A Quiet Getaway Excursion to California Gold Country

Pioneer California Makes a Great base Camp for Exploring Gold Country ff Scenic Route 88.

If you’re looking for a breathtakingly beautiful road trip, look no further than California’s Highway 88. This scenic byway runs through the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, taking you on a journey through some of California’s most stunning landscapes. From alpine forests and sparkling lakes to towering peaks and flowing meadows, Highway 88 has it all. Taking a scenic drive over the 58-mile stretch of 88 any time of the year will not disappoint.

In 2023, spring travel over 88 has been disrupted often by snow closures. However, spring is a great time to visit the Western Slopes of the Sierra, and on a recent trip, my wife and I traveled over 88 for a refreshing journey of relaxation and discovery. We enjoyed snowshoeing, Scenic travel and wildlife while traveling from small communities to small communities in the California gold region.

Seeking off the path and quiet relaxation, we booked a stay in Pioneer, California in an Airbnb deep in the canyons North of 88. To get there, we would travel over Highway 88, something did many times before, but on this trip, we take the time to & would look for new experiences. A Visit to the Iron Mountain Ski Park for a little snowshoeing was exactly what we needed. The Iron Mountain Ski park is a popular place for Snowmobiling but is also great for snowshoeing, sledding and backcountry skiing. It is home of the former Silver Basin Ski Area

Silver Basin Ski Area was a small ski resort located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, just off Highway 88 in California. The resort operated for only a short time, from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, but it holds a special place in the memories of those who skied there.

The ski area was founded by a group of local investors who were interested in bringing winter sports to the area. They cleared the slopes, installed a chairlift, and built a small lodge to serve as a base for skiers. At its peak, the resort had five runs, ranging from beginner to advanced, and a vertical drop of around 500 feet.

Despite its small size, Silver Basin Ski Area was a popular destination for local skiers and families. The resort had a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, and its convenient location near the Bay Area made it an easy weekend getaway. Unfortunately, however, the ski area struggled financially, and it eventually closed in the early 1980s.

Today, little remains of the ski area except for the memories of those who skied there. The slopes have been reclaimed by nature, and the lodge has long since been demolished. But for those who remember it, Silver Basin Ski Area is a reminder of a simpler time when skiing was a way of life and the mountains were a place of adventure and possibility.

Couple standing in a tree

Off the Grid AirBnb

Now I am not the best vacation planner, and finding locations to stay that fit both my need for space and my wife’s need for comfort and relaxation, can be challenging. So on this trip, we decided to try an AirBnb outside of Pioneer in the mountains near Volcano, California. The one thing we can always agree on, is a mountain cabin is a generally safe bet, as long as there is running water. 

The location was deep in a canyon and was surprisingly among hundreds of homes you would never know existed if you stayed on 88. Located on a large wooded lot on a dead-end street instantly provided a quiet outdoor adventure feel. A vast deck 20 feet off the ground in the backyard provided the greatest of evening relaxation and the wild turkeys & deer on the property added magic and intrigue to the visit with our dog.

On our first night, neither of us felt like cooking, so a quick 15-minute trip into Pioneer for a Pioneer Burger and fries was in order, we picked it up to go and decided to act like a local and head to the community park, so the dog could run and we could enjoy a little local Pioneer life. Climbing big trees quickly became a thing on this visit.

Day Two a Trip into History

The following day after gawking at the deer and wild turkey all morning from the deck while sipping our morning coffee, we decided to head into a little town called Volcano. Since I write about the Sierra, I should be more aware of these towns and their history, but Volcano was new for me.

A small town rich in California history, Volcano was like many small gold towns of the late 1850’s, quickly developing commercial and social locations for soldiers and gold miners in the hills of the western Sierra.

Volcano became a leading cultural center as one of the first to offer a leading cultural center as one of the first to offer a lending library, theater group, private law school, debate society, several dance halls, and an astronomical observatory site.

Today, the town celebrates its history and still offers a robust cultural experience for visitors, including live theatre productions and summer concert series.

  • Volcano hotel

After walking around, taking photos and reading about city monuments, we had the pleasure of meeting the new owner of the general store in Volcano, A robust and jolly fellow named Tommy Sizemore. His passion for revitalizing this small town and saving its unique history and culture was contagious, as he told us stories, showed us around the renovations of the general store & discussed plans for a future thriving tourist community welcome on these streets all year round. The general store is recognized as the longest running store in the State of California, first serving patrons in 1852

After a while in town we moved out of town a few miles for a quick stop at the Masonic Caves for a picnic lunch. A cool off-the-road excursion featuring an old rock with several cave entrances. On a perfect spring day, we, at lunch, listened to the birds sing but stayed out of the caves with our dog and a few alarming signs of Rattlesnakes.

River Time

Even though locals encouraged us to go check out Sutter Creek next, I was looking for a little river action and we decided to head South across Hwy 88 to check out the flows on the Mokelumne River.

I love crawling around rivers, primarily when the snow melt provides that extra roar to the river.

Mokelumne River didn’t disappoint as we found a great little day-use area at Tiger Creek which provided us with several big rocks to explore and a few more trees for Wendy to climb while admiring the power of the spring river flow. 

This summer’s flow will be epic and slightly dangerous on these rivers as 200-plus inches of snow melt comes rushing down the canyons. Still, it is scenic and wonderful to both the ear and eyes.

Scenic Drive 

We would finish our day with a Leisurely scenic drive on Route 26 through West Point, and Mokelumne Hill, stopping for photos of California Poppies along the highway and a few more river pullouts. We will be back in early summer and can’t wait to see the difference a month or two makes to this rich hill country.

Silver Lake off Highway 88 in April 2023

Day three, a trip back to the Carson Valley

We decided to pack up early on the final day to stop by Silver Lake and Caples Lake areas on the way. Silver Lake was surprisingly busy for a Wednesday afternoon visit, but the dog and I enjoyed walking out on the lake that still had 10-15 feet of snow on it in Late April. And Caples Lake was difficult to find a pull-off, so we headed into the Carson Valley for a late lunch at the Chicken Shanty, our new favorite locals place serving up the best Chicken sandwiches and Fries in the region. Of course, always good to be home in the Carson Valley, but we really enjoyed this little two-day excursion getaway on the west side of the Sierra.



Publisher of Sierra Rec Magazine. An avid hiker and explorer of mountain lifestyle and adventure. I love to discover new trails, hike along rivers and hang a hammock along the shores of a mountain lake. I often great people on the trail and have found some of my favorite places from the advice of people I meet in the Wilderness. I love the sierra and just like sharing what I know.

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