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Eureka! There’s Gold in them there Hills!

Every year, over 2300 students and adults visit Sierra Outdoor School to experience the Gold Rush in the heart of the Motherlode country. Although SOS was founded as an outdoor based science and exploration program, we began welcoming students from around the state to our hands-on Gold Rush program in 2012. Read on to learn more details about our Gold Rush Experience, or call now if you're interested in booking your school: The Gold Rush Experience highlights a unique and impactful period in California’s history, and visiting students have the opportunity to try their hands at a wide range of both mining and Me Wuk activities.  At the center of our Gold Rush program is an emphasis on hands-on learning where students are able to feel and experience what life was like during the 1850’s.

During their stay, students are transported back in time during a visit to Columbia State Historic Park, which contains the largest single collection of existing Gold Rush era structures in the entire state of California (

The merchants working in Columbia State Park and the naturalist teaching staff from Sierra Outdoor School don 1850’s outfits, bringing the mining community of Columbia to life.  Students take a historical tour through the “Diggins,” a replica of what Columbia looked like in its early days.  The tour then continues into the historic town to visit various businesses of the time, including: the Wells Fargo Bank, stagecoach office, Chinese general store, blacksmith’s shop, fire engine company, and more.  Students are also guided by SOS staff through Columbia’s cemetery in order to highlight the challenging life that miners faced and the diverse communities formed by miners from all over the world.

While in Columbia, some school groups will also visit the historic schoolhouse that was in use from 1860-1937. Here they have an opportunity to experience what school was like for the children of Columbia. With an SOS naturalist assuming the role of either Miss Nelson or Mr. Graham, the original grade school teacher and principal respectively, students are taught lessons in the style of the 1860’s, write on slates with chalk, and explore the schoolhouse.

Up on the SOS campus, students try their hands at using traditional mining tools such as long toms, cradle-rockers, and pans, with the actual possibility of finding some gold!  They also learn about the daily life of a miner by building shelters, learning about food and daily tasks, and creatively writing a letter home from the perspective of a Gold Rush miner or merchant to highlight the trials and tribulations they encountered during the Gold Rush.


An important component of the Gold Rush Experience is the focus on the Me Wuk people, the Native American tribe from this area. Students learn about their daily lives while visiting our Me Wuk village, complete with recreated traditional structures.There they learn traditional games and songs, make cordage, and pound acorns (a staple in the Me Wuk diet). While hiking along the ditch (a waterway dug by the miners) students also learn about traditional Me Wuk uses of local plants, as well as words from the Me Wuk language. These experiences allow students to compare and contrast the traditional lives of the Me Wuk with those of the miners.

We've had a blast taking fourth graders back in time to this pivotal point in California's history during our Gold Rush Experience and look forward to future programs. Check out this video to see more of what we have to offer and contact us if you'd like to bring the Gold Rush to life for your students.


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