12 weekends of Summer; a dozen one-tank vacations nearby (Part 1 of 2)!

Lake Helen, still frozen in July, with Mt. Lassen in background.

Get ready, get set:  with 12 weekends of Summer, a dozen one-tank vacations nearby!

Summer is a week old; have you planned your weekends and vacation(s)?  If not, here are a dozen suggestions for the remaining summer weeks/weekends (six this week, six more next, starting a few hours north of Stockton and moving clockwise to the south and east). They all make for “one-tank getaways”, all as close as one to three hours. Check them off your bucket list!

Lassen Volcanic National Park: Lassen is arguably the most impressive park of volcanic and thermal features in the country (though, Yellowstone might debate that point). With mud pots, fumaroles and a volcano that exploded just 101 years ago, hurling huge boulders for miles, it will thrill youngsters to seniors alike!  Lodging is available in nearby towns like Chester, and the park offers several beautiful campgrounds. With Mt. Shasta just north, extend your stay and visit that huge peak, Burney Falls and surrounding quaint towns for a week of adventure. Best of all, at higher elevations, it’s cool during the summer and only 3.5 hours from Stockton. For both Lassen and Yosemite, check CalTrans road reports for they are still working to open stretches of Hwy. 89 and Hwy. 120 for access into these parks.

Redding's 13 year-old Sun Dial Bridge leads to walking and biking vistas along the Sacramento River.

Redding’s Sun Dial Bridge and the Sacramento River Trail: Since the opening of the iconic bridge 13 years ago, this “Gateway to Shasta” town has added world-class visitor amenities with the bridge, Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Sacramento River Trail for bicycling and walking. With the languid Sacramento River, it now draws thousands of visitors each month. A side benefit is that so many other nearby attractions are just an hour or so away, including Sierra and Cascade  mountain range scenery, Shasta Dam and Lake, Mt. Shasta, Lassen Park and the Trinity Alps Wilderness.  Toss in Gold Rush history and you have a destination worth a several day or week-long visit, just three hours north of Stockton.

Old Sacramento: Old Sacramento preserves the city much as it was in the 1850s and 60s; the world’s seaport to the gold mines, birthplace of the Pony Express, anchor of the Transcontinental Telegraph and the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad.

It’s pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, with blocks of shady boardwalks for strolling (you might run into period-dressed docents taking a leisurely walk!) and several miles of quiet old-time streets for bicycling.  The Jedidiah Smith Recreational Trail connects to Old Sacramento right beside the Sacramento History Museum – from there one can ride north to the American River and continue cycling all the way to Folsom!

Western Pacific locomotive 913 is one of the huge attractions at the CA Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.

Old Sac’s many museums offer world-class attractions.  The California Railroad Museum is recognized as one of America’s top railway museums with weekend rail excursions in open air cars along the Sacramento River, pulled by old Southern Pacific locomotive 6051.  The Sacramento History Museum, housed in the beautiful 1854-constructed former City Hall, offers a wealth of insight as to how quickly Sacramento grew during the Gold Rush. Within a few blocks are the Delta King Riverboat (built in Stockton in 1927), the Huntington & Hopkins Hardware, the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum and the Wells Fargo History Museum. Just south is the California Auto Museum with a stunning variety of classic and novelty autos, dating back more than a century, 2200 Front Street.

Sutter's Mill replica at the site of California's 1848 gold discovery in Marshall Gold Discovery State Historical Park, Coloma.

The Gold Rush Trail along Hwy. 49: Start at the site of California’s gold discovery in 1848, Coloma’s Marshall Gold Discovery State Park; Mother Lode Gold Rush sites march south down Hwy. 49 including Placerville, Plymouth, Sutter Creek, Columbia and Sonora. If you’re an old train buff, finish your tour in Jamestown’s Railtown 1897 Historic Park (the “movie railroad”, with their old locomotives appearing in scores of movies and TV shows).

Laurnn Mackenzie and dog Booker out for an evening SUP at Pinecrest Lake off Hwy. 108.

The Central Sierra, due east of San Joaquin County: The magical Central Sierra offers so much to see and do. Pick Hwy. 88, 4 or 108, and head east up into the cool, summer Sierra.  Camping, motel or lodge accommodations can lead to several days, or a week of scenic vacation fun. Hiking, biking and fishing at attractions like Silver Lake, Lake Alpine and the Arnold Rim Trail, or Pinecrest, all within two  hours of the valley, make for memorable family vacations (in recent weeks, I have profiled destinations/attractions along both Hwy. 4 and Hwy. 108, see my blog for detail).

May Lake, a short hike off Hwy. 120 on way up to the Tuolumne Meadows area in Yosemite.

Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows and Hetch Hetchy Valley: During summer’s high traffic, avoid the Yosemite Valley and head for the Tuolumne Meadows area. Nearby, luxuriate in the majesty of Tenaya Lake and Canyon. Said John Muir in his 1918 work Sleep Trails, “A grand old mountain mansion is this Tenaya region! … Clouds Rest (9926′) is 1000 feet higher than Tissiack”. Book a few nights in Tuolumne Meadows Campground, at 8600 feet nestled in a marvelously scenic granite valley. And take Evergreen Road off Hwy. 120 to visit O’Shaughnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Valley, which Muir compared in grandeur to Yosemite Valley before it was dammed for San Francisco water.

For more information: Redding, visitredding.com, (800) 874-7562; Lassen Volcanic National Park,  nps/gov/lavo, (530) 595-6100; Old Sacramento, info@oldsacramento.com, (916) 442-8575; Coloma’s Marshall Gold Discovery State Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=484, : (530) 622-3470; Yosemite Park, nps.gov/yose, (209) 372-0200.

I’ll bring you the final six suggestions next week! 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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