Lola and Leroy on an adventure in Gold Country. Photo: M. Miller
Next time you can wrangle a weekend away in Gold Country, head east on Highway 50, exit at El Dorado Hills Boulevard and drive through 10 miles of suburbia to the intersection with Green Valley Road. Put your vehicle in explorer gear and keep going: the name changes to Salmon Falls Road and the asphalt narrows into a two-lane track traversing the rugged terrain northeast of Folsom Lake.
This is the beginning of the El Dorado County Adventure Loop, a 45-mile driving route intended to get visitors off the beaten path and into a region anchored by a string of blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em towns—Pilot Hill, Cool, Georgetown, Garden Valley, Coloma—tucked between the north and south forks of the American River.
If you and your trusty companion are up for a hike, pause near the intersection of Salmon Falls Road and Highway 49 and stretch your paws at Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park, where 12 miles of paths shared by hikers, bikers and equestrians lace oak-studded terrain rolling down to the American River. Wildflowers are popping early this year, so visit in early April to catch the best of show.
No time for a half-day hike? Five miles east on highway 49, in the scenic Coloma-Lotus Valley, the Dave Moore Nature Area offers easy river access via a mile-long, dog-friendly trail that’s wheelchair friendly, too.
Once you’ve worked up a sweat, it’s time for a little Hart 2 Hart. This new Highway 49 tasting room is open Thursdays-Sundays year-round, and special events with food and live music are scheduled regularly at the adjacent (and dog-friendly) picnic pavilion.
Travel north just four miles on the Adventure Loop to find yourself in a teeny town with the catchy name of Cool at the intersection of Highway 49 and Highway 193. Cool attracts scads of equestrians, hikers and mountain bikers headed into the 38,000-acre Auburn State Recreation Area, so it’s only fitting that throngs of outdoorsy types have made Cool Beerwerks Brewery & Taphouse an overnight sensation. Pull up a stump on the dog-friendly patio and enjoy a four-beer sampler.
Continue northeast on Highway 193, into a region known as the Georgetown Divide, and you’ll soon reach a Gold Rush-era timepiece of a town largely overlooked by Mother Lode tourists. After you’ve poked around in Georgetown, turn onto Marshall Road and head into wine country. David Girard and Gold Hill are perhaps the best known dog-friendly wineries in the Coloma-Lotus Valley, but you don’t know the meaning of “dog-friendly wine with a view” until you’ve visited Jose Wine Caves, perched on a hilltop and open weekends for tastings of syrah, zinfandl and aglianco.
At the bottom of the loop is the best known community on the map: Coloma, where John Marshall famously discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill to kick off an international frenzy. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is a great place to soak up some history and enjoy a bite on the porch of the Argonaut Farm to Fork Cafe.
If you want to spend the night in style, make reservations at beautiful Eden Vale Inn, a romantic retreat with dog-friendly rooms and extensive grounds to explore.
On your way back to civilization, stop for lunch at the new Crystal Basin Bistro adjacent to the Chevron station just off the exit ramp at the Schnell School Road and Highway 50 in Placerville. It’s a big barn of a place with a dog-friendly outdoor patio, live entertainment on Fridays and sharable plates of “New Camino” cuisine paired with humorously named wines such as Bada Bing, Bada Boom and our favorite, a big red called Nuthin’.