Where the great California Gold Rush began!
True, there have been other outbreaks of gold fever. But the pandemic sparked by the discovery of gold in Coloma in 1848 was unparalleled in human history. It quickly changed the world of that day, and its effects are still felt here in the 21st century.
Situated in a scenic valley on the South Fork of the American River, Coloma was inhabitated by peaceful Indians, who called their home Culluma, meaning "Beautiful Valley". In 1847, Sutter instructed his men, under James Marshall's supervision, to build a mill there on the river so that timber could be floated downstream to his burgeoning empire in Sacramento.
But one day Marshall found gold at the mill site there beside the river. As word of the discovery spread, gold seekers from all over the world started pouring into the valley. Almost overnight, it seems, Culluma became a large bustling mining camp and supply post for other camps that were springing up all around, and its name was changed to Coloma. It almost became the county seat when El Dorado County was formed, but that responsibility was given instead to neighboring Placerville, also known as "Hangtown".
American River at Sutter's Mill
Few of the original buildings remain, but 16 historical buldings, replicas, and many artifacts can be viewed at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, which makes up about 70 percent of Coloma today. You can visit the Park during one of their living history days, when volunteers are dressed in period attire and present interpretive re-enactments of life as it was during the Gold Rush era. You can picnic and barbeque within the Park and pan for gold on the east shore of the river.
Swimming and raft/kayak put-ins are allowed, but no take-outs. The South Fork of the American River is the most popular whitewater rafting channel in California. You'll find lodging, camping, restaurants, and wineries in the area.
Today this peaceful hamlet and beautiful State Park is dedicated to its rich heritage, which is enjoyed by 450,000 visitors a year. Yes, the great Gold Rush is still bringing people from all over the world to Coloma.