The high Sierra, a hiking, camping, fishing journey…with kids!

26 degrees ahead; no trailers, and bicyclists better think twice about peddling the final eight miles above Kennedy Meadows to Sonora Pass!

Relief Reservoir is a cool oasis of blue at end of a three mile hike from Kennedy Meadows Resort.

Guests descend the trail to Relief Reservoir on horses rented from Kennedy Meadows Resort.

Author's grandson Hunter prepares to dive into a chili burger at Kennedy Meadows Resort's homey restaurant!

View from about one mile south of Sonora Pass; relatively mild hikes run both north and south on the Sierra crest from the top of the pass!






















From Pinecrest to Sonora Pass, something for almost everyone!

Seeking a green, cool oasis from the heat of the valley, where kids or grandkids can hike and fish and you can curl up with a book amidst stunning vistas? Consider a late summer/early fall multi-day trip to the high Sierra and see a cool, green world, just two hours from the valley!

We often choose Highway 108, just east of Sonora from the Pinecrest area up to Sonora Pass. In 1852, 75 pioneers in 13-mule-drawn wagons departed from Ohio and Indiana headed west to California’s gold and promise of a better life, blazing the Sonora Pass route. Today, it’s one of the highest passes in the state, and the area just west of the pass is a summer and fall mecca for fisherman, hikers and admirers of the high Sierra.

For the kids, pack games, a couple of age-appropriate books, good walking shoes, fishing poles and  chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers for Smore’s. Between campground activities, short hikes, fishing expeditions and dinner around the campfire – it’s easy to entertain kids for several days in this glorious country.

With our teardrop travel trailer in tow and several of our grandchildren, we’ve made several summertime forays into this beautiful area. Here is what you’ll find along Highway 108 up to Sonora Pass:

Thirty miles east of Sonora, our first stop is usually Pinecrest Lake. Pinecrest is a self-contained resort area, on the shores of Pinecrest Lake, a PG&E reservoir (and, Dodge Ridge Ski Resort is just three miles above the lake). The lake is still almost full to the brim, and draws tourists, campers and cabin owners all summer and fall. The area offers a fine, family-friendly restaurant, the Steam Donkey, and lodging options at both Pinecrest Lake Resort and Pinecrest Chalet. Two large campgrounds can fill fast during the summer, so book early for best selection.

Heading higher into the Sierra, you will pass a dozen campgrounds along the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River. Our favorite is reached via the Clark’s Fork Road turn off; the Clark’s Fork Campground on the river of the same name offers 80 campsites on two loops, with the river running alongside and crisp nights at almost 7000 feet.

The Clark’s Fork Road dead-ends a few miles north in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, offering a variety of hiking trails and fishing options nearby.

A bit further east on Highway 108, you pass the mighty Dardanelles, sentinel mountains to the north of the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River and come to Dardanelle Resort, with restaurant open Friday, Saturday and Sunday and economical motel lodging options.

Our favorite destination for hiking and a good meal is the Kennedy Meadows Resort. This is a full-fledged horse and mule-packing station, offering a full restaurant, store, cabins, campground, guides and horses and mules which can pack you a few miles into Relief Reservoir, or 20 or more miles into the Emigrant Wilderness area on the border of the resort.

A cautionary tale: ask questions before you take a novice 14-year-old hiker on a “moderate hike”.  From Kennedy Meadows Resort, I misgauged the hike up to Relief Reservoir, estimating it at two miles and about 500 feet of elevation gain.  It turned out to be over three miles, and we climbed almost 1000 feet; despite a stunning high, alpine lake destination, my grandson was not a happy camper!  Fortunately, we both survived the ordeal but he was none too anxious to go exploring with me the next day!

Be sure to stop at Columns of the Giants, just off Highway 108. Here, a quarter mile hike on an easy trail takes kids and adults to the base of this natural wonder, where lava flows cooled thousands of years ago, creating vertical, towering basalt columns which almost defy imagination.

Highway 108 marches for miles along the Stanislaus River, with fishing holes just off the road. Don’t end your journey without a trip all the way to the top of Sonora Pass; trails lead both south and north off of the 9628’ pass, offering moderately strenuous hikes along the Sierra crest and superlative high-country views at every turn. A recent trip found only a few patches of snow above 10,000 feet – though afternoon thunderstorms come suddenly – be prepared for such changes in the weather.

This entire stretch of Hwy. 108, from Pinecrest to the pass offers wonderful views, glimpses of trees soon to begin turning their fall colors, a wealth of National Forest campgrounds (half off with a Federal Senior pass) and many hiking and fishing options just right for families with kids.  Weather is generally sunny and beautiful into October (though, check weather forecasts and prepare for changeable conditions; frequent afternoon thundershowers have kept this portion of the Sierra green with rivers running flush).

How to get there: From Stockton, take Hwy. 99 to Manteca, then go east on CA Hwy. 108 to Sonora (the largest town, for provisioning), and continue further east to Pinecrest and the Sonora Pass area. From Stockton to Kennedy Meadows Resort, it’s 120 miles and about 2.5 hours.

Dining, lodging, camping options abound in the high Sierra: The Steam Donkey Restaurant in Pinecrest, 209.965.3117, and Strawberry Inn (both restaurant and lodging) in Strawberry, 209.965.3662 are dependable dining options.  For lodging: Pinecrest Lake Resort,  209.965.3411, Pinecrest Chalet,  209.965.3276; higher up, the Dardanelle Resort, dating to 1923, with cabins, motel rooms and limited dining hours,; 209.965.4275; Kennedy Meadows Resort, 209.965.3900.  In the Dardanelles/Kennedy Meadows area, you will find almost a dozen campgrounds along the Stanislaus and Clark Fork Rivers, for information on camping or hiking in the Stanislaus National Forest  go to, or contact the Summit Ranger District, 1 Pinecrest Lake Road, Pinecrest, CA 95364; (209) 965.3434.

What to bring: Binoculars, camera, good hiking shoes and gear for about any type of weather!

For more inspiration on other travel destinations in California and the west, see my blog, http//, or contact me at

Happy travels in the West!

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