Panning for Gold
For those who grew up in Northern California, Columbia State Historic Park may have been a memorable field trip destination. But this preserved Gold Rush town is worth revisiting as an adult. At the Matelot Gulch Mining Co. store, learn—or relearn—how to pan for gold. The troughs are under a shaded canopy of trees, so you can take your time finding the sparkly stuff. Reward yourself with a local beer at the 1857 cherrywood bar at What Cheer Saloon, and stay the night in one of several restored 19th-century inns, which pair antique furnishings with modern conveniences.
For a more immersive experience, Roaring Camp Mining Company in Pine Grove offers wannabe miners a panning, sluicing, metal-detecting, and dry-washing quest for gold. Book a cabin or campsite, reserve a gold-bearing gravel pile, rent the equipment you need, and try your luck. Before you head home, sign up for the Dirt of the Month Club, which delivers 15-pound bags in the mail for private treasure hunting.
The Far Horizons 49er Village RV Resort near Plymouth hosts three extended weekends of Halloween activities so popular that RV attendees have to make reservations nearly two years in advance. Fortunately, they’re also open to nonguests on a limited basis. Kids score more candy than they can fathom trick-or-treating at 300-plus RV sites and cabins, and can compete for best costume, scream, and pumpkin carving. Check out the rigs decorated with spiders, gravestones, and even walk-through haunted houses.
Driving through Ione, it’s hard to miss Preston Castle. The towering 1894 Romanesque Revival building was once home to a rehabilitation program for juvenile offenders, its bricks made at San Quentin and Folsom prisons. The school closed in 1960 and the building sat vacant until 2001, when it was taken over by the Preston Castle Foundation and named a State Historical Landmark. The foundation offers several types of tours, but the perfect ones for fall are the middle-of-the-night Paranormal Investigation Tours. Instead of sleeping, you get to explore several floors by flashlight. Spooked guests have reported voices, humming, whispers, and visible orbs and apparitions.