You’ve already explored Yosemite for a few days, so what else is there to see in the Sierra Nevada area? Well, I’m here to show you what else this beautiful region holds! Mountains, lakes, and Gold Rush historic towns— the surrounding area of Yosemite National Park is filled with rich places to explore. There’s something for everyone here, from antique shopping to wine tasting. And of course, you can’t forget about all of the outdoor activities you can spend your time doing.
Wondering what there is to do beyond Yosemite National Park? Look no further! Here’s your complete guide on things to do in Tuolumne County and places near Yosemite National Park.
15+ THINGS TO DO AND PLACES NEAR YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK TO VISIT (TUOLUMNE COUNTY)
Ah, Tuolumne Meadows, a place that not many Yosemite visitors make the time to explore. What a shame, because it’s simply beautiful here. Tuolumne Meadows, accessible from Yosemite National Park, boasting amazing hiking and rock climbing opportunities. Camping is also available at the Tuolumne Meadows campground. Why not stay the night and make the most out of your time here with mother nature?
COLUMBIA STATE HISTORIC PARK
Go back in time to the Gold Rush days of the mid-19th century at Columbia State Historic Park. Back in the 1850’s, Columbia was once the second-largest “metropolitan” city, right behind San Francisco! It was booming with gold miners looking for opportunities and riches. This place is seriously amazing for history buffs and children alike. This park is a reenactment town and museum jumbled up into one unforgettable and immersive experience, featuring old-fashioned candy stores, restaurants, saloons, gold-panning areas, picnic areas, and old-timey gift shops. There are also docents donning period costumes who put on public displays and host special events throughout the year.
RAILTOWN 1897 STATE HISTORIC PARK
Railtown 1897 in Jamestown offers an authentic railroad experience with tours, train rides, and special events throughout the year. This park is super popular for its Polar Express train rides in December. They house trains that have been featured in hundreds of TV shows and movies (including Back to the Future III and Little House on the Prairie).
Farmer’s markets are held in the warmer months on Saturdays in Sonora, CA. In addition to fresh produce, you can expect local honey, hames, jellies, nuts, plants, and various hand-crafted items. There are also farmer’s markets in Tuolumne (Wednesdays), Columbia (Thursdays), and Twain Harte (Fridays).
SHOPPING / ANTIQUE SHOPPING
If you want to hunt for souvenirs, gifts, vintage treasure, or whimsical knick-knacks, look no further than Tuolumne County. This was one of my absolute favorite things to do outside of Yosemite National Park. Go town-hopping between Sonora, Twain Harte, Groveland, and Jamestown—each town has its own quirks and architectural style that are worth seeing. The main streets of these small towns offer a variety of locally owned hobby shops, fashion boutiques, general stores, and antique shops.
Though the winery options are limited, the fact that they exist is a plus for wine lovers out there. Check out Gianelli Vineyards, La Bella Rosa Vineyards, Inner Sanctum Cellars, and Yosemite Cellars.
Indigene Reserve is a 160-acre hard cider distillery nestled in an apple orchard in Sonora. There is a tasting room, hiking trails, and a gift shop here. You can also check out Cover’s Ranch in Tuolumne, where you’ll find lots of apple cider, a bakery, gift shop, petting farm, and various desserts for sale.
BLACK OAK CASINO RESORT
Looking to test your luck? Black Oak Casino Resort offers a full range of casino gaming, along with several restaurants and bars. For family-friendly entertainment, there is a large arcade and bowling lanes here. This is a good place to stay if you want to explore the Tuolumne area outside of Yosemite National Park.
Tuolumne County has so many lakes and reservoirs you can take advantage of. The larger reservoirs, include New Melones and Don Pedro, allow you to go speedboating and fishing. Pinecrest Lake offers various boat rentals including kayaks, paddleboats, sailboats, party boats, and motorboats. Other reservoirs to consider: Beardsley, Cherry, Donnell, Hetch Hetchy, and Lyons.
One of the best places to hang out near Yosemite if you love golf and you’re looking for a different kind of outdoor relaxation. Four golf courses are located in Tuolumne County— Teleli Golf Club, Phoenix Lake Golf Course, Pine Mountain Lake Golf Club, and Twain Harte Golf Club.
Conveniently located just off Highway 120 on the way to Yosemite National Park, you will find Rainbow Pool. This area hosts natural swimming holes along the south fork of the Tuolumne River, where you can dip your feet or even jump off rocks and take a plunge. This area is a popular picnic, swimming, hiking, and fishing spot among the locals.
Gods bath is located deep in the Stanislaus National Forest, so it’s not the easiest spot to get to. However, this granite-clad swimming hole has a cliff-jump area and is worth the drive if you’re on the hunt for awesome swimming holes in California. The closest town is Sonora, California. The drive to God’s Bath is a very windy one, and you can expect to walk a mile from the parking lot to get there.
A number of tour operators in Tuolumne County offer guided whitewater rafting trips in this area. If you’re looking to raft or canoe on your own, head to the Tuolumne Wild and Scenic River or the Stanislaus River.
Who doesn’t want to ride a horse with such an amazing backdrop such as the Sierras? Numerous stables offer trail rides and tours. Pack stations such as Kennedy Meadows and Aspen Meadows also offer adventures into the deep wilderness of Yosemite and Stanislaus National Forest.
DODGE RIDGE / LELAND SNOWPLAY
Ski resorts and snowplay areas are some of the best places near Yosemite in the snowy months. They offer wintertime recreational activities for all ages. Skiers and snowboarders can shred at Dodge Ridge Ski area (about 30 miles east of Sonora), while families can head to Leland High Sierra Snowplay (4 miles east of Strawberry) for tubing, sledding, and riding mini-snowmobiles.
FESTIVALS, FAIRS, AND EVENTS
- Gold Rush Days: 2nd Saturday of each month in Columbia State Historic Park. (February)
- The Celtic Faire: Fantastic line up of musicians, crafts, and costumes. (March)
- Gem and Jewelry Show: Exhibit cases, demonstrations, silent auction, crafts for kids. (March)
- Columbia Victorian Easter Celebration: Old-fashioned parade and egg hunt at Columbia State Historic Park. There is also a costume competition! (April)
- Annual Columbia Fireman’s Muster: Volunteer fire crews from across the western United States come together to participate in events designed to test their firefighting skills. Includes kart races, bucket brigade competitions, hand pumper contests, as well as a parade and dance. (May)
- Motherlode Roundup: Tuolumne County’s biggest event is held on Mother’s Day weekend. There is a kick-off parade, followed by two days of professional rodeo. There is also a kiddie rodeo, Mother’s Day breakfast, and a Saturday night dance. (May)
- Downtown Sonora Old West Fest: Celebrating the beginnings of Sonora (Gold Rush, farming, movie industry, lumber). Features people in period costumes, arts and crafts, live music, and food booths. (May)
- Tuolumne Lumber Jubilee: In Tuolumne, this event celebrates the logging industry with contests, games, carnival, crafts, a parade, arm wrestling, loggers’ tug-of-war and queen coronation. (June)
- Passport Weekend: Calaveras Wine Association sponsors a 3-day event filled with food, music, winery tours, and wine tastings. (June)
- The Mother Lode Fair: A 3-day event featuring live music, games, exhibits, carnival rides, destruction derby, and animal exhibitions. There are also local crafter and baker competitions. (July)
- Magic Of The Night: Held in Sonora, this event features live music, entertainment, dancing, antique car show, games, and vendor booths. (August)
- 49er Festival and Chili Cook-Off: A festival commemorating California’s gold mining history. The event draws a few thousand people per year and includes a parade, chili and salsa cook-off, live music, auctions, and lots of food. (September)
- Annual Me-Wuk Indian Acorn Festival: Celebration of the Me-Wuk Tribe, hosting activities including a celebration of the black oak acorn harvest, traditional dancers, Indian tacos, deep pit barbecue and Native American arts and crafts. (September)
- Wine Stomp: The event celebrates the harvest and the rich wine industry of Calaveras County. Features stomping competitions, costume contests, silent auctions, and wine tasting. (October)
- Downtown Sonora Christmas Parade: Held Friday evening after Thanksgiving in Sonora. Includes floats, marching bands, dancers, and the arrival of Santa Claus to downtown. (December)
- Columbia State Historic Park Holiday Events: Be sure to check out the holiday-themed activities and foods. (December)
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