Discover Coloma: California’s Best River Town

Coloma, California would probably be considered a sleepy little Gold Country town if it weren’t for one thing: more than 80,000 people pass through each year to recreate on the American River. In fact, Coloma is the epicenter for California whitewater rafting trips. Especially since its convenient location just 30 miles from Sacramento makes it an easy day trip for many folks.

south fork american river rafting

But here’s the thing, there’s a heck of a lot more to do around Coloma than rafting on the American River. With nearby historic Gold Rush-era towns, endless hiking trails, and plenty of wineries and breweries to kick back at, this cool little part of the Sierra Foothills is definitely not just for passing through. Here’s how to keep the fun going once you get off of the river…


Experience Coloma’s Other “Rush”

Coloma is where the California Gold Rush got its start back in 1849 after the first flakes of gold were discovered here by James W. Marshall.  Today, visitors can be whisked back into time as they explore the nearby discovery site, pan for gold along the American River, or wander charming historic towns that miners once made home.  Get historical…

Visit Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park – Experience the past at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park with walking tours, museum exhibits, gold panning and more. Getting there:  Located in Coloma on Highway 49 between Placerville and Auburn.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

Pan for Gold – Take a gold panning lesson with Eureka Experiences and then try your luck where James Marshall discovered gold. Keep what you find! Weekends from 10 am to 3 pm and Monday through Friday as space allows. Getting there: Located at Marshall Gold Discovery Park at Bekeart’s Gun Shop across from the museum.

Explore a Historic Mining Town – Wander the cobbled streets of nearby Placerville’s historic district along Main Street, which boasts museums, fine dining, incredible antique shops, art galleries and more. Getting there: From Coloma take Hwy 49 south approximately 8 miles to Main Street.


Hit the Trails

Located just 30-minutes from Auburn, CA, the “Endurance Capital of the World,” you can guarantee that hiking near Coloma is top notch. But you don’t need to be an ultra-athlete to enjoy some of the area’s best hikes. Don’t miss these spots…

Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park

Ranging from challenging oak-lined hills to gentle riverside routes, Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park offers up 12 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Located on private land, but operated by the Bureau of Land Management, the park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Getting there: From Coloma take Hwy 49 north approximately 10 minutes, then left on Pedro Hill Rd.

University Falls

University Falls

From Coloma it’s about a 45-minute drive, but so worth it. The 2.5 mile University Falls hike rewards you with a three-tiered natural waterslide. Go early or late in the day to avoid the crowds. Getting there: From Coloma, take Hwy 49 north. Turn right on Marshall Rd, follow to Quintette. The trailhead begins across the street from the fire house, marked by a yellow gate.

Horsetail Falls

Another one that’s worth the hour-long drive when you’re staying in Coloma is the 3-mile out and back hike to massive Horsetail Falls via the Pyramid Creek trail. The moderate hike takes you through lush creek side forest and across huge expanses of granite before reaching the top of the 500-foot falls. Getting there:  From Coloma take Hwy 49 South to Hwy 50 east. The trailhead is on Hwy 50 just past the town of Strawberry at Twin Bridges.


Sip Sierra Foothill Wines (or Beer!)

There are more than 70 El Dorado County wineries just a short drive away from Coloma—several of them just minutes—which makes exploring one of the oldest-producing wine regions in California from here a no-brainer.  Oh, and if wine isn’t your thing, there are plenty of breweries to keep you busy too.  Try these Coloma Valley spots…

David Girard Vineyards

David Girard Vineyards

Enjoy a picnic at David Girard Vineyards scenic waterfall terrace as you sip on Rhone varietals, or join them for their Friday Night “Rockin’ the Vineyard” summer concert series. Tasting room open daily 11 am to 5 pm (check winter hours). Getting there: Located at 741 Cold Springs Rd, Placerville, CA.

Hart 2 Hart Vineyards

Hart 2 Hart Vineyards is a boutique winery with shaded picnic grounds, offering a range of varietals for tasting, including Viognier, Pinot Grigio, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a variety of blends. Tasting room open Thursday through Sunday 11:30 am to 5:30 pm. Getting there: Located at 5821 Hwy 49, Pilot Hill, CA.

Gold Hill Vineyard & Brewery

Offering award-winning wines and seasonal beers at their 80-acre property, Gold Hill Vineyard & Brewery is where you go when you need to please the whole crowd. Open Thursday through Sunday 10 am to 5 pm. Getting there: Located at 5660 Vineyard Lane, Placerville, CA.

O.A.R.S. River Park Adventure Campground

Where to Stay in Coloma:  When you raft the South Fork American River with O.A.R.S. we offer a complimentary night of camping, or the option to “upgrade” to a pre-set platform tent for added comfort at our River Park Adventure Campground.  Don’t want to camp?  Live it up at the Sierra Nevada House (always good for food and live music too), or the more family-friendly American River Resort.

Photos: Gold panning/California State Parks, University Falls/Tommy Penick, David Girard Vineyards/Facebook