From hail stones to hot summer; how to beat the heat in the Sierra!

Hail stones morph to summer heat; where to head for cooler temperatures!

With hail stones and cold rain pounding Stockton and San Joaquin County just 10 days ago, I’m always amazed how hot summer weather can arrive so quickly. Here are ideas how to beat the summer heat, both in town and in the nearby Sierra foothills.

Cities within the county generally offer a community pool or several, and options like Lodi Lake Park provide places to go for a swim in a mostly natural setting. Or, consider taking in an air-conditioned movie (check the Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre for its monthly classic series), or, visit indoor respites from the heat like the Haggan Museum in Stockton or the San Joaquin County Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park, just south of Lodi.

The Haines-Houser Harvester, on display in Stockton’s Haggin Museum, makes for a cool indoor destination during Stockton’s hot summer days.

But, for a truly memorable experience, offering cool waters and incredible scenery, consider a day trip, a long weekend or multi-day visit to the Pinecrest Lake area, 30 miles east of Sonora on Highway 108. The “cool rule of thumb”: As you rise every thousand feet into the Sierra, temperatures generally drop three degrees. Hence, if your destination is 6,000 feet, temperatures will likely be about 18 degrees cooler than in the valley. Plus, lakes and Sierra scenery make for a psychological cooling-off, as well.

Pinecrest Lake Beach is a popular family destination in summer and early fall.

Long a family favorite is the Hwy. 108 stretch from Twain Harte up to the Pinecrest Lake area, offering extended day-trips to Sonora Pass. Pioneers from Ohio and Indiana blazed the pass in 1852; today, the area west of the pass is a summer and fall mecca for swimmers, fisherman, hikers, bikers and adventurers.

Add to your family fun by packing games, books, walking shoes, fishing poles, binoculars and makings for smores. Between swimming, fishing, hiking, biking and dinner around a campfire –this glorious country is made for family fun.

Pinecrest, at almost 6,000 feet, wraps around Pinecrest Lake, a PG&E reservoir, with Dodge Ridge Ski Resort just three miles above the lake. The area offers a dependable, family-friendly restaurant, the Steam Donkey, and lodging options at both Pinecrest Lake Resort and Pinecrest Chalet. Two nearby large campgrounds can fill fast during the summer, so book in advance if you wish to camp near the lake.

Author’s grandchildren Jessica, Jack and Hunter hike the 3.4 mile loop around Pinecrest Lake.

The lake is the big attraction; Pinecrest Lake Marina (pinecrestlakeresort.com) offers rentals of fishing boats, sail boats, kayaks and canoes. Slips are available for rent if you’re planning on bringing your own boat. The lake offers a 3.5 miles hiking trail along its shoreline; adventurous types one can venture up the stunning, rocky Boulder Creek Canyon from the lake’s east-side. If you are staying near Pinecrest Lake, outdoor movies under the stars are shown in the Pinecrest outdoor amphitheater, right Pinecrest Lake’s beach.


Follow the highway higher into the Sierra for another 10 campgrounds along the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River; though last year’s forest fire has dramatically changed the scenery in some areas. The Carson-Iceberg Wilderness is just north of 108, up the Clark Fork River, offering a variety of hiking trails and fishing options. With abundant rivers, streams and lakes, the fishing in this region is some of the finest available; local favorites include many points along the Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers, and on Pinecrest, Beardsley, Donnell Lakes and Relief Reservoir.

The Stanislaus National Forest offers mountain bikers many options. Bring your own gear or rent mountain bikes from the Pinecrest Hub next to the Pinecrest Market. Popular choices include the old rail trail from Strawberry down to Fraser Flat, or continue even further down the trail along the Stanislaus, from Fraser Flat to Lyons Reservoir. Following the route of the old Sugar Pine Railroad, grades are a gentle 2 to 3%. The Dodge Ridge Ski Resort offers hiking and biking options on varied fire trails in and around the ski area.

The Dardanelle Resort was lost in recent forest fire; all that remains, sign and gas pump.

Hiking and backpacking trails are extensive here; favorite trails include the Pinecrest Loop, Trail of the Gargoyles, Pinecrest Peak, Giannelli Cabin, Sonora Peak, trails into the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, Kennedy Meadows and hikes fanning out from the top of Sonora Pass. Stop at the Stanislaus National Forest office in Pinecrest for maps. Horseback tours are also available out of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station (kennedymeadows.com).

How to get there: From Stockton, take Hwy. 4 to Copperopolis, southeast on O’Byrnes Ferry Road and east on CA Hwy. 108 to the Pinecrest and the Sonora Pass area. From Stockton to Pinecrest Resort, it’s 95 miles and about two hours. Special note: Due to both late snow impacts, and a forecasted ominous fire season, check with local authorities as to road and air-quality issues.

Horses from Kennedy Meadows Pack Station take visitors high into the Sierra.

Dining and lodging: Favorites include the Steam Donkey Restaurant in Pinecrest and Mia’s in Cold Springs. For lodging, Pinecrest Lake Resort, Pinecrest Chalet, the Strawberry Inn and Kennedy Meadows Resorts are good choices.

For info: Stanislaus National Forest, fs.usda.gov/stanislaus/, or contact the Summit Ranger District, 1 Pinecrest Lake Road, Pinecrest, CA 95364; (209) 965.3434; for Tuolumne County Visitor’s Bureau, visittuolumne.com.

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

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