When the opportunity arose to escape the city and head into the mountains, there was no way I could pass it up. A few weekends back, we inhaled that air only found deep within the wilderness and embraced the warm beginning of summer in the Sierra Mountains. All weekend long, the sun shined through the trees and as night fall came, crystal-clear evenings made for perfect stargazing and s’more making. Each day we drove deeper into the mountains for an afternoon at Pinecrest Lake, to venture back in history at Columbia State Park, and hike through the natural caves at Natural Bridges.
Known as the “Queen of the Southern Mines”, Sonora was established in 1848 and still holds much of its charm. Scattered saloons, antique and apparel shops, restaurants and candy stores line the streets of downtown which makes it a great spot to grab lunch and walk the old streets on the way to or from an a day adventure. During your time in the heart of gold country, visit Indigeny Reserve to picnic in the apple orchards, explore neighboring town of Jamestown and stop in at Gianelli Vineyard if you’re into that kind of thing!
For our trip, we stayed at a beautiful cabin in the neighboring town of Twain Harte. There’s not much to do in the small mountain town itself, but the location is central to the surrounding hidden gems which made it an excellent place to stay!
Calaveras County Caves | Natural Bridges State Park
This was by far my favorite part of the trip! From Natural Bridges trail head, the hike down to the caves is roughly a mile so be sure you are in proper footwear. Once you reach the swimming hole, you’ve made it to the first cave! This naturally formed limestone cave was created made when the waters of Coyote Creek eroded through soluble bedrock which left some absolutely astonishing formations inside. To explore the inside of the cave, you’ll need an inflatable raft or tube. Though the water is quite cold, the inside is an absolute must see! I didn’t have my camera on me while we explored the cave as a precaution from getting water damage, but to get a better sense of just how astonishing these caves are, check out this image captured by Ellie Stone!
If you continue along Coyote Creek for a half mile, you’ll come across the other cave which is equally impressive. The hike here is rougher and at many times, we had to make our own trail. The plus side to a challenging hike? We were the only ones along the trees, flowing water and natural beauty!
Pinecrest Lake | Pinecrest
This beautiful lake located in the Stanislaus National Forest resembles a mini Lake Tahoe. It’s beautiful hues of dark blue and green surrounding the water make this spot a special gem up in Gold Country (though gold never actually reached this lake!) You can find people engaging in water sports such as kayaking and stand up paddle boarding or simply BBQing and enjoying the sunshine. Pinecrest Lake is surrounded by a few eateries, casual campsites, lodging and best of all- amazing views! We spent the whole day here picnicking, playing corn hole on the shore and enjoying each others company.
Colombia State Park | Colombia
This historic state park will take you back in time to the Gold Rush era with original buildings such as the Wells Fargo bank, historic saloons, a school and the town jail that were all functioning establishments back in the 1850’s, blacksmith and all! Colombia State Park is admission and it neighbors the towns of Sonora and Jamestown, making a stop here easily accessible to pan for gold, enjoy lunch and take a stagecoach ride while taking a step back into history!
Have you ever been to gold country? I’d love to hear your favorite weekend getaways below!