Cool kids in a hot city! Summer fun for kids in Stockton and SJ County

Help your kids be cool; Stockton, San Joaquin summer-time destinations for the kids…

As summer heats up, your kids and/or grandkids are likely seeking things to do to break the monotony that often settles in on summer vacation. Here are kid-tested and approved adventures that will keep the young ones cool.

Consider scanning the virtual tours of many Stockton attractions at the website. A good place to start an actual summertime tour is downtown Stockton, along the Stockton waterfront. Park near the Waterfront Warehouse, 445 W. Weber, where the adjoining Stockton Marina rents kayaks and peddleboards.

The Stockton Marina, looking south from behind the Stockton Ports Ballpark.

Across Weber Avenue is the Stockton Children’s Museum (, where kids can play on a fire engine, prowl in a police car and fly a helicopter). From the Waterfront Warehouse, follow the Joan Darrah Promenade along the waterfront which
skirts the historic Hotel Stockton, downtown Stockton Cineplex and Weber Point, containing a big kids play area on the south side and the outline of Captain Weber’s home on the southwest side of the park (alas, the Point’s Interactive water fountain is out of commission, awaiting repairs).

The Stockton Children’s Museum is a hit for kids 10 and under!

On the north side of the channel the Stockton Arena and Ports Ballpark present fun events and baseball throughout the summer (coming up this Saturday, the second annual Stockton Kidz Fest at the Arena, see information below). For more downtown info,

Additional iconic Stockton kid’s destinations include Pixie Woods ( in Lewis Park, with their interactive water feature, boat rides on the Pixie Queen paddlewheel steamer, train rides on the Pixie Express Train or join scores of families on the carousel. Don’t overlook the indoor ice arena at Oak Park, where a spin around the rink will cool off anyone on a hot summer day.

Author’s grandson Jack enjoys the Pixie Woods dragon fountain!

Pack a picnic lunch and visit the air-conditioned Haggin Museum, one of the west coast’s prime museums and art collections anchoring lovely Victory Park. Second Saturdays offer up special programming for families with kids.

The museum features the city’s history from Native Americans, the Miwuk and Yokuts peoples, city founder Captain Weber, to more modern leaders like Benjamin Holt (inventor of the Caterpiller-type tractor), Tillie Lewis (the “Tomato Queen”), and Stephens Brothers wood boat builders. Its art exhibits are world-famous in their own right, and throughout the month art events allow hands-on learning (see the museum website,

History of Stockton’s indigenous people are recounted in the Haggin Museum.

North San Joaquin County offers a host of kid’s attractions. Lodi’s downtown features a lively Cineplex surrounded by shops and eateries and the nearby World of Wonders Science Museum (, featuring hands-on activities for both kids and adults. Check the museum’s website for a number of scheduled summer time activities and special events.

Micke Grove Park, just south of Lodi, offers the Micke Grove Zoo (, Japanese Gardens and San Joaquin Historical Museum ( The park is an undiscovered playground, perfect for picnics with stately Valley Oaks providing shade and cooler temperatures while the Zoo and adjacent Fun Land provide attractions for almost any age.

Kayakers head out on the Mokelumne River (Ava Simpson photo)

History comes alive at the San Joaquin Historical Museum, rich in Native American, pioneer, gold rush and agricultural history and including the original Calaveras School building, circa 1866 and Charles Weber cottage dating to 1847. Weekends through end of August, kids can pet farm animals a’plenty at the Critter Corral.

Hiking and biking options can be found throughout the county. The centrally located Calaveras River Bike Trail offers a fun start on the campus of the University of Pacific, pedaling or walking west out to Buckley Cove Park on the Delta, or, walk or pedal south from UOP on Kensington for a snack or treat along Stockton’s Miracle Mile.

Author’s grandkids, Jessica and Jack, get a kick out of old farm truck loaded with vintage fruit crates at the San Joaquin Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park.

For more hiking or water fun, consider Lodi Lake Park for swimming or hiking along the Mokelumne River in Lodi, or the Cosumnes River Preserve ( just north of Thornton, where hiking trails take walkers through riparian wilderness areas and the kayakers can paddle the waters of either the Cosumnes or Mokelumne River estuaries.

Further explore the San Joaquin River Delta on foot or bike, accessing it at the west end of Hammer Lane in Stockton (here, you can tour a four mile loop, or almost nine miles, around Shima Tract, surrounded by the Delta on three sides). Make sure someone packs a plastic bag; blackberries are thick along delta waterways and make for tasty pancakes the following morning!

A hike along the Delta; here, author’s grandkids on Shima Tract, accessible from the west end of Hammer Lane, Stockton

Coming up: the 2nd annual Stockton Kidz Expo, featuring stars from the Disney hit show Raven’s Home, Saturday, July 20, 11 AM – 4 PM, at the Stockton Arena.

Featuring The Smurfs and Spiderman and offering activities such as facepainting, inflatables, puppet show, games, entertainment and costumed characters galore, the Kidz Expo is sure to please young and old. Tickets on sale at

While enjoying local entertainment, don’t overlook Wednesday night free concerts in Victory Park through end of August, the monthly free movies at Weber Point and classic films presented monthly at the Bob Hope/Fox CA Theatre. Go to for a list of community events. Stay cool and enjoy a hot summer in the city!

Contact Tim at; follow at Happy travels in the west!

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Exploring the Donner Pass area; one historic and scenic square mile!

One historic and scenic square mile; exploring the Donner Pass area

Most readers have crossed Donner Pass on Interstate 80 dozens of times, headed to Reno and destinations east. Far fewer have taken the Norden exit onto the old Donner Pass Road/historic Highway 40 to discover one of the state’s most significant square miles in its history.

View from Donner Pass, looking east from the Rainbow Bridge overlook (that is Donner Lake in the distance).

This old Donner Pass Road section, centered on the pass, highlights Native American history, the first horse and wagon crossings of Donner Pass, the pioneering First Transcontinental Railroad, First Transcontinental Highway and first Transcontinental Air Route. In addition to all of this evocative history, scenic hikes and spectacular Sierra vistas come with the territory.

Make your first stop at the Donner Summit Historical Society, at intersection of Donner Pass Road and Soda Springs Road. Here Society guru Norm Sayler (former owner of Donner Ski Ranch), presides in a tidy building jammed with artifacts from railroad, early skiing and highway history, reflects on the good old days before Interstate 80 bypassed the area, and offered a variety of informational flyers. Norm happily spins yarns for visitors young and old.

The historic Rainbow Bridge was the first US concrete bridge to feature a compound curve; it helped speed lumber delivery from the Tahoe Basin into Sacramento.

Native American history is represented by petroglyphs spread throughout the Donner Pass area, offering insight into Native American life some 800 to 1500 years ago. You’ll find one significant petroglyph area just below the historic Rainbow Bridge, an easy hike off old Highway 40.

The first horse and wagon train road was blazed in 1844 by the Stephens-Murphy-Thompson party, the first wagon train to reach California and cross Donner Pass. At the party’s camp in Big Bend on the Yuba River, a few miles west of the pass, the first Caucasian baby was born in California, Elizabeth Yuba Murphy. With the discovery of gold at Coloma in 1848, the gold rush would greatly accelerate traffic on the wagon road, as well as other Sierra passes.

The old Summit Tunnel was part of the Transcontinental Railroad, and is located just below the Donner Ski Ranch, just off Donner Pass Road.

By the mid-1860s, the First Transcontinental Railroad was blasting its rugged path through the Sierra, as thousands of Chinese workers braved avalanches, accidents and average 35 foot snowfalls to build one of the most hallowed rail routes in the world. The railroad opened in 1869 and, suddenly, it took only days to get to California, instead of months.

On both sides of Donner Pass, just off old Highway 40, you’ll find both the current rail line (covered by miles of rugged snowsheds) and remnants of bypassed sections of the old transcontinental railroad. The historic Summit Tunnel, just 400 feet below Donner Ski Ranch, offers a 3/8s mile-long tunnel that can be hiked through (take a flash-light). Don’t worry, it was bypassed by a newer route, though the old tunnel impresses visitors, realizing the several years it took to blast through solid Sierra granite.

By the early 1900s, automobiles were beginning to make their appearance in California and Nevada, and the old wagon Road was improved, to become part of the first transcontinental highway in 1913. The nation’s first coast to coast road, the Lincoln Highway included a jaw-dropping stretch through Donner Summit Canyon. Find remnants of the old wagon road and improved sections of the Lincoln Highway, just off old Highway 40.

Railroad snowsheds trek along the Sierra crest; you’ll also find sections of the old highway in the same area. Once, autos would use one of the rail tunnels, having to listen carefully to avoid a car/train disaster!

Stop to admire the Rainbow Bridge, built by the US Forest Service in the 1920s (at eastern end, a lovely viewpoint, complete with informational plaques). It was the first concrete compound curve bridge, a significant engineering feat at the time, and helped speed lumber from the Tahoe Basin region to Sacramento and points west. The improved and paved road soon began to bring more tourists to the Truckee and Lake Tahoe area, as well.

The First Transcontinental Air Route also used the Donner Pass area. Though no longer in place, a beacon and small building housing a weather station once sat atop Signal Mountain just above Donner Ski Ranch. Its roof was marked one side with “Donner”, the other, “SL – SF”, marking the air route between Salt Lake City and San Francisco, long before radar existed.

Serious hikers can trek a marvelous historical trail, starting at the Pacific Crest Trail head on Donner Summit. Take the Sugar Bowl Road turn off to the old Donner Summit Road and drive up to the PCT trail head. The hike is 3.5 miles downhill with many photo opportunities (including petroglyphs, the old wagon road and transcontinental railroad) and picnic spots, taking one down almost to the shore of Donner Lake. If time, the Donner Memorial State Park lies at the east side of Donner Lake, offering mute testimony to the 81 travelers, only 47 of whom survived when stranded in deep snows in 1846.

Places to stay: The Soda Springs/Norden area hosts several rustic old lodges; but for style, check the Clair Tappaan Lodge, a rustic retreat run by the Sierra Club (open to the public). Truckee, just two miles east, offers a host of new and old hotels, motels and B&Bs (we’ve enjoyed stays in the old Truckee Hotel, four floors, no elevator!).

Food, drink: Summit Haus, offering food, drink and craft beers at top of Donner Pass; and the Soda Springs Store, on Donner Pass Road, just west of Soda Springs Road (with a good variety of sandwiches, sides, drinks for take-out).

For more information, Donner Pass,; Clair Tappaan Lodge,; Truckee,

Contact Tim at; follow at Happy travels in the west!

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Staycations: exploring Stockton and San Joaquin County from a tourist’s viewpoint

Exploring Stockton and SJ County from a tourist’s perspective; enjoy a staycation!

Stockton’s Ava Simpson runs her own graphics/marketing business; between work, family, volunteering for organizations like the Peace and Justice Network, she does not have time for a traditional vacation this summer. But, in a recent chat, I realized she is planning several “staycations”, a term popular in recessionary times when folks had neither time nor money to spare but still desired to see the sights and take a break from actual work.

Take part in a tour of the Fox CA/Bob Hope Theatre, which goes hand-in-hand with classic movies shown monthly at the stately film palace!

So, let’s explore staycations, defined by Merriam Webster as “a vacation spent at home or nearby”. Pluses include saving money on accommodations, meals and travel expenses and the option to see local sites that you’ve never gotten around to. The minuses include the danger of continuing working and/or frittering away your vacation time without much to show for it.

So, here are suggestions; they include seeking out hands-on learning experiences; particularly tied to hometown history and local visitor attractions. Splurge a few times – dine out at local favorites and visit nearby attractions (you’re saving a ton of money by not traveling out of the area).

Simpson suggests, “I think we should all treat our home towns as if we were visitors and not wait…thinking I’ll do that next year.” She adds, “tour the Stockton waterfront; start at the Waterfront Warehouse. The interior of this former grain storage facility is spectacular and vintage pieces of large machinery are well labeled. Sample Mexican food at Nenas or try out the new dessert shop”.

Huge wind art is part of a walking/strolling tour of the Stockton waterfront; location here is on water behind the Stockton Ballpark, home to the Ports Baseball Team.

“Walk the Joan Darrah Waterfront Promenade to the Hotel Stockton and Downtown Cineplex, stop by the Visit Stockton offices (125 Bridge Place, 2nd floor) and pickup both their Stockton Activities Guide and materials for the Walking with Weber self-guided tour of downtown Stockton. The pre-recorded audio tour offers insightful commentary by seasoned tour guide Manuel Laguna. On the tour, check out newer restaurants like Cast Iron Trading Company and check out historic murals on historical buildings”.

Continuing her nautical theme, she notes, “a favorite local water destination is kayaking from Lodi Lake into the calm, winding Mokelumne River. Renting kayaks and gear from Headwaters Kayak in Lodi is the stress free way to go, not too pricey. My favorite time is early morning; the Wednesday night group paddles are fun. The sensation of gliding on the calm water immediately relaxes me. Mornings or sunset are the best times to see birds, turtles and even deer (Lodi Lake also a good place for easy hikes, as well)”. She adds that the Cosumnes River Preserve, just north of Thornton, is another treasure for hiking, paddling and watching flora and fauna.

Kayakers head out of Lodi Lake onto the (usually) placid Mokelumne River.

Marilyn Togninali is a local accounting professional who heads the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre board. She suggests, “find the time to enjoy downtown Stockton. With new restaurants opened and many places to explore, downtown is undergoing a rebirth. Take in the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre, which offers the monthly classic film series (Sundays, 2 PM, July 14, Star Wars; August 11, Bullitt with Steve McQueen, both impressive on the Fox’s huge screen).

She continued, “spend a day at Micke Grove Park and visit the Zoo, Japanese Gardens and the San Joaquin Historical Museum with such extensive agricultural history. If young kids are part of the tour, a picnic and Funderland are a must. Don’t overlook Stockton’s Pixie Woods; the carousel is at the top of my list of things to enjoy there”.

Kids enjoy the old farm truck, loaded with Lodi-area fruit and vegetable crates, at the San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum in Micke Grove Park.

I’ll add a few more local favorites. Delve into the history of our area’s indigenous peoples, with full exhibits at both the Haggin Museum and the San Joaquin Historical Museum. Reflect upon and revisit the city and county’s thriving cultural scene (the Stockton Symphony, Stockton Civic Theatre, shows/acts coming to the Fox CA/Bob Hope Theatre and Stockton Arena, our gold rush history and classic architecture.

We’ve already mentioned an active waterfront and Delta location (the Calaveras, Mokelumne and San Joaquin Rivers, offering hiking, cycling and paddling options). At the west end of Ben Holt, grab breakfast at Bobs at the Marina, or a sunset dinner on Garlic Brother’s deck and reflect on the adjoining Village West Marina, our Delta and views of Mt. Diablo to the west.

The Stockton Children’s Museum on Weber Avenue is a great destination!
A sunset dinner on the Garlic Brothers Restaurant deck, west end of Ben Holt Drive, Stockton, is a great way to show off the Delta’s extensive waterways and Mt. Diablo to the west!

Make a stop, shop and dine at one of the fine restaurants along the Miracle Mile, the city’s first suburban shopping center that blossomed in the 1950s and 60s. Cocoro, Mile Wine, La Palma and Valley Brew are all inviting options along the Mile.

Tour the Lodi/Woodbridge Wine Appelation centered around Lodi; make a point to visit several of the smaller of the 80-plus wineries. If you’re looking for a late lunch, stop at Phillips Farms on Highway 12, just west of Lodi, for a delicious farm-focused lunch, along with adjoining farmstand full of local produce, wine and gift options.

Abundance Vineyards, off Turner Road, offers shady, classy wine tasting, representative of the Lodi-Woodbridge Wine Grape Appellation.

Find time to reacquaint yourself with the Stockton Ports baseball team; a good night to start is the 4th of July game, with fireworks, when the Ports play the Modesto Nuts at 6:10 PM. An evening at a game is the perfect reminder to better explore your hometown with family (and friends visiting during summer months).

For more information: Downtown Stockton Alliance,; Haggin Museum,; San Joaquin Historical Museum,; Visit Lodi,; Visit Stockton,

Contact Tim at; follow at Happy travels in your town!

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The Eastern Sierra; June Lakes Loop and Mammoth Lakes Basin

Eastern Sierra: June Lakes Loop, Mammoth Lakes Basin

Towering peaks, secluded, eerie and stunning scenery…

Where can you travel just over 200 miles, pass through arguably the world’s greatest national park and reach a land of contrasts, deserts split by towering peaks, other-worldly attractions yet offering quiet seclusion?

Your destination is the June Lakes and Mammoth Lakes area in the Eastern Sierra, just beyond Yosemite National Park and in the long shadow of Mount Whitney, California’s tallest peak. John Muir, speaking of this intriguing area, described it in 1864, as “a country of wonderful contrasts, hot deserts bordered by snow-laden mountains, cinders and ashes scattered on the glacier-polished pavement, frost and fire working in the making of beauty”. It’s all that and more.

June Lake, with the snow-capped Sierra and Carson Peak in distance.

A few weeks ago, we made the trip – though Highway 120/Tioga Pass through Yosemite Park was still closed by snow, so we followed Hwy. 88 east. This year the Sierra retained plenty of snow above 7000 feet, and our camping in the June Lake area was a bit chilly with those stunningly scenic, snowcapped Sierra peaks looming in several directions, streams running full and waterfalls thundering.

Make this a multi-day trip, for campgrounds abound along the way, and the towns of June Lake in Mammoth Lakes offer marvelous motel, bed and breakfast accommodations and restaurants a-plenty. There is so much to see and do, you’ll need serval days or more to appreciate all the area has to offer.

Silver Lake with Carson Peak, on the June Lakes Loop.

With Highway 120 now open through Yosemite Park, that’s the scenic option to get you to the Eastern Sierra. Your route will take you through the park, over lofty Tioga Pass and intersect US Highway 395 at Lee Vining. It’s a cute town, with hotel, motel and restaurant options, and lies almost on the shore of the intriguing Mono Lake, one of the oldest lakes in North America.

With no outlet, it’s fed by six major streams; infused with minerals over the millennia it’s 2.5 times saltier than the ocean, making it extremely buoyant. Fish can’t live in the alkaline waters but it’s flush with millions of brine shrimp and alkali flies, offering sustenance to thousands of migratory birds. Tour Mono’s shoreline in several places to see the tufa gardens, offering a unique experience like nowhere else.

Mono Lake’s eerie tufa towers rise like ghost ships along lakeshore.

Over eons, springs rising up from the lake floor deposited minerals as they grew upwards. Once 30 to 50 feet under the lake surface, the lake level dropped as Los Angeles water interests siphoned off much of the tributary stream flow, revealing these alien creations. With the lake service lowered by 60 feet, tufa towers rise up along stretches of the lake shore, looking like a ghost fleet and making for a visit that will long live in your imagination.

Continuing southbound on 395, you’ll soon reach the June Lakes Loop, a string of high mountain lakes in the shadow of the Sierra, with picturesque campgrounds and resorts encircling these lovely destinations. We camped at a beautiful forest service campground on the end of Silver Lake, with delightful Silver lake Resort (offering a store, quaint restaurant and fishing boat rentals) right across the street. Fisherman were plying their skills both from the shore and from boats. Circling the loop, you soon reach the pretty resort town of June Lake, named for the nearby lake and offering motels, B&Bs and numerous restaurant options.

Just 20 miles further south on 395 is the town of Mammoth Lakes. Huge Mammoth Mountain Ski Area lies just above, one of the largest ski areas in the west (skiers/boarders schussing the slopes at least until the Fourth of July with the huge snow pack remaining in the Sierra). It’s also a huge Mecca for mountain bikers in the summertime. Climb higher into the mountains Just south of the city to the Lake Mary Loop, offering six lakes and multiple campgrounds at about 9000 feet, all interconnected by hiking and bicycling trails.

Twin Lakes in the Mammoth Lakes Basin; lots of snow at 8,000 feet a few weeks ago!

The town of Mammoth Lakes caters to tourists year-round with plenty of lodging, retail and sports shops and restaurants for almost any taste. The Mammoth Brewing Company, side-by-side with the aptly named Eatery is one of our must-stops, offering fine craft beers and some of the best brewpub food we’ve seen in our travels. We shared a flat-bread goat cheese pizza, topped with spinach, chicken and drizzled with balsamic vinegar that was truly memorable.

From Mammoth Lakes, follow Highway 203 north, past the ski area, to Devils Postpiles National Monument. Here, a half mile level trail follows a beautiful stretch of the upper Middle Fork San Joaquin River to the postpiles. 80,000 years ago basalt lava flowed from beneath the earth’s surface; as it cooled and contracted, it split into symmetrical vertical, hexagonal columns unique to only a few places in the world. Hike a bit further down the river to Rainbow Falls, plunging over 100 feet. This is near the headwaters of the San Joaquin as it courses through the Sierra, heading eventually to the San Joaquin Delta and into Stockton.

Devil’s Postpiles lie just a dozen miles beyond Mammoth Lakes.
Lake Mary in the Lake Mary Loop, photo taken several summer ago.

For more information: Mono Lake Visitor Center,, (760) 873-2408; June Lake,; Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce:, (760) 934-6717; Devils Postpiles National Monument,, (760) 934-2289. For camping,

Contact Tim at, follow at Happy travels in your world!

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Exploring the “old pioneer trail”, from Old Sacramento to Folsom

Find adventure and history along the “old pioneer trail”, from Old Sacramento to Folsom

Let’s explore the old trail along the American River, from Old Sacramento to Folsom. Hundreds of years ago, Native Americans traveled trails up and over the Sierra (one of those early trails would become the Immigrant Trail) to trade and share tribal lore. Eastern and Mid-western settlers, crossing the Sierra, would bring news from home, the short-lived Pony Express accelerated mail delivery and the Transcontinental Telegraph and the Transcontinental Railroad further speeded mail and timely communications; thus insuring that California would become a vital partner in the growing nation.

Find history and family fun in a one-day jaunt from Old Sacramento and east 25 miles to Folsom (start your tour on either end). Your adventure can be done via automobile, or, take the light rail trains running seven days a week by Sacramento Regional Transit. If you’re into biking, bring your bikes, which can be transported on light rail. And, for serious cyclists, our outlined tour parallels the American River Parkway and Jedidiah Smith Bike Trail, connecting Old Sacramento to Folsom and beyond. Make a note for a future long-distance bike tour!

Waterfowl make the American River their home near Rancho Cordova.

Let’s begin in Old Sacramento, with so much to see and experience. Old Sacramento preserves well over 50 historic buildings; it’s the perfect place to explore the heart of the state’s Native American and Gold Rush history while browsing unique shops and sampling delicious eateries and drinking establishments. It’s both a walker’s and bicyclist’s paradise, with low traffic and plenty of shady places to take a break.

When gold was discovered in January, 1848 in Coloma (just 47 miles away), Sacramento was in the perfect position to become a boom town. Serving as one of two inland ports to the Sierra mines (Stockton being the other), it soon became the western end of the Pony Express, the first Transcontinental Telegraph and the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. By 1860 Sacramento would become the second largest town in the west, behind only San Francisco.

Front Street is the heart of Old Sacramento. Here, cyclists tour the old town.

A good place to start your tour is the Sacramento History Museum, 101 L St., sharing insights into the Native American peoples who prospered in the area, years before Spanish, European and American settlers arrived. A variety of galleries, with docents dressed in period-correct costumes, offer insight into what daily life was like, 165-some years ago.

Just steps away is the California State Railroad Museum, 111 L St., one of North America’s finest and most complete rail museums. Admire the famed “golden spike” that connected the two segments of the transcontinental rail system, be amazed by a 1,000,000 pound cab-forward steam locomotive, salivate in a beautiful dining car with elaborate China settings and delight in a swaying Pullman sleeping car.

Western Pacific Locomotive 913 takes on passengers as it prepares to depart from the California Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.

A block south of the museum on Front Street, find the statue honoring the Pony Express. The hallowed service operated only from April, 1860 to October, 1861, before the transcontinental telegraph made it redundant. If you are tracing the Pony Express route, you’ll find historic markers near the south end of the Guy West Bridge on the Cal State Sacramento campus, on Sutter Street in old Folsom and in Placerville.

In addition to the Pony Express, both the transcontinental telegraph and the transcontinental railroad made their western terminus in Old Sacramento. Nearby, check out the Delta King steamboat, built in Stockton, which once connected San Francisco and Sacramento for mail and passenger service.

The Delta King steamboat, built in Stockton in 1926, is a floating hotel, restaurant and museum on Old Sacramento’s waterfront.

Folsom dates to the 1840s, founded as Granite City by Joseph Libbey Folsom, who connected a railroad to the city from Sacramento. The town became a jumping off point to the mines in the Sierra, just east. When Folsom died in 1855, the city was renamed in his honor.

The city also boasts the old railroad station, now a museum, with an old locomotive and rail cars. Bordering the Sutter Street Historic District, the Rail Museum celebrates the Sacramento Valley Railroad, with both displays and a huge recreated round table.

Diners and visitors enjoy the walkway along Sutter Street in old Folsom.

The Sutter Street Historic District anchors the old city’s downtown, with a six block-long stretch of historic buildings, shops and boutiques and a wealth of restaurants. From gourmet food to family style, you’ll find it on Sutter Street. Check out the Sutter Street Grill for American favorites, the Hop Sing Palace next-door for Chinese dishes, Snooks Chocolate Factory for killer chocolate concoctions and Pizzeria Classico for family dining. You will find the historic plaque for the Pony Express Station near the west end of Sutter Street.

If time, visit the Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, on the eastern edge of downtown. The powerhouse opened in 1895 and was the first power plant west of the Mississippi. It used water from the American River to power turbines and send electrical power 22 miles into Sacramento – a distance unheard of at that time.

The old Folsom Powerhouse pioneered early electricity production and its delivery to Sacramento, 20 miles away.

For fun diversions the Sacramento State University Aquatic Center is just west of Folsom, offering picnic areas and beach, rentals of kayaks, sailboats and standup paddleboards; the Sacramento Children’s Museum is just 10 blocks off the light rail line in Rancho Cordova.

How to get to Old Sacramento: From Stockton, go north on I-5 to Sacramento and watch for signs into Old Sacramento, it’s 45 miles and about 45 minutes. How to get to Folsom: From Stockton, go north on I-5 to Sacramento, then east on Hwy. 50 to Folsom; it’s about 70 miles and 1.25 hours.

Swimmers and kayakers enjoy Lake Natoma from the Cal State University Aquatic Center.

For more information: Old Sacramento State Historic Park,; Visit Folsom,, (916) 985-2698; Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park,, (916) 985-4843.

Contact Tim at, follow at Happy travels in your world!

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From hail stones to hot summer; how to beat the heat in the Sierra!

Hail stones morph to summer heat; where to head for cooler temperatures!

With hail stones and cold rain pounding Stockton and San Joaquin County just 10 days ago, I’m always amazed how hot summer weather can arrive so quickly. Here are ideas how to beat the summer heat, both in town and in the nearby Sierra foothills.

Cities within the county generally offer a community pool or several, and options like Lodi Lake Park provide places to go for a swim in a mostly natural setting. Or, consider taking in an air-conditioned movie (check the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre for its monthly classic series), or, visit indoor respites from the heat like the Haggan Museum in Stockton or the San Joaquin County Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park, just south of Lodi.

The Haines-Houser Harvester, on display in Stockton’s Haggin Museum, makes for a cool indoor destination during Stockton’s hot summer days.

But, for a truly memorable experience, offering cool waters and incredible scenery, consider a day trip, a long weekend or multi-day visit to the Pinecrest Lake area, 30 miles east of Sonora on Highway 108. The “cool rule of thumb”: As you rise every thousand feet into the Sierra, temperatures generally drop three degrees. Hence, if your destination is 6,000 feet, temperatures will likely be about 18 degrees cooler than in the valley. Plus, lakes and Sierra scenery make for a psychological cooling-off, as well.

Pinecrest Lake Beach is a popular family destination in summer and early fall.

Long a family favorite is the Hwy. 108 stretch from Twain Harte up to the Pinecrest Lake area, offering extended day-trips to Sonora Pass. Pioneers from Ohio and Indiana blazed the pass in 1852; today, the area west of the pass is a summer and fall mecca for swimmers, fisherman, hikers, bikers and adventurers.

Add to your family fun by packing games, books, walking shoes, fishing poles, binoculars and makings for smores. Between swimming, fishing, hiking, biking and dinner around a campfire –this glorious country is made for family fun.

Pinecrest, at almost 6,000 feet, wraps around Pinecrest Lake, a PG&E reservoir, with Dodge Ridge Ski Resort just three miles above the lake. The area offers a dependable, family-friendly restaurant, the Steam Donkey, and lodging options at both Pinecrest Lake Resort and Pinecrest Chalet. Two nearby large campgrounds can fill fast during the summer, so book in advance if you wish to camp near the lake.

Author’s grandchildren Jessica, Jack and Hunter hike the 3.4 mile loop around Pinecrest Lake.

The lake is the big attraction; Pinecrest Lake Marina ( offers rentals of fishing boats, sail boats, kayaks and canoes. Slips are available for rent if you’re planning on bringing your own boat. The lake offers a 3.5 miles hiking trail along its shoreline; adventurous types one can venture up the stunning, rocky Boulder Creek Canyon from the lake’s east-side. If you are staying near Pinecrest Lake, outdoor movies under the stars are shown in the Pinecrest outdoor amphitheater, right Pinecrest Lake’s beach.

Follow the highway higher into the Sierra for another 10 campgrounds along the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River; though last year’s forest fire has dramatically changed the scenery in some areas. The Carson-Iceberg Wilderness is just north of 108, up the Clark Fork River, offering a variety of hiking trails and fishing options. With abundant rivers, streams and lakes, the fishing in this region is some of the finest available; local favorites include many points along the Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers, and on Pinecrest, Beardsley, Donnell Lakes and Relief Reservoir.

The Stanislaus National Forest offers mountain bikers many options. Bring your own gear or rent mountain bikes from the Pinecrest Hub next to the Pinecrest Market. Popular choices include the old rail trail from Strawberry down to Fraser Flat, or continue even further down the trail along the Stanislaus, from Fraser Flat to Lyons Reservoir. Following the route of the old Sugar Pine Railroad, grades are a gentle 2 to 3%. The Dodge Ridge Ski Resort offers hiking and biking options on varied fire trails in and around the ski area.

The Dardanelle Resort was lost in recent forest fire; all that remains, sign and gas pump.

Hiking and backpacking trails are extensive here; favorite trails include the Pinecrest Loop, Trail of the Gargoyles, Pinecrest Peak, Giannelli Cabin, Sonora Peak, trails into the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, Kennedy Meadows and hikes fanning out from the top of Sonora Pass. Stop at the Stanislaus National Forest office in Pinecrest for maps. Horseback tours are also available out of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station (

How to get there: From Stockton, take Hwy. 4 to Copperopolis, southeast on O’Byrnes Ferry Road and east on CA Hwy. 108 to the Pinecrest and the Sonora Pass area. From Stockton to Pinecrest Resort, it’s 95 miles and about two hours. Special note: Due to both late snow impacts, and a forecasted ominous fire season, check with local authorities as to road and air-quality issues.

Horses from Kennedy Meadows Pack Station take visitors high into the Sierra.

Dining and lodging: Favorites include the Steam Donkey Restaurant in Pinecrest and Mia’s in Cold Springs. For lodging, Pinecrest Lake Resort, Pinecrest Chalet, the Strawberry Inn and Kennedy Meadows Resorts are good choices.

For info: Stanislaus National Forest,, or contact the Summit Ranger District, 1 Pinecrest Lake Road, Pinecrest, CA 95364; (209) 965.3434; for Tuolumne County Visitor’s Bureau,

Contact Tim at; follow him at Happy travels in the west!

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Family fun in the high Sierra; Hwy. 4 from Murphys to Ebbetts Pass

Family fun in Sierra gold country; Hwy. 4, Murphys to Ebbetts Pass

Kids and young adults celebrate on Bear Valley Resort’s rope course.

Gold rush history, towering redwoods, high Sierra scenery, lakes, cooler temperatures, campgrounds and family resorts – what’s not to like about a tour up Hwy. 4, from Murphys east to Ebbetts Pass? This is a trip that can be managed in one day; but better done as a long weekend, or a family vacation get-away. Less than two hours from Stockton, you’ll save on both time and gas!

We begin our tour in Murphys, the quintessential Gold Rush town, founded by John and Daniel Murphy, part of the Stephens-Townsend-Murphys wagon train, the first immigrant wagon train to navigate over the Sierra Nevada to Sutter’s Fort in 1844. The Murphy brothers turned to mining, first in Valecito, then moving on to “Murphys second diggins”, which would become Murphys. The town focuses on its pioneer history, as well as regional wine making and providing hospitality to visitors; Main Street offers many places to nosh, dine and overnight. Favorite eateries include the highly-rated Alchemy Restaurant as well as the historic Murphys Hotel. Quaint shops and almost two dozen wine-tasting outlets (favorites are Twisted Oak, Zucca Mountain Vineyards and Milliare) are interspersed along a pleasant shady walk.

The historic Murphys Hotel offers lodging, bar and restaurant, anchoring downtown Murphys in the town founded due to the California Gold Rush.

The popular Ironstone Vineyards and Winery is just a few miles south of Murphys, offering fine wines, an on-site history museum including the world’s largest crystalline gold nugget valued at over $4.0 million and an outdoor entertainment venue attracting thousands to world class musicians.

The 44 pound crystalline gold nugget is on display in the Ironstone Vineyard’s on-site museum. It’s valued at about $4.0 million!

Calaveras Big Trees State Park, home to scores of towering redwoods reaching up to 250 feet tall, is east along Hwy. 4. Giant redwoods in the park’s South Grove include the Louis Agassiz tree, reaching over 250 feet in height and 25 feet in diameter. The nearby North Grove features the Empire State Tree, almost as large. Camping among the redwoods, cabins for rent and tours led by Rangers offering big tree’s insight make this a special state park – so impressive and magical, likely a national park if located outside the state!

Towering redwoods grace Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Arnold is just further east, where the traveler will find provisions and restaurants. The town serves as a center for the growing-in-popularity Arnold Rim Trail (, a trail over 7 miles long, for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. Timed around full moons, popular docent-led Sunset Hikes (June 15 and July 14, at 6:30 PM), take families up 900 vertical feet on a 4 mile round-trip hike to the top of Cougar Rock for marvelous sunset views spreading across the Sierra foothills. Take a jacket, headlamp or flashlight, for the tours finish with a descent in the dark.

Bear Valley Resort offers a wealth of family fun, with a host of lodging and adventure options with activities including “Glamping”, RV camping, an Adventure Park, swimming, hiking, biking, kayaking, kid’s clubs focused on soccer, lacrosse and archery, outdoor movies, live music and more.

Glamping tents offer a comfortable expedition experience and wonderful views into the Mokelumne River Valley outside your front porch!

Bear Valley’s Glamping tents return, offering fully furnished expedition tents with rugs, heaters, chairs, tables, lamps and complete bedding. The units are powered by renewable energy to provide many comforts of home. The glamping experience makes for an authentic mountain getaway with packages that include wine tasting, music events, meals activities and a spectacular view deep into Mokelumne Canyon. Nearby, RV camping is offered with access to Bear Valley showers, bathrooms and a guest lounge.

Bear Valley’s Adventure Park offers a bungee trampoline, a ropes course, a rock-climbing wall and swimming pool. A pass to the park includes access to an aerial suspension bridge, swinging tire traverse, cargo net wall, “a challenge course”, climbing ropes, rope and seat swings and an archery shooting gallery.

Mountain biking has grown in popularity both in and around Bear Valley; eco-bikes are available for rent (electric-powered mountain bikes sourced by solar energy). Electric bikes can make mountain biking a lot more pleasant when faced with 10-15% grades on rocky trails! Shuttle service connects Bear Valley Village, Bear Valley Mountain and nearby Lake Alpine to assist visitors desiring to venture out into the scenic mountain country. The area is a Mecca for hiking, fishing, cycling, kayaking, rock climbing and camping.

Lake Alpine, just east of Bear Valley, is just one of several high Sierra lakes. The lake, set at 7,388 feet, features fishing, kayaking, hiking and the Lake Alpine Resort as well as nearby campgrounds in the Stanislaus National Forest. For a challenging hike, take the trail up to Inspiration Point for great sunrise or sunset views. The Slick Rock 4WD Trail takes visitors to the nearby Utica Reservoir and Union Reservoir.

Lake Alpine, just above Bear Valley, offers hiking, fishing, boating and Lake Alpine Resort.

Push higher to reach to historic Ebbetts Pass at 8,736 feet (historically said to be the first Sierra pass crossed by a non-Native American, when Jedediah Smith crossed the Sierra in spring of 1827). The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail crosses the pass, offering stunning hiking options headed either north or south, with the most alluring of Sierra views.

How to get there: Take Highway 4 east to reach Murphys, Calaveras Big Trees, Bear Valley and Lake Alpine. Murphys is about 60 miles and 1.5 hours from Stockton, Bear Valley is about 45 minutes further east.

For more information: Arnold Rim Trail,, Bear Valley Resort,, (209) 753-2301; Calaveras Big Trees Park,, (209) 795-2334; Ironstone Vineyards,, (209) 728-1251; Lake Alpine Resort,, (209) 753-6350; Visit Calaveras,, (800) 225-3764.

Contact Tim at, or follow his blog, Happy travels in the west!

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California’s Riviera; featuring Santa Catalina Island, Crystal Cove, Lyon Air Museum

Santa Catalina Island, Crystal Cove, Lyon Air Museum add spice to California’s Riviera!

Orange County, affectionately known as California’s Riviera, runs almost 40 miles south of Los Angeles, boasting world-class beaches and coves, surfers and cyclists, entertainment options galore, vintage and exotic cars, sporting events and fine dining. We had vowed to show our Spokane, WA guests the sights, and add a new twist or two. Activities included showing off Newport Beach Harbor and its two upscale islands, taking the ferry over to Santa Catalina Island, sharing the lovely Crystal Cove State Park, and taking in the historic Lyon Air Museum adjacent to John Wayne Airport.

Newport Beach is arguably Orange County’s most upscale of these ocean-front cities. With the world’s largest small boat harbor and two historic fishing piers, Newport and Balboa Piers, sandy beach-front and one of the more colorful bike paths, Newport Beach offers a summer-time allure almost year-round.

Balboa and Lido Islands are surrounded by the harbor; we spent a day on Balboa Island, walking the wide walkway lined by $5 million dollar homes and wandered through quaint shops including several that offer delicious treats; frozen bananas (dipped in chocolate and toppings) and Balboa Bars (vanilla ice cream on a stick, dipped in chocolate, then covered with varied toppings like Oreos, invented 1945).

Also visit Corona Del Mar Beach by the Newport Harbor entrance, or Newport‘s Back Bay, a 10 mile long wild estuary, complete with migrating birds and crisscrossed with walking trails. A short auto/passenger ferry takes you from Balboa Island across to Balboa Peninsula (just $2 for car and driver, $1 each additional passenger), On the peninsula side of the ferry, tour the 1905 Balboa Pavilion, gabled and cupola-topped and home to harbor tours, boat excursions, whale watching and Santa Catalina Island cruises (the town of Avalon is only 26 miles and 75 minutes via ferry to Santa Catalina Island).

The Balboa Island passenger and auto ferry connects the island with Balboa Peninsula; it’s a short, cheap boat ride across the USA’s largest private boat harbor!
The Catalina Flyer takes about an hour to cover the 26 miles from Newport Beach to the lovely Santa Catalina Island and town of Avalon.

Santa Catalina Island’s rocky outline frames a 22 mile long, 8 mile wide island wonder, long home to the rich and famous. Our high-speed ferry delivered us to the historic harbor town of Avalon on a smooth ferry ride that featured large schools of dolphins following along. We meandered the city’s compact shopping district, with shops, boutiques, artist’s outlets and almost 30 restaurants. Steve’s Steakhouse offered a pleasant place on the second floor overlooking the harbor and the streetscape, with good food and fine service. Above us on the hillside stood the grand Wrigley House, built from 1919-1921 as a summer retreat for the Wrigley family of Chicago, who then owned 99% of the island. The Wrigleys lived in or visited the house until 1947; later it was donated to the University of Southern California and now is leased as a luxury hotel, known as the Inn on Mt. Ada.

Balboa Island’s classic homes and gardens make for excellent foot-touring with the broad walkway that circles the island.

Had we more time, we could’ve taken a tour to the island’s other side, where a herd of 120 bison reside, legacy of a 1920’s movie that brought a dozen of the animals to the island. To reach Catalina Island and Avalon, take the Catalina Flyer ferry, leaving Newport Beach Harbor at 9 AM daily, returning at 4:30 PM. Fares, round trip: $70 adults, $65 seniors, children 3-12, $53, under 3, $6,

Huge “Fuddy Duddy” B-17 bomber is one of seven World War II-era warplanes on display at the Lyon Air Museum, Santa Ana, just blocks from John Wayne Airport.

For a new destination, we chose the Lyon Air Museum, near John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, featuring exhibits of a war-time aircraft, vehicles and memorabilia themed to World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars. Established by Major General William Lyon, the museum is on the west side of the airport and features such iconic aircraft as a huge B-17, A-26, C-47 and four more.

Hitler’s massive Mercedes Benz staff car was used by the dictator in 1939 and 1940, on display at the Lyon Air Museum in Santa Ana, CA.

Hitler’s staff car (where the dictator stood in the front seat to salute his legions) and other rare vehicles, both war-related and civilian, made for an interesting afternoon. We relaxed in the adjoining theater and watched a film about P-51 Mustangs and their celebrated pilots. The museum is open seven days a week, adults, $12, seniors and veterans $9. youth 5-17, $6, under 5, free, located at 19300 Ike Jones Rd. in Santa Ana,, (714) 210-4585.

Our tour would not be complete without a visit to Crystal Cove State Park and the old beach town. Located on the southern edge of Newport Beach, the park offers three miles of pristine beaches and four dramatic tidal pools. In addition, the former oceanfront town of Crystal Cove, location of several dozen movies and television shows, is contained in the park. The old town provided a tropical setting for filming of Beaches, Herbie the Love Bug, Son of Tarzan and Treasure Island, films featuring Bette Midler, Bogart and Bacall and John Barrymore. Over half of the 40 old beach-side cabins have been renovated and are available for rent per night in the $100-$250 range. An added bonus is Beachcombers Restaurant, a favorite for good food and sultry sunsets! Further south of Newport Beach, towns like Laguna Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente continue California’s “endless summer”.

Wildflowers lead the pathway to cabins for rent, and the Beachcomber Restaurant, in Crystal Cove State Park, Newport Beach, CA.

How to get there: Go south on I-5 to LA, take I-605 south and I-405 to Newport Beach; it’s about 385 miles and six hours from Stockton.

For more insight: Newport Beach,; Orange County Visitors Association,

Contact Tim at; follow him at Happy travels in your world!

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Agri-tourism; discovering the history, source of food in the San Joaquin Valley

Farm to table; know how that food arrived at your table!

(Record blog, feature, May 13, 14, 2019)

Residents of San Joaquin County live in, arguably, the most productive agricultural region in the world. But, as cities expand, farming and food production is pushed further each year into the countryside; many residents seldom think where that food on the table comes from, much less how it is harvested and produced.

Author’s grandkids Jessica and Jack admire variety of old fruit crates on back of historic
farm truck at the San Joaquin Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park near Lodi.

To understand the agricultural underpinnings of our county, make your first stop the San Joaquin Historical Museum at Micke Grove Park south of Lodi. The museum story begins with an expanded Native Peoples Gallery, offering insight into the Native Americans who have been living in what is now San Joaquin County for over 13,000 years.

The museum traces the Miwok- and Yokuts-speaking people, all with rich cultures and lifestyles. Native peoples here put up the greatest resistance to the Spanish-Mexican missions and fought battles with the largest army formed in Spanish-Mexican California. Videos bring to life the intricacies of traditional basket making, acorn preparation, deer hunting and native life.

Visitors listen in on the talking bench of the Native People’s exhibit.

An inter-active circular display allows visitors to listen to recorded messages. In one recording Glen Villa, Jr. (Northern Miwok/Plains Miwok) tells about the First People and a traditional creation narrative. Another recording shares a traditional Yokuts story, told by Sylvia Ross (Chukchansi Yokuts), a third of the Indian freedom fighters led by Estanislao, for whom the Stanislaus River and County were named.

These exhibits work well with the other exhibits in the Erickson Building, and visitors can go in chronological order from the Native peoples who first inhabited the area, to an exhibit on the early trappers and the founding of French Camp, the first non-Indian community. Continue on to an exhibition on the early American settlers, then on to exhibits on the Gold Rush, a hands-on children’s gallery, and the adjacent Weber Gallery.

The Innovators of Agriculture exhibit features the development of intensive, irrigated agriculture in the county beginning around 1900. Six crops are the focus: dry beans, asparagus, cherries, walnuts, canning tomatoes and truck farming (growing of fruits and veggies, trucked to local markets). If you want insight into why our county is so ag-centric, start at this museum wonder! The museum is kid-friendly, with lots of “hands-on” options, and scores of huge tractors, harvesters and vintage farming equipment to wow even young visitors.

The Innovators of Agriculture exhibit offers insights into creative solutions of San Joaquin County farmers, ranchers and vineyard innovators.

Expand your agri-history tour with a visit to the California Agricultural Museum in Woodland, north of Sacramento and just off Interstate 5. Gene Muhlenkamp, a docent since 1996, took two hours to show my friends and I through much of the museum. Its collection stems from that of the Heidrick Brothers, farmers who built a substantial farming empire west of Woodland beginning in the 1930s. Inventive, they often concocted their own machinery to solve farming challenges and began an extensive collection of vintage and noteworthy agri-machinery.

The museum offers a unique collection of tractors, artifacts and interactive exhibits telling the history of California agriculture. Implements date back to the gold rush era and follow California’s evolution from horse-drawn Ag machinery, to steam-driven and then on to fuel-powered machines. Wander the collection of wheeled and track-type harvesters, tractors, combines, trucks and photo galleries. You’ll even find a Ford model T roadster converted to a farm tractor.

A Fordson Snow Devil engine was designed to haul mail in deep snows
during harsh winters on the Donner Pass Summit area.
A line-up of John Deere tractors is a highlight of the
California Agricultural Museum in Woodland.

Museum items with a Stockton connection include an old Samson Sieve-grip tractor, built in Stockton in the early 1900s, several huge Holt tracked-vehicles, built for the US military in World War I to haul artillery pieces and take the place of horses, killed all too often in action. The huge Holt tractor, armored for wartime, has a number of dents in its armor from bullet strikes.

A monster-sized Best steamer seems almost too large to be true, dwarfing my friends that joined for the tour. A giant Holt harvester (made in Stockton), all of wood and timber with iron fittings, was once hauled through fields with a team of two dozen horses and mules, before steam power would replace the horses.

A huge Holt harvester was built in Stockton and hauled by a team of horses and mules.

A display of vintage John Deere tractors, meticulously renovated, lines one long wall; down the center of the museum march a line of a dozen Caterpillar tractors, used both on the farm and in the construction industry. A midsized Fordson tractor, nick-named the “Snow Devil”, is equipped with spiral-ribbed pontoons, used to navigate deep snows of Donner Pass to haul 5 tons of mail during winter’s harsh storms.

Museum-goers with kids will find a special play area designed to harken back to simpler times when child’s play required imagination. Kids can play corn hole, enjoy the carousel and pedal tractors. A team of docents will tour you through the 45,000 square-foot museum gallery, noting that each tractor, wagon or harvester all have their unique stories.

For more information: The California Agriculture Museum, 1958 Hays Lane, Woodland, CA 95776; (530) 666-9700;; open Wednesday – Sunday, 10 AM – 4 PM; San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum, in Micke Grove Park, 11793 N. Micke Grove Road, Lodi,, (209) 953-3460, open Wednesday – Sunday, 11 AM – 4 PM.

Read more from Tim’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in your world!

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The parks of summer and fall; avoiding the crowds, enjoying tranquility

Find tranquility and quiet in some of the busiest national and state parks during summer and fall; plan ahead!

Summer vacation is almost here, and families are plotting their summer (and early fall) destinations. If you are considering western state and national parks, you may soon discover that both campgrounds and in-park lodging accommodations are booked solid. Here are suggestions to work around that unpleasant circumstance.

First, plan – and reserve – ahead. Book your lodging or campgrounds well in advance, by using on-line reservation systems. For hotels, motels, we use or; for campgrounds, (for national park and other federal campgrounds) and (state and local campgrounds).

Also, consider your options a bit distant from the most loved (and crowded) parks. Instead of the jammed valley of Yosemite National Park, target the park’s Tuolumne Meadows area, with lovely campground, tent-lodging and dining hall, or the forest service campgrounds just east of the park along California Highway 395. The highway offers the lovely eastern Sierra, with the intriguing Mono Lake, ghost town of Bodie and resort area of Mammoth Lakes all nearby. You can still double back to Yosemite Valley for a day-trip.

Halfdome from Olmsted Point, on the road to Tuolumne Meadows in Glacier National Park.

Following Yosemite’s Highway 120 to Tioga Pass, you’ll pass the idyllic Tenaya Lake, capturing snowmelt from the remaining snows high in the surrounding Sierra. Stop at Olmsted Point for striking views of both Half Dome to the south and the lake ahead. Tuolumne Meadows offers either a 300-site campground or accommodations in the tent cabins there. Nestled at 8600 feet in a stunning granite valley, with wonderful scenery and hiking options.

The lofty high-alpine meadows are widely touted as the area that convinced John Muir to petition for the establishment of the nation’s second national park in 1890. Its stunning views, verdant greenery and dramatic granite horizons make it a memorable experience.

Tenaya Lake, looking northeast, Glacier National Park.

Find a marvelously scenic trail on the east side of Tenaya Lake, where more serious hikers can connect to the John Muir trail, all the way to the overlook of the Yosemite Valley. From the campground, you can walk along the meandering Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River, adjacent to the campground. The campground offers evening campfire programs and features the nearby Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, Store and Grill with lodging, provisions and good meals for those who don’t want to cook in camp.

Other options from the campground include easy flat hikes through the Tuolumne Valley and a four-mile hike around Lembert Dome, a dramatic granite obelisk rising vertically from the meadow. More serious hikers can climb to the top of the dome for unrivaled views of the park.

Consider slightly less busy destinations: Save Yosemite for later and head straight to majestic Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in the Sierra above Fresno. Sharing a common border and flush with the world’s largest trees, the Giant Sequoia, and cliffs and rocky heights to rival those of Yosemite, these parks attract only a third of the visitors of its often-jammed neighbor to the north.

The General Sherman Tree, largest by volume in the world, always draws a crowd in Sequoia National Park. Here a ranger explains the mighty tree’s long history.

To beat the crowds at Lake Tahoe in the summer and early fall, choose forest service campgrounds just off the lake such as Fallen Leaf Lake Campground, just up Hwy. 89 from South Lake Tahoe, just a mile off of Tahoe’s shore, and within walking distance of the lake of the same name. It’s a scenic, 2 mile-long alpine lake with good swimming and fishing options and nearby Camp Richardson offers cabins for rent, food and the lovely Beacon Restaurant, a favorite on Lake Tahoe’s scenic shore.

Lake Tahoe in summer offers plenty of quiet retreats, like Fallen Leaf Lake, just a mile off Tahoe’s shores and three miles from South Lake Tahoe.

For unique, uncrowded national Park experience that both kids and adults will love, plan a trip to Pinnacles National Park, just south of Hollister and only 2.5 hours from San Joaquin County. Or, head northwest several hours to reach Redwoods State and National Parks and cruise the Avenue of the Giants, lined with mighty coast redwoods towering over 300 feet in lofty height.

Machete Ridge in Pinnacles National Park offers hiking, several tallus caves for exploration and is home to mighty condors. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

For lovely summer or fall getaways, close to home, consider nearby destinations and surrounding forest service campgrounds like those near Pinecrest Lake, up Highway 108, just 30 miles east of Sonora, or continue a bit further to higher alpine grandeur found around Kennedy Meadows area, just below Sonora Pass. Or chose Lake Alpine, just beyond Bear Valley on Highway 4. Both destinations come with breathtaking scenery, hiking, boating and swimming options, and camping or lodging in the majesty of the high Sierra.

Even in peak month’s visitation, book campgrounds online, months in advance at even some of the most crowded destinations. Use, for national parks, national forests and other federal campgrounds, or, for state and local campgrounds. Consider booking months in advance to assure prime locations in your pristine campground of choice.

Horses on the trail, just above the Kennedy Meadows area off Hwy. 108.

You can still book a campsite for a night or two in Yosemite Valley, though you often have to book many months in advance. On the 15th of the month, they release campsites six months out (for the following 30 days); if you want a prime spot in October – this is your chance. The secret is booking at 7 AM sharp on the 15th, online. If you wait even a few minutes beyond that, most of the sites you’d like will be booked out.

For more info: For Redwoods National Park,; Pinnacles National Park,; Sequoia National Park,; Yosemite, Camping can be booked through

Read more from Tim’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in your world!

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