Beyond Tahoe: Wine & Whitewater in California’s Gold Country

February 21, 2019

The enchanting emerald waters of Lake Tahoe have been luring visitors in for years. Beyond the beauty of the lake lies the scenic Gold Country of California, with a range of attractions and activities ripe for the picking by a true explorer. You can literally raft the American River in the morning, and sip homegrown libations by dusk. Take your pick in this budding nook of California, the charming place where El Dorado and Placer Counties join.

For the outdoor explorer

I love getting on the water! When I heard there are 3 forks of the American River that can be rafted, I asked “where can I sign up?” Since we visited in November, the south fork of the American River was our best bet, though the other forks offer more extreme rapids during the spring and summer. We encountered large rapids and marveled at the mysterious pumpkins placed down the river. Of course we got wet, but stayed comfortable thanks to the wet suits and splash-tops provided by our guide. We had a blast on the river that morning (if you can’t tell by the ridiculous grin on my face in the photo below).

We couldn’t squeeze in the time for mountain biking on this trip, though there are some great trails to ride for those looking to bust out on two wheels. Fortunately, there are some gorgeous hikes in the area, my favorite being the strut up the Lake Clementine Trail. The Foresthill Bridge spans over the beginning of the trail, the fourth tallest bridge in the United States! The height of the bridge is dizzying, and truly I thought I might fall over every time I looked directly up at it. One of my favorite things about this part of California is that the outdoor recreation is accessible year-round. Sure, temperatures will vary, but it’s pretty easy to catch some fresh air!

For the wine explorer

I can’t say that I consider myself a wine connoisseur. But do I love wine tasting at vineyards, visiting the crops and learning about the process? Absolutely! Bouncing from winery to winery in California’s Gold Country was a real treat. I felt genuinely welcome. I met a family of farmers who have been tending crops and growing grapes for most of their lives at Lava Cap Winery, and soaked in the sunset from a wine barrel chair at the PaZa Winery. At Boeger Winery we poked our heads into the original winemaking space–dating back to the Gold Rush! No one was pretentious, nor did I ever feel judged at my lack of wine knowledge. Every winery was keen to explain how their terroir was different from the place next door, and how that affected their wine. I felt like a true wine explorer, almost like I was rediscovering the diversity of wine.


For the beer explorer

I do consider myself a beer connoisseur! Breweries all over the United States are always trying to come up with the next best concept, and one of my favorites has been the farm-to-tap movement. The climate in California lends itself quite well to farming hops and allows breweries to source ultra-local ingredients. One of my favorite stops in California’s Gold Country is Goat House Brewing. Not only do they grow all their own hops on site (rad!), but they also grow other fruits and adjuncts for their beer. If the suds alone don’t bring a smile to your face, perhaps their goats will! They flock to the fence, eagerly awaiting visitors to feed them special “goat treats”. The brewery offers “goat yoga” sessions intermittently–bound to keep you laughing the whole time.

For the gold explorer

What makes California’s Gold Country, well, Gold Country? The Gold Rush is one of the most important aspects of North American history. The discovery of gold in Coloma, California in 1848 sparked the largest mass migration in the United States. Throughout California’s Gold Country, you’ll find places where you can pan for gold, and perhaps strike it big on your own terms! The history and heritage of the Gold Rush defines the people, places, and practices–especially in this region of California. Auburn and Placerville are great towns to basecamp your explorations of gold country, with charming 19th century architecture and small town hospitality.


This story was created in partnership with Visit USA Parks.