A Kid’s Summer Vacation in Calaveras

Looking for great activities for kids on your Calaveras summer vacation?  Hot summer temperatures inspire us to find the coolest activities currently available, complete with recommended restaurants and lodging.  Read on for our picks on where to take the kids for summer adventures.

Explore Underground

Probably one of the absolute coolest adventures your kids will never forget, is the Mammoth Cave Expedition at California Cavern. Available for ages 8 and up, the trip takes you and your kids on a thrilling wild cave exploration with only cave helmet lights to light the way. Climb, crawl and squirm through this fascinating and deliciously cool environment (approximately 57°F) over 2 hours and you’ll be tapping into your inner kid too. One caveat… you must be the kind of parent who loves playing in the mud and not claustrophobic. Reservations are required. Call 866-762-2837. All equipment is provided and no experience is necessary. Be sure to bring a change of clothes for after your muddy adventure.

Here’s the full scope of what our three show caves in Calaveras offer:

California Cavern

Underground: 60-80 minute guided walk tour (ages 4 and up) | 4-hour Middle Earth Expedition (ages 16 and up) reservations required | 2-hour Mammoth Cave Expedition (ages 8 and up) reservations required | Limited time: Historic Lantern Tour (ages 8 and up) reservations recommended

Above ground: Gemstone mining flumes | Visitor Center with cave bear skeleton & Gift Shop | Volleyball court | Picnic tables

Eats: The Pickle Patch Deli is a local favorite for lunch, and a few doors down El Mezcal will take care of your Mexican food cravings.

Mercer Caverns

Underground: 45-minute guided walk tour (ages 4 and up)

Above ground: Gemstone mining flumes | Visitor Center & Gift Shop

Eats: Grounds serves up hearty a breakfast burrito or a plate of Belgian waffles or grab burgers, wood-fired pizza or some fish tacos at Firewood.  For sweet treats, hit Nelson’s Candies or Joma Artisan Ice Cream.

Nearby: See the largest crystalline gold leaf specimen ever found at Ironstone Vineyard’s Heritage Museum. Splash and play in the creek at Murphys Community Park.

Lodging: Murphys Suites has lots of parking and is an easy walk from town, and its sister Murphys Inn Motel has a pool.

Moaning Cavern Adventure Park
The walk tour | Menka Belgal

Moaning Cavern Adventure Park

Underground: 45-minute guided walk tour (ages 4 and up)

Above ground: 1500-ft twin zip lines – kids 70lbs plus can zip by themselves, those under 70lbs can zip tandem with a parent for a maximum combined weight of 280lbs | 32-foot climbing tower ages 2 and up | Cuddles the cockatoo | Visitors Center & Gift Shop | Picnic tables | Gemstone mining flumes

Eats: Cascabel in downtown Angels Camp serves a delicious, family-inspired menu or relax on the porch at The Pickled Porch serving sandwiches, salads, adult and kid beverages alike. Picnic tables are provided off of the porch for guests who have their dogs along for the fun. For dinner you can’t go wrong with grass fed burgers at CAMPS Restaurant, overlooking Greenhorn Creek Golf Course, or try Angels Mexican Kitchen for quick and casual. If you’re in the mood for pizza, Mike’s Pizza is a local favorite and has great gluten free options too.

Nearby: If outdoor temps are driving everyone crazy, head to Angels Theater – an 1920’s art deco theater in the heart of downtown Angels Camp showing all the latest movies!

Lodging: Several easy, centrally located options to choose from, including Travelodge, Best Western and the newly renovated Angels Inn.

Explore Outside

Family Travel: Big Trees | Carol Richardson
Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

For a head careening, jaw dropping stroll through a magical ancient forest, Big Trees should be on the top of the list.   Located a few miles east of Arnold at about 5000 feet, the park is home to two groves of giant sequoias that have been reaching skyward for at least 2000 years.  At the entrance to the park’s North Grove you’ll find the new visitor center with excellent interpretive displays of the wildlife and history of the surrounding forest, short films and a well stocked gift shop.  Weekends are even sweeter – with ice cream and popcorn available at the park’s warming hut, every weekend and holiday through the second weekend in September.  The park’s campgrounds are open through November, and while reservations book up early for summertime use, last minute cancellations just might be your diamond in the rough – and a another unique treat for the family.  Check availability here.

Eats: Bistro Espresso serves an amazing breakfast, hearty sandwiches, and a variety of appetizers and salads with “to go” orders available. Snowshoe Brewery has a full menu of kid friendly pub grub, or try Sarafina’s for family style Italian.

Other Lodging for Arnold and beyond: Arnold Meadowmont Lodge or Timberline Lodge.

White Pines

This little gem just outside the town of Arnold is a perfect spot to take the kids on a hot day, with a shaded picnic area and extensive play structure, as well as a nice sunny beach and shallow wading area. Need to rent kayaks or paddleboards? Head over to SNAC and they’ll fix you up. Be sure to load up on picnic supplies at Big Trees Market in Arnold before heading out.  Make it a day long outing with a hike or bike ride on the nearby Arnold Rim Trail and a visit to the fabulous Sierra Nevada Logging Museum, just a short walk from the lakeshore.

Eats: Very close to White Pines, Giant Burger makes your burger fresh while you wait and offers a large selection of yummy shakes and malts. Just across Highway 4 is El Vaquero, which serves up tasty Mexican nosh at really reasonable prices.

Lodging: See recommendations for Arnold, above (Meadowmont Lodge & Timberline Lodge).

Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway

East of Arnold on Highway 4 begins the Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway, a 61 mile stretch of road that crosses the Sierras and takes you through the stunning landscapes of the Stanislaus National Forest, as well as the Mokelumne and Carson-Iceberg Wilderness Areas.  One way locals beat the heat is to head up the pass for either a day trip seeing the sights or an overnight camp trip to one of the many lakes or National Forest campgrounds along the route.  Stock up on picnic and camp food at Big Trees Market in Arnold and go talk to the folks at Ebbetts Pass Sporting Goods for some great fishing spots and secrets!

Sougrass Recreation Area, Calaveras County
Sourgrass Recreation Area | Photo: Sandi Pearce

Sourgrass Recreation Area

Along the granite banks of the north fork of the Stanislaus River near the town of Dorrington you’ll find the Sourgrass Recreation Area and  Wa Ka Luu Hep Yoo (Wild River) Campground.  Explore the riverside trails, granite boulders and the extensive collection of mortar holes left from when the Mi-Wuk tribe used this area.  You can camp here too – there are 49 sites open to first-come first-served campers, flush toilets and showers available. There are plenty of safe little areas that can be discovered for quick dipping in the heat of the summer but be careful in the fast moving whitewater.

Lake Alpine

No question this is one of the most picturesque places to spend a summer day. Take the four-mile trail around the lake, much of which is wheelchair accessible or opt for a more strenuous hike to Inspiration Point, overlooking the lake and surrounding wilderness. There are four campgrounds on Lake Alpine, as well as a restaurant, bar and general store. Rent a kayak or check out the free interpretive programs by local forest rangers. Go to the Lake Alpine Resort’s website for information on boat, kayak and paddle board rentals.  National Forest Information

Lake Camanche

Off-season prices are available for campsites and cottages throughout August – making this an especially affordable option right now. This family-friendly resort features a new kids fishing area and dock, Saturday Night Movies at the South Shore campgrounds, a coffee shop (North Shore), boat rentals, kayak and paddleboard rentals, hiking (with amazing wildlife views), world-class fishing, alcohol-free campsites and a convenience store. You can easily plan your whole vacation around this great resort.

Eats: Lake Camanche Resort makes it easy with their North Shore Café and ice cream parlor. Or, head over to Hawg Dawgs where there is something for everyone – even the furry, four-legged family members!  For a change of pace for kids with adventurous palates, try Mongolian barbecue at Fusion Grill in nearby Valley Springs, or the highly rated Thai House Restaurant.

Explore for Gold

Goldrush Originals

Photo Courtesy of Goldrush Originals

Go prospecting for gold on an outdoor adventure tour with Goldrush Original’s guide, Mike Darby. A local character, Mike is part artist, musician, historian, story-teller, author and gold panning expert.  Goldrush Originals will lead you and your group to one of their favorite spots to find gold. Yes! There is still gold in them thar hills!

Angels Creek – Angels Camp

At the end of downtown Angels Camp on Vallecito Road is sweet little creek where the miners used to pan for gold. There is a parking lot for easy access and a little park with a few picnic tables to enjoy the afternoon panning for gold, throwing in a line to fish, or just relaxing in the cool creek. If you are looking for a simple gold panning kit, the Angels Camp Museum sells the pan, snuffer bottle, and a vial for all your treasures!

Photo Courtesy of Calaveras Enterprise

Moaning Cavern – Vallecito

Gemstone mining at the custom flume system is always fun for the whole family and cracking geodes is a big hit with rock hounds of all ages. Just like miners used to pan for gold during the California Gold Rush of the 1800’s, relive what it was like to be a prospector and pan for your very own gemstone collection at the cavern’s sluice. Everyone is guaranteed to find some!

Angels Creek – Murphys Community Park

Angels Creek – Murphys Community Park

Murphys Community Park is a fun place to try gold panning and is easy to do creek side.  Grab a sandwich from Aria Bakery and bring the kids here to play on the playground or splash and swim in the creek.

Get full details on things to see and do in Calaveras from our digital Acitivities Guide.