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4 Best Road Trips to Yosemite

Gold Rush Road Trip to Yosemite Starting in Sacramento

Tap into California’s golden state of mind on this glittering road trip.

“Gold!” was the feverish cry that spread around the world in 1848, sending pioneers pouring into California to seek their fortune and sparking similar gold rushes across the West. Though the California Gold Rush only lasted for seven years, the effects were long lasting. On this road trip, you’ll discover fascinating history from this era of California and the even more intriguing ways in which the towns that sprang up with the Gold Rush have morphed into some of the state’s most charming places to visit. Along the way you’ll soak in all the natural beauty of the Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada that greeted hopeful miners nearly 180 years ago.

Things to Do and See on this Road Trip

Start in the state’s capitol of Sacramento, where you can go underground to see the original bones of the historic town underneath today’s vibrant city and ride a railroad through the farmlands that produce incredible ingredients used by up-and-coming local chefs. Head south through Elk Grove and Stockton, stopping along the way for incredible eats, to the heart of Gold Rush country where you’ll find one of the largest gold nuggets ever mined in North America, and charming historic towns like Murphys and Angels Camp.

Discover the Sierra Nevada’s best gems as you raft its iconic rivers and explore Yosemite, learning to capture the park’s incredible beauty with our photography guide. As you wind your way back to Sacramento, pass through reinvigorated towns from the 1840s like Mariposa and Coulterville.

From waterfall mist to the splash of an oar in a rapid to the sun streaming through a grove of giant sequoias, most of the things that glitter on this road trip aren’t gold, but this route will leave you feeling just as rich.

Road Trip Map

Start: Farm to Fork in Sacramento

Eat and drink your way through this northern California city that boasts more than 10 Michelin awards. Then explore lavishly restored luxury train cars and have dinner on a restored riverboat before embarking on your road trip.

Go Birding in Elk Grove’s Wine Country

From bird-filled wetlands to local wine and diverse cuisine, Elk Grove is a great stop on the way to Yosemite.

Culture Stop in Stockton

Giant Buddha in Stockton's Cambodian Buddhist Temple
Giant Buddha in Stockton’s Cambodian Buddhist Temple (Photo: Visit Stockton)

California sunshine, amazing food and diverse cultures make Stockton, Calif. a great destination for the whole family. Explore an amusement park, nature center, marina, art stash and giant jewel-encrusted statues.

Giant Gold Nugget and Sequoia Trees in Calaveras County

Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Calaveras Big Trees State Park (Photo: by Preethi Chandrasekhar courtesy of Calaveras Visitors Bureau)

Two hours from Yosemite, you’ll find a sprinkling of charming historic towns, an astonishing grove of giant sequoias and the uncrowded California of which you’ve dreamed. Here are five reasons why you should stop in this gorgeous corner of California including a giant 44-lb nugget of gold.

Columbia State Historic Park

Stagecoach at Columbia State Historic Park in Tuolumne County
Stagecoach at Columbia State Historic Park in Tuolumne County (Photo : by Menka Belgal courtesy of Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau)

Experience the Wild West as it was during the Gold Rush era, drink Sarsaparilla and take a stagecoach ride in this historic town that’s designated as a state park.

Ride the Rails at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

Railtown Baldwin No. 28 Steam Engine Train
Railtown Baldwin No. 28 Steam Engine Train (Photo: by Linda Hogue courtesy Railtown 1897 State Historic Park)

Climb aboard famous movie-star steam locomotives for a fascinating scenic tour and take a guided tour of the historic shops and roundhouse.

OARS Wet and Wild Adventures

Go on a 1-day rafting trip on the Merced River, or experience a 1- to 3-day rafting adventure on the Tuolumne River near the west edge of Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park

Enter the park at the Highway 120 Entrance.

Pick Your Perfect Yosemite Activities – Climb, Raft, Bike, Ski, Hike
The ultimate guide to activities inside Yosemite National Park. Which ones have you tried?

5 Famous Viewpoints Close to the Road in Yosemite
Visitors to the park won’t want to miss any of these following heart-stopping vistas, all easily accessible from paved roads throughout the park.

3 Stops on Tioga Road in Yosemite
Just about every bend in Tioga Road reveals another awesome view, but here are 3 you won’t want to miss on the eastern section at Tioga Pass.

Best 2-Day Eco-Friendly Yosemite Vacation Itinerary
Experience the best of Yosemite while traveling sustainably by eating locally grown food, staying at eco-friendly lodges and hiking on gorgeous trails.

Sunset at Olmsted Point in Yosemite
Sunset at Olmsted Point in Yosemite (Photo: Stephen Goldschmidt)

Around the Clock Yosemite
Photograph Yosemite’s most stunning scenes from sunrise to sunset to night skies.

Tour Yosemite Like a Local with Gypsy Guide
On your Yosemite adventure, listen to an entertaining guide in your car.

The Giving Trees
Don’t leave Yosemite without visiting the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Exit the park out the South Entrance.

Gold Rush Towns of Mariposa, Midpines and Coulterville

Historic downtown Mariposa at dusk
Historic downtown Mariposa at dusk (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

Find the largest alpaca farm in the state, stay in a classic Airstream trailer, take a scenic flight over the park plus ten more things to do in this charming historic county.

End: Sacramento