AAA: Record numbers hit road

Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat /

A record number of Californians are expected to travel this holiday season, according to a recent AAA Northern California survey.

The travel organization estimates 11.7 million Californians will travel around Christmas and New Year's, representing an increase of 1.8 percent compared to the 2011 holiday season.

"For the fourth consecutive year, California has seen a slow to steady increase in travel volume," AAA Northern California spokeswoman Cynthia Harris said in a statement. "This season, we are experiencing the highest number of travelers as Californians kick start the new year with a holiday vacation."

Of those travelers, about 10 million are expected to drive to their destinations - a 1.5 percent increase from last year.

Air travel is anticipated to increase by 4.4 percent, with more than 950,000 Californians booking flights. Round-trip tickets for top U.S. air routes are showing a 3 percent decrease in rates from last year, AAA said.

About 398,000 state residents are expected to travel by other modes of transportation, such as boats or trains, representing a 7.4 percent increase.

The increase in holiday travel among Californians resembles AAA's national projection, which predicts a 1.6 percent increase from last year.

The Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau is anticipating an influx of tourists this holiday season, thanks to recent snowfall.

After being blanketed with fresh powder, Dodge Ridge Wintersports Area plans to open for the season on Friday. Leland High Sierra Snow Play, which opened briefly earlier this month but closed shortly after, planned to reopen today.

"This means our visitors are going to be motivated to come to the mountains because both of those wonderful recreation areas are going to be open," said Visitors Bureau Executive Director Nanci Sikes.

Lodging along Highway 108 above Twain Harte is either full or filling up quickly, she said on Tuesday.

There are available rooms along Highway 120 near Yosemite National Park but those are beginning to see more bookings.

Lodging at hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts in the central part of Tuolumne County still had availability Tuesday, according to Sikes.

Sikes said tourism suffered countywide last winter due to late storms and below-average snowfall.

"That's one of the major draws for the Christmas holidays," she said. "It affected every business in the county."

She said the county will probably see a "mixed bag" of locals and out-of-area visitors over the holidays. The snow attracts people who are looking for a white Christmas and can be an incentive for locals to stay home for the holidays, according to Sikes.

"We're feeling very optimistic right now," she said.

Calaveras County will likely also benefit from the snow.

Bear Valley Mountain Resort will be open for the season on Thursday and welcome Santa on Dec. 24.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park will offer guided snowshoe hikes on Saturdays as weather conditions allow. The hikes and snowshoe rentals are free with $8 admission, and operate on a first-come first-served basis.

Visitors interested in the hike should call the park to check weather conditions, and arrive no later than 12:30 p.m.

Judy Posman, of the Calaveras County Visitors Bureau, said her office is typically busy the week before Christmas.

"Generally, we have a good amount of people in the area," she said.

The Union Democrat
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