Gold and granite have been enticing visitors to central California since the mid-1800's. All around Tuolumne County there are nods to the region's roots, from Gold Rush era experiences to fantastic museums that educate visitors on the state's history. Meanwhile, granite continues to beckon travelers from around the world to the same area. Tourists still flock to the Yosemite area to witness the breathtaking domes, sheer walls that reach sky-high, and waterfalls that drop to the valley floors. The combination of granite and gold make Tuolumne County one of the most interesting places to visit.
Hetch Hetchy's Granite Walls
We’d heard Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was a much less-visited part of Yosemite National Park and jumped at the opportunity to walk on quiet trails and listen to the sounds of water cascading. We crossed O'Shaughnessy Dam, moseyed through an extinct train tunnel and cruised up the lakeshore toward Wapama Falls. We knew we’d enjoy the time around the lake, but were unprepared for the beauty surrounding it.
Actually, it is believed that the views in Hetch Hetchy Valley rivaled that of the popular Yosemite Valley before it was dammed. Granite walls seem to cup the lake like two hands lifting water from a pool. The falls sprayed from the natural granite stairs, not in a rush, but rather a smooth cascade.
Columbia State Historic Park
The town of Columbia went above and beyond to preserve their history. Exploring Columbia State Historic Park is truly an experience, not just another museum. Mixed among exhibits are functioning stores and saloons. Shopkeepers dress in period clothing and transport visitors to another time. The saloons tout sarsaparilla, and the blacksmith has the irons hot and ready. For a little extra dough, you can even pan for gold!
Coupled with our visit to Columbia State Historic Park, we paid a visit to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. In the roundhouse we watched a gentleman delicately work on a steam engine and marveled at the variety of tools and train cars inside. On the short train ride, we learned more history about the railroad and films that made some of these trains famous!
Gold Country by Horseback
Before the light faded, we explored Tuolumne County the pioneer way... on horseback! We met our guide from Aspen Meadow Pack Station and our steeds for the afternoon. We gently navigated the pine forest near Pinecrest Lake. Riding horses made us feel like true frontiersmen, in search of a new life. We bobbed and swayed along the trail, listening to our guide regale us with tales of ranch life.
Finding rest and play in Gold Country
When we entered the adorable town of Twain Harte, we knew it would be hard to leave. Our car weaved through the hills, and we eventually found respite at the Lazy Z Resort. We slept so soundly in our cozy cabin, and felt just a touch closer to nature. To cool off from the day’s heat, we melted into the resort’s pool—a turquoise waterscape surrounded by natural rocks.
On our initial drive through Twain Harte, we were immediately struck by the quaint miniature golf course on the side of the road. We found vintage fun there one evening, playing multiple rounds on the wonderfully simple course.
Basing our vacation around the granite walls of Yosemite National Park and the historic charm of central California, we fell in love with Tuolumne County.