There’s so much to see and do in Calaveras that it can be hard to decide what attractions to include in your getaway. That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide to hitting the highlights. Don’t want to miss anything? See the full list of attractions in the entire county and beyond.
Calaveras Top Attractions: 1. Calaveras Big Trees State Park
If you only have time to visit one attraction, this would be it. Calaveras Big Trees State Park is where giant sequoia trees were first discovered. Two trail systems allow you up close and personal time with these spectacular trees in the Stanislaus National Forest. You can enjoy them any time of year – snowshoes are available on loan for winter hiking on the North Grove trail (on a first-come, first-served basis), and there’s also a warming hut with hot chocolate and cider to get you toasty after your frosty hike. Fall features beautiful autumnal colors from black oak and dogwood trees, and spring features blooming dogwoods and the opening of the South Grove trail. Summer is warm and fragrant with plenty of wildlife, and continued access to the South Grove and Beaver Creek. This is truly a four-season attraction.
Calaveras Top Attractions: 2. Ironstone Vineyards
Even when there’s not a big name band or singer-songwriter playing at the Ironstone Amphitheatre (as they do every summer during the Ironstone Summer Concert Series), this winery is well worth your visit. Picture perfectly manicured grounds with meandering pathways and little secret spots, a large tasting room and deli with a spectacular two storey fireplace, and lots of yummy gourmet items – plus dining outside, a music room with an Alhambra organ – which they’re happy to demonstrate for you if you’d like, and last but definitely not least, their Heritage Museum and Jewelry Shop. Here they have a walk-in safe where you can view the largest crystalline gold specimen ever pulled out of the Mother Lode a massive 44-lb specimen that you have to see to believe. Over the years, they’ve collected lots of interesting Native American and Gold Rush era artifacts you can also see here, and their shop includes jewelry and décor items of the highest quality, with a connection to the California Gold Rush. Check out more about Ironstone Vineyards.
Calaveras Top Attractions: 3. Caves
Calaveras has more show-caves than any other county in California, including California Cavern, State Historic Landmark – the first discovered during the Gold Rush, which now offers two amazing wild cave expeditions along with guided walk tours, Mercer Caverns, the longest continuously operated show-cave in the Gold Country, and Moaning Cavern Adventure Park which features the largest cave chamber in California and offers walk tours plus expeditions and above ground zip lines and climbing tower. Phew! That’s a lot to choose from, but we recommend visiting at least one. If you have time, check them all out… each is unique.
Calaveras Top Attractions: 4. Beautiful lakes
Calaveras County’s Sierra Foothills lakes are a major attraction for kayaking, fishing, boating, swimming (except Pardee), hiking, camping and biking. Three of these large reservoirs, New Hogan, Pardee and Camanche, are located in Valley Springs’ Tri-Lakes area and each offers its own unique experience, but all offer abundant outdoor recreation, wildlife viewin, stargazing (look up – our night-skies are amazing!) and camping. In Angels Camp, the Glory Hole Recreation Area at New Melones Lake also offers houseboat and party-boat rentals and Lake Tulloch in Copperopolis is another fun lake to enjoy.
In the High Sierra, charming White Pines Lake, situated right next to the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum and a trailhead for the Arnold Rim Trail, is a family-favorite for fishing, swimming, playing on its sandy beaches, boating, kayaking and enjoying a playground area. Further upcountry are some outstandingly beautiful lakes that offer camping, boating out to private lakes, fishing and hiking. Check out Lake Alpine, Union, Utica and Spicer.
Calaveras Top Attractions: 5. History
Whether you’re here for fine dining, wine tasting or boutique shopping, you can’t deny the charm of these Old West, Gold Rush towns. They’re simply charming, and each has its own unique history, ambience and architecture.
In Angels Camp, the history is palpable in the old store fronts, hotel, and even the movie theater. It’s like you walked onto the set of a Western, but instead of gun fights and dance hall girls, you found friendly wine tasting, eclectic shopping and delicious food. The history’s not out of sight though. Mark Twain’s influence on the town is found in the posters of store fronts that give little nuggets of interesting information and if you stop in at the Angels Camp Museum & Carriage house, just north of historic downtown, you can find 3-acres of exhibits on Angels Camp’s history.
Murphys‘ tree-lined streets, wine tasting rooms, boutique shops and find dining don’t overpower its historic origins. In fact that’s part of the charm of this popular destination town. Here, you’ll find plenty of history in the Murphys Hotel and saloon, which has been in continuous operation since the Gold Rush, and in all of the fab boutiques, galleries, and restaurants housed in these Victorian era buildings. On Saturday mornings, you can even take a free, guided tour of the history of Murphys, courtesy of the Murphys Old Timers Museum. Learn more about Murphys’ history.
Heading north on 49 (named for the Gold Rush 1849ers), you’ll come to San Andreas, where its easy to miss the history until you look a little closer. A couple of notable buildings include the Robin’s Nest B&B on the west side of the highway, which features a very pretty, Queen Anne style of architecture, and the Thorne Mansion on the east side, which is a more imposing, brick building. Be sure to turn right on Main Street to get to the historic heart of San Andreas, which feels worlds away from the rest of town. Find a spot to park so you can tour the old courthouse, jail and museum with its displays on Black Bart, the gentleman bandit (also home to the Calaveras County archives). If you have time, we also recommend visiting the Red Barn Museum, just outside of downtown, which features a collection of antique machinery and agricultural artifacts. Learn more about San Andreas history.
You won’t want to miss Mokelumne Hill – our westernmost historic town and the former county seat. We recently brought a professional photographer here and she went wild for all of the historic doorways. That might sound a bit niche, but there’s plenty more to enjoy. One of our favorite aspects of this sweet town is that the library’s porch right on main street includes a second-hand book store on the honor system. You can set yourself down, make yourself cozy and read from a wide selection of books before choosing your purchase.
This is also the site of the Mokelumne History Society, featuring an amazing photography collection by Edith Ervine, a local school teacher who lived in the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A gifted amateur photographer, she managed to capture some fascinating imagery of the area in those times. But what she’s best known for, is being on the spot just after the Great San Francisco Earthquake in 1906 and capturing some of the most iconic photos of the aftermath. Be sure to also check out the historic Hotel Léger, in operation since the 1800s and the heart of the town. It has a fabulous old saloon, really good restaurant and has a reputation for hauntings. Add a winery with patio for dining, some boutique shops, a gallery and an adorable little park and you’ll see why this town has got to be seen.
Calaveras Top Attractions: 6. Wine
As part of the Sierra Foothills wine region, Calaveras produces some of the best wines in California. But don’t take our word for it. Read what Forbes had to say in their 2016 article: Calaveras: The New Pulse of California Wine Country. Check out the full list of all of our wineries