Tuolumne County: The Gateway to Yosemite
Tuolumne County is less than 150 miles from San Francisco, and is the most direct route to Yosemite National Park and Stanislaus National Forest. The county in the heart of Gold Country offers visitors multiple activity options, making it a prime gateway to the area.
Yosemite National Park
Arriving at Yosemite from the Big Oak Flat Entrance via all-weather Highway 120 on the northwest side of the park, visitors are soon greeted by the some of the world's most spectacular and iconic scenery, including famed cliffs El Capitan and Half Dome. Deeper into the park, one can visit sights such as the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which famed naturalist John Muir once considered a more beautiful location than Yosemite Valley. The reservoir, the main source of San Francisco's drinking water, is a popular hiking destination. Also a must-see is the Tuolumne Grove, where one can stand under the canopy of giant sequoias, and even walk through the middle of one. Tuolumne Meadows offers a popular camping, rock climbing and backpacking base in one of the largest high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada. Waterfalls abound in the Tuolumne County sector of Yosemite, including Rancheria Falls and Wapama Falls.
YARTS, the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System, provides daily peak-season round-trip transportation aboard deluxe motor coaches from several locations throughout Tuolumne County, including Sonora, Jamestown, the city of Tuolumne and Groveland. The coach provides the perfect vantage point for the scenery, and the price includes admission into the park. Custom and packaged tours can be arranged from various operators, including Extranomical Adventures, Mother Lode Adventures, Incredible Adventures and Tower Tours.
With multiple campgrounds inside the park and outside in Groveland and Sonora, day and overnight camping is a popular activity. Expert outfitters can lead a trip. For those looking for more modern amenities during their stay, multiple lodging options exist, including the new Rush Creek Lodge, the park's first new resort development in 25 years and located just half a mile from the north entrance. There's also the 20-acre family-tradition Evergreen Lodge and many historic inns providing a charming base in Groveland, about 20 miles from the park's entrance. For a familiar brand name, the Best Western Plus Sonora Oaks is a convenient and well-known lodging option in Sonora.
Stanislaus National Forest
Adjacent to Yosemite's northwest side and established in 1897, Stanislaus is one of the oldest national forests in the U.S. and offers a wealth of camping, hiking, and outdoor activity options. Walks among well-known geological formations such as the Column of the Giants, the Trail of the Ancient Dwarfs and the Trail of the Gargoyles offer hikers great opportunities to witness the results of volcanic activity. Boating, fishing, sailing, paddle boarding and more are popular activities during the warmer months at Pinecrest Lake, while horseback riding is available from spring through autumn at Kennedy Meadows and Aspen Meadows east of Sonora. Emigrant Wilderness offers a glaciated landscape and a portion of the well-known 1,200-mile Pacific Crest Trail runs alongside the area. Numerous cabin rentals, RV parks, and campgrounds are accessible throughout the region.
And More Beyond
Outside of Yosemite and Stanislaus, Tuolumne County offers a myriad of additional choice destinations. Don Pedro Lake is a popular site for swimming, boating and fishing, and camping is available year-round. Farther north, the clean and clear water of the New Melones Lake reservoir sits along the Stanislaus River, offering wildlife viewing and jet-skiing along 100 miles of secluded shoreline. Dragoon Gulch in Sonora is an oak woodland trail tucked right inside city limits that provides spectacular views of the historic town and its surrounding mountain ranges in a hike only 2.5 miles long. Two state parks provide visitors with a step back in time at Columbia State Historic Park and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.