Any time’s a good time to head up Highway 4 to the hip and happening town of Murphys, but if you can be there in October, so much the better. That’s when the annual Grape Stomp Competition and Gold Rush Street Fair fills downtown streets with vendor booths and lots of people with bewildered dogs on the other end of the leash. It’s probably the first time Duke and Daisy (and maybe you?) have witnessed a bunch of people stomping around in wine barrels, so go figure!
The October shenanigans aren’t your only opportunity to have fun in Murphys, of course. On any day of the year, you and your furry sidekick can go wine-tasting along Main Street. Many of the 25-plus establishments within walking distance of each other are pet-friendly, but we’re partial to Twisted Oak’s decidedly twisted sense of humor (watch out for the rubber chickens) and Zucca Mountain Vineyards’ big reds, cozy cellar tasting room and accommodating garden patio. Hungry? One of Murphys' best restaurants, Alchemy, has a dog-friendly patio (and sometimes live music, too).
If you want to go hiking or scenic driving in this neck of the woods, we suggest you get a move on. Snow can fly as early as October, cutting off access to the highest reaches of Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway, which climbs to 8,730 feet at its summit. The 61-mile scenic drive starts at Calaveras Big Trees State Park (no dogs allowed on trails, but lots of giant sequoias visible from fire roads) and offers spectacular views of glacier-carved valleys, granite outcrops, basalt columns, volcanic peaks, mirror-like lakes and swift streams. Above Bear Valley, the road shrinks to two lanes with no centerline and no shoulders as it snakes over the Sierra crest.
Jumping-off places are many, but we suggest a stop at picture-perfect Alpine Lake and a hike to Inspiration Point, a scenic overlook. Continuing to the summit, you’ll see a trailhead for the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, which stretches 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada and attracts hundreds of long-distance backpackers each year. You don’t have to go far to get into some dramatic views, but remember to bring water for the two of you.
Photo Credit: kpucster (CC)