Lonely Planet Writer

Discover California's Gold Country for free with a historic train ride

You can experience life as a prospector in gold-era California with a historic train ride through Jamestown in April that won't cost you a cent.

Travel News - Gold Country
Enjoy a historic train ride through California's Gold Country for free in April. Image by Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.

In California's Gold Country travellers can experience life in a bygone era with one of Railtown 1897 State Historic Park's throwback journeys. On board one of the park's vintage steam locomotives, the journey will take guests through six miles (9.6km) of picturesque Gold Country landscape on one of North America's last operating steam railroad facilities. Known as the "The Movie Railroad" thanks to appearance in movies such as Back to the Future Part III (1990), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), High Noon (1952) and Wild Wild West (1999) with Will Smith, the heritage railroad is a great way to experience life in the 'Wild West.'

Travel News - California Gold Country
Panning for gold in Jamestown, California. Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The train journey is free on a first-come-first-served basis at 10:30am, noon and 1:30 and 3pm on 6 and 7 April and lasts 45 minutes. While you’re there, be sure to take some time to walk around Jamestown which is just a few blocks long with western-style storefronts, restaurants and antique shops. The California Historical Landmark town houses many buildings which date back to the end of the gold rush (1848–1855) or earlier. The National Hotel and Restaurant dates to 1859, and the Willow Steak House was built 1864. Both used to cater to the builders of the Sierra Railway and continue to operate today.

Travel News - Surging Gold Prices Spurs Interest In Gold Prospecting
In search of gold in Jamestown. Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty

You can also pan for placer, or particle gold along the riverbanks. Shops throughout the town sell wide, flat pans that are perfect for panning for gold. It's hard to know what's in the bottom of your pan, especially with plenty of "fool's gold" around but it offers the chance to imagine what life was life for gold prospectors who first settled in the town.

The kickoff weekend includes free admission and free tours. Tickets usually cost US$15 (€13/£11) for adults and US$10 (€8/£6) for children aged six to 17 (children five and younger ride free). For more information or to book a visit, see here.