It’s been a few years since we took that lovely drive up and over Highway 4 and Ebbetts Pass, but heading over to Mammoth Lakes a few weeks ago we took that scenic and historic route.
Our drive took us past towns awash in gold rush history, towering redwood trees, high Sierra lakes, resorts packed with family activities and glamping tents … all along Highway 4 bisecting nearby Calaveras County.
Your tour will take you near New Melones Lake, one of the largest reservoirs in the state, winding miles easterly into the Sierra. Houseboats and ski and fishing boats are offered for rent at the marina of the same name (newmeloneslakemarina.com), and two nearby campgrounds just off Highway 49 offer scenic camping options. Stay on Highway 4 through gold rush town Angels Camp, then past Vallecito and onto Murphys.
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In recent years we’ve made trips up to Murphys to spend the night and take in the lovely outdoor concerts at Ironstone Vineyards just above the city. We have thrilled to Faith Hill, the Moody Blues and a several other musicians. Coming up on July 22 is Slightly Stoopid, on Aug. 18, Brad Paisley and Sept. 16, UB40.
Ironstone is worth the visit, even without the music. The vineyard contain 100-plus acres devoted to vineyards and 14 acres maintained as spectacular gardens (home to many weddings).
The winery itself is a showplace with a tasting room featuring a huge main bar built by the Brunswick Bowling Company of New York in 1907 and features a 42 foot tall, 16 foot wide fireplace. With an on-site restaurant, one could spend a good part of the day here. Other floors feature a demonstration kitchen and the 3,800 square-foot music room complete with a Robert Morton theater organ built for Sacramento's Alhambra Theatre in 1927.
Stop at the museum and jewelry shop. In addition to artifacts, pictures and good explanation of early Native American culture in the area and the early prospectors — tourists will also gaze in awe at the 44 pound specimen of crystalline gold, the largest known in the world, mined in the 1990s by the Sonora Mining Company, and is priceless in value.
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Murphys Diggins began as a miner’s tent encampment in the early days of the gold rush, 1848. Within three years, Murphys boomed to 3,000 residents! The Sperry and Perry hotel opened in 1856, burned, was rebuilt and renamed the Mitchler Hotel in 1882, then renamed the Murphy's Hotel in 1945. The hotel is one of the longest in continuing operation in the state and is a registered California historic landmark; along the town's shady Main Street are several score other buildings dating back to the gold rush days, lively with shops and wine tasting outlets.
Cruise east to reach Calaveras Big Trees State Park, home to scores of towering giant sequoias 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 huge. 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.
Just east, the town of Arnold offers several places for a snack and late-trip provisioning and is home to the popular Arnold Rim Trail (arnoldrimtrail.org), featuring a hike up 900 vertical feet to the top of Cougar Rock for marvelous sunset views spreading across the Sierra foothills.
Long focused on summertime family fun, Bear Valley Resort offers a variety of adventure packages and variety of lodging options. Featuring an adventure park, hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, kids activities, archery, good food, live music and outdoor movies, it’s a mecca for families. 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. Tents are fully furnished with queen bed, bedding, rugs, chairs, tables, lamps, wood-fired heaters, perfect for couples or small families (with additional sleeping options). RV camping and hotel accommodations are also offered.
Find beautiful Lake Alpine just east of Bear Valley, 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.
Press ever higher, to historic Ebbetts Pass at 8,736 feet, reputed to be the first Sierra pass crossed by a non-Native American, when Jedediah Smith crossed 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.
How to get there: Follow Highway 4 east to reach New Melones Reservoir, Murphys, Calaveras Big Trees, Bear Valley and Lake Alpine. Murphys is 60 miles and 1.5 hours from Stockton.
For more information: Arnold Rim Trail, arnoldrimtrail.org, Bear Valley Resort, bearvalley.com; Calaveras Big Trees Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1146; Ironstone Vineyards, ironstonevineyards.com; Visit Calaveras, gocalaveras.com.
Contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org, happy travels in your world!
This article originally appeared on The Record: Family road trip: Explore Calaveras County up Highway 4 into Sierras