California dreamin’ | 

Stunning vistas, railroad movie sets and skiing — Tuolumne was perfect for dad & son trip

We discovered a land of enormous forests, snow-capped mountains, craft beer breweries, incredible accommodation, and most importantly, the warmest of welcomes.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Steve Moore and son Rory at Dodge Ridge Ski Resort

Steven MooreSunday World

Tuolumne County in California offers a vast array of contrasting travel destinations, including the iconic Yosemite National Park, and was the perfect place for a father-and-son road trip.

To give a flavour of just how contrasting the California county is, when I travelled there in March with my 15-year-old son Rory, we spent one day on a hike in 25-degree heat, yet just 24 hours later we were in another part — not that far away — skiing as the last of the winter snow came down thick and fast.

We went from shorts and sun cream to thermal layers and padded gloves, and we loved every minute of it. Tuolumne County is a destination for all four seasons.

We discovered a land of enormous forests, snow-capped mountains, craft beer breweries, incredible accommodation, and most importantly, the warmest of welcomes.

Arriving in San Francisco airport having flown with Aer Lingus direct from Dublin, we picked up our hire car and headed east to our first stop in Tuolumne County’s capital Sonora – roughly a three-hour drive – where father drove, son navigated and neither could agree on the choice of music

Steve Moore and son Rory at Dodge Ridge Ski Resort

Top of the list of things to do is to hit the slopes at Dodge Ridge where you’ll find over 800 acres for skiing with 67 runs for all abilities.

Only 30 miles east from Sonora, where we were staying in the fun and quirky new Hotel Lumberjack, which was inspired by the owner’s time spent in Ukraine, Dodge Ridge is the closest ski resort to the Bay area of San Francisco.

The resort has a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere, with staff keen to offer help and advice. As beginners, myself and Rory were foisted upon a poor instructor called Steve, whose patience knew no bounds, thankfully. After a couple of hours under Steve’s magnificent instruction, we were both skiing down the beginners’ slopes with relative ease.

With the restaurant, shop and accommodation all right at base camp, Dodge Ridge was very user-friendly, and with the snow falling, it felt like a magical place.

And it’s not just for winter. With skiing taking place from November to mid-April, the resort, whose summit sits 8,000ft above sea level, becomes a haven for mountain bikers, campers and hikers in the summer.

Tuolumne is pronounced “two-wollow-me” and fittingly rhymes with “follow me” and the name is Native American with many meanings – including Land of Mountain Lions.

Rory is a film fanatic, so it was lucky our first port of call was the town Jamestown, which is steeped in movie history. Originally a gold-mining town, from the late 19th century Jamestown reinvented itself as a movie mecca. Along with much of the county, particularly the High Sierra, Tuolumne has been home to literally hundreds of movies. We visited the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, where you can take a steam train into the mountains, learn about the area’s rich film history (still very much alive today) and have your picture taken with steam engines used in a plethora of Hollywood flicks.

Possibly the most famous steam train in the world resides here. Known as the ‘Movie Star’ locomotive, the Sierra No.3 has appeared in classics and blockbusters alike.

These include The Virginian with Gary Cooper, the first sound movie filmed outside of a Hollywood sound stage and also appeared in High Noon, Back to the Future III, Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and on many TV shows, including Lone Ranger, Rawhide, Lassie, Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie.

Afterwards we took a stroll into Jamestown along the “Walk of Fame”, which appeared in 2015 during planned improvements to the sidewalk. Much like the bigger Hollywood version, scores of bronze medallions have been embedded in the pavement with the names of famous actors and movies which were shot in the area. On our way to stay in Yosemite National Park, we stopped off at Around the Horn Brewery for some lunch. The family business only came to fruition two years ago, but with its mountain setting and close community feel, it makes you wonder how the area managed without the bar and eatery all these years.

It just happened to be St Patrick’s Day when we called by after a fantastic (and little bit scary) drive round an ever rising and increasingly snaking mountain road towards Groveland.

Around the Horn was taking the day pretty seriously, serving a special Irish menu which included locally sourced corned beef. You can see them brewing the beer before your very eyes out the back, and though I had to go for a non-alcohol IPA as I was driving, I purchased a couple of growlers containing two of their finest ales to take back to Belfast, and can attest they were original and excellent.

Evergreen Lodge in the great Yosemite was our stop for the night. We reached it by late afternoon, after another drive through the stunning forests of the famous national park which still bear the eerie sight of scorched Giant Redwood trees ­— devastated by a forest fire over a decade ago.

The hotel is around 100 years old, started up to provide accommodation for workers building the O’Shaughnessy Dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley and those working the railroad.

Twenty years ago, it was taken over and the new owners have invested heavily by building 75 new log cabins which blend in perfectly with the forest. Conservation and sustainability are major themes here.

That doesn’t mean it’s not luxurious. The cabins are large and very comfortable, with all the mod-cons you’d want, and the hotel has a magnificent large outdoor pool, complete with a built-in hot tub with Yosemite as the backdrop.

With mountain walking trails for all abilities in every direction, Evergreen Lodge also offers plenty to do if you fancy giving your feet a rest for a day, with a game room, fire pits and a wellness spa proving the latest range of massage.

Their restaurant was superb too, serving melt-in-the-mouth slow-cooked beef served with creamy mash and popcorn, of all things, and washed down with some locally brewed beer.

We took a hike up to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to see the stunning Wapama Falls. It’s a five-mile round trip and on a hot sunny day it’s a good old dander, with the huge waterfall a rewarding site at the half-way point.

After our day on the slopes at Dodge Ridge we took a taxi (alcoholic beer was required after the skiing) to The Standard Pour, a reconfigured lumber room which prides itself as a craft-beer-centric restaurant with 19, mostly local, beers to try.

Our final stop in Tuolumne County was the fantastic Columbia State Historic Park. This amazing living museum offers an authentic experience of living in a gold rush town, with cafes, bars and shops inhabited by employees dressed as they would have been over 100 years ago.

You can even buy a bit of gold in the gift shop and try gold panning for yourself. Our final stop in Tuolumne County was the fantastic Columbia State Historic Park. A living museum which gives you experience of living in a gold rush town with actual cafes and bars and shops – all inhabited by employees dressed as they would have been over 100 years ago.

As for the father-son bonding — Tuolumne County provided the backdrop to have a lot of fun and laughs and agree that in the end … I’m the better skier and his taste in music sucks.


TUOLUMNE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA See ■ Steve and Rory flew with Aer Lingus to San Francisco direct from Dublin with return flights for as little as under €500. ■ They stayed at Evergreen Lodge, Groveland, starting at around €300 per night. ■ Visit Columbia State Historic Park which includes almost 30 buildings built during the California Gold Rush — it’s fun and it’s free.

Late deals

■ SOUTHERN COMFORTS One of Cork City’s most centrally-located hotels has some amazing deals in the final few months of the year. During the midterm break (Oct 31-Nov 6) you can stay in the Maldron Hotel on South Mall for as little as €169 per night for two adults and one child.

If you already have plans for the midterm but fancy heading south before Christmas, they have a Shop & Drop package for only €150 per room per night for two adults sharing. The package includes a delicious Kir Royale cocktail on arrival, hearty breakfast and 10pc off in the Kilkenny Shop. That offer is valid to use until January 31. See

■ CANADIAN ADVENTURE Tour America continues to offer great value deals to far-flung locations, like their 9-night trip to Vancouver and Alaska that incorporates flights, a stint on a cruise ship and a stay in an amazing hotel. Departing on June 2, 2023, you get two nights in the Pinnacle at the Pier Hotel in Vancouver before boarding the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas for seven memorable nights.

The whole trip is €1939pp and there is an option to upgrade to an ocean view stateroom for €180pp extra. Reference code is 693645. See

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