gold country
Murphys & Vallecito
Murphys - Murphys, founded by the Murphy brothers, Dan and John, started out as a tent camp. The gold camp was a pretty wild place in the 1850's, but now it's a pretty peaceful spot. The Murphys Hotel has been in operation since 1860.
Your first stop in town should be the Peppermint Stick Ice Cream Parlour on Main Street. Kids will love the wide selection of ice cream, ice cream floats, milkshakes, and incredible sundaes, with names like "Black Bart," "Gold Strike," Mercer Caverns" (two stalagmites of vanilla ice cream separated by chocolate rivers and covered in whipped cream).
Murphys Community Park - Want to just take it easy? Head over the to the Murphys Community Park, a shady area situated on a sparkling Sierra stream. While parents relax in the shade, or get a picnic ready, kids can wade, swim in the creek or bring your gold pan to pan for gold. Playground and swings for little ones too.
Mercer Caverns (Sheep Ranch Rd.) - Take a walking tour through the glories of Mercer Caverns, formations in all shapes and sizes. Each of the seven rooms has its own charm, especially the Gothic Chamber, and Angel's Wings (looks like a stone curtain) in the Cathedral Room. The tour takes about 45 min. and you can bring kids under 5, but the stairs are pretty narrow to carry a toddler.
Moaning Caverns (Parrotts Ferry Rd., Vallecito) - Moaning Caverns are so named because the sounds coming out of the cave entrance sounded like moans, and the name stuck. On the 45 min. tour, you descend on steep stairs through a narrow crevice, then down a 100 foot spiral staircase. At the bottom, find yourself in an amazing high chamber, taller than the Statue of Liberty. The cavern is lined with dripping stalactites and stalagmites, including the dramatic "chocolate waterfall."
Tip: This walking tour isn't suited to toddlers or infants. It's a schlep up and down the stairs (165ft.) and no baby backpacks are allowed. A better bet is to pick up a bright yellow "Official Moaning Cavern Explorer" helmet, complete with battery- operated light in the gift shop, or head outside for gem mining.
Gem mining will be a big hit with everyone in your family. Buy a bag of "dirt" and sift the contents in flowing water to find moonstone, topaz, amethyst, raspberry quartz, citrine and garnets.
There are shaded picnic tables and nature trail too.
Springfield Trout Farm (Parrotts Ferry Rd.) - Feel like fresh caught trout for dinner? Kids will enjoy tossing their line into the clear ponds at the Springfield Trout Farm. You don't need to bring anything - bait and rods are provided, you pay for the fish you catch (smaller ones are cheaper). They will clean your fish and pack them on ice. Picnic tables, and a cool shady place to while away the afternoon.

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