Northern California foothills are dotted with tiny California history museums, many telling the story of Gold Country settlers. What a beautiful surprise it was to stumble upon the Placer County Heritage Trail and free museums to visit all summer long from Roseville to Tahoe!

Many cities these days have free museum days or even museum nights (like the Long Night of Museums in Berlin), but the folks in the foothills east of Sacramento realized they were literally sitting on a gold mine of California history museums. But getting to them all in one day or even one weekend was impossible. Thus, began the Placer County Heritage Trail in 2008, which in 2018 is linking together 11 weekends of free museum days and 22 museums from Roseville, Calif., to Lake Tahoe.

“The impetus was the fact that most of our museum visitors commented they didn’t know our museums existed — so we had to find a way to reach out on multiple levels and create an event-like atmosphere,” said Placer County museums administrator Ralph Gibson when we stumbled across him at a museum in Lincoln.

Dutch Flat is one of the many places to see when visiting California History Museums in Placer County.

Free California history museums in Placer County

An entire summer of exploration of California history museums! We were pretty thrilled, starting ourselves in historic Dutch Flat, population about 200 or so depending on how you count, then making the trek to Lincoln for the Fruitvale School. All of this exploration also allows visitors to drive back roads and see areas usually scooted past on the freeway as well as visit towns and museums unknown before.

Still on our list this summer is a marathon of free museums in Placer County including the Donner Summit Historical Society Museum; the Roseville Telephone Museum, which says it has the most extensive collection of antique telephones in the country; and a Donner Summit Hike, which will take us out into the hills for a day of history along the Emigrant Trail.

Fruitvale School in Lincoln is a fun California History Museum.

The Fruitvale School in Lincoln is one of many California history museums that are open to the public for free this summer on select days — check the Placer County Heritage Trail blog for a list of museums and the schedule for free access.

Certainly one can visit these museums at other times, but free museum entrance is pretty enticing. Plus, events, speakers and living history are often a part, making these days very attractive to children (who may need a little entertainment over the summer or on a family vacation).

The Placer County Heritage Trail blog has a list of free museums and schedules for the summer event. But don’t stop there: Take a look at the Placer County Museums blog to find out more about the museums the rest of the year too.

California History Museums Pinterest