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Sonora Pass day trip is reprieve from heat

This sounds crazy given that the temperature reached a sweltering 105 degrees in Manteca on Sunday but why not get out the snowboard and hit the slopes.

In the extreme northeast edge of the 209 along Highway 108 above Kennedy Meadows in Tuolumne County there’s still a fair amount of snow as the Sonora Pass country hasn’t shed its entire winter coat.

On Saturday six Sonora High students took advantage of the remaining snow to board down a mountain side partially covered with snow. It’s a spot literally a 100 or so feet off Highway 99 between 8,000 and 9,000 feet on a hairpin turn where the mountains climb sharply.

The spot allows for a partial bowl like drop with a solid descent covering perhaps 200 or more feet. It isn’t unusual to catch local snowboarders as defined from Sonora to the east driving to the spot long after resorts have closed for the year. They were boarding there last summer in mid-July after a fairly robust summer snowstorm added to the near record winter base that hadn’t yet melted away.

The nice thing about the Sonora Pass area based on a visit Saturday was there was enough snow in spots along the highway after you climbed past the 8,500-foot level toward the pass at 9,624-foot pass that families pulled over to let kids play in the snow in the 75-degree heat. It’s a great way to introduce kids to snow without having to worry about tire chains, freezing weather, and dressing them as if you were preparing for an expedition to Antarctica.

Simply driving over the pass is impressive, but to take in the snow-capped vista better — especially looking south — you need to pull over at the pass or to the east — and stretch your legs a bit.

Of course, if you take a hike you can see a lot more snow up close by not going too far without needing the right equipment like good hiking shoes and hiking poles as long as you don’t stray too far from the road. The best access point is where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses Highway 108 at Sonora Pass. There’s a lot more snow to the south but the going is a tad more difficult in terms of hiking.

For the best snow experience you can hike toward Sonora Peak at 11,464 feet via St. Mary’s Pass.

Sonora Peak is the eastern most point on the Stanislaus River watershed that South San Joaquin Irrigation District taps into. You don’t have to hike the entire 9.4-mile round trip to the peak to run into snow. There’s plenty on the way to St. Mary’s Pass. Once you reach the pass there’s an expanse of snow there or you can take a short hike up to the ridge to your right to reach the snowfield below the final climb to the peak that on Saturday still had 6 to 8 inches in spots.

Thanks to the late snowmelt and the fact the mountains in the area can easily receive in excess of 100 inches of snow annually Sonora Pass trails are bursting with wildflowers by the time July rolls around.

The area from Dardanelle at 5,774 feet to the pass are lightly visited and based on Yosemite Valley standards is virtually deserted. Keep in mind we’re talking about a Saturday.  Imagine what a weekday would be like.

There are a number of reasons why the 2½ hour drive to the Sonora Pass country is worth a day trip.

Once you pass the Dardanelle Resort that has a general store, restaurant, bar, and even lodging right off the road you will be driving along the middle fork of the Stanislaus River for several miles. There are plenty of places to pull over and stroll to the riverside that has an abundance of granite outcroppings to get some sun, nap or simply enjoy the sound of rushing water. You will see a fair amount of fishing along this stretch.  There are endless mini-hikes in the relatively flat area.

You can also take a quick peek at Kennedy Meadows considered by many who return year after year to be a classic summer Sierra playground for camping, hiking, what every angler who has tried it calls “great fishing” and vistas that were made for was once called “Kodak Moments.” It has a resort, pack station, and campsites.

The closest gas to Sonora Pass is Cold Springs west of Strawberry. But if you leave Manteca with a full tank you’ll have plenty left over.

You can pack a picnic lunch or stop on the way back in downtown Sonora and sample some of the Mom and Pop dining options or stop in Mi-Wuk Village where there are two solid  offerings — Andy’s Mountain Grill (hamburgers) and  The Pie Pizzeria. The popular Diamond Jim’s Restaurant & Bar that is famous for its prime rib has its kitchen out of commission for now although the bar is open.

The best place to research more before you take off on a day trip and perhaps even scout for a future vacation is to go to


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email