Skip to Content

Gold Digger: Can You Change Your Destiny in Rich Bar, California?

The California gold rush brought thousands to the hills around Sacramento in the mid-1800s, looking for their fortunes. Rich Bar, California, which lies along the Feather River, became flooded with prospectors. 

The region’s mountainous terrain made getting to it difficult and treacherous during the winter of 1851 when more than 50,000 anxious miners passed through. 

Some were lucky enough to arrive unscathed, while several endured horrendous conditions. They hoped their perseverance would pay off in gold. Read on as we explore more about Rich Bar, California.

Where Is Rich Bar, California? 

Rich Bar sits at 3,750 ft above sea level, nestled in the narrow gulches of the Sierra Nevada. It lies 100 miles northeast of Chico and 120 miles northwest of Lake Tahoe, California. 

You can access the townsite from Highway 70, which leads to a turn-off on Rich Bar Road. It takes drivers across the Feather River and immediately to the old townsite in Serpentine Canyon. 

But the winding river valley and rugged mountain location made access perilous for travelers in the 1850s. Fortunately, today you’ll find a marker designating the town’s place in California gold rush history. 

Pro Tip: Interested in camping in Lake Tahoe? Before you go, make sure you know The Dirty Truth of Lake Tahoe Camping.

What Is the History of Rich Bar, California?

From 1850 to 1853, Rich Bar, California, was a central location for the California gold rush. Prospectors had heard of the valuable findings discovered along the north fork of the Feather River and hurried to the remote location in droves, hoping to become instant millionaires. 

However, they found a narrow valley tucked between steep mountainsides with little room for a thousand money-hungry miners that immediately overwhelmed the region.

Eventually, a small town emerged, complete with its own doctor, hotel, and many stores. By 1851, more than 50,000 prospectors traveled through the area. But the harsh winters, hostile Native Americans, and rugged terrain led to them moving on to other mining camps. 

The community settled at about 1,000 residents. But because of frigid winter temperatures and deep snow, only seven out of 80 souls stayed through the winter of 1852. 

Without enough provisions for the camp, over 70 men left for Bidwell Bar through the rugged terrain. They found harsher conditions than anticipated, and the outcome did not encourage new travelers. 

Of the prospectors who continued to travel through the area that winter, three froze to death, and hundreds of stock, including cattle, horses, and mules, died along the trail from Bidwell’s Bar to Rich Bar.

By 1853 the mine at Rich Bar had played out, producing approximately $9 million of ore (an equivalent of $275 million today). The total of surrounding mines came to around $23 million. The Feather River had proven “rich,” indeed.

Mother and daughter panning for gold.
While Rich Bar, California is no longer active, there are many cool places to pan for gold in California.

Can You Visit Rich Bar, California Today? 

Located miles from any settlement amid the densely forested Sierra Nevada Mountains, this boomtown was extremely isolated in 1850. And today, it’s still a difficult journey trekking through virgin forests and along a mountain ridge. 

But many have made the hike into Rich Bar, California, only to find the townsite completely gone. Between the passage of time and a devastating fire, the only reminder of this mining community is the overgrown cemetery.

Although little remains, the journey to this ghost town is well worth the effort. You’ll find stunning mountain views and an appreciation of those who ventured here over 180 years ago in search of gold.

Pro Tip: If you strike gold in Rich Bar and decide to buy a castle check out these 5 Incredible California Castles.

Where Was the Mining Camp of Rich Bar?

The mine itself actually sat very close to the town of Rich Bar. When first discovered, prospectors used placer mining techniques, meaning they looked for gold already freed from rock by nature. They looked along river beds, dredging for the mineral. 

The mine sat on the side of the Feather River just in front of Rich Bar, California. However, by 1855, the miners began to use the force of water to separate gold from rock by using hydraulic mining methods. 

This pressurized water blasted away any soft rock to reveal gold. The process of hydraulic mining actually started during the California gold rush a few years before, and its success spread throughout mining communities that had previously used dredging techniques.

Feather River
Located along the Feather River and close to the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Rich Bar, California was once a gold mining community.

Where Is the Gold in Feather River?

The first prospectors discovered gold in Rich Bar, California, along the banks of the Feather River, which winds through the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

As opposed to minerals formed in quartz dikes and sills within the mountains, the gold in Rich Bar was deposited in the softer rock near the river. 

With the use of dredging and hydraulic mining, extracting the valuable mineral became easier than hard rock mining. Prospectors flocked to the area in great numbers to stake their claims, but eventually, the gold played out.

Is There Still Undiscovered Gold in California? 

Like most other mining camps, including the one that started California’s gold rush, Sutter’s Mill, there may still be undiscovered gold. Still, the possibility of finding it lying along the Feather River is quite remote. 

Because there are still many active gold placer claims in Northern California, you might want to try your hand at striking it rich. 

You can pan for gold in a few spots like Malakoff Diggins State Park. And who knows? You might just find yourself shouting “Eureka” in The Golden State.

Is Rich Bar California Worth a Visit? 

If your interest lies in history, mining, or ghost towns, take a hike into Rich Bar, California. Walking through its cemetery or exploring the few cabins that remain in the area provides a sense of what the once-bustling town looked like before the gold discovery.

Spend some time imagining the miners, shopkeepers, and bartenders wandering the dirt streets or working a dredge along the banks of the Feather River. You may find that visiting this area and learning its history will keep the stories of this ghost town alive. 

Do you want to visit Rich Bar, California? Drop a comment below!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. John Yolton says:

    I live 4 miles above Rich Bar. The Dixie Fire devastated the area, including the bridge spanning the river. The area is private property and visitors are discouraged.