Bike Rides & Hikes

Weekend hike: Historic views at Marshall Gold Discovery

A view of the south fork of the American River, visible from the end of the Monroe Ridge Trail at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.
A view of the south fork of the American River, visible from the end of the Monroe Ridge Trail at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Rachel Cassidy

Go back to the Gold Rush era this weekend at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma, a popular spot for playful education.

The park, spanning 576 acres northwest of Placerville, serves as a tribute to James Marshall, who discovered gold in 1848 on the south fork of the American River. He found it in the tailrace of a sawmill he was building for himself and John Sutter, sparking an influx of gold seekers and transforming California history.

A replica of the sawmill, as well as of the schoolhouse, post office and blacksmith’s shop, along with a statue of Marshall, are on display at the park. There’s also an extensive network of trails that wind through the riparian oak woodlands, offering sweeping views of the Sierra foothills.

For a moderate half-day hike, choose the 3-mile Monroe Ridge Trail, which loops around the perimeter of the park at an even pace and brings visitors near the historic monuments and the riverbank.

The climb up to the ridge is steady and sunny, peppered with striking red manzanita trees native to the area. Benches and picnic tables offer points for snacking and picnicking. The trail is narrow and rocky, but well maintained and suitable for families or solo hikers.

The way down is shaded and surprisingly quiet given its proximity to the educational center below. Keep your eyes and ears open – there’s a variety of birds and other wildlife.

Follow the fire road down from the trail to a parking lot, which you’ll cross to hop onto the Gold Discovery Loop Trail. The flat stretch leads down to the American River.

If you have any hours left in your day, check out David Girard Vineyard on Cold Springs Road on your way home. The tasting room offers beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces for tasting Rhone varieties, and the staff is friendly and hospitable.

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

Monroe Ridge Trail at Marshall Gold Discovery SHP

  • Level: Moderate
  • Directions: Follow Highway 50 east to Exit 37, South Shingle Road. Continue onto Lotus Road. Turn right onto Highway 49, then slight right onto Highway 153 (Cold Springs Road) and follow signs to the Marshall Monument, where the trail starts. (Or: Highway 50 east to Placerville, left (north) on Highway 49 to Cold Springs Road. Turn left, follow signs to Marshall Monument.)
  • Cost: $8 per vehicle
  • Pets: Permitted on leash
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