Explore Calaveras County to Highway 4 to Sierras

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It’s been a few years since we’ve taken this beautiful route on Hwy 4 and Ebbetts Pass, but on our way to Mammoth Lakes a few weeks ago we took this scenic and historic route.

Our route took us through towns steeped in gold rush history, towering redwoods, high Sierra lakes, resorts teeming with family-friendly activities and glamping tents…everything along Highway 4 which bisects nearby Calaveras County.

Your tour will take you near Lake New Melones, one of the largest reservoirs in the state, meandering miles east into the Sierra. Houseboats and ski and fishing boats are available 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 Hwy 4 through the Gold Rush town of Angels Camp, then past Vallecito and onto Murphys.

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In recent years we have made trips to Murphys to spend the night and attend the lovely outdoor concerts at Ironstone Vineyards just above town. We delighted Faith Hill, the Moody Blues and several other musicians. Coming July 22, Slightly Stoopid, August 18, Brad Paisley, and September 16, UB40.

Ironstone is worth seeing, even without the music. The vineyard contains over 100 acres devoted to vines and 14 acres maintained as spectacular gardens (home to many weddings).

A 44 pound crystalline gold nugget in the museum at Ironstone Vineyard.

The cellar itself is a showcase with a tasting room including a huge main bar built by New York’s Brunswick Bowling Company in 1907 and featuring a 42-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide fireplace. With a restaurant on site, you could spend a good part of the day there. Other floors include a demonstration kitchen and the 3,800 square foot Music Room with a Robert Morton theater organ built for Sacramento’s Alhambra Theater in 1927.

Stop at the museum and jewelry store. In addition to artifacts, pictures, and a good explanation of ancient Native American culture in the area and early prospectors, tourists will also admire the 44-pound crystalline gold specimen, the largest known in the world, mined in the 1990s by the Sonora Mining Company, and its value is inestimable.

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Murphys Diggins began as a miners’ tent encampment at the start of the gold rush in 1848. Within three years Murphys grew to 3,000! The Sperry and Perry Hotel opened in 1856, burned down, was rebuilt and renamed the Mitchler Hotel in 1882, then renamed the Murphy’s Hotel in 1945. The hotel is one of the oldest in operation in state and is a California Registered Historic Landmark; along the town’s shady main street are several dozen other gold rush-era buildings, bustling with shops and wine-tasting spots.

Cruise east to reach Calaveras Big Trees State Park, home to dozens of towering giant sequoias reaching up to 250 feet tall. The tallest, in the park’s southern grove, is the Louis Agassiz tree, reaching well over 250 feet in height and 25 feet in diameter.

Giant sequoias are up to 75 feet tall in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

The nearby North Grove is home to the almost equally huge Empire State Tree. The park offers opportunities for fast, fairly flat hikes, camping among the redwoods, cabin rentals, and ranger-led tours offering glimpses of the tall trees.

Just to the east, the town of Arnold offers several places for a snack and late refueling and is home to the popular Arnold Rim Trail (arnoldrimtrail.org), with a 900 vertical foot hike to the top of Cougar Rock for gorgeous sunsets spanning the Sierra foothills.

The Bear Valley 'glamping tents' offer views of the Mokelumne River Valley.

Long focused on family fun in the summer, Bear Valley Resort offers a variety of adventure packages and a variety of accommodation options. With an adventure park, hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, kids’ activities, archery, great food, live music and outdoor movies, it’s t’s a mecca for families. The resort continues to offer its popular “glamping tent” options, with expedition-style tents pitched with sweeping views of the Mokelumne River Canyon. 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 accommodation are also offered.

Alpine Lake offers fishing and hiking in high Sierra splendor.

Find beautiful Alpine Lake just east of Bear Valley, a High Sierra gem at 7,388 feet, with canoeing, kayaking and fishing and the Lake Alpine Resort and nearby campgrounds in the National Forest of Stanislaus. For a challenging hike, take the trail to Inspiration Point for great sunrise or sunset views.

Push ever higher, to the historic 8,736-foot Ebbetts Pass, reputed to be the first pass in the Sierra traversed by a non-Native American, when Jedediah Smith crossed the Sierra in the spring of 1827. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail crosses here, providing high altitude hiking options north or south with the most alluring views of the Sierra.

Mountain bikers flock to Bear Valley's summer trails.

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, www.ironstonevineyards.com; Visit Calaveras, gocalaveras.com.

Contact Tim at [email protected], happy travels in your world!

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