The high Sierra’s Hwy. 108, pathway to summer fun; from Twain Harte to Pinecrest/Dodge Ridge, something for everyone!

Pinecrest Lake brings crowds in the summer months!

Adventure for everyone; the high Sierra’s Hwy. 108, pathway to summer fun; from Twain Harte to Pinecrest/Dodge Ridge!

Seeking a cool oasis from the heat of the valley, where you, kids or grandkids can hike and fish or curl up with a book amidst stunning vistas? Plan a multi-day trip to the high Sierra and find an alpine heaven, just two hours from the valley!

Lauren Mackenzie and dog Booker pilot a SUP on Pinecrest Lake (photo courtesy of Brian Ogilvie).

A frequent choice for our family is Highway 108, from Twain Harte up to the Pinecrest Lake area, with day-trips to Sonora Pass. The pass was blazed in 1852, when 75 pioneers departed from Ohio and Indiana. Today, the area west of the pass is a summer and fall mecca for fisherman, hikers, bikers and adventurers.

For the family, bring games, books, walking shoes, fishing poles and chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers for smores. Between hiking, biking, swimming, fishing and dinner around a campfire – family fun is easy in this glorious country.

Twain Harte's entry arch welcomes visitors to this quaint town in the Sierra.

Just above Sonora, stop and enjoy the quaint town of Twain Harte.  Beyond the iconic town arch, five blocks of shops, restaurants and family activities await.  Stop for lunch at The Rock Grill and Bar, then continue onto the Pinecrest Lake area.

Pinecrest is a self-contained resort area wrapping around Pinecrest Lake, a PG&E reservoir, with Dodge Ridge Ski Resort just three miles above the lake. The area offers a fine, 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 grandkids Jessica, Jack and Hunter make the hike around the Pinecrest Lake Loop Trail.

Pinecrest Lake is the star; Pinecrest Lake Marina (pinecrestlakeresort.com) offers rentals of fishing boats, sail boats, kayaks, canoes and pontoon boats. Slips are available for rent if you’re planning on bringing your own boat. With rising popularity of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) either bring your own boards or rent at Heidi’s Ski Shop (heidisskishop.com) in Cold Springs. Heidi’s also offers SUP yoga sessions on Pinecrest Lake throughout the summer months.

View from Sonora Pass, high on Hwy. 108.

If you are staying near Pinecrest Lake, every night starting in May and continuing through summer, The Pinecrest Theater offers outdoor movies under the stars in the Pinecrest outdoor amphitheater located right on the beach at Pinecrest Lake.

Higher into the Sierra, you’ll find another 10 campgrounds along the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River; take the Clark’s Fork Road to our favorite, Clark’s Fork Campground with 80 campsites at almost 7000 feet. The road ends a few miles north at the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, offering a variety of hiking trails and fishing options nearby.

With almost endless access along 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 or Donnell Lakes.

Relief Reservoir, high above Kennedy Meadows Resort.

Mountain bikers enjoy many options throughout the Stanislaus National Forest. Bring your own gear or you can rent mountain bikes from the Pinecrest Hub next to the Pinecrest Market. Gentle trails 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. Both follow the route of the old Sugar Pine Railroad, so grades are seldom steeper than 2 to 3%.

The Dodge Ridge Ski Resort is soon to begin laying the groundwork for a system of lift-accessed mountain biking trails; current plans are to introduce the new trail system in the summer of 2018. In the meantime, one can hike and bike the varied fire trails in and around the ski area and enjoy the alpine scenery.

Road bicyclists have options along Hwy. 108 and around the Pinecrest/Strawberry areas, but the real test for serious bikers is the climb on Highway 108 over the 9,651 foot Sonora Pass Summit, though occasional stretches with up to 26% grades can wilt the most serious climbers.

Author's grandson Hunter about to dive into a chili-burger at Kennedy Meadows Resort.

Hiking and backpacking trails are extensive throughout the Stanislaus National Forest. Some of our 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 top of Sonora Pass. Stop at the Stanislaus National Forest office in Pinecrest for maps.

For families seeking horseback riding adventures, single-day or longer options include several outfitters.  In the Pinecrest Area near Dodge Ridge trips start out of Aspen Meadows Pack Station (aspenmeadowpackstation.com); further up Highway 108, tours are also available out of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station (kennedymeadows.com).

How to get there: From Stockton, take Hwy. 4 to Copperopolis, southeast on O’Byrnes Ferry Road and east on CA Hwy. 108 to Twain Hart, Pinecrest and the Sonora Pass area. From Stockton to Pinecrest Resort, it’s 100 miles and about two hours. Check with CalTrans – as of this writing, the 108 east of Strawberry was not yet fully open due to winter snows!

Dining and lodging: Favorites for eating out include the Steam Donkey Restaurant in Pinecrest, Strawberry Inn (also for lodging) and Mia’s in Cold Springs. For lodging, Pinecrest Lake Resort, Pinecrest Chalet and Kennedy Meadows Resorts are good choices. Beginning June 23, enjoy breakfast Friday through Sunday at the Bistro at Dodge Ridge, through September 3. Your pets can join on the pet-friendly outdoor patio, and  free WiFi is available.

Grades up to 26% can challenge even the most serious bicyclists on Highway 108 approaching Sonora Pass!

For info: Stanislaus National Forest, fs.usda.gov/stanislaus/, or contact the Summit Ranger District, 1 Pinecrest Lake Road, Pinecrest, CA 95364; (209) 965.3434; Tuolumne County Visitor’s Bureau, visittuolumne.com.

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

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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