Sierra foothills provide chance to escape, plenty of activities

Maybe you’re looking for an opportunity to drive into the mountains for an early summer respite or some outdoor recreation. If so, several Sierra communities offer great reasons this month for getting away.

Near the Mariposa Grove of Yosemite’s big trees lies a lush area of meadows surrounded by oak and pine forests. The south fork of the Merced River runs nearby and wildlife is abundant. An ideal camp location, early American Indian tribes called it Pallahchun, meaning “a place to stop.”

In 1856, Galen Clark built a log cabin there, allowing travelers between Yosemite and the foothills to stay overnight and dine with him. The place became known as Clark’s Station and eventually Big Tree Station. From the crude cabin a complex was built, consisting of a pioneer stage stop, a small inn and a post office.

In the early 1880s the name was changed to Wawona, meaning “big tree.” Soon Wawona outgrew its primitive beginnings, and earned the reputation as a distinguished mountain resort.

Every Saturday evening from the end of May through the start of September, the Wawona Hotel hosts an old-fashioned barbecue on the lawn. Guests enjoy a grilled entrée of their choice, with unlimited side dishes and beverages. Prices vary and tickets are available Saturday afternoons.

For details, search for “Wawona Hotel BBQ” at or call (801) 559-4884.

Gold Rush history comes to life at Columbia State Historic Park’s Diggins Tent Town 1852. Courtesy of more than 160 costumed volunteers, visitors will experience a mining camp from Thursday through June 1.

While searching for gold, miners cooked their meals, washed clothes, handcrafted everyday items and looked for ways to spend their fortunes. Others, such as merchants and entertainers, came to the area to mine the miners’ pockets.

Docents and volunteers travel from all over California and Oregon to participate in this annual event.

The tent town will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is $5 general and $1 per child 12 and under. State park admission and parking are free. For more information, contact Columbia Visitor Services at or call (209) 588-9128.

The John Muir Festival celebrates the efforts of the man who dedicated much of his adult life to preserving natural landscapes. Through his formation and oversight of the Sierra Club, Muir’s influence as a conservationist has been felt for over 100 years across the North American continent and beyond.

In Coulterville on Friday and next Saturday, the John Muir Geotourism Center will hold its fifth annual John Muir Festival. Various activities are planned to take place at designated spots along Highway 132, the original route Muir followed on his first journey into Yosemite Valley.

The theme of this year’s event is: “Nature Hikes Heal Body & Soul: Stories from John Muir 1868 to Warrior Hike 2014.” Presentations, music, vendors, food, hiking and kids’ activities will fill the two days.

Guest speakers will be Muir’s great, great grandson Robert Hanna, acclaimed author and photographer and Triple Crown hiker; Cindy Ross; Sean Gobin, founder of Warrior Hike; and longtime Yosemite National Park Chief Naturalist and Audubon leader Len McKenzie.

For details of locations, times and activities, visit, call (209) 878-3501 or email

Tioga Pass is now open for the summer season, giving visitors early access to the eastern Sierra. Mono County residents know where the best vantage points are for viewing Yosemite’s waterfalls. And the communities of June Lake, Lee Vining, Mammoth Lakes and Bridgeport offer lodging and dining served with small-town hospitality.

Besides hiking, fishing, boating, bicycling, horseback riding and strolling through charming downtown shops, Bodie State Historic Park is worth a visit. Or ride the gondola at Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort for the breathtaking view from the top of California. For more information about the area, visit or call (800) 845-7922.

The Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System provides service between Mammoth County and Yosemite. Prices include round-trip and kids ride for free. Schedule times and routes may be viewed online at or call (877) 989-2787.