An activity we recently found to be very rewarding when it comes to exploring the beauty of Sonora Pass is off-roading. Much like backpacking or horseback riding, trail riding in an OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) can bring you to places not many people get to see. A trip off the pavement takes you away from the tourist attractions, crowded fishing holes, and campgrounds and brings you to places you didn't know existed. I was an avid backpacker in my twenties. As I grew older and occupied my life with a career and family, I found it much easier to use conventional campgrounds and ultimately an RV. In a way, choosing an off-road vehicle and dispersed camping in the forest is much more like the adventure of backpacking and trail riding on a horse. No crowds or noise, just solitude and new adventures.
There are many different types of off-road vehicles, ranging from Jeeps and other sport utilities, to ATVs to motorcycles. Each has advantages and disadvantages including restrictions on where they may travel. Our recent purchase of a UTV (commonly referred to as a side-by-side) turns out to be a happy middle ground for the two of us. California has much stricter regulations regarding off-highway vehicles and although the UTV is not street-legal, it can share many of the roads a Jeep or pickup can off-road and often with more capability and less harm to the environment. Because of California's more restrictive laws, it's important to obtain a US Forest Service Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM). For the Sonora Pass area, these are available free of charge at the Summit Ranger Station located on 108 at the Pinecrest turnoff.
My wife, Chris, and I have gone from visiting RV parks to visiting the wilderness again. We make both day trips and overnight ventures in which we travel over 100 miles. We have traded our queen size RV mattress for a couple of army cots and bedrolls. We have watched a sunrise from the door of our tent while preparing a pot of coffee. We have fished and swam, and relaxed in the sun. We have made some incredible meals in the middle of nowhere. It may sound like a step backward to some people, but not to us.
UTVs and other off-road vehicles have become increasingly popular and may be rented if you are not an owner. Some of the popular places for off-road trail riding and dispersed camping on and near Sonora Pass are Niagara OHV near 108 and Eagle Meadow Road, Hull Creek and Trout Creek near Long Barn, and Crandall Creek and Deer Creek north of the Stanislaus River and west of Strawberry, and Ebbets and Carson Passes north of Sonora Pass. Another favorite of ours are the mountains east of Bridgeport. Information may be readily found on the internet or by contacting the US Forest Service.
Eric Karla is a resident of Tuolumne County and has owned and operated
Sugar Pine Cabin since 2000.