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Coloma on the South Fork of the American River is a little known gem in the Sierra Foothills or “Gold Country.”

On January 24, 1848, James W. Marshall was building a sawmill for Captain John Sutter, using water from the South Fork of the American River. He noticed several flakes of metal in the tailrace water and recognized them to be gold. Though he tried to keep it a secret, the word spread quickly, and triggered the California Gold Rush of 1849. Until then, Coloma had been a remote outpost, named for a nearby Southern Maidu Indian Village. (Early spellings of the name included “Colluma” and “Culoma.”) Its population soon swelled to many thousands. As for James Marshall, he never “struck it rich” and died a poor man in nearby Kelsey, in 1885. His contribution to California’s history was commemorated in 1890 with a monument and state park, Marshall Gold Discovery State Park.

The Park features a museum, many original and restored buildings, and costumed volunteers. At the museum you can learn how to pan for gold, and you can buy a gold pan there as well. Bekeart’s Gun Shop, located in the Park, offers similar activities and old-fashioned trade goods.

This area made history back in 1848, when the discovery of gold triggered the 1849 California Gold Rush. Now, visitors flock the area to learn about the rich mining history, float the clear waters of the river and enjoy the laid back atmosphere and view the “rolling golden hills” that California is known for.

Quick Facts
  • The largest gold nugget reportedly every found in the California Gold Rush was 195 lbs.
  • One of the most successful entrepreneurs of the California Gold Rush was Levi Straus, who made a bundle selling blue jeans to miners.