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Columbia State Historic Park - Quartz Mountain Stagecoach
Menka Belgal

Ultimate Tuolumne County Road Trip

Nature, outdoor, and history enthusiasts embrace every moment of getaway through Tuolumne County, located 2 ½ hours east of the San Francisco Bay Area. You’ll want to take in everything on this ultimate road trip through iconic Yosemite National Park along Highway 120, the heart of California’s Gold Country around Highway 49, and the awe-inspiring High Sierra along Highway 108.

Here are the top 12 stops you can’t miss on your ultimate road trip through Tuolumne County!

The Highway 120 corridor, the most direct highway into Yosemite from the San Francisco Bay Area does not fall short of recreation, history and culture.

Noteworthy About This Area: Yosemite National Park, famous for iconic granite monoliths like Half Dome and the gushing waterfalls in Yosemite Valley, has a quieter, less crowded side. Over half of the park is in Tuolumne County where there’s room to roam in less crowded surroundings.

Stop 1: Groveland

The town of Groveland, gateway town to Yosemite, not only played a key role in the California Gold Rush, but also in the history of Yosemite and even the city of San Francisco, 145 miles away. The Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum, located at Mary Laveroni Park keeps the extensive stories of the area (natural and cultural) alive to share with the many visitors who come through the area.

The town isn’t very large, so you can leave the car parked and wander on foot if you would like. Explore Main Street to find unique locations, including recreation supplies stores, restaurants, coffee shops, nursery (with California native plants), and the longest continuously operating saloon in California, the Iron Door Saloon. Step up to the original bar and order a signature drink and their famous Buffalo Burger, featured by California Dream Eater.

Photo Stop: The Groveland Jail located just off of Main Street on Ponderosa Lane.

Visit Pine Mountain Lake on the outskirts of town to find a scenic public golf course, grill, and campground. For a mild Wild West adventure, enjoy a horseback ride at the Pine Mountain Lake Equestrian Center.

Stop 2: Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park

Head east on Highway 120 toward Yosemite, turn left on Evergreen Road and venture to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. There you will find the expansive deep blue lake, which is the water source for much of San Francisco, surrounded by granite peaks. Cross the O'Shaughnessy Dam, travel through the tunnel, and hike the uncrowded lake-side trail to uncommon waterfalls that are comparable in beauty to their more famous rivals in Yosemite Valley.

Tip: Arrive early because parking is limited and the road is open limited hours (varies seasonally).

Stop 3: Hike to the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park

Head through the Big Oak Flat entrance of the park and enjoy a hike to the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. It’s the smallest of Yosemite’s three sequoia groves, but the trees and landscape along with the wildlife you may see are inspiring none-the-less.

If you don’t have a Peak Hour Reservation, and would still like to visit areas in Yosemite, consider taking a break from the driving and utilizing a certified guided tour operator.

Click here for more ideas of things to do in the Yosemite area of Tuolumne County including biking, whitewater rafting, hiking, off-road jeep tours, and more.

Click Here for Where to Stay in the Yosemite Area

Tuolumne County’s Gold Country, along Highway 49 (named for the 49ers searching for gold) offers an authentic Gold Rush experience with its rich, lively, and thriving historic towns such as Jamestown, Sonora, and Columbia.

Noteworthy About This Area: Tuolumne County’s slice of California’s Gold Country features two California State Historic Parks, Railtown 1897 and Columbia, where you are transported to a past era when the West was bustling with those searching for gold or a new way of life.

Stop 4: Jamestown

Head west out of Groveland to Highway 49 and travel north then east on Highway 108 to Jamestown.

During a stroll along Main Street, you’ll discover that several of the town’s buildings that date back to the 1870s and 1880s are occupied by quaint historic inns, restaurants, shops, a cigar bar, brewery and wine tasting room.

At Rocca Park, check out the introductory exhibit to the Walk of Fame, which highlights Tuolumne County’s show business history. Follow the sidewalk dotted with medallions featuring the movies and  television shows that were filmed in the area. How many have you seen?

Stop 5: Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, Jamestown

The Walk of Fame ends at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (drive or walk  to the park), where the most famous movie star in the County is located. It’s not a person though, it’s a historic steam locomotive, “Sierra No.  3.” Although the locomotive, featured in movies like “Back to the  Future III,” is in the historic roundhouse for maintenance in 2022, you  can get a glimpse of it on a guided tour, or take a train ride on the  weekends April through October lead by No. 3’s sister locomotive, Sierra No. 28 or a vintage diesel engine.

Railtown is a beautiful and small state park with a nice area to enjoy a picnic and then walk around  to take in the other sights like the movie museum, the Depot Store, and the actual water tower from the television show, “Petticoat Junction.”

Photo Stop: Railroad “movie set” located in the Movie Museum (consider showing off your best “Western movie star” pose)

Stop 6: Columbia State Historic Park, Columbia

Go  back in time during a visit to Columbia State Historic Park, a living, breathing Gold Rush-era town complete with stagecoach rides, gold  panning, and saloons pouring sarsaparilla. Historic inns, restaurants,  working blacksmith shop, old-fashioned bowling alley, theatre, and shops  supplied with treats and trinkets add to the ambiance of the town where  a new surprise is around every corner.

Photo Stop: The Wilson-McConnell House, Grace Kelly’s character’s house in “High Noon.”

Stop 7: Sonora

The  largest town in Tuolumne County, Sonora is a great base camp for a visit to Tuolumne County. It is an easy access point to all of the fun  in the surrounding area. Its historic downtown is home to shops, galleries, restaurants, and fascinating museums just to name a few.

Photo Stop: The Red Church on Washington Street

A  visit to Sonora isn’t complete without taking the short drive to Indigeny Reserve. Indigeny Reserve’s organic hard apple cider will ruin  you for any other hard cider. Distilled carefully with pride and love on  the family-owned and operated property, the cider pairs perfectly with a relaxing picnic on their spacious, beautiful grounds or on a nice hike around the orchard.

Stop 8: The Town of Tuolumne

The small town of Tuolumne southeast of Sonora is steeped in interesting history. A visit to the Tuolumne City Memorial Museum is worth the trip to learn  about the town and its inhabitants through time. Also, stop by the nearby 9/11 Global War on Terrorism Memorial.

Stretch your legs on the Westside Trail, an easy hiking trail that was once the rail line of the Hetch Hetchy & Yosemite Valley Railroad. It features scenic  views along with interpretive exhibits and spectacular spring wildflower displays.

Treat yourself at Cover’s Apple Ranch located just outside of Tuolumne on Cherokee Road. Not only is it a local favorite bakery and restaurant, but the kids (and grown-ups) will enjoy a miniature train ride and petting zoo. You must try the Mile-High Apple Pie!

There’s much more to do in Gold Country such as trying the local flavors at some breweries and wineries or taking in a live performance at Sierra Repertory Theatre, the premier theatre company of  California’s Gold Country.

Click Here for Where to Stay in Tuolumne County’s Gold Country

Click Here for Where to Eat in Tuolumne County’s Gold Country

No matter one’s definition of adventure or a scenic drive—it’s discovered in Tuolumne County’s High Country along Highway 108 (Sonora Pass) and on the Stanislaus National Forest. Magnificent vistas, trails, lakes, rivers and streams create endless opportunities for every outdoor enthusiast and features fresh mountain air and space to wander freely.

Noteworthy About This Area: The mountains surrounding the Highway 108 corridor is a favorite and nostalgic getaway destination for generations of families. Camping, boating, fishing in this serene area are just some of the reasons why families gather and return year after year.

Here’s a Secret: The Sierra is filled with myths and tales, and although Sasquatch (aka Big Foot) has been seen many places throughout California, near the trails and streams of the Stanislaus National Forest is no exception. Keep a look out for the legend.

Stop 9: Twain Harte

East of Sonora and nestled in towering pine and cedar trees, the town of Twain Harte is a great place to start your Highway 108 excursion with its quaint shops and galleries. Feel like a kid again at the “vintage” Twain Harte Mini Golf course which is over 65 years old. Get in with the local crowd at the free concerts every Saturday night during the summer at Eproson Park. The town and surrounding communities offer many vacation rentals and cabins for a stunning getaway in the mountains.

Stop 10: Pinecrest Lake

Head to the stunning Pinecrest Lake where you can easily spend the entire day swimming, fishing (ADA fishing dock available), picnicking, hiking, and boating (boat rentals available spring through fall) all in one breathtaking spot. Nearby, you can also see the area the way the pioneers did—on horseback.

Stop 11: Dodge Ridge Mountain Resort

After the snow melts, Dodge Ridge Mountain Resort, a non-intimidating, family-friendly ski and snowboard resort, transforms into a fair-weather recreation paradise. Ride the ski lifts to the top of the mountain for a picnic and hike back down, or enjoy a round of disc golf on the 18-hole course featuring magnificent views. And now, mountain biking trails are open! Ride the lift to the top, and take an adventurous ride down the mountain. Rentals are available too.

Photo Stop: Donnell Vista

Stop 12: Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station/Stanislaus River

Continue east on Highway 108 and you’ll feel a world away from the hustle and bustle when you stop at Kennedy Meadows at an elevation of 6,300 feet. Stay the night in a rustic cabin or just stick around for the day to eat, hike, fish, horseback ride, or lounge next to the pristine Stanislaus River.

If you’re up for a challenging hike, head to Relief Reservoir for a spectacular backcountry experience.

Click Here for Where to Stay in the High Sierra of Tuolumne County

Click Here for Where to Eat in the High Sierra of Tuolumne County

Thank you for adventuring responsibly in Tuolumne County. Tuolumne County is too cool to trash.

Although it’s the end of the article, it isn’t the end of the road. You can pack much more into a road trip to Tuolumne County. Stay in the know by signing up to receive monthly emails.

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