The discovery of gold in California was a turning point for the state. The influx of people coming in from the East in hopes of striking it rich brought about an explosion in population that made California into the state it is today. While many came over with gold fever, only a few were able to find gold in the rivers of California. Today, these rivers sit as a reminder of the origins of California, while providing a place for outdoor activities such as fishing and whitewater rafting.
The American River was the epicenter of the Gold Rush. With the discovery of gold in 1848 at Sutter’s Mill, the tide of potential prospectors flooded into California, raising the territory’s population by close to 300,000. There is a replica of Sutter’s Mill located at the exact location where gold was discovered.
Today, the American River is used for hydroelectric power, with five power plants located along the river. Owned by the Placer County Water Agency, these plants help bring electricity to the surrounding region.
As the largest river in California, the Sacramento River runs from the Klamath Mountains to Suisun Bay, an outlet of the San Francisco Bay, for a total length of 375 miles.
The river played an important role in the Gold Rush as settlers used its waters to search for gold by sifting through the dirt and rocks in hopes of striking it rich. Prospector’s set up camp along the bank, creating trails that are still used today for hiking. Many of these trails served as important trade routes between San Francisco and the burgeoning Sacramento area during the Gold Rush. Unfortunately, the fallout from these settlers was the polluting of the river, which is still a problem today.
Like the Sacramento and American rivers, the Trinity River saw an influx of settlers after the discovery of gold. With these settlers came mining operations that are still in effect throughout the region. Today, however, the Trinity is popular for whitewater rafting and fishing. Salmon and steelhead are allowed to run the river from hatcheries near the Trinity.
During the 1960s, water from the river was diverted to the Sacramento Valley as part of the Central Valley Project. A minimum annual flow has been established since then.
The Feather River is a tributary of the Sacramento River. Like the Sacramento, it saw a large group of prospectors come to its shores in search of gold. Following this spike in population, the Western Pacific Railroad built a route along the river leading to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Today, it is a major source of water for Central and Southern California. This is due to the California State Water Project, a state venture initiated to provide water to the dry southern portions of the state.