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Time Travel: Take a Tour of Our Region’s State Historic Parks

It hasn’t been just the pandemic that has us reconsidering our travel goals. Inflation, vaccinations, war, flight cancellations—it’s been a perfect storm, and with that, a perfect invitation to take a closer look at what our region has to offer when it comes to travel adventures. Luckily, the greater Sacramento area is a gold mine—literally and figuratively—for exploration, and we need to look no further than our own State Parks.

California State Parks are not limited to trees and trails as one might believe. Since its inception, this agency has been dedicated to preserving our unique history, and for us locals, this means the rich foothills, our native ancestors, and the modern-day contributions of industrial workers. There are State Parks open to us from the very Southern Border all the way to the Northern most tip of California, with several found right here within a short day trip adventure.

With any park visited, we suggest maximizing the experience with a few must-do’s:
Visit with the docents! These volunteers are knowledgeable and passionate, and love to answer questions.
  • Stop and read the signs. For adults, the educational signs are a great refresher for all the things we were taught in grade school. For children in tow, these signs are great conversation starters.
  • Take the well-beaten path. Yes, the museums and historic buildings are always time well spent, but often—and not much further away—are trailheads to some of the most beautiful hikes California has to offer.
  • Always check social media or call ahead to learn the most up-to-date operating hours.

Blacksmith at Empire Mine State Historic Park


Empire Mine State Historic Park

10791 East Empire Street, Grass Valley
Located in Grass Valley (one of the oldest gold mines in California), this park has a museum and several buildings to explore on its grounds and includes an immaculately kept garden to stroll. Stray off the main grounds for shaded hiking trails and wildflower sightings.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park


Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

310 Back Street, Coloma
This park is exactly what its name suggests—the original location of the first discovery of gold. In addition to a top-notch museum, this state park is located along the South fork of the American River, which offers a relaxing option for cooling down on a hot day or taking in sweeping views of the foothills. Stray off the main grounds for a view of the historic Church; stray a little further for the Dutch Creek Waterfalls.



Locke Boarding House Museum State Park

13916 Main Street, Locke
This museum is one part State Park and one part living history of a Chinese settlement town along the delta south of Sacramento. The museum is chock-full of interesting documents, images, artifacts, and relics (as museums typically are), but what makes this tour so unique is being able to walk outside the doors of the boarding house and actually see the history that is talked about, in its original form, along the narrow Main Street that makes up Locke. We’re all familiar with our state’s gold rush history, but Locke is a rare glimpse into another important part of our history—the contributions of our Chinese ancestors. Locke is untouched, colorful, and unlike any other town in our region. Stray off the path for a hidden wooden trail hike along a levee outside of town; stray a little further for other tiny towns dotting the delta.

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park


Railtown 1897 State Historic Park and Columbia State Historic Park

These might be the best 2-for-1 combo deal in the entire state! Just six miles apart, there is something for everyone—guaranteed.

Columbia SHP (22708 Broadway Street, Columbia) is lively with multiple businesses inhabiting the historic buildings, all designed to give you the original feel of gold rush living. Find restaurants, mercantiles, blacksmiths, candy shops, and all the other little perks that come with going back in time. While the fanfare is on Main Street, venture off the path and check out historic hotspots located just around the corner, such as Columbia Kate’s Teahouse.  

Railtown 1897 SHP (10501 Reservoir Road, Jamestown), meanwhile, is a train museum much like the one we are all familiar with in Old Sacramento, complete with a working roundhouse and several mechanic shops inviting a hands-on look into engineering back in the day. If you go, you MUST take a ride on the train that operates throughout the day.

Columbia State Historic Park


Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park

9980 Greenback Lane, Folsom
Part of the larger Folsom State Recreational Area, this area is vastly different from the rest of the lake we spend our free time traversing. The location is a fantastic easy field trip to see the inner workings and engineering that revolutionized our region’s infrastructure with power. If you’re an engineering fanatic, this tour is for you, consisting one newer building dedicated to sharing modern updates of how power is provided, followed by additional buildings preserving the manmade conductors, generators, and transformers of yesterday. Electricity has never looked to cool! Venture off the main grounds for a hike along Lake Natoma; venture further for some incredible views from the Folsom Historic Truss Bridge.

Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park


Other nearby State Parks to check out:

Sutter Buttes
Sutter County
(available by guided tour only)

Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park
Pine Grove

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

California State Railroad Museum

by Dannah Nielsen

Photos courtesy of Dannah Nielsen.

Loomis-based Instagram travel blogger Dannah Nielsen journeys across the state with her family, discovering under-the-radar people, places, and cultures. “Follow” her and her adventures