Summiting a peak via mountain bike is a cool experience, and riding the Royal Gorge Rim Trail to the top of Rowton Peak is great! Plus, the downhill is even more fun. The trails in Royal Gorge are an overlooked gem in the Truckee area, and I made a video of the ride up and down Rowton Peak.
A few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to tackle a hike I’d never done before and tackle a new-to-me peak, Tinker Knob on the Pacific Crest Trail. Tinker Knob is a landmark peak on the Sierra Crest between Truckee and Squaw Valley. It’s odd, nose-like shape is visible from Donner Summit and I-80. It’s apparently named after James Tinker, the proprietor of the hotel at Tinker’s Station (now known as Soda Springs) and his prominent nose.
There are a few ways to access Tinker Knob – from Olympic Valley via the Granite Chief Trail and the PCT, from Coldstream Canyon via the Coldstream Trail, and from Donner Summit via the PCT, which is the way I went. This route was about 15 miles, 2,300+ feet of climbing and it took me a little under six hours. (I started my Garmin a little late on the Strava track below).
I started my hike parking at the Donner Peak/Pacific Crest Trailhead. This area can get really crowded, especially on summer weekends, so the earlier you arrive the better, and be sure not to park in no parking areas.
The Donner Peak section of the PCT starts with a stout climb up rocky granite “stairs” cut into the hillside before transitioning into a dirt trail through Sugar Bowl Resort. This section is about 540 feet of climbing in a little over a mile before a trail intersection.
Turn right to continue on the short Mount Judah section of the PCT (the left junction heads toward Donner Peak). After less than a mile, there’s well-signed a trail intersection where you could take a sharp left to detour and summit Mount Judah. This route had enough climbing for me already, so I decided to skip it for this trip.
The next section Judah to Tinker Knob, will take you to your goal. Shortly after the intersection with the Judah detour there’s a very short digression that’s worth taking. It leads you to a beautiful overlook at Roller Pass, named because wagons could be winched up this pass, not disassembled and carried like they had to be over Donner Pass.
After some more hiking through the trees, the trail opens up along the shoulder of Mount Lincoln and you can see for miles and miles. This is the start of a long, exposed section with no shade so be sure to have sun protection. I imagine it can be pretty hot up here if there’s no breeze or really windy. I got lucky and had just enough of a breeze to be comfortable, but I wasn’t being blown around or anything.
The entire section climbs about 1,450 feet in five miles, but it’s not straight uphill. There’s a significant downhill that drops you over 250 feet about 0.85 miles in. There are also some really nice, flat portions of the trail that are easy to cruise on. Additionally, most of the trail is nicely packed dirt, though there are some sandy sections and loose rocky areas where paying attention to your feet (especially when you’re tired!) is important.
The PCT does not go over the top of Tinker Knob, so if you want to summit you’ll have to detour and be comfortable with a little class 4 scrambling. The trail to the summit isn’t on Trail Forks, but it exists and it’s pretty obvious, when you’re below the summit. The first half of the trail is just a steep hike, but then you’ll have to do a little route finding. I needed to use both my hands and feet to climb the last little bit to the summit. I didn’t think it was too difficult, but I was extra careful since I was hiking solo.
The 360 degree view from the top is incredible! It gave me a perspective on the area that I hadn’t had before, and I could even see into the Lake Tahoe Basin. After hanging out for a bit, I (very carefully, very slowly) picked my way back down to the trail and started back towards home.
Once off the sketchy part, I realized that I forgot to take a summit selfie, so I made do with a slightly-below-summit selfie that included the Knob itself.
Even though this hike is an out and back, the views as I headed north were very different, so I wasn’t bored. I especially loved looking into the huge and impressive American River Canyon, which I rarely see on my typical hikes.
I hiked along, occasionally breaking into a slow run to give my hiking muscles a break, until I arrived at the last real climb of the hike. I plodded up this, stopping occasionally to stretch and catch my breath, and finally made it to the top. I was super tired after this exertion, but my hips and knees were even more sore, so I did occasionally break out into a “run” in the smoother sections.
Once at the granite step downclimb section I slowed down considerably. I was so tired and I definitely couldn’t run on this technical section, so I just took it as gingerly as I could. When I got back home, I joked with my husband that I was going for an “SKT” or slowest known time on that segment. Finally, finally, after at least 6 hours, I got back to my car and collapsed in the driver’s seat.
This is the longest hike I’ve done in a long time (maybe ever?) and exhausting, but so worth it. If you’re looking for a gorgeous hike that introduces you to a great section of the PCT with ever changing views and great wildflowers, I’d highly recommend the hike to Tinker Knob on the PCT.
Greyson and I rode from our house to the trails on Waddle Ranch Preserve in Martis Valley on our gravel bikes in the spring. We found some fun fire roads, but much of the single track was a little too gnarly for the gravel bikes. I can’t wait to get back out there on my full suspension, though!
Truckee and Tahoe are full of amazing mountain bike trails, ranging from easy beginner options to incredibly challenging choices. I think it is especially a perfect place to develop for intermediate riders to develop their skills. Over the last few years in Tahoe-Truckee, I’ve moved from an intermediate rider to someone who feels confident on most black diamond trails in this area.
Here are my recommendations for trails in Truckee and Tahoe that are great for intermediate riders who are looking to challenge themselves. Some of these trails are completely rideable but challenging to ride fast and smooth, some have sections that I still need to walk and all have features that are great for sessioning and skills development.
Big Chief Upper & Lower, Sawtooth Trails, Truckee, CA: Big Chief is one of the newer trails in the Truckee area, just being finished in 2019. While the lower segments of the trail are much easier than the top third, all segments have technical features and impressive rock work that you can challenge yourself on. I’m still a long way from clearing all of the features on the top third, and the middle section has optional rock rolls and jumps to session. Check out my in depth trail report here and watch my video of Big Chief here.
Tyrolean Downhill, East Shore, Incline Village, NV: This super fun, super sandy and shuttle-able trail has great Lake Tahoe views and lots of optional features to practice jumps and rock rolls. It’s also a great route to take a group with mixed abilities on, since almost every feature has a fun and smooth ride around for beginners. Click here and here to watch my videos of the Tyrolean Downhill.
Animal Trail, Prosser Trails, Truckee, CA: This is a new favorite! It’s really rideable, with no major technical features. The challenge is to ride it smooth and fast, even in the steep, tight switchbacks. Click here to read my trail report for the Animal Trails and click here to watch my YouTube video.
Kingsbury Stinger, Kingsbury Grade, Stateline, NV: Thanks to the hard work of TAMBA, Kingsbury Stinger feels like a classic South Lake Tahoe mountain bike trail! It’s got great views, fast flowy berms, and natural and built rock features to test yourself on. Here’s a write up of my experience on the Kingsbury Stinger, and you can watch the video here.
Donner Lake Rim Trail: Castle Valley, Truckee, CA: Eventually the Donner Lake Rim Trail will be a 23-mile, fully bike-legal route around Donner Lake. Currently, the Truckee Donner Land Trust has completed 12 miles of trail and it already has something for everyone. The Castle Valley segment is what I think is the most challenging section. It’s full of natural granite features like steps, rock rolls, steep climbs and sharp turns. You can ride this as a shuttle and include the Wendin Way Trail for a fun and flowy downhill. Click here to read my trail report for Castle Valley and click here to watch my YouTube video of this ride.
Armstrong Connector to Upper and Lower Corral, South Lake Tahoe, CA: I have a special place in my heart for the Corral Trail Network. This is where I spent a lot of time riding and improving as a new rider when I lived in South Lake. Armstrong Connector has great views of Lake Tahoe and features like granite slabs that don’t show up on a ton of other trails in the area, Upper Corral is still a challenging trail for me – steep rock gardens and sharp corners in loose decomposed granite, and, of course Lower Corral is an excellent place to practice your jumps (all rollable tables still as far as I know) and lean into the berms. Click here for my route recommendations at the Corral Trail Network.
Mustang Sally, Tahoe Donner, Truckee, CA: I’ve just started exploring the fairly vast network of trails in Tahoe Donner. There are enough trails in that area that you could put together a fairly epic ride, plus they connect to the Donner Lake Rim Trail and the Prosser Trails! Mustang Sally is definitely worth seeking out. It’s on the easier side for a black diamond trail, and the tight switchbacks are great for working on your turns. Click here to see my Strava Route and here for my video of some of the Tahoe Donner trails, including Mustang Sally.
I hope these recommendations are helpful, and you get to spend some time out on the trail this summer! For some hot weather mountain biking gear, check out my recommendations here.
If you’re looking for some great beginner mountain bike trails in the Tahoe-Truckee area, click here!
Even though the COVID-19 outbreak has required that we stick close to home, I’ve still been exploring new to me mountain bike trails. I’ve just been trying out trails in Truckee and Tahoe that I haven’t ridden before. The Animal and Animal Crackers trails in the Prosser Trail Network, just north of Truckee off of Highway 89 quickly rose to the top of my favorite trails in the area.
Greyson and I rode these trails as a loop starting from the parking lot at the Donner Party Picnic Area. We parked on the west side of Highway 89 in the gravel parking area, so we could avoid having to cross the highway to get the trailhead. The trails start right from the parking area, so are easy to find. We headed up Emigrant Trail, taking it for about 0.35 miles before making a right turn onto the Lower Prosser Traverse, which is more of a decomposed fire road than a single track trail. At just before 0.9 miles, look for a left turn onto the Lower Prosser Crossover Trail, a short connector climb.
The crossover trail dead ends at Lower Animal Crackers, where you’ll want to make a left to keep climbing up. From here, Lower Animal Crackers climbs about 375 feet in ~0.9 miles. Here, you’ll come to a trail intersection. From here, we decided to make the climb up to the top of Prosser Hill on Upper Animal Crackers, which is a right turn. We started climbing up, but accidentally took the left fork at one point and ended up on the moto primary Prosser Hill DH. We almost immediately had to start pushing up over the loose rocks and steps, and after about 0.5 miles we thought to check where we were on Trailforks and noticed we were on the wrong trail. Ooops! We quickly headed back down the technical (but rideable) trail and got back on Upper Animal Crackers.
Upper Animal Crackers climbs just under 600 feet in about 1.2 miles, and I don’t think it has a single switchback. It is a pretty unrelenting climb, and we ended up pushing up some steep sections before finally making it to the top of Prosser Hill. After hanging out and enjoying the view for a bit, we headed back down the way we came, for a fast, but kind of uninteresting downhill. While the view from Prosser Hill is great, Upper Animal Crackers isn’t a super fun trail, up or down. I think it’s worth doing at least once for the view, but I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this segment. Also, on the way down (at about mile 1.3 from the top, we accidentally took a left fork onto an unnamed moto trail and had to backtrack and then cut a little cross country to get back on Upper Animal Crackers. Having Trailforks on our phones was a life saver on this ride – I’d highly recommend!
After a bit back on Upper Animal Crackers, we made it to the trail intersection and took the right turn onto Animal Crossover, a short connector trail. Trailforks was useful here, too, to make sure we didn’t get on yet another moto trail nearby. The real downhill fun begins on Animal Trail, which Trailforks ranks as a black diamond. I thought it was on the easier side for an advanced trail, but could see it getting more challenging later in the season as it gets blown out. When we rode it in late May, it was still in great shape. I thought the downhill was all rideable, with the biggest challenges being some steep and tight switchbacks. There aren’t really any mandatory jumps or built features, but the trail is a great example of trail building that uses natural contours and features to make a fun and challenging trail. Animal Trail drops 635 feet in about 1.2 miles with hardly any climbing. It dead ends back at Lower Prosser Traverse for a right turn before a quick left back onto Emigrant Trail and then back at the parking area.
Like I said, I had a great time and really enjoyed this loop which was 9.15 miles and 1,757 feet of climbing, including our wrong turn detours. Next time, I’ll just do a shorter loop and skip Upper Animal Crackers, while paying closer attention at trail intersections. The trails aren’t super well marked, so I’d recommend having Trailforks on your phone and checking every so often, so you don’t end up on moto trails by accident.
The Sawtooth Loop is a classic XC-style mountain bike loop in Truckee, and I always have a great time on it.
Last week, I climbed a new-to-me peak in the Truckee area – Castle Peak. If you’ve driven east into Truckee on I-80, you’ve probably seen this unique peak jutting into the sky. It’s noticeable mainly because of the distinctive south facing cliffs and turrets, leftovers from an ancient volcano. In the winter, Castle Peak is a popular snowshoe and ski destination and in the summer it’s great for hiking. When I went in mid-July, it was snow free and the wildflowers were incredible.
Castle Peak is a doable, but challenging summit off of the Pacific Crest Trail. There are a couple of different ways to access Castle Peak, and the route I took was around ~1,900 feet of climbing in just over 7 miles. While this hike doesn’t require any technical climbing, it’s a tough, steep hike at altitude with uneven, loose terrain, exposed to the heat of the sun and there are spots where a fall would result in serious injury. Plus, to get to the actual summit there is some class 3 scrambling. You should be in pretty good shape and have some technical hiking experience. Be sure to bring lots of water and the 10 essentials.
I started my hike at the parking area for the Donner Summit trails, just north of I-80 off of exit 176 for Castle Peak/Boreal resort. (For a longer hike with more time on the PCT, you could park on the south side of the freeway by Boreal Resort and get on the PCT right away.) From the parking area, head up the Castle Valley Fire Road. Pretty quickly past the gate, there’s a great view of Castle Peak to the right, but it’s kind of intimidating to see how far you’ll have to climb!
After about 0.56 miles, look for a double track trail to the right. There should be a trail marker for the Donner Lake Rim Trail, where you’ll head down for a bit before beginning to climb. After about 0.4 miles on the DLRT, the Pacific Crest Trail intersects the DLRT, and you’ll turn left and start heading north. Here the climb is pretty mellow and shaded – enjoy it while it lasts! When I hiked it, there were a ton of corn lilies in this section. At about 1.2 miles on the PCT, there is a sharp right uphill to a signed intersection.
Follow the signs to Castle Peak and take the trail on the right, Castle Peak West Trail. Now this is when things get challenging! The trail climbs 1,100+ feet in just over a mile, and much of the trail is loose and sandy, making footing a challenge. I took a ton of breaks in this section, stopping to catch my breath, check out the unique rock formations, drink water and enjoy the views. Unfortunately, it was a little hazy the day I did the hike with smoke from a fire near Susanville.
There’s a steep climb to a small saddle before the final push to the summit – be sure to take advantage of this relatively relaxed section to take it easy. There are lots of little social trails to the summit from here. It seemed to me that they all reconnected fairly quickly, as long as you keep heading towards the summit. The trail is steeper on the last push, but at least there are some shady spots. If you want to get to the true summit of Castle Peak, you’ll have to scramble down past the west summit and back up again with some class 3 climbing up to the top.
Once you’re there, enjoy a snack break, soak in the 360 degree view and get mentally ready for the hike down. Honestly, I struggled more on the hike down than the climb up. The loose, sandy steep sections took nearly constant attention not to slip and fall. It was stressful! I didn’t bring trekking poles, but I wished I had, especially on the sketchy downhill. However, the hike down gets a lot easier as soon as you’re back on the PCT, and then it’s easy sailing back to your car.
There’s an awesome new trail network in Kings Beach, just north of Lake Tahoe! We rode a few trails there this weekend to check it out, and really enjoyed this awesome new mountain bike resource.
Sorry about my hydration strap flapping into view for a bit on the Beaver Trail section. I forgot to tuck it away.
I am by no means a packrafting expert, but Greyson and I have been out and about on them enough to figure out some helpful gear for beginners.
Obviously, the most important things are a packraft and a paddle. We both have the Kokopelli Nirvana Self-bailing packraft and the Werner Skagit 4-Piece Paddle. (Note: Werner appears to have discontinued this paddle, but the Kokopelli Alpine Lake Paddle seems pretty similar for $125.) You can check out my first impression review of my packraft and paddle here.
Since then, I’ve collected a few things that make packrafting more safe and enjoyable. First up, a personal flotation device (PFD) is critical, especially if you’re planning on doing anything more challenging than Class I. I bought the NRS Ninja which is unisex, not women’s specific. For me (broad shoulders, not a ton of boobs) personally it fits fine and is comfortable, even for long-ish paddling stretches. If you need a women’s specific fit, I’ve heard good things about the NRS Siren.
The BEST thing we’ve bought for our packrafts so far was the rechargeable, battery powered Kokopelli Feather Pump. While it’s not too hard to inflate the packrafts using the inflator bag the raft comes with, it is SO MUCH easier with the pump. It seriously takes less than 2 minutes using the pump, and it can be used to deflate as well. Sadly, the Kokopelli Feather Pump is currently out of stock, potentially until next year. It looks like there are some knock offs out there like the Go! Pump or the GIGA Pump that appear to have the correct adaptor, but I don’t have any personal experience with those ones.
Another product that has been super useful for setting up and breaking down the packrafts is the CGEAR sand mat in the 8’ x 8’ size. We’ve had the small version for years and used it mountain biking and camping to keep our feet clean while changing. The larger version is big enough to roll out the rafts and keep them a little cleaner, before and after paddling.
We haven’t taken the rafts on any overnight trips yet, but we have hiked in to access the water, and it’s pretty annoying to carry the rafts, paddles and miscellaneous gear in your arms. To help solve this and for future backpacking, we bought the Six Moon Designs Flex Pack. The Flex Pack is a lightweight, but strong fabric “frame” that a large dry bag fits inside. It’s also got various pockets and attachment points to hold and strap on gear. You can customize the Six Moon Designs Flex pack by choosing specific shoulder harness and hip belt sizes to get that perfect fit. Grey and I weren’t 100% sure on sizing, and he reached out to Six Moon Designs, and they were super helpful with making sure we got the correct sizes. So far, we’re loving the packs. They’re comfortable, versatile, and pretty easy to set up and pack. The one downside is that there’s not a great way to store an accessible hydration source. You can order the pack with a Six Moon Designs dry bag, which is 50 liters, comes with 4 lashing points, a roll top, welded seams, and a side air release valve. If you already have a dry bag you love, you can order just the pack.
For packrafting clothes, I typically wear a sunshirt and board shorts over a swimsuit. The sunshirt is definitely a must have – they’re lightweight, cool, and block the sun without needing to reapply sunscreen. I have and love the Patagonia Women’s Tropic Comfort Hoody. It’s even got a small zipper pocket that’s perfect for ID and a credit card! On the bottom, I like the Patagonia Women’s Wavefarer Boardshorts – they also have a zipper pocket.
Depending on how much walking I’m doing, I’ll wear either classic Chacos or the heavier duty Salomon TECH Amphib water shoe. Finally, we have a mesh duffel bag to store all of the bits and pieces of gear and packrafting accessories. The mesh is really nice, because it helps the gear dry out a bit more after packing. Ours is from Kokopelli, but it seems like they’re not making it anymore. There are lots of other great ones out there, like this one by Seattle Sports. If you’re having trouble finding one, try searching for “dive bags”.
I hope this gear list is helpful for those of you just getting into packrafting, like we are!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!
The water level on our local rivers was pretty low this spring and early summer, so Greyson and I played around with paddling our Kokopelli Nirvana Whitewater rafts on Donner Lake. Can you packraft on flat water?