Volcano is on the eastern edge of Gold Country, where the elevation starts to climb among towering pine trees that blanket the hillsides. While you will likely visit the area for the Shenandoah Valley wineries, this small town also has some worthwhile sights.
Black Chasm Caverns
For an underground experience in nature, take an easy one-hour tour of the Black Chasm Caverns (Volcano-Pioneer Rd., 866/762-2837, 9am-5pm daily Apr.-Aug., 10am-4pm daily Sept.-Mar., adults $15, children $8). Enjoy a sedate stroll into the immense chasm filled with amazing calcite formations. In the Landmark Room, you’ll get a chance to check out the rare helictite formations (a crystalline cave formation) that made Black Chasm famous. Enjoy the visitors center on the way out or as you wait for your tour. Many visitors enjoy the video that describes how the creators of The Matrix used the look and feeling of Black Chasm in their films. You can even see some of the immense stalagmite props made for the movie. Tour schedules can fluctuate during holidays. Tours aren’t accessible to strollers or wheelchairs.
Spring is the time to visit the famed Daffodil Hill (18310 Rams Horn Grade, 209/296-7048, daily mid-Mar.-mid-Apr., free). Perfect for travelers who love the greenery aboveground as much as the minerals beneath it, Daffodil Hill explodes each March into a profusion of sunny yellow that lasts for about a month. Daffodil Hill is actually the private working ranch of the McLaughlin family, which has been planting daffodil bulbs on their property since they first acquired the land in 1887. Today you’ll see more than 300,000 flowers blooming, and more are planted each year. In addition to the more than 300 different species of daffodils, other bulb flowers and plants help create carpets of color across the meadows and hills. Even among the many fabulous landscapes and gardens of California, Daffodil Hill is special; out here, you can’t help but feel the joy and promise of spring.
Daffodil Hill opens to the public only during daffodil season. Exact opening and closing dates vary each year; call ahead to get the latest information. Parking can be scarce during busier times, so prepare to park a distance from the farm.
Where to Stay and Eat
For a budget hotel deep in northern Gold Country, head for the Union Inn and Pub (21375 Consolation St., 209/296-7711, $85-140). It has only four rooms, but each one is decorated with a different luxurious theme. Modern amenities include flat-screen TVs and radios with iPod docks; some rooms have sunken porcelain tubs. A gourmet breakfast is served each day. The Union is best for couples looking for a romantic getaway. Children and pets are not allowed. Some of the best food in Amador County is served in the hotel’s restaurant (5pm-8pm Mon. and Thurs., 5pm-9pm Fri., noon-9pm Sat., noon-8pm Sun., $11-24).
The venerable St. George Hotel (16104 Main St., Volcano, 209/296-4458, $55-200) has affordable rooms with vintage Gold Country charm. This attractive, plain building houses a hodgepodge of 14 second- and third-floor rooms, some that peer out onto Volcano’s main drag, and a bungalow in the back. Only two of the rooms in the main building and the bungalow have private baths. Rooms have polished wood floors and antique-styled bedsteads. Take your coffee out onto the wraparound verandah each morning to enjoy the cool early hours. The hotel has a restaurant (5pm-9pm Thurs.-Fri., noon-9pm Sat., 9am-8pm Sun., $15-30), but the food is uninspiring.
By car, take Highway 88 northeast from Jackson for about nine miles; turn left on Pine Grove-Volcano Road. Volcano will appear in about three miles. Because of the higher elevation, Volcano often has heavy snowfall in winter, and chains may be required. Check weather and traffic reports with Caltrans before planning your trip.