Do This! Discover Calaveras’ Hiking and Paddling Sweet Spots

Utica reservoir kayaking

With summer in full swing, we sat down with one of our local outdoor adventure experts to find out what to do and where to go when you want to enjoy the great outdoors.  Jill Seale, owner and founder of Sierra Nevada Adventure Company (SNAC), shares some of her favorite hikes and paddles, and explains why you can’t beat the crowd-free recreational opportunities found here in Calaveras.

What made you fall in love with the area?

For the same reason that everyone falls in love with the area, really.  It’s all the recreational opportunities—skiing, camping, backpacking—those kinds of things.

Tell me about SNAC and how it got its start.

We started in 1994 in Sonora.  Sonora Mountaineering had left so we filled the void there. We had that for a couple of years and then we started getting into recreational kayaking. Two years later we opened our store in Arnold. That became kind of a kayak showroom in the summertime and in the wintertime we are able to do ski and snowboard rentals and snowshoe rentals because we’re at elevation there.  That just grew and the business evolved into meeting the needs of the community on both sides of the river [New Melones Reservoir].  And then five years ago we opened the store in Murphys because we live here in town.

So each store really specializes in something different?

Sonora really is your backpacking store.  It’s closer to Yosemite so we’ve got a representation of rock climbing equipment there.  Arnold is more of the rental headquarters, so it’s outfitting if you’re going to go kayaking and rent a kayak or go backpacking and need a few things.  It’s actually closer to your destination so from that point of view we feel like we’re hitting people on the way.  Those two stores tend to be more technical and then this store [Murphys] we say it’s more clothing and footwear for wine tasting. It’s for people who make Murphys their destination.

Your Arnold store definitely seems to be the jumping off point for adventure.  What should first time visitors do when they’re here in terms of outdoor recreation?

A lot of people come to the area for Big Trees.  And then when the ski area opens, we’re on the way to that.  In the spring and fall, it’s disc golf and other little hikes.

Bear Valley Hiking

What do you think is one of the area’s best hikes? 

The Natural Bridges hike is super cool.  It’s a mile down, a mile back and we even help people kind of get outfitted for that.  If they buy a headlamp and have a life jacket, little explorers can float through and look up and see the stalactites, and things like that.

When you have a day off, where are you hiking?

We actually go stand up paddling a lot.  That’s our main thing.  But when we have time, we like to go up to the Pacific Crest Trail.  There’s a bunch of hikes in both directions on the Pacific Crest Trail right at Ebbetts Pass.  That’s really a favorite. And we haven’t seen as much of the Arnold Rim Trail as we like, so sometimes we’ll just take a little hike on that.

Speaking of the Arnold Rim Trail, it’s practically across the street from your Arnold location.  What do you love most about that trail?

It’s really pretty in the fall.  The dogwoods and the fall colors.  We tend to have more time in the spring and fall to recreate.  And I really like the change of season, and just getting out.

If people want to go kayaking or paddle boarding, they can rent equipment from you.  Can you tell me a little bit about that?

We have dozens of kayaks, canoes and stand up paddle boards.  We get you everything you need—the paddles, life jackets, tie downs, the boat—and then we send you on your merry way.  You can take it up to any of the lakes.

Paddleboarding at Utica

Where are the best spots in Calaveras to go paddle boarding or kayaking?

I would say Lake Alpine. There’s a campground, a boat ramp and the lake has islands you can paddle out to. It has good fishing and an old time lodge, and it’s right on Hwy. 4. It’s perfect for kayaking, canoeing and stand up paddleboarding. We also recommend White Pines Lake for beginners and it’s just five minutes away from our Arnold store. If you are a more experienced paddler or want to take a a canoe camping trip, Spicer is a great destination. If somebody wants to fish, then it’s Union.  If they’re just kayaking, it might be Utica.

At Lake Tulloch you can put in under the bridge and it’s just a beautiful canyon.  It almost looks like the southwest to me.  It’s very pretty in the spring.  And some of the lakes we talked about are above 4,000 feet so there’s snow late into the spring.  So we’ll go down to Tulloch because it still feels like a river canyon.  You put in at Lake Tulloch Resort and pay them $10 to launch.  Then you go under the bridge, and it’s just up toward the dam.  We’ve seen golden eagles up there and river otters, herons, egrets, and fish jumping.  It’s really nice.

What makes Calaveras ideal for people who love the outdoors?

The area offers so much that you can just walk out your door and do. There’s just so much access.  The beauty of it is you can still find your special spot.  And that’s what it’s all about, being able to find your own spot.


For more information on SNAC’s three store locations, as well as boat and paddle board rental information, visit:

Visit our Calaveras Lakes page for a complete listing of all the major local lakes, and our Hiking and Biking page for more hiking trail suggestions.