California Highway 49:
In April 2011, in the travelogue for Weeks 243-244, we traveled
California's Highway 49 from Grass Valley south to it's end at
Oakhurst. That section of 49 is known as the Gold Country
. As promised, we said we would someday report on the
remainder of Hwy 49 from Vinton to Grass Valley. We have, and are
happy to bring you California Hwy 49 Complete
Vinton to Oakhurst.
Starting in Vinton, Calfornia, Highway 49 is not impressive. You would never know how incredibly beautiful it gets as you head
As you progress, you drive up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It
is quite beautiful as you look back at the Sierra Valley you just
1) From this point on, all the way to Oakhurst, Highway 49 is
fabulous. 2) Mandy perked up at Sierra City. It is a darling little
town that now survives on tourism.
1) We were sure that Mandy was taken by the Country Store, but 2)
later found out that she just wanted to meet new friends in the
middle of the highway.
1) Sierra City was established in 1850. The town straddles Hwy 49
with only a few side spurs. This new welcome sign highlights coming
events. 2) A rare car in the distance let's Ellen know that walking
down the middle of 49 should temporarily be avoided.
Mountain Creek Restaurant was fabulous. Buried into the hillside,
the outdoor seating was great; Mandy was welcome, and a waterfall
provided beauty and "white noise". The food was reasonably priced
Our site wedged between the trees at Sierra Skies RV Park. Just a
hundred yards down the hill you are treated to the Yuba River.
Okay, time to leave, really! We never would have gotten out (or in)
in our early years of RVing. But, with 5-point turn, it was no
Sierra City was tiny. No doubt their citizens would head to the
bigger city of Downieville for groceries and other items. The big
city had a 2010 population of 282. The downtown was darling and no
problem for the Mothership as there was no traffic. It would be
tight to pass a car here, but with 282 people, it probably does not
happen often. 2) The highway continues with wonderfully negotiable
turns and forest views.
While the GPS shows a twisty drive, there are actually very few
tight turns and easy, even for the biggest of rigs.
As you approach Nevada City the road is fast and straight, and even
becomes four lanes.
1) When near, we always visit DeMartini RV in Grass Valley. We
purchased the Mothership from them on 4-5-6 and it is always a
pleasure to revisit. We stop and say hello even if we don't need any
service. Service manger Kevin and his crew have always taken
wonderful care of our home. As you can see DeMartini's facility is
top notch and they have more Class A (big rig) motorhomes on their
lot than any other dealer that we have seen in our travels. This
includes the RV Snow Bird dealers in Arizona. So many of the
motorhome dealers closed during the economic downturn, but DeMartini
is flourishing with eight service bays that are never empty.
2) This is Main Street (truly), Grass Valley, close to DeMartini's
original RV location.
Two days is way too short to visit the towns and sites from
Grass Valley to Oakhurst. Much of the road is a slow-go with lots
of 15 mph turns and narrow passages. It may not be a road that many
RVers would want to travel, but we wouldn't have missed it. Prior
to our big motorhome adventures, we had visited many of the historic
sites and thus this trip was just an alternate route to the boring
1) Highway 49 south of Grass Valley starts as a very peaceful drive
through the mountains. 2) But in 20 miles you reach Auburn, a
community of 13,330 (2010 census). This section is new, busy and not
1) But Old Town Auburn is very quaint and nicely maintained. 2)
Who needs a GPS when you can just follow the map on the wall?
Leaving the south end of town on 49, you leave behind the bumper
to bumper traffic and cross over the South Fork of the American
Oh yeah, the first five miles of this road are very twisty and
fairly narrow. Not a good road to be on at 5 pm where the local
rural residents are trying to get out of Auburn back to their
homes. Yes, we knew this, but our timing could not be helped. So
again on this road, it was bumper to bumper, but being the big heavy
kid on the block, we had no one in front of us, only a few
frustrated drivers behind. There are a few turnouts, which we always
use, to let drivers pass. Some send a wave of thanks and other
shrug their shoulders asking themselves, "why would anyone drive a
motorhome on this road?".
1) Soon, and for most of the rest of 49, you are treated to
God's gorgeous landscaping along the road. 2) This is Coloma, the
town closest to Sutter's Mill.
1) Not everyone cares that much about the history and would
rather be paddle surfing on the South Fork. 2) Site of Sutter's
Mill where California gold was first discovered on January 24,
1848. This discovery lead to about 300,000 people pouring into
sparsely populated California to mine for gold. Ah, to pine for the
days of a sparsely populated California. Most of these would be
miners who came in 1949, which is why they were call the 49ers and
where the highway got its moniker.
Historic buildings like this dot Highway 49 all along your
Placerville, a peaceful little town of 10,389 (2010 census). An
illustration of the the impact of gold mining on California, is the
fact that when Placerville was incorporated in 1854, it was the
third largest town in California. This town was not always so
peaceful. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia.com. "After the
discovery of gold in nearby Coloma, California by James W. Marshall
in 1848 and the sparking of the California Gold Rush, the small town
now known as Placerville was known as Dry Diggin's after the manner
in which the miners moved cartloads of dry soil to running water to
separate the gold from the soil. Later in 1849, the town earned its
most common historical name, "Hangtown", due to the numerous
hangings that had taken place there. By 1850, the temperance league
and a few local churches had begun to request that a more friendly
name be bestowed upon the town. The name was not changed until 1854
when the City of Placerville was incorporated. At its incorporation,
Placerville was the third largest town in California. In 1857 the
county seat was then moved from Coloma to Placerville, where it
1) Placerville's new home area and 2) the old town.
All the pavement of Hwy 49 (at least in our memory) is in good
shape. So while the road can be slow and twisty in the most
beautiful sections, the entire road is a pleasure to drive.
Coming into Jackson, California we stopped for our first night.
Since we had left Grass Valley at 4:30 pm, we wanted to get to
Jackson before dark and did not stop. The 80 mile section took 3
hours with no stops. This would be much better as an all-day trip
with many stops at the historical sites.
1) The second day we got an early start at 7:00 am, passing
through Angel's Camp and 2) a beautifully sculptured rock quarry.
You will pass by rivers and lakes on this drive. This is New
Melones Lake at the scenic viewpoint.
Occasionally, the Mothership, wants her photo. After all, we
wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her.
1) Columbia State Park is the best preserved of all the Gold
Country towns. It includes 30 buildings built since 1850 when gold
was discovered there. While we visited on a Tuesday in April, 2011,
it was a ghost town. You will want to visit in the summer or on a
weekend. Then, it will be full of people and happenings. The shops
and street vendors will be open, there will be people dressed in
period costumes, horse drawn carriage tours and many special
events. It is a truly authentic representation of the late 1800's.
2) Sonora is one of the larger towns along the 49.
1) One of the hundreds of old buildings along the way. 2) Don
While we have been on highway 49 in our car a few times, we
realized that we had never been on this part. We had always
bypassed it by going through Yosemite National Park which is to the
east of this section of the road. There were only a few cars on the
road and dozens of great places to stop.
Yes, this is a fabulous motorcycle road. White-knuckle
1) The cyclists were enjoying this ride between Bear Valley and
Mariposa. 2) Too bad it was a Wednesday as "weekends are made for
The last leg of our trip took us through Mariposa and we could
see snow in the distance.
And finally we are rewarded with Jack as we arrived in
Oakhurst. Some of our RV friends wonder why our average speed for
the last 5 years has been 38.5 mph. Here is why. This day we covered
126 miles in 5 1/2 hours (average 22.9).
Highway 49 is one of the fabulous drives in America. There are many
more, we have brought you some and we will bring the rest in time.
Have a wonderful week, with love, Pete, Ellen and Mandy.
By Pete . Ellen Mattson