Jaw-dropping nature, Instagrammable vistas, atmospheric towns that date back to the gold rush: some places were made for epic road trips. From its 3,000-year-old giant sequoias, its hiking and rafting destinations, a tucked away cidery and one-of-a-kind accommodations—glamping in a pioneer-style covered wagon, for one—California’s Tuolumne County offers outsized excitement, history and hidden gems at every turn.
The word outsized is no exaggeration. Just a couple of hours from San Francisco, Tuolumne (pronounced Too-All-O-Me) County is perfectly situated between Gold Country, the High Sierra and Yosemite, making it one of the richest regions in the U.S. for four-season adventure. Not surprisingly, it’s provided the rugged backdrop for more than 200 movies and TV shows, including Back to the Future III, Unforgiven and Little House on the Prairie.
Shielded from big-city lights, Tuolumne also boasts some of the darkest skies around. High-profile locals such as U.S. Olympian skier Keely Cashman, who was born and raised in Tuolumne, may lend some glitz to this rural, rustic destination. But they’re outpaced in the glitter department by the millions of stars visible from places like Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows—famed for its meteor showers—and Stanislaus National Forest in the High Sierra. Here are five must-sees for the ultimate Tuolumne County road trip.
Columbia State Historic Park
Set your clocks back all the way to the 1850s at Columbia State Historic Park, a perfectly preserved gold-rush-era mining town. With more than 30 historic buildings, including a working blacksmith shop and an old-fashioned bowling alley, it’s the largest site of its kind in California. But it’s no ghost town or movie set. This iconic place is a thriving hub of shops and eateries such as the St. Charles Saloon—a craft beer and pizza joint that’s been a beloved watering hole for a century and a half.
Drink in every bit of Tuolumne County. A visit to Indigeny Reserve lets you literally do so. An apple orchard set high in the hills of Sonora, Indigeny makes its own hard cider, apple brandy and fruit-infused vodkas. Bring a blanket and enjoy a picnic among the lush trees.
Kevin Costner said he fell in love with the High Sierra from the back of his father’s Buick during childhood family trips. But the best way to enjoy this wide-open mountain paradise is on foot. Considered the gateway to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and a landmark for the Pacific Crest Trail (where the memoir and film Wild is set), Kennedy Meadows offers hundreds of kilometres of trails for hikers of all levels. Or check out its rugged vistas and wildflower-covered hills on a horseback tour.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
The primary water source for all of San Francisco, the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is a sparkling oasis in an out-of-the-way corner of Yosemite National Park. Located in a valley carved by glaciers thousands of years ago, the reservoir features towering granite walls and thundering waterfalls. There’s no swimming, so skip the bathing suit—but don’t forget your camera.
Originally used as housing for workers building the nearby O’Shaughnessy Dam, Evergreen Lodge recently marked 100 years since opening. It’s optimally located for exploring Yosemite, but with its fully equipped cabins, California-sourced culinary and wine programs, and abundance of summer-camp-style fun (think zip-lining and s’mores), you’ll want to reserve some time to enjoy the resort itself.
Find everything you need to plan your Tuolumne County road trip at VisitTCToday.com/HELLO