A Day Trip to the California Gold Country

Last week we took a day trip to one tiny part of the Gold Country east of Sacramento. We had our eye on three places: Black Chasm Cavern, Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, and Volcano. It was a really fun day, just perfect with our kids, even though we had some surprising weather at the end. I think this part of California is under appreciated, and I actually prefer coming here over places like Napa Valley because the drive is peaceful and the area is quiet and kid-friendly. I hope if you come to Northern California, you’ll make time for the Gold Country. Here are some images from our day trip to California gold country:

day trip California gold country cave

Black Chasm Cavern:

We started our day trip at the Black Chasm Cavern. This deep limestone cave was made a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in 1976 because of its rare helictite formations. Helictite is an unusual formation that looks a little like floating gummy worms–unlike the hanging stalactites, helictite grows sideways. The tour cost about $15 per person and lasted 45 minutes. The kids absolutely loved it, but if you go, be warned that the stairs that take you down into the cave are steep.


day trip California gold country caves

After the tour, we walked part of the Zen Garden trail. It’s not well market but is located across from the Visitor Center parking lot. You can ask about the trail when you buy your tour tickets in the Visitor Center. Unlike the valley where I live, this area, at 2000 feet elevation, is very green and even lush.



Next we drove just up the road to the tiny town of Volcano. Founded in 1849, this town of about 100 people was at the center of the California Gold Rush. Because the town is smaller than other nearby gold towns, it’s less visited and feels well preserved. There’s a nice mix of historic buildings and details with modern-day California touches. For example, a wooden plank sidewalk and old stone facade lead into a bakery that serves 21-century goodies like gluten-free bread and bacon chocolate muffins.

day trip California gold country Volcano

Smaller2   day trip California gold country Volcano

day trip California gold country Volcano

Volcano day trip California gold country

If you come with kids, you can bring a picnic (or buy sandwiches, quiche, and other yummy treats at Kneading Dough Bakery just across the street) and have lunch outside at Volcano Park. This tiny park has picnic tables and rocks for kids to climb and sits next to the old stone amphitheater, where the town still has outdoor theater productions.


day trip California gold country

Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park

Just a little way down one of the small back roads is Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park. Here Miwok Indians once lived and used the large flat rocks to grind acorns from the oak trees. The limestone grinding rocks here date back about 1000 years (!) and are filled with 1,185 mortar holes. This is the largest collection of bedrock mortars in North America and is considered unique because the grinding rocks were decorated with petroglyphs.

day trip California gold country state park

It was immediately clear to us that the history and beauty of this place make it worth a longer visit, but we got so unlucky with the weather! As soon as we paid the $8 state park fee, it started to rain, and as we walked to the grinding rocks, a cold wind came in and then lots of rain and…hail! The recreated Indian village, roundhouses, and museum of Indian history mean that we’ll definitely be back one day soon. Smaller3  day trip California gold country

day trip California gold country driveMore about the Gold Country: “Take This Awesome Fall Road Trip to Gold Country” by my talented friend Garrick

What are some of your favorite day trips in Northern California?


  • Kaye Swain says:

    Oh how cool – and your photos are gorgeous. We do live in a gorgeous part of the country, don’t we!!!

    Thanks for sharing. I’ll pass it on as well 🙂


  • Hung Thai says:

    O wow I didn’t realize there were that much to see in that area. The Black Chasm Cavern reminds me of the Carlsbad Caves in New Mexico. The last picture you posted with the rolling hills is AWESOME!
    Hung Thai recently posted..If I told you how I could afford to travel every month, my fiancé would kill me – let’s do it!My Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks 🙂 And I haven’t been to New Mexico yet. Definitely on my list, though. I’ve always wanted to visit Santa Fe and the historic parks in New Mexico.

  • April Yap says:

    Wow! I can’t imagine how wonderful it is to have that kind place. Just amazing! Great photos huh. 😉

  • Cecilia Kemp says:

    Hi Jenna, Where did you guys stay?
    My family and I are planning a road trip starting in Livermore, looping up to Lake Tahoe, over West again to Mendocino and then South again to Redwood City.
    I am struggling with accommodation ideas. we have two boys (!) – 7 & 9 – any good ideas? I am busy trawling the web…

    • Jenna says:

      Accommodations for the Gold Country? We did it as a day trip so didn’t stay overnight. Check out my 30 things posts about Lake Tahoe and Mendocino for suggestions for places to stay there. We also have an Airbnb house we love in Sea Ranch if you’re interested.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *