Sure, you’ve visited parts of Gold Country. But have you ever driven the entire 330 miles of Highway 49, the historic “Golden Chain Highway?” Considering all the dog-friendly places to see, things to do and history to absorb along the way, we at DogTrekker consider it a Five-Bone route for a road trip.
As is often said, Highway 49 is like a charm bracelet linking together jewels of the1849 Gold Rush. You can’t do it all in a weekend or even a week; better to explore a segment here and a segment there as time permits. For an introductory, fun-filled getaway at the southern end of the route, base yourself in Oakhurst or Sonora and let serendipity be your guide.
Oakhurst: Just 12 miles from the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park, Oakhurst is also the gateway to the Bass Lake recreation area, and home to a number of dog-friendly places to stay. For something out of the ordinary, hang your leash for the night at Queen’s Inn by the River, a converted motel with big lawns and a dog-friendly wine patio. Ask about places that you and your pup can enjoy together, and you’ll get lots of suggestions.
Got kids? Make a short jaunt up Highway 41 and treat the whole gang to a steam-train excursion on the scenic, dog-friendly and very entertaining Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.
Sonora: Eighty-three winding miles north of Oakhurst, Sonora and the surrounding area offer lots of lodging choices and activities for you and your dog. The Best Western Sonora Oaks, Country Inn Sonora, Inns of California-Sonora and Columbia Gem Motel all make good home bases for exploring the area. And there’s a lot to explore.
In Sonora, shake off your driving fatigue with a hike along the Dragoon Gulch Trail, actually a system of trails that makes a 2.5-mile loop along a natural creek and up to a vista point offering panoramic views of the town and the mountains beyond. The main entrance is at Woods Creek Park, right in the center of town. The Southside Creek portion of the trail is ADA accessible and the North Forest segment also is paved, but the remainder is natural surfaces great for those with aerobic inclinations.
Tie a bandana around Rover’s neck so he’ll look the part as you explore Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in nearby Jamestown. Here you’ll hear that lonesome whistle blow just like it has in movies and television shows as diverse as “The Virginian,” “Little House on the Prairie,” “Petticoat Junction,” “The Lone Ranger” and “Back to the Future Part III.” Dogs are required to keep their people on a six-foot leash at all times when exploring the exhibit-filled grounds—and to take a window seat upon boarding a train. Dogs like it better that way, and it’s easier on crewmembers passing through the cars.
Whether you’re traveling with children or it’s just you and your four-legged friend, be sure to budget a few hours in one of Gold Country’s most engaging destinations, Columbia State Historic Park. Just a stone’s throw from Jamestown, it’s a time-capsule of a place especially rewarding to visit during living-history weekends, when you’ll encounter rumbling (and dog-friendly) stagecoaches, itinerant street musicians, bonneted ladies in sweeping skirts and black-hatted characters straight out of a John Wayne movie. While dogs aren’t allowed inside most restaurants or buildings, outdoor interpretive exhibits come with plenty of scenic spots to sit a spell and watch the old-fashioned world go by.
Up for some immersion in nature? Make a day’s adventure of it by branching off onto Highway 108, which climbs high into the Sierra and over Sonora Pass. From some vantage points, you’ll see evidence of the devastating Rim Fire. Drive about an hour and a half to the Stanislaus National Forest’s Summit Ranger Station at the Pinecrest Lake turnoff. Pick up a trail map, and put paws to a path that suits your time, interest and ability level. Be sure to stop at Donnell Vista for sweeping views of the Stanislaus River Canyon.
See, we told you you’d get sidetracked! To prolong your exploring, why not call it a night at dog-friendly McCaffrey House Bed and Breakfast Inn, a AAA Four-Diamond mountain lodge near Twain Harte, on Highway 108 about 12 miles northeast of Sonora. Gables Cedar Creek Inn and Pinecrest Chalet also make great bases for exploring the area.