Donna Hunter started whitewater rafting as a hobby, but after spending 15 years as a social worker in San Diego, she was drawn back to the river as a career. With a few friends for support and a goal to start a rafting-adventure company, she went to night school and honed her business skills. Today, with some of her staff boasting more than 20 years experience leading tours, Donna orchestrates trips down various forks of the American, Merced, Kings, and Tuolumne Rivers to pit participants against rapids as high as Class V. Certified guides lead these tours in Hyside self-bailing rafts and inflatable kayaks, with some rafts holding up to eight people.
Wilderness guides also connect their guests with civilization, often combining rafting excursions with wine tastings and trips to local vineyards. On these overnight trips and other multi-day rafting excursions such as family gold-panning trips, they build relationships with their guests, garnering a clear idea of their paddling skills and the amount of time they've spent practicing in their washing machine.
The company’s camp boasts tent cabins—with names like Eagle's Nest and Falcon's Nest—which populate riverside clearings between picnic tables, swimming holes, and volleyball courts. A camp shop prepares guests with river gear, and hot-water showers let them wash off river water. When not seeking action on the river, staffers organize camp entertainment, such as live music, games, and visits from a local gold panner who demonstrates his craft.
In 1988, the owners of a ramshackle golf course put it up for sale, taking out a small advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle. But where others saw a lost cause, Gordon Morrice saw an opportunity. He quickly bought the course and set to improving it, clearing the rocks and trees littering the fairways, planting new trees, and adding concrete paths to keep wild carts from burrowing into the grass. Over two decades, Morrice and his family transformed Black Oak Golf Course into a facility worthy of a country club, with tiered poa annua greens highlighted by the signature fourth hole—a 131-yard par 3 featuring a dramatic tee shot over water. Along with a regular maintenance staff, at least one member of Morrice's family oversees the course on any given day, retaining a level of personal attention that keeps it from shriveling into a mini-golf course like so many before it.
Course at a Glance:
Full-service snack and beverage bars provide lubrication for moistureless mouths and nourishment for nosh-needy teeth with a menu consisting of sandwiches, snacks, and sodas, and pool tables and video games keep trained fingers in pin-fighting form. The on-premises pro shop allows bowlers to accessorize their outfits with matching balls, stylish wrist guards, and spare shoes for centaur teammates.
Every year, on the weekend just before Thanksgiving, the Mountain Mandarin Festival unites crowds beneath the Gold Country Fairgrounds' autumn-leaved trees to celebrate fresh crops of mandarin oranges. Throughout the event, family-centered activities keep visitors of all ages entertained, including cooking contests, professional-chef demonstrations, and live musical performances. Also on hand, Placer County growers dole out thousands of pounds of fresh mandarin oranges, and more than 200 vendors showcase gifts ranging from lotions and candles to artist-crafted jewelry.