Traveling locally for views, exercise and local history

These local gems offer views, adventure, exercise and local history

Signs of progress on the Covid19 front are beginning to emerge, with reduced hospitalizations, more people receiving vaccines and expectation that that vaccination pace will accelerate. This feature focuses upon nearby local destinations offering fresh air, hiking/biking opportunities, stellar views and historical significance.

Before you travel, review of Center for Disease Control travel recommendations:, and check with the city and county of your destination to know any Covid travel restrictions in force. Plan to travel self-contained, taking snacks and drinks and avoiding the need to interact with busy food or retail outlets, and pack all the PPE needed for such trips (the subject of my column last week).

Happily, many of us have broken in new running shoes or lubed up those bicycles, and cruised many of the local walking and biking opportunities near home. Here are suggestions for places nearby, within about an hour of San Joaquin County, offering fresh air, expansive horizons, a sense of exploration as well as historic significance. Use the AllTrails or TrailLink phone apps, for trail directions, distances, topography and reviews, as well as additional nearby trails.

Pack your travel pandemic kit to be self-contained. Take all your PPE gear, plenty of rubbing alcohol and hand-sanitizer, snacks and drinks and maintain social distancing, avoiding crowded spaces like indoor restaurants.

The first is almost too close to mention, but many overlook it. Take a walk or a ride along Stockton‘s Deep Water Channel and historic downtown. The Joan Darrah Promenade starts behind the Stockton Ballpark on the North Channel, heads east behind the Stockton Arena, past the University Park Hotel, around Weber Point Event Center (where Weber’s home’s outline is enshrined on the Point’s southwestern portion), then heads west along the South Channel, passing the old Sperry Flour headquarters, the old Sperry Flour Mill and ending at Morelli Park under the I-5 bridge.

The Port of Stockton, in the 1850s to the late 1800s was one of the west’s busiest port cities, supplier to the central Sierra gold mines and helped build the historic downtown just blocks east. Walk along Weber Avenue to see the 1910-era Stockton Hotel, and a few blocks further, turn south to Main Street to see the old Bank of Stockton Building, California Building and venerable Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre ( offers a self-guided tour of the historic district).

The Downtown Stockton Alliance ( offers a slick, self-guided downtown Stockton walking tour, including the historic B&M Building.

Turn your sights to the east and visit the Sierra foothills (with wildflower blooms soon to come) for Indian Grinding Rock State Park, 11 miles northeast of Jackson on Pine Grove-Volcano Road. The park, nestled in a lovely valley at 2400 feet, brought Native Americans together for centuries to harvest acorns from Valley Oaks and grind acorn flour in one of almost 1200 bedrock mortars carved into the marbleized lime stone. A one mile trail is part nature walk and historical tour, taking one past the mortars, huge round house, bark homes and campground. The renowned Chaw’se Regional Indian Museum is closed currently, due to Covid restrictions. For insight:

Indian Grinding Rocks State Historical Park near Volcano, CA, features almost 1200 mortars formed in marbleized-limestone by Native Americans who gathered here to grind acorns in summer and fall for millennia.

Visit Marshal Gold Discovery State Park in Coloma, site of the original gold discovery in January 1848, which inspired the California Gold Rush, the 49ers and resulted in quadrupling of California’s population in the following 10 years. Walk along the original gold discovery site, see the recreated Sutter’s Sawmill, miner’s cabins, the stores run by Chinese merchants and a wide panoply of gold mining equipment and insight. Insight:

Tour a bit further south to nearby attractions like Columbia State Historic Park, 3 miles north of Sonora off Highway 49 and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, just off Highway 108. Columbia was once known as the ‘Gem of the Southern Gold Mines” and preserves the old town much as it looked in the 1850s. Much earlier, the Central Sierra Miwok tribe lived in the area, but the Gold Rush upended their life, bringing disease and warfare. The historic city offers plenty of walking opportunities and trails nearby course along the Tuolumne River. Insight:

Stores built by Chinese merchants are a part of Marshal Gold Discovery Park in the old town of Coloma, where gold was discovered in January, 1848.

Don’t over look Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, off Highway 108. Home to an operating steam railroad, complete with 100 year-old steam engines, the oldest continuously operated roundhouse in the West and movie history literally dripping from the rafters!  Toss in the Gold Rush history of Jamestown itself, and family memories are just waiting for you!

Also known as the “Movie Railroad”, flicks like “High Noon” were shot using the Sierra Railroad’s vintage steam engines and rolling stock.  A tour took us behind the scenes, where we could climb up into the cabs of several mammoth steam engines, marvel at the huge drive wheels and learn what was a “sand dome” (the portion of the locomotive loaded with sand, for sprinkling sand on the track for additional traction). 

The locomotive turntable and roundhouse are part of the visit to Railtown 1897 in Jamestown, CA.

The Sierra Railroad started to the west in Oakdale in 1897, and ran as the main trunk line to connect the lumbering railroads of Pickering Lumber, West Side Lumber and the Hetch Hetchy Railroads to the major rail lines that came to Oakdale.  Ore, lumber and marble were its main freight (from the marble quarry in Columbia, now behind an RV Park).

Engine #3 in Railtown 1897’s roundhouse has appeared in scores of motion pictures and television shows, after retiring after years on the Sierra Railroad.

One of the earliest films shot here was “The Virginian”, shot in 1929 in Jamestown and the Sonora areas.  Hundreds of other films and television shows have used the Sierra Railroad’s engines and rolling stock for “High Noon”, “My Little Chickadee”, “Petticoat Junction” and many more. After your Railtown visit, rent one and enjoy the railroad’s starring role! Insight,

Should you have other suggestions for hiking targets combining scenery, adventure and history, please send them to me.

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

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