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Explore Tuolumne County's High Sierra on a Highway 108 Road Trip

By VTC Author | 06/30/2022 | Exploring Tuolumne County, Family, Stanislaus National Forest

Highway 108 is the path for the explorer and adventure seeker alike. Reach new heights in Tuolumne County’s High Sierra where breathtaking forests, mountains, crystal-clear lakes, rivers, and streams come together to form a road trip full of excitement and even some enchantment. Known for lovely waterfalls in spring, colorful wildflowers in summer, vivid foliage in fall, and snow adventures in winter, the trip is full of beauty year-round.

The Highway 108 corridor is one that is nostalgic for families that have ascended to their favorite spots for generations, and now it’s time for you to embark on your journey and see what makes this area of the High Sierra so special.

Traveling east on Highway 108, you’ll go through the towns of Jamestown and Sonora, where you can stop to explore, grab some food and water, and top off the gas tank. As you venture up in elevation you’ll see the landscape change from rolling oak-covered hills to steeper, forested mountains. It won’t be long before you come to the town of Twain Harte; it’s just a minute or two off of the highway.

The town named for authors Mark Twain and Brett Harte is small, but has much to offer in the way of shops, restaurants, distinctive lodging options, and charm. Twain Harte is an ideal option as a basecamp for your road trip with easy access to all sorts of recreational activities on the Stanislaus National Forest, which frames much of Highway 108.

Putting a round at Twain Harte Miniature Golf is a must-do. Although it’s a simple and cute vintage course that’s over 65 years old, don’t be fooled–you’re in for a challenging game!

During the summer months, the lively Thursday night “Mountain Air Market” features local artisans, food vendors, and live music. On Saturday nights, the “Concerts in the Pines” live music series in Eproson Park will get you dancing or at least singing along. Both events are free!

Take your time to soak in the scenery and the smell of the pine trees as you wind your way up the mountain through small villages to Pinecrest Lake, a family-favorite destination for generations. It’s easy to see why it’s special…there’s not much that you can’t do there. Hike around the lake, fish, rent a boat (there are several types to choose from), picnic, swim, sunbathe, bird watch, and camp. A real treat is taking in a ranger program then catching a current movie at the outdoor Pinecrest Theater under the stars.

That’s not all! Near Pinecrest you can play disc golf at Dodge Ridge Mountain Resort or get in the saddle of a trusty horse for a guided horseback ride into the wilderness at Aspen Meadow Pack Station.

Tip: On weekends during summer months, plan to arrive early. Parking can become full.

Photo: Instagram @studio_bentley
Photo: Dodge Ridge Mountain Resort
Photo: Instagram @tetagram

Pinecrest Lake and most of the land surrounding Highway 108 is the sprawling Stanislaus National Forest. Before continuing up the highway, stop by the Summit Ranger Station located right on Highway 108 and Pinecrest Lake Road. Knowledgeable rangers provide useful information and maps to help you get the very most of your time, including up-to-date trail and road information. You may even want to pick up a Smokey Bear or Woodsy Owl souvenir while you’re there.

Here are a few ideas for things to do on the Stanislaus National Forest.

Start with a look into the culture of the original inhabitants of the local area, the Me-Wuk. The Shadow of the Mi-Wok Trail is directly across the street from the Summit Ranger Station and offers an easy ¼ mile walk through an outdoor exhibit displacing the Me-Wuk Indians’ way of life.

If you’re up for a hike that’s a little unusual and not difficult, try the Trail of the Gargoyles off of Herring Creek Road near Strawberry. The trail takes you through some interesting volcanic features that resemble gargoyles. Take in the views and the feeling that you may be on another planet.

Stop at Donnell Vista to take the short, easy walk to a dramatic scenic overlook safely perched high above Donnell Reservoir. Sweeping views of the reservoir below and the peculiar rock formations off in the distance, the Dardanelles, will have you mesmerized.

Photo: Instagram @goldilocks_outdoors
Photo: Instagram @ktbellphoto

Heading toward Sonora Pass, the summit of Highway 108 at 9,623 ft, you’ll come to Kennedy Meadows before the final ascent. This is where you’ll truly feel like a mountaineer. The remoteness and beauty resonate with adventure seekers, but you don’t need to be a hard-core outdoors person to enjoy this area.

The team at Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station will make you feel right at home with extensive amenities and activities. The amenities at the rustic cabin resort include a full-service restaurant, saloon, and general store–all open to the public.

A popular activity at Kennedy Meadows is horseback riding. Join a guided trail ride into the wilderness and see the mountains the way the pioneers did. A trip to Relief Reservoir or beyond into the Emigrant Wilderness is one-of-a-kind.

Fish until your heart's content and your limit is met on the Stanislaus River, which runs through the resort and surrounding forests and meadows. It’s excellent for trout fishing. Or, pack a daypack and venture out on your own on a nearby trail.

Photo: Local Freshies®/High Sierra Visitors Council

For a short and fun addition to your trip, drive a mile east of the Kennedy Meadows turnoff on Highway 108 through the interesting rock feature, “Que de Porka.” Just beyond it is an overlook that offers a high vantage point of Kennedy Meadows making for an obvious photo spot.

From here, either journey back down Highway 108 to find more adventures in Tuolumne County or continue over Sonora Pass to Mono County, home of popular spots like Bodie State Park (a real ghost town), Mono Lake, June Lake, and Mammoth Lakes.

Que de Porka    Que de Porka Overlook

Not only is the Highway 108 corridor full of fair weather adventure and fun, but it also provides the closest snow to the San Francisco Bay Area in the winter. Come up and ski or snowboard at Dodge Ridge Mountain Resort, or enjoy safe, family-fun snow tubing at Leland Meadows High Sierra Snowplay and ice skating at Long Barn Lodge Ice Rink.

Photo: Dodge Ridge Mountain Resort
Photo: Heather Duffett

You’ll need a place to stay. Whether your preference is a cozy cabin, mountain resort, or a simple campsite, there's a place to stay along Highway 108 for you. Stay for a while and explore. Click here for more ideas to extend your road trip in Tuolumne County.

Thank you for adventuring responsibly during your visit; Tuolumne County is too cool to trash.

Photo: Instagram @readysetgonzales
Photo: Four Seasons Lodge
Photo: Emily Taylor

You may want to venture out to explore Tuolumne County’s Gold Country along Highway 49 and the Yosemite area along Highway 120. Request a free Tuolumne County Travel Guide or view the digital version here to learn more.


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