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From the retail meccas of Roseville to the snow-capped peaks of Lake Tahoe, Placer County boasts the best of California, whether you’re craving a world-class meal, a rugged hike in the foothills, or some fresh powder in a winter sports wonderland. Spanning a whopping 1,400 square miles, this diverse county, which was central to the California Gold Rush, is nestled between two large metro areas—San Francisco, California, and Reno, Nevada. It’s an outdoor lover’s dream, with abundant hiking and biking trails, alpine lakes and rivers prime for paddling and fishing, and—of course—the powder paradise of North Lake Tahoe.
Visitors can also follow in miners’ footsteps, panning for gold at several spots throughout the county. Urban pursuits abound, along with boutiques and shops in quaint mountain towns, Instagram-worthy, locally-sourced cuisine, and offbeat museums that highlight Placer’s riveting Gold Rush history. Here are seven reasons to visit Placer County on your next trip to Northern California.
Take your adventure game to incredible new heights in Placer County. Choose from a head-spinning array of hiking options, from day hikes to overnight backpacking trips. Popular destinations include Auburn State Recreation Area, Tahoe National Forest, and the Placer County Big Trees Grove, which is home to the largest northernmost grove of giant sequoia trees. Climbers, meanwhile, find plenty to keep them busy at rock climbing hotspots throughout the region, including Cave Valley, in the Auburn State Recreation Area, and areas along Donner Summit that are popular among the climbing set. Or stoke your adventure on two wheels, bombing down any of Placer’s many mountain bike trails.
Placer County is beloved among winter sports lovers, from the powder-chasing downhill set to cross-country enthusiasts. Some of the most coveted ski resorts call Placer County home, including Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows, with over 6,000 skiable acres and 270 trails. In addition, the 65km of the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area beckon with 21 trails that wind through stunning ponderosa pine and white fir forests and snowy meadows, with gorgeous views of Lake Tahoe and its peak-studded backdrop.
Man-made fun in Placer County is another option for active families. Quarry Park Adventures is a newly opened, five-and-a-half-acre outdoor theme park in Rocklin that boasts an aerial ropes course, rock climbing stations, and 2,800 feet of zip lines that can reach speeds of more than 30 miles per hour. At Tahoe City, test your climbing skills on rope bridges, swinging logs, cargo nets and more at the Tahoe Treetop Adventure Park.
No oversized tour vans or jammed tasting rooms here: The Placer County Wine & Ale Trail beckons wine lovers and beer enthusiasts with a more personalized, less hectic experience than you’ll find in some of California’s more well-known regions. Along with excellent wine—the diverse array of varietals includes Italian, Iberian and France’s Rhône region—the region boasts a fascinating history of winemaking that traces back to 1848 when grapes were first introduced by Frenchman Claude Chana. In fact, in the 1860s, winemaking became so prosperous in Placer that many miners traded gold for grapes, resulting in more Sierra Foothills vineyards and wineries than Sonoma and Napa combined.
The county’s growing beer culture deserves a toast, too. A critical part of California’s booming beer industry, Placer County boasts 12 award-winning craft breweries sure to please any palate, from classic brewpubs to “farm-to-tap” spots like GoatHouse Brewing Co., where you can sip a pint in the tasting room, converted from a barn, and mingle with goats on the bucolic grounds of the working farm — which is just one of three breweries in California that grows its own hops. And for a literal taste of both Placer County’s wine and beer scenes, check out Dueling Dogs Brewing Company, which features an Italian-style wine tasting room and brewery, where you can sip on hand-crafted beer, cider, and mead.
There’s always a culinary celebration underway in Placer County, honoring the bounty of produce and gastronomic goodies that it brings to the table. Whatever kind of experience you’re seeking, you’ll find something to dig into here, from whimsical, down-home fun at the Eggplant Festival in Loomis to foodie-haven events like the Auburn Wine, Ale, and Food Festival. Others to mark down on your calendar: Auburn’s Mountain Mandarin Festival, BerryFest in Roseville, and Grape Days of Summer, a 2-day open-house event along the Placer Wine Trail.
Placer County’s rich gold rush history is still very much alive today—and ripe for discovery among modern-day explorers, too. A fitting place to start is the charming town of Auburn, where a 45-ton concrete statue of a Gold Rush-era miner makes for a unique photo opp at the entrance to historic Old Town Auburn. The statue is a representation of prospector Claude Chana, who discovered gold in the foothills east of Sacramento on May 16, 1848.
Modern-day explorers can try their hand at panning, too. In Auburn, stop by for gear (and insider tips) at Pioneer Mining Supply, and then head over to Bear Valley County Park, where you may find a few flakes. Other spots to try your luck are the aptly named Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where gold was discovered in 1848, and the Auburn State Recreation Area, which is at the border of Placer and El Dorado counties.
Last but not least, don’t miss the newly renovated Gold Rush Museum in downtown Auburn. The museum has a few new exhibits that give visitors a true gold rush experience including a mining tunnel, photo exhibit, and never-before-seen artifacts. There is even a hands-on gold mining activity with an indoor panning stream. The museum is free to the public and is open Thursday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
From quaint B&Bs like the Flower Farm, which is located on grounds with a working citrus orchard, wine tasting room, and lush gardens, to the action-packed fun of Thunder Valley Casino Resort & Spa, Placer County has just the spot for every kind of visitor to call home. More adventurous types can also choose from more rustic options: cozy cabins in the foothills, lakeside campgrounds, and RV parks.
Looking for more ideas of things to do in Placer County? Check out visitplacer.com for more inspiration.
Written by Blane Bachelor for Matcha in partnership with Placer County.
Featured image provided by Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks