Are you aware of how many attractions you can enjoy in Calaveras County? If not, you might surprised how much you can see and do in California’s Sierra Foothills.
After all, there are several Gold Rush era buildings, Giant Sequoia trees and spectacular underground caves. What’s more, Calaveras County is an important wine region whose history predates California’s statehood. There’s even a popular ski area just outside the county boundary at Bear Valley. In fact, there are so many amazing attractions in the Mother Lode, you may need make a second visit or extend your stay.
Whether you’re coming from the Bay Area, Sacramento, Merced or elsewhere, Calaveras County is well worth a visit. Together with some of the friendliest people you’ll meet on the West Coast, you’re bound to have a great time.
Angels Camp Museum
753 S. Main St.
Angels Camp, CA 95222
Your first impression of Angels Camp Museum might be that of a small-town museum. But in order to get a better understanding of this Calaveras County attraction is to look beyond its central building. In fact, there are three more buildings on this historic three-acre site of the former Angel Quartz Mine. In more detail, you can see one of America’s largest collections of horse-drawn carriages (29). Of course, the main building is certainly noteworthy with displays of Mark Twain and his local connection. In fact, it was his “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” that put this Mother Lode town on a much broader map. Today, Angels Camp is often known as Frog Town, in recognition of its famous frog jumping contest. By the way, this museum also serves as the Calaveras Visitors Bureau.
Historic Angels Camp
Although Angels Camp Museum is a must-see for best local attractions, there’s much more to see in this historic community. Indeed, the most scenic section of Angels Camp is less than a mile from the Museum on South Main Street. It is here where you will see buildings dating to the Gold Rush era, along with restaurants and boutique shops. That’s not to mention the Art Deco Angels Theatre, currently running Halloween-themed movies like Disney’s “Hocus Pocus”. In addition, there’s also the Calaveras County Fairgrounds, the location for the famous Jumping Frog Jubilee. While the County Fair and Jubilee are held in May, there are other upcoming events at the Fairgrounds.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park
1170 CA Highway 4
Arnold, CA 95223
Just minutes north of Arnold, Big Trees SP is a must-see if this is your first visit to Calaveras County. That’s because Big Trees is home to two groves of giant sequoia trees. In other words, you will be able to see many of the world’s largest tree species by volume. Of the two groves, the North Grove is the most popular and enables you to see remains of the Discovery Tree. However, there are other attractions to see in this nearly 6,500-acre state park. For instance, you can stop by the visitor center, which houses a bookstore and museum. That’s not to mention camping options and many more hiking trails.
Ebbets Pass National Scenic Byway
On your drive to Calaveras Big Trees State Park from Arnold, you’ll be on the Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway. Extending 61 miles, Big Tree is just one of many attractions of this scenic route. This includes Bear Valley ski area, its namesake Ebbetts mountain pass and the Pacific Crest Trail.
9665 Cave City Road
Mountain Ranch, CA 95246
Among the many other attractions in Calaveras County is a guided tour of one of its three underground caves. Of these three, California Cavern is the first to open as a tourist attraction, during the California Gold Rush era in 1853. What’s more, California Cavern is said to have the most extensive cave system in the Golden State. On the other hand, it’s the furthest of the caves to reach, with a 40-45 minute-drive from Murphys. Nevertheless, it’s the only regional cavern designated a California Historical Landmark. During this time of year, it’s important to note that the cave temperature on the Trail of Lights tours are 55 degrees. In other words, you should dress in layers inside this popular Calaveras County attraction.
Copperopolis Town Square
100 Town Square Road
Copperopolis, CA 95228
While many top attractions in Calaveras County are in Angels Camp or Murphys, you shouldn’t overlook Copperopolis. Besides, it too, was a historic mining town, albeit for copper rather than gold. Furthermore, it’s said to be Copperopolis where Mark Twain wrote “The Celebrated Jumping Frog” short story. But the biggest attraction is the Town Square, whose history dates to 1861. Anchored by the upscale Gateway Hotel, you can enjoy winetasting and gourmet food in this rejuvenated area in the Copper Valley. For example, you have dining options at Baldis, Griff’s BBQ and Gold Dust Pizza and winetasting at the Tipsy Frog. In addition to the superb Gateway Hotel, you have dining and lodging options at the nearby Golf Club at Copper Valley.
1894 Six Mile Road
Murphys, CA 95247
Home to 23 wineries and 35 vineyards, Calaveras County offers you several wine tasting opportunities. First and foremost is Ironstone Vineyards, just outside the historic town of Murphys. After all, it’s the most popular spot not only for winetasting but as a local entertainment venue. While no upcoming events are listed for the Ironstone Amphitheatre, it does feature several world-class acts. For example, Gladys Knight, Rick Springfield and Patti LaBelle have all had recent appearances. If that’s not enough, you can also dine, shop and take a tour of the fabulous estate. Lastly, you should also see the 44 lb. crystalline gold specimen, the world’s largest, inside the gift shop.
1665 Sheep Ranch Road
Murphys, CA 95247
Just a mile north of Murphys is the second show cave on this list. Once a burial site used by the Mi-Wuk indigenous people, the caverns was later found by a gold miner. Shortly after the cave discovery by Walter Mercer, it began attracting visitors to admire the magnificent limestone formations. Today, Mercer Cavern operates year round and it is currently operating winter hours until Memorial Day weekend. Each cave tour lasts 45 minutes and requires a total of 440 steps to and from the cave entrance. The tour is moderately strenuous and there will be rest stops on the way back up.
Moaning Caverns Adventure Park
5350 Moaning Cave Road
Vallecito, CA 95251
Last but certainly the least of the three local show caverns is arguably the most visited and most popular. Set in the rolling hills above Murphys, Moaning Caverns features the largest single chamber cave in California. In addition, there are picnic tables, a gift shop, restrooms and an outdoor gemstone mining attraction. Of course, the top attractions are the cave tours, including Spiral Tour, featuring a 100-foot-tall spiral staircase. Each of these 45-minutes tours run hourly on Thursdays to Mondays. Even though you have several tours running on these days, you should make reservations in advance. The only day this Calaveras County attraction isn’t open is Christmas Day.
Murphys Historic Hotel
457 Main St.
Murphys, CA 95247
A National Historic Landmark, the Murphys Historic Hotel is one of California’s oldest hotels still in operation. Built in 1856, this hotel has had an impressive list of guests, such as Ulysses Grant, Mark Twain, JP Morgan and Susan B. Anthony. In more recent years, you could have seen celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay in an episode of the reality series “Hotel Hell”. Today, Murphys Historic Hotel draws a lively crowd to its saloon as well as overnight guests. As a matter of fact, you can stay in one of the nine historic rooms, along with 20 more in a separate building. If you prefer to stay in a historic room, you might sense a supernatural presence. That’s due to the comments from previous guests and staff who say this Calaveras County attraction is haunted.
Historic Downtown Murphys
If this is your first visit to Calaveras County, you should absolutely visit downtown Murphys. After all, it’s the most picturesque and a top Calaveras County attraction. Sure, Murphys Historic Hotel is an attraction in itself but there are many other points of interest. Take for example, the Peter L. Traver Building, the oldest stone building here. Formerly a general store then a bank, you can see the old vault door and vintage well containing what looks like gold coins. That’s not to mention the more than two dozen wine tasting rooms that operate in downtown Murphys. This includes tasting rooms for Aloria Vineyards, Hovey Winery, Newsome Harlow and much more. Of course, there are great boutique shops here like KCK Collectibles and Murphys Village Toy Store as well several dining options. Like Angels Camp, historic Murphys is a California Historical Landmark.
Related: 2023 Calaveras Grape Stomp
About the Author
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS from 2012-2019. More than 900 stories still appear in syndication across over 20 CBS websites, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. Additionally, his stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS News, CBS Radio, The CW, Engadget, NBC.com, NJ.com and Radio.com. He earned a Media Fellowship from Stanford University in 2012.