping ground.. yes you can still find indian artifacts of when they traided their. The lake is maintained by the local power company and the campground is basic wilderness to say the least. However, I don’t recommend that you go any further east on highway 4. The road from alpine lake east is actually the old railroad switch backs that fold back on themselves in a very steep vertical decent. While you can do it in a small rig.. I don’t recommend it… as we did it with our 25 ft AS. It was white knuckles all the way down and when we got to the bottom the road width throught he indian reservation… was non standard 7 ft wide dual lane roadway… their was a lot of pucker power going on when others pass going the opposite direction.

    Marysville, Orvill and a lot more places to take in the historic sights. If you have a 4×4 you can go up the old hennessy pass which was the old toll road for the waggon trains comeing out of reno into calif for the first time. The old road still exists but I recommend that you go with a off road group that has a guide. some of the places get kinda risky. But, hey my grandmother could have driven it if she knew how to drive in 4 wheel… however, leave the RV at the campground and explore it from both directions… on the other side of truckee you can find hidden lakes and great wilderness campground that even our 25 footer could get into.

    Keep up the good work… lots of great places to explore and things to see and do here at home without heading to a different country. You might want to also put into your articles the times and dates of the local activites. A lot of the great parties escape those that have not been before… and makes it a great time to saddle up and head out for a weekend of fun.

    Be looking for more great articles from you here on the board…


  7. You missed out on Marshall’s mill where gold was discovered. Only 35 miles east of hwy50. I lived 10 minutes from there for 15 years. There was an old barn down the hill from me that was a pony express stop. In addition we had a genuine gold mine on our property that had been closed off. 11 miles up the road was “old hangtown” also known as Placerville. Great area to visit as well as raise a family.
    02 End. 7 years fulltiming

  8. You might want to also check out McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial Park on CA 89 near CA 299. A very impressive waterfall as well as 121 campsites (no utilities). More info at We traveled through the area on a 2004 trip ( Enjoyed CA 4 & CA 49, however I suggest your toad – not the kind of roads I’d drive a RV on…

  9. Tom Hargreaves

    I like what you are doing! I do hope you are going to explore “uphill” from “Sacto” into the Gold Country on highways 4 and 49 (and others, but those are the ones I’m familiar with). Fascinating area, well worth exploring!