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Time to Visit California's Gold Country

Written by Charlie Pankey

California’s Gold Country will soon be in full bloom & It is Time to Start Chasing Waterfalls in Tuolumne County’s Yosemite

Sierra Rec Magazine – Tuolumne County, CA – March 21,2019 – Spring brings wildflowers, waterfalls, and longer days to explore the abundance of adventure in Tuolumne County. California’s Gold Country will soon be in full bloom. Capture the painted hills with a hike through the Red Hills and Table Mountain, or from the cab of an 1897 State Historic Park Wildflower Train. Stroll through the blossoming apple orchards at Indigeny Reserve and taste their organic hard ciders. Be wild and free like the falls that flow lavishly from the snowmelt in the High Sierra or Yosemite’s lesser-known areas of Hetch Hetchy or the Grand Canyon of Tuolumne, where some have lost count of the waterfalls discovered. Pioneer all the bloomin’ areas of Tuolumne County in late spring with the Epic High Sierra Loop, the road trip through the Gold Country and High Sierra via Highway 108 and Yosemite National Park’s Highway 120.

Complements of Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau

Gold Country- Spring road trip anyone? Yes, please! Traveling southeast from Sacramento a classic Highway 49 road trip will wind through California’s Gold Rush towns with rolling hills that are painted with fresh blooming wildflowers. Venture along the Golden Chain Highway and take a trip back in time to explore Columbia State Historic Park. The park has free admission and is open year-round with a working blacksmith, gold panning, stagecoach rides, an old-time photo parlor, and suds-serving saloons, but one of the most authentic experiences is the Columbia Diggins’ 1852. Happening every May, with a small admission price, visitors can wander through the gold diggins’ encampment and get the true Historic experience. Just slightly down Highway 49 is Historic Downtown Sonora, with iconic buildings like the Sugg House, which has items on display at the Smithsonian and is the oldest brick home in Sonora. Dating back 159-years, it was once a boardinghouse and there is historical evidence that suggests the Sugg House was involved in the Underground Railroad. The Sugg House is now home to Motherlode Grown, a local merchant store. Spring welcomes the seasonal Sonora Farmers Market where road trippers can stock up on some fresh snacks for the road. Jamestown offers wildflower lovers the chance to see the blooming Mother Lode. Wildflower train rides at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park run during the month of April and take riders through the rolling foothills with an Interpretive Park Ranger. Soak in the fresh spring air with a wildflower hike through the Red Hills, with serpentine-based soils the area provides a unique collection of plant species that put on a colorful display every spring. Table Mountain is another place to hike amongst the wildflowers and for those feeling a little more daring, rock climbing is an alternative to hiking.

Complements of Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau

Yosemite National Park- Tuolumne County’s Highway 120 Entrance into Yosemite National Park is the most direct route when traveling east from San Francisco or southeast from Sacramento. Visit the lesser known areas of Yosemite National Park for some awe-inspiring waterfalls. Hetch Hetchy, known as San Francisco’s drinking water is home to two well-known waterfalls, Rancheria Falls and Wapama Falls. These falls are accessible by moderate hiking. Visit Tuolumne Meadows in late Spring and experienced adventure hikers can trek along the Grand Canyon of Tuolumne through the backcountry to capture several hidden waterfalls along the Tuolumne River. Speaking of the Tuolumne River, it has been referenced as California’s premier whitewater rafting experience. Rafting season starts in spring and with many local outfitters, white water rafting trips are led by experienced guides and are available in packages that range from single to multi-day trips.  

High Sierra- Sprawling meadows, crystal clear lakes, deep canyons, and unique mountain formations make up Tuolumne County’s High Sierra. Highway 108 leads up and over the second highest mountain pass in California, the Sonora Pass, which usually opens mid-spring, weather permitting. Along the pass, the rivers make their winding way and present many waterfalls that can be seen from the road or with a small trek into the Stanislaus National Forest. The wildflowers put on a show all the way into Summer. One of the best ways to see the spring and summer flowers bloom is from horseback, both outfitters Kennedy Meadows and Aspen Meadows will lead informative horseback rides into the sprawling colorful backcountry meadows. Trip packages are available from hour rides to day rides, and even all-inclusive multi-day trips. Another way to explore the vast beauty of the Stanislaus National Forest is hiking. While there are many trails to conquer, some favorites to catch wildflowers and waterfalls on are the Pinecrest Lake Loop, the Sugar Pine Railway Trail, or the Westside Railroad Trail.

Ideas for first time visitors:

  • Step back in time at Columbia State Historic Park, one of the best preserved California Gold Rush towns
  • Take a ride on the “Movie Railroad” at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
  • Take a day trip into the Yosemite National Park; drive yourself or let a local transportation company do the driving for you
  • Stroll the many historic towns of Tuolumne County where you’ll find fun boutique and antique shopping and excellent dining options.
  • Take in a live performance at one of three local theatres where you will be in awe at the first rate performances of the talented actors who come from big cities like New York and Los Angeles to perform.

Ideas for repeat visitors:

  • Drive to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (no busses!)  and explore the dam’s history; take in its scenic beauty and waterfalls; hiking is plentiful.  Be sure to explore the quaint town of Groveland on your way!
  • Tour and taste at Indigeny Reserve where you’ll drive through the organic apple orchards and across the covered wooden bridge to get to this amazing hard cider distillery and gift shop. 
  • Head to Pinecrest Lake (a Tuolumne County icon) where you can rent a boat to cruise this scenic lake or take in a movie under the stars at their outdoor Amphitheatre. 
  • Go for a tour of the high country on horseback at any of a number of pack stations
  • Check out the two local casinos offering great gaming, entertainment and even bowling.  Be sure and leave room for a meal at one of their great restaurants.

About Tuolumne County, California

Tuolumne County rhymes with “Follow Me,” located 133 miles/200 km east of San Francisco, is a pristine, scenic expanse reaching into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Gold was discovered in Tuolumne County in 1848, setting off the major gold rush of 1849. The main highways leading to the picturesque drive from the San Francisco and East Bay Area are Highways 108 and 120 from the west and Highway 49 from the north.  The State Highway 120 entrance to Yosemite National Park is considered the “front door” of the park for the San Francisco Greater Bay Area. The Stanislaus National Forest, Yosemite National Park, and other surrounding areas provide natural vistas and settings for hiking, water skiing, horseback riding, rafting, camping, snowmobiling, boating, snow skiing, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Seven restored historic hotels, four golf courses, numerous and varied dining establishments, historic saloons, four wineries and hard cider distillery, train rides, casinos, seven museums, two state historic parks, two live theaters, many bed-and-breakfast inns, and a variety of Airbnb accommodations are among the many other attributes that make the county a year-round vacation destination. 

About the author

Charlie Pankey

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