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 in California Gold Country, 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 NEAR YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK (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: include 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 NEAR YOSEMITE (CALIFORNIA GOLD COUNTRY / TUOLUMNE COUNTY)
- 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)
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST: YOSEMITE AND GOLD COUNTRY ROAD TRIP
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
- Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Adventure Sandals | Tevas and Chacos are my go-to brands for multipurpose summer sandals. If you’re planning on spending some time on the river or hiking to waterfalls, you should definitely consider getting adventure sandals — they’re comfortable for long-distance walking, safe for submerging in water, and super durable.
- Waterproof Rain Jacket | A lightweight waterproof rain jacket is critical for any alpine destination. Since these weigh virtually nothing and are so easily packable, I recommend you carry one with you whenever you head outdoors. Depending on the weather forecast and chance of precipitation, I’ll either go with a rain shell or a puffier windbreaker. Despite the options I have here, one thing is for sure— I’m never without some sort of outer layer. My top recommendations are Marmot Men’s PreCip (for men) and The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket (for women).
- Puffy Jacket | You’re going to need layers in this part of California. The climate here brings chilly mornings and evenings, even on warm summer days. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of outdoor adventuring!
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Deuter ACT Trail 30 Hiking Backpack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for a day hike.
- Laundry Bag | Outdoor activities = lots of sweaty, smelly, dirty, and worn clothes. Don’t soil your entire travel bag by mixing worn clothes with your unworn clothes! Definitely bring a laundry bag to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes to maintain the utmost freshness.
- Hat, Bandana, or Buff | Sun protection is key for any outdoor destination. Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, bandana, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun.
- Sunscreen | Remember to put on sunscreen even if there is cloud coverage. UV rays in overcast conditions are particularly strong, so don’t overlook it.
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing… the last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!