Tuolumne, California: Unique Explorations in Yosemite Gold Country
Check out these unique attractions in Tuolumne County, home to more than half of Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite Gold Country – the name alone evokes images of the legendary Old West and the Gold Rush era: cowboys, mining towns, railroads and outlaws. Places that still exist today give visitors a glimpse into one of the most storied periods of U.S. history.
Stanislaus National Forest
Once a busy site for miners and homesteaders, the Stanislaus National Forest is now a nature lovers’ paradise. The Emigrant Wilderness – a striking landscape of volcanic peaks and granite ridges – is within the national forest’s boundaries, along with 78 lakes and hundreds of kilometers of rivers, streams and trails. Visitors can enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities here: fishing, horseback riding, camping and watersports including sailing, kayaking, whitewater rafting and windsurfing. In winter, go skiing at Dodge Ridge Winter Sports Area and take the family to Pinecrest Lake Resort and Leland Snowplay for activities for all ages.
Explore by boat and get lost in the beauty of Pinecrest Lake.
Night Sky Viewing
Three hours from San Francisco Bay, Yosemite National Park is home to night skies that are exceptionally dark, making visible countless heavenly bodies and even the arm of the Milky Way. Book a stargazing tour with Yosemite Family Adventures in Groveland to see stars, planets and galaxies using state-of-the-art tracking telescopes. This outfitter operates under a special-use permit in the park, allowing access to areas of the park that are otherwise difficult to get to. Looking at the very edges of our galaxy, you’ll feel small and insignificant – in a good way.
You don’t have to be an astronomer to enjoy stargazing. Prepare for plenty of “wow” moments as you spot stars and planets.
Columbia State Historic Park
One of the few towns that survived California’s Gold Rush, Columbia was preserved as a State Historic Site in 1946. With the largest collection of Gold Rush-era brick buildings in California, this fascinating town is operated as a living museum. Docents dressed in Old West attire operate historic hotels, shops, restaurants, a blacksmith shop, saloons, a candy store and much more. Hands-on activities, tours and special events round out the old-time fun – go for a stagecoach ride or try your hand at gold panning. This is as close to the 1850s as you’re going to get in the 21st century.
The whole family will enjoy “time-traveling” to the Gold Rush era at Columbia State Historic Park.
Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
If you’ve ever seen a movie or TV show featuring an old-time locomotive, there’s a good chance it was filmed at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown. You can tour Railtown’s real, operating roundhouse, where trains are repaired and stored (along with old movie props). Of course, you simply must ride on one of these iconic trains. Train rides take place on weekends from April through October, with special holiday-themed rides on select weekends in October, November and December. This fascinating historic site, which will appeal to visitors of all ages, is just a short drive from Columbia State Historic Park.
History comes alive on the locomotive rides at the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.
Tuolumne is less than four hours from international airports in San Francisco, Fresno and Oakland and the most direct route to Yosemite from the San Francisco Bay Area. From Sacramento, the area is 90 minutes south. Private charter services can help you get around the county, and the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) can provide transportation into the park.