An Historic Jewel in Gold Country

Stow you clubs and then grab your wine glass, binoculars, swim trunks, and even a gold pan, to experience the tourism riches of Calaveras County

Steeped in the history of the Gold Rush, Calaveras County has something for everyone to enjoy while exploring its rolling hills and high country forests.

Within a short drive of the golf resorts of Greenhorn Creek and Saddle Creek, you can find history, award-winning wines and explore all the outdoor, and under-the-earth, recreation the area has to offer.

The discovery of gold first caused the world to rush into the Mother Lode. For some, the dream of unimaginable wealth from gold became a reality, while others discovered that value resided elsewhere.

Immigrants from wine-making regions, such as Italy and France, found more success from gardening, growing vineyards and making wine than they could mining. These endeavors would, by the late 1800s, make Calaveras County the fourth-largest wine-producing area in California.

From those somewhat illustrious beginnings, the area’s wine-making promise diminished and lay fallow until the early 1970s when a wine renaissance took root that has spawned the wineries and award-winning wines of today.

Through the years, the small town of Murphys (pop. 2,213) has become a destination where you can taste wines in 20 tasting rooms along the main street or visit nearby vineyards of 12 more of the 32 total local wineries. You can also enjoy a delicious meal or just wander, discovering the history of the area.

Its historical jewel, the Murphys Hotel, first opened its doors in 1856 and housed such illustrious guests as President Ulysses S. Grant, J. J. Astor and William Randolph Hurst.

On the outskirts of Murphys sits Ironstone Vineyards. Built and run by the Kautz Family, it’s a winery where you can while away hours tasting wines, walking in the expansive gardens and visiting the museum, which features the world’s largest crystalline gold leaf nugget (44 pounds).

The winery conducts tours of its caves and on weekends and offers a gold-panning experience. Visiting wineries isn’t the only way you can enjoy the local taste of the vine, wine dinners offer the chance to taste their offerings paired with excellently complimentary dishes.

Greenhorn Creek is the only golf course resort in the area to partner with 15 local wineries, Vintner Members of the club, to offer guests wine dinners. These dinners couple local wines with gourmet food prepared by Sherri Smith, a graduate of the San Francisco Culinary Academy.  Each month a single winery is featured, and its winemaker attends the dinner to give you a personal view of the growing wine region.

Outdoor activities are popular and numerous in the area. There are many opportunities to hike, camp and enjoy cool water spots. New Melones Reservoir came into existence when the last Federal dam in California, New Melones Dam, was built. It’s considered the fifth largest reservoir in the state, and depending on water levels, it can have up to 100 miles of shoreline. This water-sports hot spot offers boating, waterskiing, wakeboarding, house boating and fishing there, along with shoreline activities, such as  bicycling, hiking and just enjoying a picnic.

The town of Melones was submerged when the reservoir was filled, and its buildings still stand in their watery home. When the reservoir is very low, you can still see the remains of the historic town below the reservoir’s surface.

Higher elevations lakes, such as Spicer Lake, Mosquito Lake and Lake Alpine offer amazing views along with a cool place to enjoy the day. Just off Scenic Highway 4, Lake Alpine is a picture-perfect lake surrounded by trees with an island in its middle that you can paddle to in a kayak, canoe or intertube.

A walking/bicycle path along the lakeshore makes it an easy place to just meander next to the cool water, all the while enjoying the views and maybe taking a few photographs along the way.

For a truly unique look at the area, try walking in its underground wonders. An assortment of caverns in the Mother Lode will give you an up-close view of sights you won’t see anywhere else.

Mercer Cavern in Murphys, Moaning Cavern in Vallecito, California Cavern in Mountain Ranch and Black Chasm Cavern in Volcano are all local caverns showcasing the amazing sights that are just below the surface of the earth.

The caverns are full of Stalactites and Stalagmites that form in such unique ways that they can look like draperies, wings and bacon. Formations grow very slowly, taking 500 to 700 years to grow one square inch, which means if Walter Mercer, who discovered Mercer Caverns in 1885, came back to the cavern today, he wouldn’t find it has changed much.

Other caverns in the area have a history that began even before the Gold Rush. Local lore says before one Captain Taylor found California Cavern, it was used as a jail by Native Americans.

One of the rooms in that cavern, called the Signature Room because 150 plus years ago individuals carved their names in its walls, includes signatures from famous visitors like John Muir and Mark Twain.

No story about Calaveras County is complete without mention of Calaveras Big Trees State Park, a jewel of a place filled with some of the tallest trees you’re likely see anywhere today or even in the past. Augustus David first discovered the area in 1852 when he was hunting a bear.

Back then it didn’t take long for the news of this discovery of 100 giant sequoias to travel far and wide, causing tourists to come and marvel at these trees. While miners were doing anything they could to coax gold out of the ground, the wealthy and privileged were making the trip to see the towering natural wonders.

These tourists made a point of seeing all of the local natural wonders, including nearby Yosemite and Mercer Caverns where they would be lowered into cave by a rope holding nothing more than a candle attached to a board in order to see what was below.

No matter what your preference, from golf, to wine, to history, or just relaxing outdoors, the Mother Lode has enough to keep you busy no matter what time of year you visit.




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