Highway 49 - The Golden Chain Highway

California’s Highway 49, The Golden Chain Highway — Links Past & Present

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Latitude: 38.919536 Longitude: -121.070422 Elevation: 1440 ft
the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Rebecca Brown

Length of Byway or Route

Approximately 300 + miles long

Driving Directions

To drive the full route, North to South, start on Highway 49 in Vinton, CA and follow it to Oakhurst, CA, the end of the highway.

Highlights and Key Points Along the Route

Like mementos on a charm bracelet, the jewels of the 49er Gold Rush are linked by the Golden Chain Highway. Some of those "charms" include:

The Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley which was the richest hard-rock mine in California during its mining history of 106 years (1850-1956). From 1850 to its closing in 1956, it produced 5.8 million ounces of gold. These 5.8 million ounces of gold would fill a box 7 feet on each side. It is estimated that this represented only 20% of the available gold...80% remains.

Coloma is the site where the cry , “mettle…that looks like goald”, was shouted out in 1848, sparking the Gold Rush. It is home of the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Exhibits in the Gold Discovery Museum at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park tell the story of John Sutter and James Marshall, and how drastically the simple act of noticing a small fleck of gold would alter the lives of hundreds of thousands of people from that day to the present.

The Argonaut and Kennedy Mines in Jackson were two of the highest-yielding gold mines in the state. Prospected in 1860, reorganized in 1886 and continuously run until 1942, the Kennedy Gold Mine produced approximately $34,280,000 in gold according to the California Department of Conservation.

Angels Camp is situated in one of the richest quartz mining sections of the Mother Lode and is the home of the story of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County", written by Mark Twain. The Angels Camp Museum is situated directly on top of the main Mother Lode gold vein and contains one of the largest, most comprehensive and diverse collections of artifacts in the Mother Lode and gold country areas in the Sierra Nevada region.

Chili Gulch in Calaveras County is a five-mile gulch that was the richest placer mining section in Calaveras County. Its was named by the Chileans who worked it in 1848 and 1849. The largest known quartz crystals were recovered from a mine on the south side of Chili gulch.

Columbia State Historic Park is the best preserved of the California Gold Rush towns, seemingly frozen in time. It offers a unique blend of museums, displays, town tours, and live theater plays.

Near the end of Highway 49, in Mariposa, is a beautiful jewel to be found at the California Mining and Mineral Museum. Once there, you will be amazed at the "Fricot Nugget", a rare and beautiful specimen of crystallized gold discovered in the American River in 1864. This spectacular 13.8 pound specimen is the largest remaining intact mass of crystalline gold from 19th century California."

And yes, there still is gold in "them thar hills!"


Having the privilege of living in the area in Amador City, we are constantly awestruck by the history and natural beauty of the regions through which Highway 49 passes.

Kirk Lindsay, 9/1/2010

They used to have a map called The 49er Golden Chain Map. Do they still make them?

Eilene, 11/14/2016

Where did the name "The Golden Chain HIghway" come from?

CABeverforden, 2/14/2018

I got out my Golden Chain Map, which is in excellent condition. It was produced by the Golden Chain Council, P O Box 596, Jackson CA. Since there is no ZIP code, the map dates from before 1963. It would only cost 50 cents to write to the address and see if it's still in operation. As to where the Golden Chain name came from, my guess is that Archie Stevenot came up with it. From Wikipedia: Archie Stevenot (September 25, 1882 – August 1, 1968) was a prominent citizen in Calaveras County, California and Supreme Noble Grand Humbug of E Clampus Vitus. Born in Carson Hill, Stevenot helped found the California Chamber of Commerce and his family established the borax industry in the state. He also established the Mother Lode Highway Association in 1919 which was primarily responsible for the creation of State Route 49. As a result, the bridge across the Stanislaus River between Tuolumne and Calaveras counties on SR 49 is named the Archie Stevenot Bridge in his honor, and his birthplace has been declared a California Historical Landmark (also found on SR 49).

Dick Estel, 5/15/2019

Well, updating my previous comments, I see that the Council has an email address right on this web page, so that's the place to ask directly about the availability of the maps.

Dick Estel, 5/15/2019

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