Road tripping: fall foliage, wine-tasting and Sierra scenery

Road tripping: fall foliage, wine-tasting and Sierra scenery with a side of history.

Here’s a day-long road trip just outside of San Joaquin County for fall foliage viewing, several wine-tasting options, spectacular Sierra scenery and several segues into history. As to planning, if you really want to get serious about fall foliage exploration, consult one of several foliage change predictor maps, like to help plan best timing.

This road trip, if followed all the way to Hope Valley, is about 250 miles round-trip, so leave early, and check weather forecasts in case snow is predicted at high Sierra elevations.

Carson River, fall foliage in the Hope Valley area, just off Hwy. 88, in mid-October.

Start by heading northeast out of Stockton on California Highway 88, winding into the Sierra foothills. When you hit Highway 49 go left and then take the turn into a favorite Gold Rush city, Sutter Creek. Along its 10 block Main Street, venerable buildings dating back to the 1860s line the streets, interspersed with about 10 winetasting rooms.

The old Hotel Sutter (oldest continuously operated hotel in the state) offers both lodging and good food (as do nearby Cavana’s Pub and Grub and Gold Dust Pizza), and where a several block side trip on Eureka Street will take you to Knight Foundry, established in 1873 and the last water-powered foundry in California. Today, it is usually open weekends and staffed with docents to show how early mining equipment, water wheels and huge valves were cast.

The Knight Foundry in Sutter Creek is open most weekends for tours.

After a stop in Sutter Creek, follow the old Highway 49 north to Amador City, home to a variety of mines which made many instant millionaires during the Gold Rush (here, Andrae’s Bakery and the Imperial Hotel are noteworthy stops) and then follow 49 northeast to Plymouth. This town has a small historic district, and is anchored by the regionally renowned Taste restaurant, one of the finest eateries in the region (reservations a good idea).

From Plymouth, Shenandoah Road leads into the Shenandoah Valley, with 40-some wineries dotted through this scenic California valley. Favorite stops include Sobon Estate Vineyards in Plymouth (longest running winery in the area and their Shenandoah Valley Museum, with displays of historic winemaking equipment and techniques), and, in the valley, Karmere, Helwig and Shenandoah Vineyards. Young adults will enjoy a stop at Amador Flower Farm, 22001 Shenandoah School Rd., Plymouth, for both the corn maze for older kids and the hay-bale maze for younger children.

Fountain, Bella Piatza, in Shenandoah Valley.

Shenandoah Road continues through the valley, heading higher into the Sierra foothills. Just beyond River Pines the road becomes Mount Aukum Road; watch for Omo Ranch Road, and turn right/east on a meandering, scenic tour, eventually reconnecting with Highway 88. Throughout the journey, keep your eyes peeled for wild turkeys, deer and leaves changing color.

Cooler weather and elevation change generally influence the landscape; watch for aspens, cottonwoods, dogwood and other trees and shrubs yielding muted to bright yellow, oranges and reds. Caution: poison oak changes from green to bright red and can look beautiful climbing up tree trunks – avoid contact!

Heading for the high Sierra on Highway 88, both Cooks Station and Hams Station offer good food in their old roadhouse settings, and as you climb closer to the 8,000 foot elevation, look for the turn off to Mormon Emigrant Trail. This trail was one of the primary routes down out of the Sierra for settlers headed to California back in the 1850s and 60s (it’s now a nicely paved shortcut over to Pollock Pines on Highway 50).

Changing colors near the Carson Pass area of Hwy. 88.

Just off the intersection is what remains of the old Iron Mountain Ski Resort. A several block walk north from the intersection will take you to the top of the ski area, where you’ll find all of its buildings but one burned to the ground, with three of the abandoned ski lifts still offering mute testimony to the once busy, midsized Sierra resort (it last operated in 1994).

Back on highway 88, you’ll soon reach your first pass (with a lovely overlook into the granite Sierra to the north and drop down into the Kirkwood area, where the Kirkwood Inn, typically open Fridays to Sundays this time of year, offers great food from an old stage coach stop and log-cabin building. Head further up 88, past scenic Caples Lake, crest Carson Pass and shortly thereafter descend into the Hope Valley where some of central California‘s best scenery, fishing and fall foliage viewing Is found. Here Sorenson’s Resort is a favorite stop-over, for either meals or overnight lodging.

The Kirkwood Inn, open weekends, is a dependable lunch stop on Hwy. 88.

From Hope Valley, you have several choices: Returning to San Joaquin County on Highway 88, with stops in historic Pioneer and Jackson, or, follow Highway 88 back, then take the old Mormon Immigrant Trail to Pollock Pines and Highway 50, or, out of the Hope Valley, take Highway 89 north to connect with Highway 50 for a return through Sacramento.

For more info: Amador Flower Farm,; Plymouth,; Shenandoah Valley and Amador County wines,; Sobon Estate Winery and Shenandoah Valley Museum,; Sutter Creek,

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

Karmere Vineyards, Sierra foothills, in Shenandoah Valley.

This entry was posted in Central California, Northern California, Sierra Nevada and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives