Big trees, gold rush towns, summertime resorts and high alpine lakes – it’s Highway 4 in the high Sierra!

Sunset view from Cougar Rock above Arnold (courtesy, Arnold Rim Trail Association).

Lake Alpine is a high Sierra gem, just above Bear Valley Resort on Hwy. 4.
Huge redwood trees reach over 250 feet tall in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
Historic Murphys Hotel anchors quaint Main Street in downtown Murphys, CA.

Find big trees, gold rush towns, summertime resorts and high alpine lakes – take Highway 4 to the high Sierra!

Giant redwood trees, towns exuding gold rush history, resorts packed with family activities, high Sierra lakes and views – all strung like jewels along Highway 4. And, this summer wonderland is just an hour or two from San Joaquin County.

Highway 4, from Murphys and east, offers a wealth of family fun primed for summer or fall. We started our tour at Murphys, long a favorite among gold rush afficianados. It’s Main Street is a star of historic preservation and offers many places to dine or spend an overnight. Favorite eateries include the historic Murphys Hotel and, just down the street, the highly-rated Alchemy Restaurant. A variety of quaint shops, B&Bs and wine-tasting outlets (Zucca Mountain Vineyards, Twisted Oak and Milliare are favorites) intersperse a pleasant five-block, shady walk. And, the popular Ironstone Vineyards and Winery is just a few miles above Murphys, offering fine wines and outdoor entertainment.

Heading east, plan a midday stop at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, home to scores of towering redwoods reaching up to 250 feet tall. Largest, in the park’s South Grove, is the Louis Agassiz tree, reaching over 250 feet in height and 25 feet in diameter. In the nearby North Grove find the Empire State Tree, almost as large. The park offers camping among the redwoods, cabins for rent and tours led by Rangers offering big tree’s insight.

Emanating around the town of Arnold, find the increasingly popular Arnold Rim Trail ( Timed around full moons, popular docent-led sunset hikes 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. Be sure to take a jacket, headlamp or flashlight, for the tours finish with a descent in the dark.

Bear Valley Resort continues it’s summertime focus on family fun with a host of adventure packages and variety of lodging options. With an adventure park, hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, kids activities, archery, outdoor movies, good food and live music, it’s a mecca for families.

The resort continues to offer it’s popular ‘glamping tent’ options, with expedition-style tents pitched with a stunning view into the Mokulumne River Canyon. The tents are fully furnished with queen bed, bedding, rugs, chairs, tables, lamps and heaters, perfect for couples or small families (with additional sleeping options). RV camping and hotel accommodations are also offered.

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 boon for hiking, fishing, cycling, kayaking, rock climbing and camping.

Lake Alpine, just east of Bear Valley, is a high sierra jewel set at 7,388 feet, featuring fishing, kayaking and the Lake Alpine Resort as well as nearby campgrounds in the Stanislas National Forest. For a challenging hike, take the trail up to Inspiration Point for great sunrise or sunset views. From Lake Alpine, you can also head south on the Slick Rock 4WD Trail to reach both Utica Reservoir and Union Reservoir.

Inveterate travelers will push higher, to historic Ebbetts Pass at 8,736 feet. It’s reputed to be the first Sierra pass crossed by a non-Native American, when Jedediah Smith crossed the Sierra in spring, 1827. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail crosses here, offering high altitude hiking options going north or south with the most alluring 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.

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

Contact Tim at, or follow his blog, Happy travels in your world!

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