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Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

Discovery, Monument, Monroe Ridge Trails

4 mile loop

It was here in 1848 James Marshall discovered gold; a year later, the world discovered California.

Marshall, a carpenter, was constructing a sawmill in partnership with John Sutter when he spotted some golden flecks in the American River. He went to Sutter’s Fort to share his news with his employer. The two tried to keep the gold news secret but word leaked out and the world rushed in.

The population of the hamlet of Coloma swelled to ten thousand in 1849. Two years later, the gold gave out and most of the miners left.

Today, Coloma, birthplace of the Gold Rush, is a tiny village within the boundaries of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Several historic buildings line Highway 49, as well as narrow back streets. Park highlights include an operating replica of Sutter’s Mill and the Gold Discovery Museum, with its mining exhibits and videos telling the story of Marshall’s discovery.

A walking tour takes in a number of ’49er-era buildings, as well as structures dating from later in the nineteenth century. Step into the Wah Hop Store, a Chinese general store. Visit Marshall Cabin, where Marshall, who benefited little from his great discovery, died bitter and penniless.

Other walks into history include a stroll down Main Street Coloma and a visit to the Pioneer Cemetery and Coloma Winery.

Monument Trail climbs to James Marshall Monument, where a bigger-than-life figure holds a bigger-than-life gold nugget and points to the spot where he made his discovery. Monroe Ridge Trail extends 2.3 miles from North Beach picnic area to the Marshall Monument; it offers more of a workout than the historical walks.

The trail honors a pioneering African-American family who first settled here during the Gold Rush era. Family matriarch Nancy Gooch was brought to California as a slave but was soon freed when California entered the Union as a free state. She earned her living by doing laundry and domestic chores for miners and earned enough to purchase the freedom of her son Andrew Monroe and his wife Sara Ellen, who were still enslaved in Missouri.

The Monroes had a successful fruit orchard, prospered, and bought land. Family holdings included the famed gold discovery site, which the parks department purchased from the Monroe family in the 1940s.

Directions to trailhead: Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is located on Highway 49 in the town of Coloma, some 6.5 miles north of
Placerville on Highway 50; some 17 miles south of Auburn and Highway 49’s junction with Interstate 80. On the southern outskirts of Coloma, Highway 49 bends sharply east; you should bear south here onto Springs Road and in a short distance turn right on Monument Road, following it to a parking area near the Marshall Monument, which occupies the top of a hill. Walk back down the hill along the road a short ways to the signed trailhead on your right.

Don’t even think you’ll find a free parking place anywhere in the state park. Leave your car only in the designated areas.

The hike: Monroe Trail (a fire road for a short distance) leads first to an old spring house, surrounded by ferns. You then begin a stiff half mile northern ascent via a series of switchbacks that brings you to Vista Point. Rest a moment at a picnic table and admire the vista—the hamlet of Coloma and the South Fork of the American River.

The path descends gently, following the ridgetop, then more abruptly as it switchbacks down to the old Monroe fruit orchard. Stop at the brass plaque honoring the Monroe family, then carefully cross Highway 49 to the North Beach Picnic Area. Cross the parking lot and join the riverside path which leads to the gold discovery site and mill site, then to the sawmill replica.

Cross the highway again to the park visitor center and join signed Monument Trail. A half mile climb over forested slopes brings you to the top of a hill and to James Marshall Monument, built in 1890. The trailhead is just below the monument.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.