Road trip; Calavaras County, Murphys, Big Trees, Bear Valley, Lake Alpine!

Come explore: Calavaras County, Murphys, Big Trees, Bear Valley, Lake Alpine!

Resorts packed with family activities, towns awash in gold rush history, towering redwood trees, high Sierra lakes and…glamping tents… all along Highway 4 bisecting nearby Calaveras County.

Take a break from the valley heat and our forest fire smoke-laden skies with a road trip up to Calaveras County, and prepare for a laid-back adventure.

New Melones Lake is just south of Highway 4 and is one of the largest reservoirs in the state, winding miles easterly into the Sierra. Houseboats, ski and fishing boats are offered for rent at the marina of the same name (, and two nearby campgrounds just off Highway 49 offer scenic camping options. For an interesting detour, turn south off Highway 4 on Parrots Ferry Road, to the tall concrete bridge over the lake. On your approach to the bridge, note that the center span of the bridge has about a five-foot sag (the drupe not intended) that required special bracing added underneath the bridge to shore it up.

Grove of towering redwoods in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Stop in Murphys, long a favorite among gold rush fans. Main Street reflects success in  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-acclaimed Alchemy Restaurant. A variety of quaint shops, B&Bs and wine-tasting outlets (Twisted Oak, Zucca Mountain Vineyards and Milliare are favorites) line a pleasant. shady five-block walk. Ever-popular Ironstone Vineyards and Winery is just a few miles above the town, offering fine wines and outdoor entertainment.

Cruising east, visit 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 well over 250 feet in height and 25 feet in diameter. The nearby North Grove is home to the Empire State Tree, almost as large. The park offers brisk, fairly level hiking options, camping among the redwoods, cabins for rent and tours led by rangers offering big tree’s insight.

Historic Murhpys Hotel anchors their venerable main drag and is a favorite for both food and drink in this charming old city.

Heading up highway 4, the town of Arnold offers several places for a snack and late-trip provisioning. Circling the town find the increasingly popular Arnold Rim Trail (, featuring a popular hike to 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.

Bear Valley Resorts popular “glamping tents” offer visitors all the comforts
and view deep into the Mokelumne River Valley.

Bear Valley Resort has long focused on summertime family fun with a host of adventure packages and variety of lodging options. Boasting an adventure park, hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, kids activities, archery, outdoor movies, good food and live music, it’s a mecca for families; though plan pandemic precautions, including masks and plenty of social distancing.

The resort continues to offer it’s popular ‘glamping tent’ options, with expedition-style tents pitched with a stunning view into the Mokelumne River Canyon. The tents are fully furnished with queen bed, bedding, rugs, chairs, tables, lamps wood-burning heaters, perfect for couples or small families (with additional sleeping options). RV camping and hotel accommodations are also offered; and you can plan your coming winter ski or snow-shoe trip!

Bear Valley Village, Bear Valley Mountain and nearby Lake Alpine offer visitors lots of options to venture out into the scenic mountain country. The area is a boon for hiking, fishing, cycling, kayaking, rock climbing and camping. Lying just east of Bear Valley, Lake Alpine is a high Sierra gem set at 7,388 feet, with canoeing, kayaking and fishing 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. For four-wheelers, head south from Lake Alpine on the Slick Rock 4WD Trail to reach both Utica Reservoir and Union Reservoir.

Lake Alpine offers several resorts, fishing, swimming and fine views on Hwy. 4.

Press ever higher, to historic Ebbetts Pass at8,736 feet, reputed to be the first Sierra pass crossed by a non-Native American, when Jedediah Smithcrossed 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. Views headed either north or south are breath-taking, though altitude of 9,000-plus feet also take one’s breath away!

How to get there: Take Highway 4 east to reach New Melones Reservoir, 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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