The following Tuolumne County cities are in the Gold Country:
The following Tuolumne County cities are in the Sierra Nevada mountains:
Tuolumne County is one of the original counties in California, populated (except for the indigenous Mi Wuk Indians, who have been there thousands of years), by gold miners who came to the area a few months after the famous discovery to the north that started the Gold Rush.
The county consists of two types of terrain--foothills, Gold Country rolling hills, and pine,fir, and cedar forests that are part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
The county's economy historically has been mining, particularly gold, timber, and tourism. Mining is now at imperceptible levels, and timber has been much reduced for various reasons, including environmental regulations. Tourism is a major industry, based on visitors interested in the history of the Gold Country, simply visiting a different environment, or visiting the forest or the ski and snow play areas. Tourists heading to Yosemite National Park also often pass through the area, either directly on Highway 120 as they pass through Groveland and the southern part of the county, or taking side trips to the other areas of the county. More recently, there has been a migration of retirees from the Bay Area to Tuolumne County.
Communication in Tuolumne County is pretty much exclusively English. It is fortunate that the many European tourists passing through on their way to Yosemite have good English skills. Tuolumne County historically had a significant Mexican and Chinese population, but there are relatively few such people here today. People of other races or ethnic backgrounds should have no hesitation in visiting Tuolumne County. Some may be embarrassed by living in such a nearly white-only environment that they are extremely friendly and welcoming to visitors of other races and backgrounds. People of color, especially Mexicans, living in Tuolumne County find prejudice still rampant. The only significant minority in the county are Native Americans, mostly members of the Tuolumne Band of Mi-Wuk Indians. The whites and Indians have worked at maintaining a good relationship. When a state highway project uncovered what appeared to be Indian burial grounds, a member of the County Board of Supervisors asked the state to immediately halt the project, saying that he was not at all interested in disturbing any sacred Indian burial grounds. (The project was eventually completed, with everyone happy.)
Nearly all travel in Tuolumne County is by automobile. There are also tourist buses, most of which come from San Francisco and are either touring the Gold Country or on their way to Yosemite. There are three main highways into the county. The primary one is Highway 108, which comes in from the Central Valley (Modesto, then Oakdale) heading northeast, passing Jamestown and Sonora, two of the major towns in the county, and then rising in elevation to continue in the forested area (past Twain Harte, through Mi-Wuk Village, and past Pinecrest) and eventually across Sonora Pass to Highway 395. Sonora Pass is closed from about November to May because of snow, at a closure point about eight miles east of Pinecrest.
A second highway is Highway 120, which comes in from Manteca (and an intersection with Highway 99) to Oakdale, and then joints Highway 108 going into Tuolumne County for about 30 miles. Highway 120 turns southeast at Yosemite Junction and heads past Chinese Camp and Don Pedro Reservoir to Big Oak Flat, Groveland, Buck Meadows, and Crane Flat on its way to Yosemite National Park.
The third highway is Highway 49, which follows the Mother Lode along the Gold Country and passes through Placerville, Sutter Creek, Jackson, San Andreas, and Angels Camp to Sonora. Highway 49 briefly joins Highway 108 to pass Jamestown and then turns southeast to join Highway 120 briefly to Moccasin. Highway 49 then goes to Coulterville and Mariposa in Mariposa County.
The closest major airports are Oakland and Sacramento, where you can rent a car. From Oakland go east on Highway 580 toward Stockton and get on Highway 120 at Manteca. From Stockton you can go south on Highway 5 and get on Highway 120, or drive east toward the foothills and get on Highway 49, the more scenic route.
Tuolumne County has two small airports for private planes, Columbia and Pine Mountain Lake, but there is no scheduled air service.
There is train service via Amtrak to Modesto, where you can rent a car.
There are two major safety issues with Tuolumne County. In general, it is a large county with many remote areas and long distances between services. Motorists entering Tuolumne County on Highway 108/120 should get a full tank of gas in Oakdale and make sure they have water. In the higher elevations you should have water, blankets, and, preferably, some food. Areas above about 3500 feet in elevation (most of the county) frequently get snow in winter. During the winter season, from about November to May, motorists should carry chains. In most circumstances four-wheel drive vehicles will not need chains but are still required by the California Highway Patrol to carry them.
Tuolumne County is also subject to wildfires during the fire season (about July to November).
Travelers leaving Tuolumne County can go via Highway 120 to Yosemite National Park. They might also continue on, or join, the Highway 49 route that visits various Gold Country towns along the Mother Lode. Going south on Highway 49, they will pass through Coulterville, Mariposa, and Oakhurst, where there are various museums and historical sites related to the Gold Rush. Going north on Highway 49, they can visit Calaveras County, particularly Murphys, and continue through Amador County (Jackson), El Dorado County (Placerville) to Nevada County (Grass Valley and Nevada City) and further north.
- 1 Calaveras County - Northwest of Tuolumne County lies sparsely populated Calaveras County, which inspired author Mark Twain's first successful story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"; today visitors can both visit Twain's cabin and enjoy the annual Jumping Frog Jubilee in the tiny town of Angels Camp. The county is also home to several natural caves, a handful of wineries, Gold Rush history, and giant sequoia trees in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
- 2 Alpine County - Located northeast of Tuolumne County, sparsely populated Alpine County advertises itself with the slogan "two people per square mile and you", making it a good option for a quiet mountain getaway. Attractions include the hot spring pools at Grover Hot Springs State Park, amazing views of the Sierras from the Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway, and the excellent winter skiing at Kirkwood Mountain Resort.
- 3 Mono County - Located east of Tuolumne County via Highway 108 (except in winter, when it is closed for snow), remote and expansive Mono County is a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. It is the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park, home to the Old West ghost town of Bodie, and Mammoth Lakes is a favorite winter skiing getaway. The gigantic Mono Lake is perhaps the county's premier attraction, a stopover for millions of migratory birds and thousands of tourists who explore its alkaline waters and bizarre tufa formations.
- 4 Madera County - South of Tuolumne County lies Madera County, whose agricultural western half offers plenty of hotels and amenities for travelers, while the mountainous eastern half features unspoiled Sierra Nevada wilderness that is home to portions of Yosemite National Park, the Ansel Adams Wilderness, and Devils Postpile National Monument with its impressive basalt columns and iconic Rainbow Falls. Be aware that there are no roads crossing the county from west to east, so it may be a very circuitous route for those who want to see everything Madera has to offer!
- 5 Mariposa County - Located south of Tuolumne County, Mariposa was the largest county in California at the time of statehood in 1850, but later ceded land that formed twelve other counties. Today it maintains a relatively small footprint in the Sierra Nevada foothills, but has kept one of the state's treasures: Yosemite National Park, home to impossibly tall granite cliffs, remote alpine wilderness, and an iconic valley.
- 6 Merced County - Tuolumne County's southwestern neighbor is located entirely within the San Joaquin Valley. Most travelers will likely just take advantage of the county's hotels and other amenities, but there are a few attractions worth considering. The Castle Air Museum in Atwater is home to over 50 planes, while the Merced National Wildlife Refuge hosts thousands of waterfowl during winter months, including huge flocks of snow geese and sandhill cranes.
- 7 Stanislaus County - While still primarily an agricultural county known for its almond trees, in recent years parts of Tuolumne County's southwestern neighbor have been transforming into a bedroom community for people trying to escape the high housing costs of the Bay Area. Travelers will find plenty of amenities, although most only see Stanislaus County while passing through on their way elsewhere.