Travel Gold Country
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Plan your adventure to the Sierra Foothills
By Peggy Spear

When Mary West, author of “Day Hiker: The Gold Country Trail Map” looks out her window at work in Auburn, she has views most people would envy: the gateway to the Sierra Nevada mountains.

“I live and work where I vacation,” she said.

While California is known for its many recreational amenities, perhaps none are so concentrated as in the historic Gold Country. From skiing and sledding in the winter months to hiking, biking and water sports, throw a nugget-sized rock and you’ll hit something fun to do — whether you’re 1 or 100.

DON PEDRO LAKE

With more than 160 miles of shoreline and nearly 13,000 acre-feet of surface area at maximum lake level, you can see why Don Pedro Lake is a watersport and fisherman’s paradise.

With a full-service marina that offers rentals on houseboats, ski boats, fishing boats and more (including repairs), anyone can take a spin on the scenic lake. And if you happened to pack everything but a picnic, the marina shop and café can fill hungry tummies quickly. It’s also home to the popular Fleming Meadows Campground, located on the west shore of the lake.

HORSEBACK RIDING AT ASPEN MEADOWS PACK STATION

If you’ve ever wanted to take an overnight pack trip through the breathtaking scenery of Immigrant Gap, Aspen Meadow Pack Station is the place to start. Then again, if you ever wanted to take an hour-long ride on one of their horses, it’s the place for you too. Located near Dodge Ridge Ski Area near the Pinecrest Resort, Aspen Meadow offers rides for all ages and abilities, owner Seth Diemel said.

The pack station, which has operated since 1929, along with nearby Kennedy Meadows Pack Station — operated since 1917 — have provided generations of families fun and easy access to horseback riding.

“Families are our business,” Diemel said. “We lose families, we lose business.”

Luckily that doesn’t seem likely to happen, as the stations benefit from the popularity of Pinecrest and the nearby Lair of the Bear, UC Berkeley’s summer family camp. Aspen Meadows offers one-hour, two-hour, half-day and full-day guided rides, as well as the overnighter. Diemel said the most popular is the half-day ride, which isn’t too hard on the bum and allows riders access to some of the most beautiful scenery in the area. The pack station has 80-90 horses and raises its own stock.

LAKE CAMANCHE

In Amador County, don’t miss Lake Camanche, “Home of the Monster Fish.” With 54 miles of shoreline and 7,700 surface acres of water, boating and camping are a must.

Better yet, there is family and group camping, hiking trails, swimming spots and even equestrian camping. It’s no wonder it is also a popular venue for corporate retreats, special events and weddings. It is continually voted Best Lake by Gold Country publications.

BLACK CHASM CAVERN

While many recreation spots are easily seen from above-ground, the spectacular light show that is Black Chasm Cavern is worth a hiking trip down into the earth. While it was probably known about by the local Miwoks, its first documented exploration came in 1854 when a group of explorers went below the surface and discovered a bright blue lake and sparkling crystals that seemed to twist from the cavern walls in every