Five cool places to beat summer’s heat, close to home!

Lake Helen, with Mt. Lassen in background, often remains frozen into July!

Caples Lake, near Kirkwood on Hwy. 88, is a favorite fishing and camping destination.
Pinecrest Lake, just off Hwy. 108, attracts big summer crowds to its cooling waters.
Big Sur’s Bixby Bridge dates to 1937 and allows access to the rugged coast.

Five cool places to beat summer’s heat, close to Stockton and San Joaquin County!

Temperatures are forecast to regularly exceed 100 degrees for much of July and August in the San Joaquin Valley.  So, where can a family get away for fun, adventure and cooling vibes in our wonderful state? Here are five destinations, selected for fun, cooler temps and offering thrifty weekend or longer vacation options for either overnight camping or at lodges/motels. They’re all within two to four hours, and are listed geographically, going north to south.

Let’s start with a wonderful national park, relatively lightly-visited, just four hours from San Joaquin County. Lassen Volcanic National Park, east of Redding, is part of the “Pacific ring of fire”, a ring of volcanoes that surrounds the Pacific Ocean. Mt. Lassen achieved national notoriety when, in 1914 and 1915, eruptions belched ash 30,000 feet into the sky and blasted huge boulders for miles.

Start a tour at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Center explaining various volcano types and how they shaped the surrounding landscape. Beyond the visitor center, scenery becomes increasingly interesting, with views of Lassen looming in the distance. Soon you arrive at Sulphur Works, an area of eerie hot springs and burbling mud pots.

Continuing up Highway 89, find Bumpus Hell; an easy hike takes you to this lively area full of thermal wonders. The Devastated Area will wow the kids, offering an easy hike past 25,000 pound boulders blasted off the summit of Lassen in 1915, landing three miles away and knocking down many miles of forest like they were matchsticks.

A lovely campground is located at the northwest park entrance, on Manzanita Lake with a stunning view of Mount Lassen. The lake offers marvelous fishing (catch and release only) and a beautiful campground with secluded campsites, showers, store and museum. Two places offer food in the park, the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center and at Manzanita Lake. The Drakesbad Guest Ranch, accessed from Chester via the Warner Valley, offers overnight lodging, with trails to Devils Kitchen and Boiling Springs Lake.

Closer to San Joaquin County, the High Sierra along any of our easterly California highways is a cool option. As you rise every thousand feet into the Sierra, temperatures generally drop three degrees. Hence, if your destination is 7,000 feet, temperatures will likely be about 20-some degrees cooler than in the valley. Plus, alpine forests and lakes make for a psychological cooling-off, as well. Here are recommendations:

Hwy. 88, heading east of Jackson: On this lovely stretch, you’ll climb past Lower Bear and Bear River Reservoirs, Silver Lake, featuring the hallowed the Silver Lake Stockton Family Camp (founded 1921) offering fishing, hiking, biking, camping and cool mountain air. Higher above, find Kirkwood Resort, offering summertime fun including hiking, biking, fishing and lovely accommodations and Caples Lake. Stop at the Kirkwood Inn, an historic log-cabin bar and grill, for down-home meals and drinks.

Hwy. 4, above Murphys: Heading up the highway lovely options await, like Calaveras Big Trees State Park, the town of Arnold and the Arnold Rim Trail for stellar hiking and view-finding, Bear Mountain Resort, offering just about every family-fun option, lodging and nice restaurants, and just beyond, regal Lake Alpine, with camping and resorts. Just beyond, Ebbetts Pass, crossed by the Pacific Crest Trail, for dramatic hiking and 100-mile views.

Hwy. 108, above Twain Harte: Twain Harte, at 3,700 feet, offers a cute town with fine lodging and dining options, but the real fun and cooler temperatures start further east at Pinecrest Lake, at almost 6,000 feet (and, just below Dodge Ridge Ski Area, offering its own hiking and biking options during summertime). Pinecrest Lake has nearby resorts and restaurants; for higher Sierra scenery, continue 25 miles east to reach the Kennedy Meadows area, with numerous Forest Service campgrounds, fishing, hiking and biking options. Lodging and horseback-riding is offered at rustic Kennedy Meadows Resort, making this area one of our favorites.

Big Sur along the California coast: South of Monterey (with Hwy. 1 just reopened, after being closed by a huge land slide just north of San Simeon for more than a year), lies a favorite destination for both families and romantics. Cooled by the Pacific, Big Sur offers secluded getaways, rocky coastline, lovely resorts, classic campgrounds and marvelous restaurants.

You’ll find scenic campgrounds here; Andrew Molera State Park, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Lime Kiln State Park and Kirk Creek Campground, a Forest Service gem perched on the bluff overlooking the Pacific. Ragged Point Inn on a bluff above the ocean is a favorite, offering lodging and a fine restaurant. Elephant seals can often be seen at Ano Neuvo State Park (reservations required) and at the six-mile long Piedras Blancas rookery.

Special note: due to a forecasted devastating fire season, check with local authorities as to fire and/or smoke conditions (Yosemite Valley just closed due to nearby fire and smoke).

For more information: Big Sur coast,, (831) 667-2100; Hwy. 4, Visit Calaveras,, (800) 225-3764; Hwy. 88, El Dorado National Forest,, (530) 622-5061; Hwy. 108, Tuolumne County Visitor’s Bureau,, (800) 446-1333; Lassen Volcanic National Park, www.nps/gov/lavo, (530) 595-6100; Silver Lake Stockton Family Camp,, (209) 227-0082.

Contact Tim at or follow him at Happy travels in the west!

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