Tuolumne County is known for its’ three distinct regions: Yosemite, Gold Country, and the High Sierra. This beautiful area is a four-season destination where you can enjoy hiking and boating in the summer, festivals and leaves changing color in the fall, skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, and wildflowers and waterfalls in the spring. We took our trip here during the month of September and found that it was a fantastic time to travel to Tuolumne County!
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The first day will be filled with traveling to the destination. If you need to fly to California, it is recommended to fly into Sacramento or San Francisco as those are the two closest, major airports. You’ll then pick up your rental car and drive two to three hours to Tuolumne County. What’s neat is that as you enter Gold Country, you’ll wind your way along Highway 49 as the 49’ers did during the Gold Rush.
The first stop is dinner! Drive to the St. Charles Saloon and park just across the street from the restaurant. The pizza here is amazing! If you’re brave, try the famous pickle pizza.
Check in to the Best Western in Sonora, California. We love staying at Best Westerns whenever we travel because they are comfortable, clean, and safe. The Sonora location is no different!
You’ll start your day with a complimentary breakfast at the Best Western. At this time, they are offering a grab-and-go breakfast or an outdoor dining option. I was really impressed with the large selection of food and beverages.
The first morning activity is a visit to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park which is about a 15-minute drive from the hotel. Railtown 1897 State Historic Park was once home to the Sierra Railway and is known for its movie history. On the weekends, they also offer train rides for the entire family.
After visiting Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, take the time to walk around Main Street in Jamestown, the town right next to the State Park. They’ve got plenty of cute shops along with a Walk of Fame. You’ll also find a store that offers free gold panning, a fun activity for the kids to enjoy.
After checking out the State Park and Jamestown, it’ll then be time for lunch! We really loved Diamondback Grill in Sonora because of their ultimate grilled cheese! If you’re looking for something lighter, their salads are known to be the best. Parking can sometimes be difficult on Washington St. There are parking lots behind Dimond Back Grill.
Once you’ve finished up with lunch, walk down the street to the Thirsty Prospector for an ice cream cone.
About twenty minutes from Sonora, you’ll find Twain Harte. Named after authors Mark Twain and Bret Harte, Twain Harte is beloved for its Americana feel and small-town charm. Twain Harte is also the Gateway to the High Sierra but we recommend spending time here instead of just passing through!
In fact, instead of just exploring Twain Harte for a couple of hours, we suggest staying the night. The Lazy Z Resort is only minutes away from downtown and offers a mountain retreat that is fun for the entire family! They offer several different cabins, some that are newly renovated. What I loved about this resort was the privacy and seclusion you felt by having your own cabin in the woods. If you’re looking for a refreshing getaway, this is the place for you!
The rest of the day you can either spend your time at the pool, hot tub, and clubhouse at the Lazy Z Resort or go downtown and check out the fun shops and restaurants of Twain Harte. We found ourselves not wanting to leave the resort which is why we spent the majority of the rest of the day sitting poolside and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of this luxury resort.
After a busy day, you’re of course going to be hungry when dinner comes around. This is why we recommend dinner at The Rock of Twain Harte. The Rock is a local staple! Known for their burgers, trash can nachos, and massive
desserts, nobody goes hungry here. I know it’ll be hard, but really do try and save room for dessert, we loved the chocolate cake!
If after dinner you have some time before the sun sets, you can check out Eproson Park’s playground and new bocce ball court. Or simply return to the Lazy Z Resort and watch the sunset from your private deck.
For breakfast, you need to check out Alicia’s Sugar Shack, only a 15-minute drive from Lazy Z Resort. Alicia’s is most everyone’s first stop when headed up into the High Country, which is the plan for Day 3. They have a fantastic breakfast burrito along with an acai bowl! Grab some snacks or baked goods to take with you on the road.
For a good majority of the day, you’ll get to explore the beautiful High Sierra! There is so much to see along
Highway 108 through Stanislaus National Forest. Pinecrest Lake (23 min from Alicia’s) is known for its beauty and has been beloved for generations! The Pinecrest Lake Loop Trail goes 3.9 miles around the entire lake. This was our personal favorite spot that we visited along Highway 108.
Up further, Donnell Vista has scenic views of Donnell Lake and Dome Rock. If you continue past Donnell Vista, you’ll arrive at Kennedy Meadows. This beautiful area is at the base of Sonora Pass and is known for horseback rides in the summer, great hiking trails, and is even a stop along the Pacific Crest Trail. Enjoy one or all of these stops in the
If you decide to head up to Kennedy Meadows, enjoy lunch there at Kennedy Meadows Resort. If you don’t make it that far, stop for lunch on your way down the hill at Mia’s Restaurant which has some of the best and most inventive pizza around!
After exploring sites along Highway 108, you’ll want to start driving to Indigeny Reserve in Sonora. Indigeny Reserve uses apple orchards that have been in the valley for over a hundred years to make organic hard cider and spirits. Here you can enjoy a tasting and a seasonal cider under the trees.
That evening, you’ll want to check into Bradford Place Inn & Gardens. Bradford Place Inn & Gardens is right in the heart of downtown Sonora which is very walkable. This bed and breakfast has five rooms to choose from, each featuring a Victorian room style. We loved staying in the Yosemite Suite!
For dinner, you’ll want to head to downtown Sonora! Leave the car parked at Bradford Place and take the short two-minute walk to get onto the main street. There are so many restaurants to choose from but we’re glad we settled on Emberz, a place known for seasonal dishes and twists on American cuisine.
After dinner, enjoy the cooler weather and walk up to the St. James Church at the top of the hill. You’ll pass by plenty of cute shops ranging from clothing boutiques to candy stores. Keep in mind that many of these close by 6-7 pm. If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, enjoy a dairy-free soft serve from Local Collective a few doors down from Emberz, open until 7 pm daily!
You’ll kick off day four with a delicious, homemade breakfast at your bed and breakfast. They offer a sweet or savory breakfast. We opted for the sweet breakfast and didn’t regret it!
After checking out, take the short 15-minute drive to Columbia State Historic Park. This is the most well-preserved Gold Rush town in the entire state of California. We found plenty of park rangers happy to teach us about
the history, exhibitions around the park, and fun activities like riding a stage line, gold panning, or candle making.
After exploring Columbia State Historic Park, you’ll then want to make the drive to Groveland to The Grill at Pine Mountain Lake for lunch! Not only is it a great place for a bite to eat, but it offers some of the best views in the entire Sierra!
Once you’re full from lunch, you’ll want to visit Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. I would definitely plan a couple of hours to enjoy this incredible destination! A couple of things to do include hiking to Wapama Falls, which is a 5-mile hike, or just exploring the O’Shaughnessy Dam. While you cannot swim in the water, the granite giants surrounding them are beautiful, and rushing waterfalls make up for it.
After a couple of hours enjoying Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, it’ll then be time to check into your next hotel! This night, you’ll want to stay at the Evergreen Lodge. The lodges were originally built as housing for the workers building O’Shaughnessy Dam and in 2015 it was revamped into luxury accommodations reminiscent of a summer camp. The cabins are beautiful and the views are spectacular!
In the evening you’ll have to make the hard decision of what activity you want to do because there are so many to choose from! Activities include relaxing by the pool, hot tubing, trying the zip line, eating smores around the fireplace and so many more.
Sadly, day 5 is the last day in this Tuolumne County itinerary! Before heading home, do yourself a favor and stop at the main lodge restaurant at the Evergreen Lodge! Service is fast and the food is delicious.
I hope you enjoy your visit to Tuolumne County as much as we did!
Our trip to Tuolumne County was sponsored by Visit Tuolumne County. All opinions remain our own.