california gold rush town columbia
Columbia Historic Park

Columbia, the "Gem of the Southern Mines," started as a tent-and-shanty town in 1850. At one time, it was the second largest city in California, and today it's one of the best preserved Gold Rush towns.

In a yearly event, Columbia Diggins , kids can experience life in an 1852 mining camp - wash clothes by hand, pump water, sit in the schoolroom, try blacksmithing, write a letter with a quill pen, eat red flannel hash. Colunteers in authentic costumes bake pies in a wood oven, churn butter, sew a dress and make lace by hand, listen to music, and watch miners search for gold with hard labor.

Visitor Center & Columbia Musem - Stop off into the visitor center for a map of the town and let the kids pick out where to go first. Also, check out the mining exhibits, school days in 1850, old rifles and pistols. Kids can try on pioneer clothes - what to wear to the gold fields - and watch a video about the history of Columbia.
Stagecoach ride - Take a ride in a replica of an 1856 stagecoach (daily in summer, weekends rest of the year, weather permitting). Ride inside, on the roof, or next to the driver, but keep your eyes peeled for any bandits. Get your tickets for the Quartz Mountain Stage Line at the Wells Fargo Express office (and don't miss the re-creation of the 19th century stagecoach office next door).
Miner's supplies store - At the California store, stop in to find out what supplies miners needed for their gold prospecting - hard tack, rice, beans, soap,lanterns, cloth, etc. Also, check out the backyard chicken coop next door, with live chickens. Chickens were very valuable as a source of food and eggs in the gold rush.
Parrotts Blacksmith's shop - The blacksmith's shop was essential in a frontier town to make horseshoes, carriage parts, wagon wheels, shovels, axes, hammers and nails. At the blacksmith shop, watch demonstrations of the fired forge and work on the anvil.
Johnson's Livery stable - The sign above Johnson's Livery says, "horses bought, sold & traded." Inside are restoredl 19th century horse carriages, and an original wooden wagon outside.
Chinese store - Chinese immigrants came to the gold towns to mine or open up businesses, such as an apothecary. The Chinese apothecary stocked all kinds of herbal ingredients used in Chinese medicine.
Dentist Office - Kids will be impressed with the consequences of bad oral hygiene - boxes of false teeth and scary looking tools for extracting teeth.
Drug Store - The drug store isn't quite like your local pharmacy, with row after row of bottles with strange-sounding labels - Arsenicum, Caryoph, Calamus - and bright blue poison bottles .
Jail - The Columbia jail is quite compact. Try it out for size.
Schoolhouse - The two story brick school house was quite something when it was built in 1860. Don't miss the big red outhouse (privy) outside - two-seaters in a row. Inside, the benches were lined in neat rows, blackboards around the room, with the teacher's desk, wood stove, and a "dunce" stool at the front of the classroom.
On the blackboard are listed afterschool chores: "1) Clap erasers, 2) Wash blackboards, 3) Sweep floors, 4) Carry out ashes, 5) Bring in wood, 6) Clean the privys."
Cemetery - The Columbia Cemetery has been in use since 1863. Stroll around graves with marble tombstones of immigrants who came to Columbia from far and wide. Some lived to an old age, others met and untimely death or drowned in the rivers.
Nature Trail - Walk this lovely nature trail, a one mile loop through oak trees, grassy meadows, past a little creek, with views of the surrounding hills. It's an easy trail, and along the way there are benches where you can stop to rest, and a picnic table or two in the shade of the oak trees. There is poison oak close to the trail, so if you're wearing shorts and sandals, don't brush up against it.
Pan for gold -Panning for gold is a "must do." What could be more fun that swirling your gold pan through water running down the sluice, peering in the sediment for telltale golden flecks of gold or semi-precious gems (or just playing in the mud). You can do it all day and you're sure to come away with some treasure. Fun for the smallest kids and adults alike.
Hidden Treasure Gold Mine - Take a tour of a hardrock gold mine, wending your way through hundreds of feet of tunnels and "glory holes." (Tour lasts about an hour and a half.)
Next to the gold panning area is a miners log cabin and limestone rocks to run around , play hide-and-seek and kids can pretend they're Black Bart, the stagecoach robber and poet.
Fun food
Stop into Nelson's Candy Kitchen or Brown's Sweet Saloon for an incredible selection of old-fashioned candies - homemade lollypops, taffy, chocolates, licorice, sassafras, jaw breakers, and rock candy. Pick up bottles of Columbia Soda Works sarsaparilla soda , and if kids aren't wearing braces, hard tack.
Tip: Throughout Columbia there are numerous picnic tables (in the shade), so bring a picnic for your day at Columbia.