In a state with nearly 38 million residents, it's inconceivable that there's a county with a peewee population. But Alpine County, with just 1,102 residents, is by far California's smallest. But what this county, in the Sierra Nevada about half an hour south of Lake Tahoe, lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for in recreational opportunities.
Although Markleeville (population 210) is the county seat, the best bet for cozy lodging is about 15 miles north at Sorensen's Resort (14255 Highway 88, Hope Valley;  423-9949, http://www.sorensensresort.com). Located along the cascading West Fork of the Carson River at an elevation of 7,000 feet, its log cabins — some with wood-burning fireplaces — provide a true escape from life in the city or even life in a small town. Seasonal activities such as fishing or snowshoeing are available just steps away.
Soak up the rural ambience amid an eclectic mix of locals and motorcyclists at the Wolf Creek Restaurant (14830 California 89, Markleeville;  694-2150) Located in the former Hot Springs Hotel (built in 1886), the restaurant features main courses such as mountain trout ($18.95) and rib-eye ($28.95). Open year-round.
On summer weekends, the county seat is a beehive of activity. Visitors can sit a spell outside the historic Markleeville General Store or gaze at landscapes painted by locals at the Markleeville Art Gallery. But the biggest draw is Grover Hot Springs State Park (Hot Springs Road, four miles west of Markleeville;  694-2248, http://www.lat.ms/O9xRSU). For just $7, bathers can enjoy the steaming mineral baths amid a beautiful meadow. The outdoor pool is accessible all year long, so it's special when there are several feet of snow on the ground.
The lesson learned
Don't expect cellphones to work in these parts. That said, smartphones get a good Wi-Fi signal in or outside Ali's Café in Markleeville.
Cabins at Sorensen's start at $125 a night in summer ($135 in winter). Dinner for a family of four at Wolf Creek averages about $80. The nearest commercial airport is about 70 miles away in Reno. Several airlines provide nonstop flights from the Southland.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun