Posted in Northern California
July 30, 2022
Road trips! It’s a phrase heard often in many iconic comedy movies as well as between friends and family who are ready to get out and explore. In this adventure, we take you along a fun rural road trip in Northern California that reveals some really cool hidden gems. Gas up the car and let’s go!
This road trip would take a little under six hours to complete if you drove it straight through…
…But the whole point of making it a fun adventure is to experience the cool hidden gems along the way. These five are sure to delight and inspire!
Our rural road trip itinerary starts in the town of Sonora, located on Highway 49 and just a stone’s throw north of Highway 108 in the Sierra Nevada Foothills in Tuolumne County.
Home to approximately 5,500 people, Sonora was one of the many prominent towns founded during California’s Gold Rush-era and was known as “the Queen of the Southern Mines.” Visitors here can embark upon a wonderful self-guided walking tour of Historic Downtown Sonora featuring 21 historic buildings. Each offers a window into the history and culture that made it what it is today.
Among the early historic structures here is St. James Episcopal Church.
The church has served as the spiritual center of this community for decades. Its distinctive color has earned it the nickname “The Red Church.” Its crimson hue is visible for blocks and a popular spot for photographs.
From Sonora you’ll make your way south to the quaint town of Mariposa. The word means “Butterfly” in Spanish and was so named because of the flocks of monarch butterflies that stopped here along their journey south to México.
First settled in 1849, Mariposa has still managed to maintain its small-town charm. Home to approximately people 1,200, it is so small that you won’t even find a traffic light in town! Yet it is still a popular stop for people on their way to Yosemite National Park. Some folks come just to enjoy their colorful annual festivals.
To gain a sense of the history of this town as well as the surrounding area, be sure to stop by the Mariposa Museum & History Center.
The stories shared here draw a historical timeline from the town’s first founding through its evolution from mining to farming, logging, ranching, and other industries. You’ll find a wealth of exhibits and gallery spaces chock full of memorabilia including ancient tools, photographs, textiles, pottery, equipment, and more.
After tiptoeing along the outskirts of Yosemite National Park along Highway 120 to Lee Vining and the junction of Highway 395, you’ll go south to Highway 158 south, heading towards the June Lakes area.
Once there you can enjoy an amazing meal at a quaint little place called the Silver Lake Café. The café is part of the central hub of the Silver Lake Resort and sits adjacent to the resort’s busy General Store.
Whether coming for breakfast or lunch (the café closes at 2pm), at this popular vacation eatery and road trip stop you’ll find an extensive menu of sumptuous comfort food favorites.
Among the dishes they are known for are their giant three-egg omelets and delicious sandwiches. But no matter what you order it will hit the spot, leaving you energized for the next segment of your day and journey.
Continuing along Highway 158 as it loops back around to Highway 395, you’ll go south again a little ways to explore Obsidian Dome. Once off the highway, you’ll take a 2.7-mile dirt road to the parking area.
Obsidian Dome is one of three domes created by volcanic eruptions dating back to 1350. The magma from the eruptions left in their wake a type of volcanic glass called obsidian which when cooled created rocky boulders.
Although it’s called a “dome,” its shape is really a bit different from that, instead forming more of a pile of this volcanic glass.
It is so sharp it was said to have been used by the early Native American tribes as cutting tools and weapons for defense from outsiders. Visitors here can scramble among the piles and take in some fantastic views of the surrounding area since the base of the dome rests at approximately 8,200 feet.
Once back on Highway 395 it’s a straight northern trek to the town of Bridgeport. A very small quaint enclave, Bridgeport is home to just over 500 people, and it is the county seat of surrounding Mono County.
Despite its small size, Bridgeport is a wealth of history. In fact, the Superior Court building here has been in continuous use since 1880, making it California’s second oldest courthouse that serves in this capacity.
Bridgeport is a popular town in which to stop for a range of recreational activities including hiking, camping, fishing, and backpacking.
One of the most sought-after activities here is a soak at any one of a handful of hot springs. Among them is Travertine Hot Springs. This natural, geothermally heated spring is believed to have healing powers. You will find several “tubs” here, where the temperatures range from about 90 to 120-degrees depending on the time of year. It’s a great way to relax your body at the beginning or end of your day.
Sometimes the road less traveled reveals more than “the biggie” items found in major cities. Perhaps this rural road trip itinerary will become one of your Northern California favorites!
Have you been to any of these wonderful hidden gems? If so, we’d love to see your photos and hear about your experiences.
If you’re looking for other unique Northern California road trips, you might enjoy this family friendly itinerary.
Addresses: Travertine Hot Springs, Bridgeport, CA 93517, USA
Addresses: Silver Lake Cafe, 6957 CA-158, June Lake, CA 93529, USA
Addresses: Saint James Episcopal Church, 42 Snell St, Sonora, CA 95370, USA
Addresses: Mariposa Museum & History Center, 5119 Jessie St, Mariposa, CA 95338, USA
Addresses: Obsidian Dome, California, USA
Addresses: Superior Court, School St, Bridgeport, CA 93517, USA