Our area has a great history and exciting tales to tell… Of course, it’s not always easy to spot the attractions when they’re such a familiar part of the landscape. I grew up in Amador County but still haven’t experienced everything there is to discover. There are so many excellent things to do with kids in the gold country; here are six of them!
6 Amazing Things to Do with Kids in the Gold Country
1. Apple Hill
For those of us who grew up in the area, Apple Hill has always been a delectable attraction. Apple Hill is a collection of farms in and around Camino, which is just outside Placerville.
You can find a directory of their growers on their website, and there’s a little something for everyone. Approximate harvest dates vary but in the summer you’ll find fresh and you-pick berries while fall welcomes an abundance of apples.
In winter, Christmas tree farms are a huge attraction (just be careful and pack chains if there’s snow!), but many farms have seasonal hours and closures depending on when they run out of goods!
My family’s favorite spot is Apple Ridge Farms because they have amazing apple pies that my husband requests yearly (luckily he has a fall birthday!). We’ve made it a tradition to do some gemstone mining, pick pumpkins, navigate the hay maze, and go for a hike along the nature trail each year. Apples by the box are also appealing!
Many of the farms/ranches are organic and there are wineries, petting zoos, bed and breakfast spots, and so much more. Plan to visit more than one farm during your trip!
Location: 2952 Carson Road #1, Placerville, CA 95667
Contact: (530) 417-4887
Price: Varies, depending on what you do. I suggest bringing cash (and at least enough for a few pounds of fruit and access to on-site attractions).
2. Placer Nature Center
Placer Nature Center has both indoor and outdoor attractions at its Auburn facility. Exhibits include a watershed learning center, a beehive discovery room, and other rotating items of interest.
Outside, there’s a garden with a working compost center (yay, worms!), a replica Native American village, a natural playscape area, and nature trails. You can find photos on their website, and make sure to check the hours before you make the drive out there.
Note: The trails are not open unless the nature center is.
The Nature Center is a great gateway to getting outside with kids in the Gold Country. They can explore indoors and out in safe play space, and the hikes are short (the trails have multiple entry and exit points).
Of particular interest to homeschooling families are the home school program offerings; seasonal classes are available for all ages, and parent participation is all but required.
Location: 3700 Christian Valley Road, Auburn, CA 95602
Contact: (530) 878-6053
Price: No cost information is provided on their website; homeschool classes have a minimal fee.
3. Black Chasm Cavern
Black Chasm Cavern was discovered during the gold rush, but these days, an extensive system of staircases and lighting allows visitors to safely explore.
Did you know there’s an underground lake here? Or that a species of shrimp (they’re blind) have only been found in Black Chasm, and not anywhere else in the world? Tidbits I learned during our tour a few years back, but there’s plenty more to explore.
You can also pan for gold outside or pick up some educational (or not) materials in the gift shop. A Zen Garden is also open at specific times (the website notes its fragility and therefore it’s not always open) and showcases marble monoliths! (Can you tell I’m excited?!)
I’ve been here a few times, but it’s always worth a repeat!
Location: 15701 Pioneer Volcano Road, Volcano, CA 95689
Contact: (888) 488-1960
Price: Tours are $18.50 for ages 13+ and $10 for ages 5-13 (under 5s are free)
4. Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park
Locals tend to call Indian Grinding Rock SHP “Chaw’se” for the Chaw’se Regional Indian Museum, but whatever you know it as it’s an inspiring natural and cultural destination in Amador County.
The park’s main attraction is the actual grinding rock, which is marbleized limestone with mortar holes in it. The grinding rock is “the largest collection of bedrock mortars in North America,” per the website. You can’t touch or walk on the surface, but you can explore the bark houses nearby.
Self-guided nature trails let you explore the grounds (a roundhouse is part of the landscape, too), and the museum highlights Native American artifacts from multiple Californian tribes.
Big Time is an excellent time to visit (there are traditional Native American ceremonies, crafts, and food), but the museum is open all year and school tours are available, too.
Location: 14881 Pine Grove Volcano Road, Pine Grove, CA 95665
Contact: (209) 296-7488
Price: Day use is $8, which admits you into the museum. Camping is also available starting at $30 per night.
5. Mercer Caverns
Mercer Caverns is a popular field trip spot for local kids and involves cave tours and gem mining. Even if you’re not a history buff, the tales about the caverns’ origins are fascinating.
Back in 1885, a guy named Walter J. Mercer stumbled upon the caverns (they later named the caverns after him) and he and others began exploring. Unfortunately, Mercer’s untimely death was attributed to a fall he had inside the cavern, and the fact that he crawled around in questionable conditions throughout the space (back when bats lived there, too).
Skeletons of ancient Mi-Wuk people were among the first discoveries; explorers also found the remains of an extinct Sierra Ground Sloth (think the excavations at La Brea Tar Pits in LA!).
Tours cover about 1/4 of a mile and involve climbing stairs (with stops throughout).
Location: 1665 Sheep Ranch Road, Murphys, CA 95247
Contact: (209) 728-2101
Price: Tours are $18 for adults and $10 for ages 3-12
6. Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
Train buffs will get excited about Railtown! This historic park features vintage steam trains, Sierra Railway Shops, and a working roundhouse. One of the coolest things about adventuring with kids in the Gold Country is the history totally comes alive, and Railtown doesn’t disappoint.
Did you know many Hollywood movies were filmed in the Gold Country? You can learn more about it (and see the film locations) on train excursions (different from and longer than regular train rides).
Railtown is more like a small city than a park, and there are plenty of sights to explore once your kids finish ogling the trains.
Location: 10501 Reservoir Road, Jamestown, CA 95327
Contact: (209) 984-3953
Price: Admission/train rides for adults are $5, kids 6-17 are $3, and ages 5 and under are free. Excursion train rides are an additional fee.
Have photos from a local Gold Country adventure? I’d love to share them on Mama in the Casa (giving you credit, of course)! I also plan to add personal photos as my family checks items off our Gold Country bucket list.
What’s your favorite thing to do with kids in the foothills? Share your adventures in the comments!