High Sierra adventure; Hwy. 108, Sonora to Sonora Pass offers fun and adventure!

Senator Curtin's stately Victorian home in Sonora; he ran for California governor in 1914.

Pinecrest Lake, at almost 5,700 feet, attracts crowds of both swimmers and fishermen to its clear, cold waters.
Relief Reservoir shines its azure blue waters about 2.5 miles up the trail from Kennedy Meadows Resort.
The high Sierra, looking northeast from Sonora Pass; great hiking from this vantage point!
Horsemen and pack animals from Kennedy Meadows Resort head up the trail to Relief Reservoir.
Author’s grandson Hunter attacks a Sloppy Joe Burger at Kennedy Meadows Resort.

Hwy. 108, pathway to high Sierra fun and adventure!

With late winter Sierra snows melting away below about 8,000 feet, it’s time to revisit our favorite part of these mountains, Highway 108 from Sonora up to Sonora Pass. This route takes in Native American and gold rush history, stunning scenery, fishing and swimming opportunities and hiking and biking options galore. Several towns offer comfy lodging, and more than a dozen campgrounds offer picture-postcard places to spend a night, or a week.

Start in Sonora, long a crossroads for Native Americans as well as gold rush prospectors and pioneers. Located at the intersection of the gold rush highway, 49, and Hwy. 108, it’s a bustling yet historic town with all the amenities. You’ll find plenty of great restaurants, several local theaters and shops lining its historic stretch of Hwy. 49.

Tour the old Sonora Jail, 158 W. Bradford, now the Tuolumne Historical Society/Museum, first built in 1857, burned and rebuilt in 1866 and serving continuously until 1960. Each of the 10 jail cells house mini-museums, focusing upon our native American forebears, early townspeople and miners, the area’s lumbering history and the importance of water to both agriculture and gold mining. Your kids will get a kick out of the old jail, as well – lock ‘em in the clink!

The old courthouse is just blocks away, and nearby museums include the Sonora Fire Museum at 125 North Washington, the Veterans Memorial Hall and Military Museum, 158 W. Bradford and the St. James History Room at 42 W. smell. Six old cemeteries circle the city – the historical society offers maps.

It’s a town lined with old Victorian homes along many streets, including the Sugg-McDonald house, built 1857 on property of a former slave and the beautifully restored 1897 home of J. B.  Curtain, attorney, state senator and 1914 candidate for California governor.

Downtown’s Washington St./Highway 49 futures dozens of the historic buildings dating to the 1850s, including the spectacular Opera Hall, 1885. Walk the 10 walk stretch of history, window shop and stop at Coffill Park on Sonora Creek, were a 22 pound Gold nugget was discovered.

The Sonora area was also a major source of lumbering with several huge mills nearby including the Standard Mill, adjacent to Sonora and the huge Westside Lumber in Tuolumne City, just 6 miles to the south east. Each mill built narrow gauge railways deep into the Sierra; shay engine number 3, a 60 town locomotive that begin operations in 1910 is on display at the entrance to the Mother Lode Fairgrounds on Stockton Road, just a mile from downtown.

Beyond Sonora, head up Hwy. 108 and stop in Twain Harte, a lovely mountain resort town featuring dependable restaurants like a Sportsman Café (breakfast), and The Rock (regularly voted the best hamburgers and fries). Back on Hwy. 108, head east past Miwuk Village, Sugar Pine, Long Barn and Cold Springs before reaching the delightful resort town of Pinecrest, wrapped around the lake of the same name.

Pinecrest’s PG&E reservoir at 5,679 feet offers a bucolic setting for cabins, fishing, sandy beaches and family fun. Overnight lodging is offered by the Pinecrest Lake Lodge and Pinecrest Chalets, and dependable family restaurants are nearby, including Mia’s (Italian, pizza) and the Steam Donkey (fine food in a rustic family setting).

A picturesque 4 mile hike around the rocky lake shore is fun family entertainment, and hiking and bicycling trails fan out into the Sierra in all four directions. Just above Pinecrest is the ski area of Dodge Ridge, presenting more bicycling and hiking options at higher elevations. Pinecrest is home to two nice campgrounds, and from May through summer, outdoor movies are offered nightly at the Pinecrest Amphitheater on the lake shore.

Heading higher into the Sierra, pass-through the small town of Strawberry, where the Strawberry Inn offers good food and lodging, then find additional lakes like Beardsley, Donnell and Relief Reservoir strung among 10 campgrounds along the Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers. Here additional hiking and backpacking trails are extensive; favorites include the Trail of the Gargoyles, Pinecrest Peak and Sonora Peak and trails into the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. Our favorite campground is the USFS Clark Fork Campground on the Clark Fork River – clean air and clear night skies make for amazing stargazing.

The Kennedy Meadows Resort features a nice lodge, restaurant and cabins and is a great focal point for horse packing trips and hiking into Kennedy Meadows. Above is Sonora Pass, with additional hiking options both north and south – though the almost-10,000 feet elevation and scenic vistas will literally take your breath away! Take your camera, hiking and fishing poles!

For more info: Tuolumne Historical Society/Museum, tchistory.org, (209) 532.1317; Sonora Chamber of Commerce, sonorachamber.com, (209) 694-4405; Tuolumne County Visitor’s Bureau, visittuolumne.com, (800) 446-1333.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

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  • Blog Author

    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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