Family-friendly Sierra destinations perfect for summer, fall


With summer coming fast and pent-up demand for vacation rentals and/or campgrounds, it’s time to get serious as to summer/early fall destinations.

In the past year or so, readers and friends have offered suggestions as to family-focused vacation and/or reunion destinations. Criteria included a destination offering both kids and adult activities, nearby cabin rentals or motels, campgrounds and restaurants, all within a few hours of San Joaquin County. Budget-friendliness and proximity to water earned extra points.

From our own experience and reliable recommendations; here are the best:

Lake Tahoe 

Beach-goers enjoy Lake Tahoe’s Baldwin Beach near Camp Richardson.

Camp Richardson and nearby Fallen Leaf Lake’s Forest Service are just three miles from South Lake Tahoe. Both Camp Richardson and Fallen Leaf Lake offer camping options, with two lakes, hiking, cabin rentals, bike rentals and horseback riding. Plus, next-door is a favorite restaurant, The Beacon on Lake Tahoe’s beach.

The nearby Tallac Historic District’s old mansions on the lake make for lovely day-touring, and with South Lake Tahoe nearby, Heavenly Resort and its tram to 10,000 feet will intrigue, and the casinos beckon for nightlife. Fishing, boating, beach-trekking and hiking up Mount Tallac offer plenty of options, and the Camp and Fallen Leaf Lake are only 2½ hours and 140 miles from San Joaquin County (note: several lovely state campgrounds are also found along Highway 89).

As a side-trip, head up Highway 89 to Emerald Bay, and hike up the Eagle Lake Trail (go early for parking for this popular, scenic trailhead fills fast), then take in a late breakfast at Rosie’s Café in Tahoe City, long a favorite for famished travelers!

The Eastern Sierra near Mammoth Lakes 

Tufa towers at Mono Lake look like ghost ships just off-shore.

A trip down the backside of the Sierra along Highway 395 will take you first to the June Lake area, with a number of sparkling campgrounds beside waters like June Lake, framed by the snow-capped Sierra Range of Light. And, just south, above the lively resort town of Mammoth Lakes, are a string of high-mountain campgrounds set on azure-blue lakes.

The town itself is a year-round outdoor Mecca, with the ski area offering skiing late into spring, and mountain biking and hiking options galore. Nearby attractions like Devil’s Postpile National Monument, with its towering hexagonal basalt columns and Mono Lake, offering eerie tufa towers along the shoreline reminding one of ghost ships, are worthy of side trips. Your trip up Highway 4 or 108, then south down Highway 395 will log about 250 miles and four hours of incredible scenery.

Additional Sierra destinations 

Pinecrest Lake is a popular swimming and fishing option just off Highway 108.

Several other suggestions (north to south) are Sly Park Campground off Highway 50, Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Silver Lake (and the Stockton Municipal Silver Lake Camp) off Highway 4, and Pinecrest Lake off Highway 108. Three of four offer picturesque high Sierra lakes, swimming, fishing, hiking and a wide variety of camping and/or lodge and cabin rentals and restaurants nearby.

Calaveras Big Trees offers camping options amongst towering giant sequoias, some of the largest trees in the world; with nearby gold rush town of Murphys, fine restaurants and motel options are just minutes away.

The time to book summer/early fall vacations is NOW, with laggards likely to be shut out as to availability of camping or lodging options!

For more information: Calaveras Big Trees State Park,; Lake Tahoe’s Camp Richardson,, and Fallen Leaf Lake Campground/Federal campground reservations,; Mammoth Lakes area,; Silver Lake,, (209) 227-0082; Pinecrest Lake and Tuolumne County,

Contact Tim, Happy travels In the west!

Dogwood tree in full bloom in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Dogwood Festival

The Dogwood Festival, Calaveras Big Trees Association’s most popular event is back after a two-year hiatus, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m Saturday, May 14. It’s a fundraiser for the Association for the benefit of its educational and interpretive programs at the state park, which is located halfway between Yosemite and Tahoe.  

You can enjoy the spectacular dogwood blooms along with excellent wine from Newsome Harlow Wines in a souvenir wine glass, good food and lively music — and dogwood creations for sale from Quyle Kilns and Arts of Bear Valley — outside of historic Jack Knight Hall.  

In addition to their usual guided walks among the dogwoods, this year the Dogwood Festival includes horse carriage rides around a meadow surrounded by dogwoods.  Tickets at $60/adult, $30 for children 12 and under, can be purchased online at Call the CBTA office for more information at (209) 795-1196.


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