Crowds of campers, hikers and boaters will likely flood the Mother Lode this weekend, even with the region feeling the effects of a historic drought and the Rim Fire.
Labor Day marks what is traditionally one of the most popular weekends of the year for tourism in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties. This year, reservoir levels are lower than usual because of the three-year drought gripping the state. And much of the Stanislaus National Forest is still off-limits due to the 400-square-mile fire that burned for months during last year's Rim Fire.
But experts say visitors and recreators should still plan ahead for the best options this weekend. According to AAA, 3.9 million Californians are expected to travel at least 50 miles over Labor Day weekend - 3.1 million of them driving. That's an increase of almost 2 percent over last year, according to AAA.
Rooms and campgrounds are filling up, even along the Highway 120 corridor which is straddled by the burn scar of the historic wildfire.
"A lot of people wait until the last minute. That seems to be a trend," said Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau Director Nanci Sikes.
As of Monday, two campgrounds in the Stanislaus National Forest (South Fork and Cherry Valley) remained closed in the fire burn area, according to the National Forest Service. However, popular destinations along Highway 120 like Dimond O, Rainbow Pools and Carlon Falls will be accessible to the public.
The Sand Bar Flat campground on the Middle Fork Stanislaus River also remains closed for construction. And while the popular Fraser Flat campground located on the South Fork remains open, the bridge on Fraser Flat Road will be closed for construction.
According to the National Forest Service, campers at Fraser Flat will only be able to access the spot through Forest Road 4N13 off Highway 108 in Strawberry. The road is windy and rough, so large vehicles are discouraged, according to Stanislaus Forest spokeswoman Veronica Garcia.
For the complete story, see the Aug. 26, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.