Family fun in the high Sierra; Hwy. 4 from Murphys to Ebbetts Pass

Family fun in Sierra gold country; Hwy. 4, Murphys to Ebbetts Pass

Kids and young adults celebrate on Bear Valley Resort’s rope course.

Gold rush history, towering redwoods, high Sierra scenery, lakes, cooler temperatures, campgrounds and family resorts – what’s not to like about a tour up Hwy. 4, from Murphys east to Ebbetts Pass? This is a trip that can be managed in one day; but better done as a long weekend, or a family vacation get-away. Less than two hours from Stockton, you’ll save on both time and gas!

We begin our tour in Murphys, the quintessential Gold Rush town, founded by John and Daniel Murphy, part of the Stephens-Townsend-Murphys wagon train, the first immigrant wagon train to navigate over the Sierra Nevada to Sutter’s Fort in 1844. The Murphy brothers turned to mining, first in Valecito, then moving on to “Murphys second diggins”, which would become Murphys. The town focuses on its pioneer history, as well as regional wine making and providing hospitality to visitors; Main Street offers many places to nosh, dine and overnight. Favorite eateries include the highly-rated Alchemy Restaurant as well as the historic Murphys Hotel. Quaint shops and almost two dozen wine-tasting outlets (favorites are Twisted Oak, Zucca Mountain Vineyards and Milliare) are interspersed along a pleasant shady walk.

The historic Murphys Hotel offers lodging, bar and restaurant, anchoring downtown Murphys in the town founded due to the California Gold Rush.

The popular Ironstone Vineyards and Winery is just a few miles south of Murphys, offering fine wines, an on-site history museum including the world’s largest crystalline gold nugget valued at over $4.0 million and an outdoor entertainment venue attracting thousands to world class musicians.

The 44 pound crystalline gold nugget is on display in the Ironstone Vineyard’s on-site museum. It’s valued at about $4.0 million!

Calaveras Big Trees State Park, home to scores of towering redwoods reaching up to 250 feet tall, is east along Hwy. 4. Giant redwoods in the park’s South Grove include the Louis Agassiz tree, reaching over 250 feet in height and 25 feet in diameter. The nearby North Grove features the Empire State Tree, almost as large. Camping among the redwoods, cabins for rent and tours led by Rangers offering big tree’s insight make this a special state park – so impressive and magical, likely a national park if located outside the state!

Towering redwoods grace Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Arnold is just further east, where the traveler will find provisions and restaurants. The town serves as a center for the growing-in-popularity Arnold Rim Trail (, a trail over 7 miles long, for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. Timed around full moons, popular docent-led Sunset Hikes (June 15 and July 14, at 6:30 PM), 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. Take a jacket, headlamp or flashlight, for the tours finish with a descent in the dark.

Bear Valley Resort offers a wealth of family fun, with a host of lodging and adventure options with activities including “Glamping”, RV camping, an Adventure Park, swimming, hiking, biking, kayaking, kid’s clubs focused on soccer, lacrosse and archery, outdoor movies, live music and more.

Glamping tents offer a comfortable expedition experience and wonderful views into the Mokelumne River Valley outside your front porch!

Bear Valley’s Glamping tents return, offering fully furnished expedition tents with rugs, heaters, chairs, tables, lamps and complete bedding. The units are powered by renewable energy to provide many comforts of home. The glamping experience makes for an authentic mountain getaway with packages that include wine tasting, music events, meals activities and a spectacular view deep into Mokelumne Canyon. Nearby, RV camping is offered with access to Bear Valley showers, bathrooms and a guest lounge.

Bear Valley’s Adventure Park offers a bungee trampoline, a ropes course, a rock-climbing wall and swimming pool. A pass to the park includes access to an aerial suspension bridge, swinging tire traverse, cargo net wall, “a challenge course”, climbing ropes, rope and seat swings and an archery shooting gallery.

Mountain biking has grown in popularity both in and around Bear Valley; eco-bikes are available for rent (electric-powered mountain bikes sourced by solar energy). Electric bikes can make mountain biking a lot more pleasant when faced with 10-15% grades on rocky trails! 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 Mecca for hiking, fishing, cycling, kayaking, rock climbing and camping.

Lake Alpine, just east of Bear Valley, is just one of several high Sierra lakes. The lake, set at 7,388 feet, features fishing, kayaking, hiking and the Lake Alpine Resort as well as nearby campgrounds in the Stanislaus National Forest. For a challenging hike, take the trail up to Inspiration Point for great sunrise or sunset views. The Slick Rock 4WD Trail takes visitors to the nearby Utica Reservoir and Union Reservoir.

Lake Alpine, just above Bear Valley, offers hiking, fishing, boating and Lake Alpine Resort.

Push higher to reach to historic Ebbetts Pass at 8,736 feet (historically said to be the first Sierra pass crossed by a non-Native American, when Jedediah Smith crossed the Sierra in spring of 1827). The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail crosses the pass, offering stunning hiking options headed either north or south, with the most alluring of 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, Bear Valley is about 45 minutes further east.

For more information: Arnold Rim Trail,, Bear Valley Resort,, (209) 753-2301; Calaveras Big Trees Park,, (209) 795-2334; Ironstone Vineyards,, (209) 728-1251; Lake Alpine Resort,, (209) 753-6350; Visit Calaveras,, (800) 225-3764.

Contact Tim at, or follow his blog, Happy travels in the west!

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