Pan for fun, history at Marshall State Park

In your backyard
By: Leah Rosasco Auburn Journal Correspondent
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COLOMA – With summer fast approaching, many people are looking to get out and enjoy themselves without spending a lot of time and money.
A visit to the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma is one nearby option that provides a variety of things to do for $8 per vehicle.
The park was established in 1942 to commemorate James Marshall’s discovery of gold at the site on January 24, 1848. The park welcomes hundreds of school children each day in April and May, but when summer arrives the park is filled with history buffs, locals in search of a place to relax, and tourists from near and far.
“We get a lot of tourists from all over the world,” said Maureen Brown, of Garden Valley, who has been a park volunteer for three years.
Elizabeth Chambers, of Stratford-on-Avon in England, recently visited the park with her longtime friend Barbara Taylor, of Auburn.
Chambers said she loved the natural beauty of the park.
“I love the trees in particular,” Chambers said. “They’re just beautiful.”
People visiting the park have a variety of activities to choose from, including meandering through the Gold Discovery Museum and historic buildings, attending interpretive events, gold panning, picnicking and hiking.
The Museum includes exhibits that tell the story of John Sutter and James Marshall, the pioneers who wanted to establish a lumber mill on the site but found gold instead, as well as Indian and Gold Rush-era artifacts, and horse-drawn vehicles. Visitors can also view one of four films about the gold discovery and mining techniques.
Surrounding the museum are replicas of the equipment used during the Gold Rush era as well as historic buildings that were used by immigrants who came to Coloma in search of gold. The Man Lee building, which once served as a Chinese banking and trading company and hardware store, currently houses a mining exhibit complete with a replica gold mine.
Up the hill from the museum are the James Marshall Monument and Marshall’s cabin, as well as St. John’s Church and the Catholic cemetery. These landmarks can be accessed on foot or by vehicle via Monument Road, and several of the Park’s hiking trails lead to these landmarks as well.
Main Street, the stretch of State Highway 49 that runs through the park near the museum, is dotted with historic buildings including the Weller House, a once-bustling hotel, the post office, The Argonaut café, which serves breakfast, lunch, and snacks, and the American River Conservancy’s Nature Center, open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3p.m. at no charge. Also located on Main Street is the Blacksmith Shop, which is open every day, where volunteers demonstrate the blacksmithing methods used by the pioneers.
During the summer months docents give daily talks about James Marshall and the discovery of gold at 11a.m. and 1p.m., and on the second Saturday of each month docents illustrate what life was like for pioneers with various interpretive events, including making beams from logs, rope making, and a pioneer-style cooking demonstration.
For those hoping to strike it rich, gold panning is permitted on the north side of the river, downstream of the bridge. According to Nathan Carother, Visitor Park Aide, beginning prospectors can have the “Eureka Experience,” which includes 45 minutes for a gold panning lesson and gold panning in troughs set up for teaching, and the use of a gold pan for $7.
“People also get to keep whatever gold they find and they even get a vial to put it in,” said Carother.
The park also features four established picnic areas that include tables, grilling facilities, and restrooms, as well as an area that can be reserved for group events.
Visitors can also explore the park via hiking trails and walking paths, some of which are handicap-accessible. The Levee Trail is an accessible path that meanders along the north bank of the American River, while the Gold Discovery Loop Trail, parts of which are also accessible, follows the south bank of the American River and takes visitors past the site of the original gold discovery, the original mill site, and the replica of Sutter’s Mill. Additionally the .5-mile Monument Trail and the 2.3-mile Monroe Ridge Trail let visitors explore the more remote areas of the Park.
Those planning to visit the park are encouraged to visit the park’s website for additional information and a list of upcoming events or contact the park headquarters with any questions.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
State Park and site of gold discovery that launched the Gold Rush in California
Museum hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Park hours: Daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: 40 minutes south of Auburn on State Highway 49 in Coloma
Cost: Day use fee $8 per vehicle, or $7 with person 62 or over
Information: Contact Park Headquarters at (530) 622-3470, or the Gold Discovery Park Association at (530) 622-6198. The Argonaut 626-7345, American River Conservancy 621-1224. Check online at,, or