If you’re tired of Tahoe crowds or just looking for a new winter destination, head up to low key Tuolumne County. Located 160 miles from San Francisco and 30 miles East of Sonora off of Highway 108, a range of outdoor winter play options await, from skiing and snowboarding to snow park tubing, ice skating and some outstanding free sledding to boot.
What to Do
Be sure to bring your sleds, tubes and saucers because one of the better sledding hills you could hope for is located between Mi Wuk Village and Long Barn on Highway 108. Once there, study the signage carefully and park within designated areas to avoid a hefty parking ticket.
If ice skating figures into your plans, stop by Long Barn, where you can skate on weekends and some holidays for $7.50; skate rental is $2.50.
Additional adventures await a few miles up the highway at Dodge Ridge near Pinecrest. The resort offers a beginners Kinder Ski + Ride program for $148, ages 4-5 and lasts 4 and a half hours. In addition there is the Kid’s Club class, ages 4-12, ranging from $96 for a half day to $119 for a full day. Both classes provide lift ticket, equipment and snacks/meals. With the little ones attended to, older kids, teens and adults can opt for downhill or Nordic skiing, snowboarding or snow-shoeing.
Continuing on Highway 108 past the Dodge Ridge turnoff, you’ll find Leland High Sierra Snowplay, which bills itself as the largest snow park on the West Coast. While rates vary, a two hour holiday tow session was $22. Food can be purchased onsite, but you’re better off bringing your lunch, as lines can be long and outside food is permitted at both the indoor seating area and on the pleasant outdoor deck. Leland also has a mini snowmobile ride area for kids 5-12. Tip: Get the kids up early and arrive when the park opens at 10:00 a.m. for easy parking and no lines.
Where to Stay
While close enough for a day trip, overnight stays give travelers more time to explore the area fully. The historic Strawberry Inn is just right for a two-night visit, conveniently located midway between Dodge Ridge and the Leland High Sierra Snowplay. Situated on the breathtaking South Fork of the Stanislaus River, there’s room for snow play right out the door. Or, take a few more steps across the bridge and check out the sledding hill. While the Inn has received some mixed reviews online, we found it as welcoming as a friend’s mountain home, with comfortable rooms and friendly staff. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, while the rustic bar with river and woods views, a pool table, and decent beer on tap, is a popular draw. A laundry room for guests is handy for drying snow-drenched gear.
Nearby, the Cabins at Strawberry appear reasonably priced and attractive, a good possibility for one or two families with up to eight people. Farther away, in Mi Wuk Village, the Christmas Tree Inn is another adequate but basic-in-amenities option.
Where to Eat
No trip to the area is complete without a stop at Alicia’s Sugar Shack in Sugar Pine, a delightful bakery café with sweet and savory pastries, sandwiches and coffee drinks, open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. While in the area, you’ll likely stop by Pie in the Sky Pizzeria in Mi Wuk Village, a busy pizza joint. The Strawberry Inn Restaurant, featuring hearty breakfasts and good coffee, is a great way to start the day, while the lunch and dinner menu includes tasty, simple fare like burgers and salads. A kids’ menu is available also.
What to Bring
Make sure to carry tire chains and familiarize yourself with putting them on, as you may not see chain installers along Highway 108. When you’re packing, don’t forget extra gloves, hats, warm socks and a back-up pair of shoes or boots for the kids —you won’t regret it. Cell phone service may be spotty, possibly enhancing your family’s ability to connect with each other. Wherever your Tuolumne County getaway takes you, you’re sure to have fun and relax.