Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mountain Time

A crowd-free Sierra paradise just south of Tahoe


You know better than to plan a camping trip up at Tahoe on Independence Day Weekend. (Unless, of course, you enjoy being woken up by hordes of screaming children.)

Switch gears this year and head to Bear Valley. Midway between Tahoe and Yosemite, this secluded destination has everything you love about the Sierra: that amazing pine smell, miles of hiking and MTB trails, and plenty of quiet campsites where you and your crew can stay up late without waking up the 3-year-old in the next tent over.

Here's the Rundown.

Rough it by reserving your campsite among the Sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. With showers, restrooms, and easy access to woodland trails — including the newly refurbished boardwalk — this quiet meadow site is a perfect home base for your long weekend. Just make sure you carpool, your group is only allowed 2 cars per campsite.
1170 East Highway 4, Arnold (209-795-2334). From $20 here.

Prefer a roof over your head? Book a condo at Mountain Retreat Resort, a group of chalet-style two-bedroom duplexes, each of which sleep up to eight people. Spend an evening around the billiards table, or soaking in the hot tub after a long day on the trails.
936 Cypress Pt. Dr., Arnold (877-867-6501). From $135

Spelunking is fun to say. But it's even more fun to do at Moaning Cavern in Vallecito. Skip the more family-friendly walking tour and go for the three-hour adventure trip, which begins with a 165-foot rappel into the the cavern's huge main chamber. Spend the next few hours squeaking through narrow passage ways and exploring hidden grottos inside California's largest public cave.
5350 Moaning Cave Rd., Vallecito (209-736-2708). $15-130. Advance reservation required.

Afraid of heights? Caves? Batman? Spend a day swimming, fishing, kayaking and exploring the granite islands on the cobalt blue Lake Alpine. With any luck you'll reel in rainbow trout to cook over your campfire for dinner.
Accessible via Lake Alpine Resort, 4000 Highway 4, Bear Valley (209-753-6350)

The 15-minute drive down Highway 4 to Murphys is your best bet once you tire of campfire-cooked baked beans. The Gold Rush era supply outpost is reinventing itself as a mini-Healdsburg of sorts with 23 tasting rooms pouring Sierra foothills wines. We suggest swinging by Newsome-Harlow on a balmy evening for a refreshing glass of rosé.
403 Main St., Murphys (209-728-9817)

You like bacon. We get that. But that doesn't mean you should overlook Murphys' upscale vegetarian joint, Mineral. Far from hippy-dippy, their treatment of locally grown fruits and veggies will make you rethink your meat addiction.
419 Main St., Murphys (209-728-9743)

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