A Day Trip to Volcano in Amador County= Adventure, Education and Fun!

By Heather Crivellone

For those of us who live in Sacramento, we are truly lucky.  We have the opportunity to live in a rural area, yet have access to the “big city life”.  We are “minutes from nowhere” and yet, “minutes to everywhere”.  We can enjoy our local surroundings and yet take day trips to some world renowned tourist attractions; Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite to name a few.

In the coming months, I will be visiting some of the hot spots in our area that are suitable for day trips out of the Sacramento area.  You can always check out our “day trips” section and get ideas for your next weekend outing (this is still a work in progress- so please feel free to email us with suggestions).

Recently, my family wanted to experience the beauty of Amador County and check out the family friendly destinations.  Before “parenthood”, my hubby and I would visit Amador and the wonderful wineries in the area, however; since kids the “wine tasting” adventures haven’t been quite on the top of our list and we wanted to venture out and find those kid-friendly activities.
If you haven’t been to Amador (only a little over an hour drive outside of downtown Sacramento)… then this is absolutely the time of year to visit-  breathtaking!  The crisp air, colors and everything the quaint towns have to offer- it’s an outing not to be missed.

Our first stop on our outing was to Indian Grinding Rock State Park.   We packed our picnic lunches and went back into time at this historical site.  My kids enjoyed hiking around the massive Grinding Rocks and visiting the site of where the Miwok Indians would gather acorns and grind them into food for their families.  The 135 acre park preserves the Grinding Rock which has 1,185 mortar holes and is the largest collection of bedrock mortars anywhere in North America.
While we were exploring the trails, we had the opportunity to see deer, turkey, squirrels, and even visit a “tee-pee” (my kids’ favorite part of the hike).
There is an $8 parking fee, but the museum and park are free.  The park has several picnic tables, walking trails, an interactive museum and is a great place for a family outing that is both relaxing and education.

After our short hike and lunch, we decided to test our adventurous sides and headed over to explore Black Chasm Caverns.  I had read that these caverns were “kid friendly”, so we decided to try it out with our 3 and 5 year olds.

The cavern tour was approximately 45 minutes and was led by a very knowledgeable guide who showed us the beautiful helictite formations.  We had the opportunity to see some of the greatest collections of sparkling helictite crystals and experience the “thrill” of entering into a cave.

Now, when I had read that these caves were “kid friendly”- they didn’t necessarily take into account the attention needed to follow along with the tour guides.  Yes- the cave is suitable for anyone who can walk up and down stairs (which I was a little leery about beings that my 3 year old wants to climb up and over all stairwells).  They handled the steep stairs fine, but when it came to paying attention to the tour and to “NOT TOUCH” the formations…well- let’s just say I don’t think this tour is for anyone under the age of 5 (and depending on your 5 year old… this may not be for you).
However, if you have kids that are a little older, they will thoroughly enjoy the tour and will be amazed at the sights they will see and the facts they will learn on this tour.
They also have gemstone mining above ground for the kids to collect real gemstones…. an attraction for kids of all ages!

One thing to remember when visiting the caverns is that they are cool-  54 degrees year round.  This wasn’t an issue for us, since we were visiting in the fall and were already dressed for the weather- however, if you plan on visiting in the hot summer months, remember to bring along a sweater.

The cavern tours are open daily and the first tour leaves at 10am and the last tour leaves at 4pm.  Admission into the caverns is $14.95 adult, $7.95 children ages 3-12.

After the Cavern tour, I highly recommend taking a hike at the “Zen Garden”.  This was by far my favorite adventure of our day.  The entrance to the Zen Garden Trail is located  just passed the entrance to the caverns.  The trail is not obvious, so ask for a map when you visit the caverns visitors center.  There is a small set of steps near a large tree off the road… seriously, not the best directions- but is a must see experience.  The trail offers a landscape of standing stones that are beautiful to walk through and just impressive to view.  The kids were climbing, hiking, and amazed at the wonders that nature provided in this “playground”.  This hike isn’t necessarily for those who are used to just a flat terrain… there were quite a few areas that became steep and offered a bit more to our “adventurous” side.

So when you are planning your next day outing- think beyond the “Golden Gate” and check out Amador County.  Not only will you find vineyards, but an array of history and adventure up in the Sierra Foothills.  (And if you are viewing my pics of our day trip- you will notice that we were there on a beautiful, sunny day… and my daughter seems to have a style all her own :))  Enjoy!

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