Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park



My kids have been begging to go gold panning for a while now. So I told my oldest son to research where we could go to do that, and he presented Marshall State Historic Park to me.  Located in Coloma, it is a 2.5 hour drive from the SF Bay Area. We pulled into a quiet street with a few exhibits displayed on a sunny but cool Saturday morning. The river seemed to flow at a high rate so we made very sure we found a small inlet to pan for gold. We were told by the Visitor Center staff that the gold panning beach area was across the one-lane bridge and downstream. We carefully made our way across and walked a little ways to find a safe spot. The boys took out their pans, but quickly found that our foil pans were no match for the heavy wet sands. We had better luck picking out gold flakes from the sands with our fingers. Perhaps a metal pan would have done a better job. We did not find any nuggets, just flakes, though an insufficient amount to run any at-home tests to ensure it's authenticity. Perhaps a more “lucky” approach to gold finding would be to spend an hour or two panning with the State Historic Park’s staff for $7/person. More information at the Visitor Center or by calling the Park before heading over. Extreme weather cancels. If you plan to gold pan for free on the beach, check with the Visitor Center about river conditions.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Coloma

Gold Panning at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Coloma

Gold Panning at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Coloma

"Gold" flakes we found on sandy shores

A not-so-great picture of gold flakes we found on the shores of American River, Coloma


Besides gold panning, there are replicas and remnants of buildings from a bygone era. Teepee replicas made of tree bark, Sutter's Mill (where gold was first discovered California), machinery used to break rocks to extract gold belonging to Chilean and Mexican gold prospectors were all on display, along with cabins of mine workers, a blacksmith's store and Chinese stores. It's amazing how gold brought people from so many different backgrounds into a quiet part of a then-province of Mexico.

Sutter's Mill is the site where the first gold flakes were discovered by accident, by John Sutter on January 24, 1848, on inspection of his sawmill.  At the time, based on journal accounts of men who lived there, the discovery was not considered "big" news.  People went on with their daily activities.  A merchant (who sold mining supplies) spread word to San Francisco (then called Yerba Buena)  and triggered the California Gold Rush of 1849.  The California Gold Rush of 1849 saw 80,000 people coming to California in search of gold.

Sutter's Mill, Coloma

Sutter's Mill (replica), Site of the first gold discovery in California, Coloma

Bridge to cross American River, Coloma

One-lane bridge to cross American River, Coloma


Second Saturday of the month is Living History Day where docents dress up true to the period and activities such as candle-dipping are available. 


Practical Information (as of February 2017):

Features: panning for gold, visit exhibits of reconstructed buildings/machineries from around the time of the Gold Rush

Address: 310 Back Street, Coloma, CA 95613

Fee: $8/vehicle, optional $7/person for gold panning

Amenities: Visitor Center, bathrooms and picnic tables available, guided town tour available on non-event days for a nominal fee

Website: Marshall Gold Discovery SHP

Telephone:  (530) 622-3470


Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. As such, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  As such, we will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe.

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