California Gold Rush, top destinations in central CA (Part II; Sutter Creek, Jackson, Moke Hill, San Andreas)

The Leger Hotel in Mokelumne Hill is open to guest lodging and offers fine dining in a splendid historic dining room!

Historic church in Mokelumne Hill dates to the Gold Rush years.

The Hotel Sutter/Bellotti Inn in Sutter Creek is one of the oldest, contiually operated hotels in the state!

The old Knight Foundry in Sutter Creek, powered by water-power, was in continuous operation from Gold Rush days right up to 2010!

The Mokelumne River separates Jackson from Mokelumne Hill; this photo is shot at a pretty riverfront park, good for scenic views and fishing!



The historic east side of downtown Mokelumne Hill survived the fires that ravaged much of the city.

Last week’s feature homed in on the Hwy. 49 Gold Rush trail from Coloma south to Amador City.  This week, we continue on Hwy. 49, southbound.

Two years before gold was discovered at Coloma in 1848, John Sutter sent out a party from Sacramento in search of timber. They found a grove rich in sugar pine and named one of the nearby streams Sutter’s Creek. With the gold discovery, placer mining spread over Sutter Creek, quite a village sprang up and deep rock mining of rich ore deposits soon followed.

Incorporated in 1854, Sutter Creek was home to several hotels, saloons, dry-goods shops and churches. Today, Sutter Creek is one of the best-preserved of the California Gold Rush towns. Quaint Main Street (part of Highway 49 until a bypass skirted traffic around the city a few years ago) offers a walkable stretch with a wealth of historic buildings dating from the 1850s.

Some of the more impressive include the Hotel Sutter/Bellotti Inn. Opened in 1860, it is one of the oldest hotels still in continuous operation in the state. The American Exchange Hotel preceded the Bellotti on this site, opening in 1858 and soon replaced by the Bellotti.

Two blocks south, Sutter Creek Methodist Church was constructed in 1861, under leadership of Rev. I. B. Fish, and incorporated in 1862; the steeple was added in 1976 (church located at the corner of Main and Church). Main Street offers scores of historic edifices, many of them marked by plaques offering historical anecdotes – all of them home to busy shops, restaurants and wine-tasting rooms.

Just three blocks east of Main on Eureka is the old Knight Foundry. It was the only water-powered foundry in the US, that, until a few years ago, was in continuous operation since 1873. Sam Knight designed the water wheel which was used world-wide, often powering early hydroelectric plants throughout California, Utah and Oregon.

Seven-foot versions of the Knight water wheel powered the big stamp mills in gold mining days. The 42 inch model, used on Sutter Creek on the south side of the foundry, helped in manufacture of the heavy dredge buckets used on the San Francisco Bay, San Joaquin Delta and Seattle harbors, then hauled by freight wagon and mule teams to the railroad and shipped to their destination.

Sutter Creek is home to a baker’s dozen of bed and breakfasts and motels, with scores of quaint shops and restaurants.  Take in the entire street scene with lunch on the second floor veranda of the Hotel Sutter/Bellotti)!

From Sutter Creek, head south on Hwy. 49 to Jackson, then south again to Mokelumne Hill and San Andreas! 
Jackson is county seat and a very vibrant old and new town.  Check out old Main Street, deep in Sierra gold history, for a variety of cute shops, and stop at the National Hotel at the south end of Main.  Built in 1852 and visited by many noteworthy guests over its history, this Gold Rush Hotel was extensively renovated a few years ago; stop in Stanley’s Steakhouse in the hotel’s lower level for libation or lunch. 

Once refreshed, visit the old Kennedy Mine and the historic Kennedy Mine Tailing Wheel #4, for a dramatic dose of early mining history.  And, if you like the casino scene, the Jackson Rancheria Casino is a big part of “new Jackson”. 

Continue south on Hwy 49 to the wonderful old town of Mokelumne Hill.  Along the way to “Moke Hill” you cross the Mokelumne River; just across the bridge is a lovely riverfront park where you can get an up-close view of the river (fishing options, too).  At the top of the hill is the old town, with a variety of well-preserved Gold Rush buildings. 

Check out the Hotel Leger; a portion of the building served as Calaveras County Courthouse from 1852 to 1866.  When the courthouse was moved to San Andreas, George Leger made it part of his hotel; and when fire damaged the building it was restored in 1879 and renamed the Hotel Leger.  Today if offers quaint rooms and delicious meals in its Whitewater Grill.  Take the time to walk the four blocks of old Moke Hill and you will feel the ghosts of Gold Rush days!

San Andreas is next-up on Hwy. 49; Mexican miners settled here in 1848 and initially found rich placer discoveries.  After those petered out, an underground river bed was struck, leading to even richer treasures that allowed the town to rebuild after devastating fires in 1858 and 1863.  The riches discovered nearby greatly contributed to California’s financial backing of the Union in the Civil War.  Today the town offers a wealth of quaint buildings reaching back to the 1860s, including the 1867 County Courthouse.

How to get to Sutter Creek: From Stockton, go east on Hwy. 88, then left on Hwy. 49 to Sutter Creek (it’s about an hour).  Jackson, Mokelumne Hill and San Andreas are south on Hwy. 49; start early if you want to make this Gold Rush circuit in one day!  From San Andreas, return on Hwy. 12, which takes you back to Hwy. 88 and Stockton.

Nearby attractions: Pardee Lake, Comanche Lake and New Hogan Reservoir are all just west, for further exploration and fishing ventures.  Black Chasm Caverns offer a wonderful opportunity for would-be spelunkers to ply their craft.

Where to stay: All these quaint towns have a host of motel, hotel and bed and breakfast accommodations, as well as one-of-a-kind restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores and other places to gather provisions.

What to bring: Binoculars and camera, of course, water and snacks, a good map or GPS unit and comfortable walking shoes. 

For more information: Sutter Creek,; the site also offers a host of annual events, such the Summer Music Fest in August, call 209-267-1344. For Jackson, check the city’s web site, or call 209.223.1646.  For Mokelumne Hill,; for San Andreas, 

Next week, we will bring you another installment on nearby Gold Rush towns; we’ll head south to Angel’s Camp, Columbia, Sonora and beyond! 

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog:; or contact me, 

Happy travels in the west!

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