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California’s Gold Country

Jan. 24, 1848, was one of the most significant dates in American history. That's when James Marshall turned up a gold nugget at Sutter's Mill near Coloma, setting off a gold rush that transformed the landscape and speeded up the march toward statehood.The gold rush continues today in the form of tourism in a region encompassing the seven counties plus the city of Folsom that we see above. Sacramento, which served as the main supply center for the Gold Rush, also counts itself a part of Gold Country. From a DogTrekker's point of view, there's lots of "gold" still to be discovered.

Please click on any of the counties below for information about dog-friendly hotels, restaurants, hiking, wineries and more

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Gold Country Stories

Calaveras County became known in 1800s for its rich gold deposits—and for a certain jumping frog memorialized in a short story by Mark Twain. Today, it’s a destination for Gold Rush tourists, campers, skiers, hikers and adventure seekers, many of whom wouldn’t think of heading into “them ‘thar hills” without their dogs. Angel’s Camp on Highway 49 and Murphys ?on nearby Highway 4 are the principal destinations in these parts.
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Follow Highway 49 south through Amador County for yet another take on Gold Country. You’ll find lodging at historic, dog-friendly establishments like Hanford House in Sutter Creek, the Imperial Hotel in Amador City and the St. George Hotel in the historic hamlet of Volcano, as well as contemporary Days Inn and Best Western properties. You’ll want to make a weekend of it, as the No. 1 attractions, wine and food, demand lingering.
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Named for the mythical city of gold, El Dorado County epitomizes California Gold Country. Its county seat, Placerville, is named for the alluvial deposits in the American River where many a miner struck it rich. The town of Placerville also makes for an interesting visit with its dog-welcoming restaurants, shops and a historic and dog-friendly hotel, Cary House, right in the middle of the action. Read more about El Dorado County in last week’s Highway 50 Gold Country issue.
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Hundreds of square miles of national forests and other public lands make Placer County a DogTrekker hotspot. Highway 49 runs south from Auburn, the county seat, to access 35,000-acre Auburn State Recreation Area hugging two forks of the American River. Hidden Falls Regional Park is delightful in fall even if the falls aren’t running, while at Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park, you can hike to the river and watch the whitewater rafters go by.
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Historic Highway 49 in the north starts in the Sierra County town of Vinton and winds south through a mountainous region where the rivers still run free. Even during the summer high season, this county of fewer than 4,000 souls is off the beaten track for most visitors. In fall, it can feel like your own private realm. Set up basecamp in Downieville, a Gold-Rush town on the Yuba River, and prepare to be charmed.
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Once you reach Pollock Pines on Highway 50, you’re deep into Gold Country. And on a hot summer day, nothing could be more appealing than a dip in a turquoise-blue lake and a hike around it with your four-legged friend. Jenkinson Lake is the centerpiece of 650-acre Sly Park Recreation Area, and it’s gorgeous.
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September and October in El Dorado County means apples—lots and lots of apples and all the good things, from cider to pie, that go with them. But any time is a good time to visit some of the 50-plus family-owned farms, ranches and wineries operated by Apple Hill Growers.
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The El Dorado County seat was named for the alluvial deposits that drew prospectors here during the Gold Rush. It’s nickname, “Hangtown,” relates to the lawlessness of the times. Today, however, it’s one of the most picturesque, bustling and dog-friendly of Gold Country towns.
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History, a vibrant dining scene and outdoor recreation options galore beckon in this gateway to California Gold Country. Folsom’s nucleus is its handsomely revitalized Old Town district, centered on Sutter Street and great for an anytime stroll or sit-down with your four-legged friend.
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Highway 50 buzzes right through Rancho Cordova between Sacramento and Folsom, so unless you pull off to explore, you won’t know what you’re missing. Start, perhaps with an overnight stay at a dog-friendly hotel and get a complimentary Sierra Foothills Wine Tasting Passport good for two people at eight regional wineries that welcome dogs.
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Sacramento is hot, hot, hot—and we’re not talking summer weather. The restaurant and craft brewery scene here has exploded of late, and thanks to a (usually) mild climate, outdoor dining is ubiquitous, and almost every restaurant and brewery patio in town is dog-friendly.
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Like other parts of Gold Country, Tuolumne County is rich in history, rugged scenery and recreational opportunities. You can get some of both and soak up some local color too at First Friday Jamestown Art Walk-Wine-Dine & Music events, continuing through October, or 2nd Saturday Art Nights held year-round in historic downtown Sonora. Either town makes a great base for jumping off into a weekend of hiking, history and off-the-beaten path exploring.
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