This winter, I’ve been getting more and more into snowshoeing. If you don’t want to by a lift ticket or a season pass, snowshoeing is a great way to get outside and enjoy the winter. There are a bunch of great places to snowboard in and around Truckee, and here are some of my favorites:
1. Donner Summit Train Tunnels
This is not your typical Truckee snowshoe! This route takes you into the abandoned Transcontinental Railroad tunnels. Don’t worry, the tracks have been pulled out so there’s no chance you’ll get hit by a train. The appeal of the tunnels is the natural ice sculptures and graffiti that collects in the tunnels. Click here to read my blog post with more details, and don’t forget your headlamp!
2. Donner Memorial State Park
This state park commemorates the site of the ill-fated Donner Party, who spent the winter of 1846-47 in this area and famously resorted to cannibalism to survive. Park at the Visitor’s Center ($10 parking or use your California State Parks Pass) and explore the east end of Donner Lake. During the summer, this park is packed, but it’s much emptier in the winter. Be sure to check out the giant statue memorial to the men, women, and children of the Donner Party (the base of the sculpture is the height of the ’46-’47 snows!) and head into the recently remodeled museum when you’re done with the hike.
If this visit gets you interested in the story of the Donner Party, read the book The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown. I just finished it, and it’s amazing!
3. Donner Summit Canyon
Donner Summit Canyon is a moderately strenuous hike with beautiful views of Donner Lake, Donner Peak, and Shallenberger Ridge. It doesn’t get a ton of sun, so it’s a great option when snow has melted off of other sunnier trails. Check out my blog post with more details here.
4. Coldstream Canyon
For a mellow, flat snowshoe, I highly recommend Coldstream Canyon. It has more widely spaced trees than a lot of the snowshoe hikes in the area, so it gets great sun on a bluebird day. It’s a perfect hike for a sunny day after some storms, and it’s close to both downtown Truckee and Donner Lake. It can be a pretty popular area on busy weekends, so get there early if you don’t want to have to park too far away. Check out my blog post with more details here.
5. Commemorative Overland Emigrant Trail
So there were actually two Donner Party camps, and the eponymous Donners didn’t actually camp at Donner Lake! They set up their shelters a few miles away by Alder Creek, which is now the home of the trail most locals just call “Emigrant”. This is a great place to explore via snowshoes. You can stick to the flatter areas, or climb up the small hills for a view of Prosser Creek Reservoir. To get here, head north on Highway 89 to the Donner Party Picnic Area. The actual parking lot is closed in the winter, but there are plowed spots across the road. Click here to see my Strava route.
Greyson and I went down to Santa Cruz last weekend to hang out with our niece and my sister in law and brother in law. Usually, we bring mountain bikes when we head to Santa Cruz, but Greyson was between bikes, so we had a bike free road trip. This opened us up to do some activities we normally skip in favor of bike rides, like hiking. We decided to check out a park I’d never been to before – Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
“Imagine a time when the whole peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose shall become one great city; then picture, at its very doorstep, this magnificent domain of redwood forests and running streams, the breathing place of millions of cramped and crowded denizens of the city.”
– Carrie Stevens Walter, Sempervirens Club, 1901
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest state park, and contains the largest continuous stand of redwoods south of San Francisco. The trees are huge and old – some are more than 300 feet tall and over 1,000 years old. There are plenty of hiking trails to explore, and the Skyline to the Sea trail meanders through Big Basin on its way to Waddell Beach. There are also lots of campsites in the park, but I imagine they book up quickly due to the park’s proximity to Santa Cruz and the Bay Area. Big Basin is about 40 minutes from Santa Cruz – it’s only 20 ish miles, but the road is windy and narrow.
When we got to Big Basin, we checked in with the visitor’s center to ask for hiking suggestions. We wanted a pretty easy hike, and the ranger suggested the hike out to Sempervirens Falls, which is about 3.5 miles round trip and has the option to tack on additional miles if we wanted to. We ended up taking Sequoia Trail to Sempervirens Falls, continuing on Sequoia Trail to Skyline to the Sea Trail, and then following Skyline to the Sea Trail back to the visitor’s center, which was 5 miles and almost 800 feet of climbing.
The Sequoia Trail to Sempervirens Falls is pretty easy. It doesn’t have much elevation gain, probably around 150 feet in ~1.7 miles. The trails in Big Basin are very well marked – every intersection has a sign. This section of our route had the most impressive redwoods, and there were a few that were hollowed out that we climbed inside. Sempervirens Falls is not a huge waterfall, and it was running pretty low in October. I imagine it’s more impressive in the winter and spring, but I’m glad we checked it out.
Almost directly after Sempervirens Falls is the hardest part of the trail. We climbed basically straight up a steep, sandstone slab. We gained 200 feet in ⅓ of a mile! It was a cool rock outcropping, and we found some grinding holes in the area. This part of the park is really interesting. The trees are a mix of redwoods and oaks, and the oaks seemed like they were attacking us with acorns! We didn’t get hit at all, but there were a couple of close calls with falling acorns. I love hiking in the trees, and this trail is great for that, though not really a route for sweeping views. The redwoods are just too tall and thick.
As we got closer to the visitors center, the trail started to get more crowded. For such a popular park, most of the route was pretty deserted. We saw more people when we got close to parking areas and trailheads, but it wasn’t overly crowded, even on a sunny Saturday. The hike ended up taking us about an hour and 45 minutes, including photography time at the waterfall. If you’re looking for a moderately easy hike in the Santa Cruz area that gets you in the redwoods, I’d highly recommend this route. See my Strava route here.
After our hike, I was starving. I wasn’t in the mood for state park cafeteria food, so we headed 15 minutes down the road to the small town of Boulder Creek. I voted for pizza (like always), and we ended up at Boulder Creek Pizza & Pub. It wasn’t anything incredible, but the pizza was pretty good and they had a decent local beer selection. Which is exactly what I want after a hike.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a really neat wilderness park in a heavily populated area. If you’re in the Santa Cruz area, I’d highly recommend checking it out. I’m excited to get back and do some more exploring in that area! If you want other recommendations for things to do in Santa Cruz – check out my blog post here.
Hiking Gear Recommendations
Here are a few of my favorite pieces of gear for hiking! Shoes: I like light weight, low profile trail runners like Salomon XA Elevate. GPS Watch: I am a data and numbers nerd, so I like to track my hikes, bikes, and runs with the Garmin Forerunner. Hydration Pack: My CamelBak Solstice is technically a mountain bike pack, but it does double duty and works great as a hiking pack as well. This version is from 2016 and is a great deal at $75!
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!
Fall is definitely my favorite time to mountain bike in the Tahoe-Truckee area, and it’s great time to check out the sport and/or expand your skills if you’re new to it. The weather is cooler, wildfire smoke is out of the sky, the trails have been refreshed by fall precipitation, and the popular routes aren’t crowded with summer traffic. Mountain biking can be an intimidating sport to start, and it can especially be hard to find fun routes that are beginner-friendly and aren’t just a gravel road. If you’re new to riding or visiting the Tahoe-Truckee area, I’d recommend downloading the Trailforks or MTB Project app on your phone. Most of these trails are located in networks with multiple options, so some navigation help can be useful.
Here are some of my favorite trails that are suitable for newer riders.
Powerline was the first trail that I rode when I moved to Tahoe eight years ago! It’s a great introduction to the trails of South Lake Tahoe. The trail is pretty smooth, with some small rocks and roots but very rideable. There is enough climbing that you’ll get a workout, and there are great views. This trail can get a little sandy from decomposed granite in the late summer or dry fall weather. Click here to read my detailed trail report about Powerline Trail.
The Elizabethtown Meadow Trail is a fairly new and new-to-me trail that I rode for the first time last weekend. This is a great trail to ride in the fall – the aspens were turning yellow and it was beautiful! Trailforks calls this trail intermediate, but I think it’s very doable by a beginner. It’s rocky, but the rocks are small so it feels more bumpy than technical. The actual trail is is about 2.25 miles one direction, but it does connect with other trails and fire roads in the Martis Creek area. I haven’t ridden any of those yet, so I can’t vouch for their difficulty though. Click here to see my Strava route.
3. Railroad Grade Trail, South Lake Tahoe, California
Railroad Grade Trail is a short, fun trail that can be used as a connector to other trails, or ridden as an out and back for a short and sweet ride. Click here to read my description of Railroad Grade, including how to get there and other, more challenging trails you can connect to.
The Emigrant Trail goes 9 ish miles from Highway 89 to Stampede Reservoir. It’s one of the flatter trails in the Truckee area, but there are plenty of small climbs and descents to get a workout. The trail surface is fairly smooth, with some small rocky or rooty sections, but no drops or jumps. Since this is an out and back trail, you can just ride for as long as you want and turn around at any time. To get to this trail, I’d recommend parking at the parking area for Donner Camp Historic Trail on the east side of Highway 89, here. From the parking lot, get on what Trailforks calls Emigrant Alternate and head north. At about mile 2.4, you’ll hit a sharp fork, you’ll want to follow the uphill one (the downhill will take you down to Prosser Creek, which is sometimes crossable, but frequently not). At mile 2.5, you’ll hit Highway 89. Turn right on 89 to go north. Cars go by pretty fast, but you’re only going to be on the road for 0.1 miles to cross Prosser Creek. Right after the bridge, you’ll see Emigrant Trail on the right. Jump back on the road and ride for as long as you want. Click here for my Strava route.
The Flume Trail (sometimes called the Marlette Flume) is hands-down the most iconic trail in the Tahoe area that is accessible to beginner riders. You’ll want to be in decent cardiovascular shape and not scared of heights, but all of the riding is doable by a new rider – any unrideable feature is clearly signed ahead with a warning to get off your bike. Since this trail tops out above 7,800 feet, it is one of the first to get snowed out, so check conditions before you go. I highly recommend this trail to visitors; the views can’t be beat. Click here to read my detailed trail report of the Flume Trail, including how to arrange a self shuttle.
Fall is my favorite time for hiking in the Lake Tahoe/Truckee area! The air is clear and crisp, the trails are less crowded, and the aspens are turning colors. Here are my favorite hikes to do before the snow flies.
A trail up the canyon follows much of the old Dutch Flat/Donner Lake Wagon Road, which later served as the Lincoln Highway. Some of the historic features visible from the upper part of the trail include Native American petroglyphs, the China Wall, and the world’s first automobile underpass (1913). Look for the abandoned Turkey Truck that careened off the road in 1955, scattering 30,000 pounds of frozen turkeys down the 175’ drop and delaying Thanksgiving dinner for hungry Nevadans!
Park at the Donner Summit Canyon Trailhead, which is here, about one third of a mile up Old Hwy 40 from South Shore Road.
2. Fallen Leaf Lake Trail, South Lake Tahoe (8 miles around the lake): This lake is just outside of South Lake Tahoe, and is a great place to get away from the busier beaches of Lake Tahoe. The water is crystal clear, and it’s a gorgeous place to hike around. While you can make the full 8 mile trek around the lake, the trail can be tricky to find in spots and turns into a paved road for several miles. The nice thing about the Fallen Leaf Lake trail, is that there are gorgeous spots almost immediately. You can just walk until you find a serene spot and then hang out there. Fallen Leaf Lake is super easy to get to, follow the directions to here.
3. Tahoe Rim Trail from the Brockway Summit Trailhead, Kings Beach (3 miles, 700 feet elevation): For a short hike with a gorgeous, view, hike up to this little spur off of the Tahoe Rim Trail. You’ll be able to see all the way across Lake Tahoe. For a longer hike, you can keep going to reach another view point at about mile 5.
The trailhead is on the south side of Brockway Summit – click here for a map. There are quite a few parking spots on the south side of 267.
4. Mount Tallac, South Lake Tahoe: (10 miles, 3,300 feet elevation). Fall is a great time to hike one of my favorite Tahoe Peaks, Mt. Tallac. This is a very strenuous hike, but it’s a super rewarding one. The hike takes you through varied ecosystems and the view from the top of the peak is expansive and incredible. The trailhead is a few miles west of South Lake Tahoe, click here for directions.
5. Tahoe Rim Trail from Tahoe Meadows Trailhead, Incline Village (~4 miles): This is another short and sweet hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail to some awesome views. Be sure to check out the humorous leave no trace signs, addressed to wildlife.
To access the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead, head up Mount Rose Highway from Incline Village for about 6.5 miles, and it will be on your right. Click here for directions.
Maybe I’m biased, but I think the Corral Trail Network in South Lake Tahoe, California is one of the best backyard trail networks in the world. When I lived in South Lake, I rode these trails at least once a week during mountain bike season. Now that I’m up in Truckee, I try to make it down at least once or twice a year to ride my old favorites. TAMBA keeps expanding the trail opportunities, and I haven’t ridden everything there is to ride, but here are a few of my favorite routes.
You can access this route from the main Corral Trail Network parking lot, on Fountain Place Rd., which is just off Oneidas St. outside of Meyers. Click here for a Google Map link to the first gate and parking area. During the spring and late fall, this gate might be closed but you can usually drive another mile up the road to a large gravel parking area. (Note: as of summer/fall 2018, the road is closed and you must ride up. Fountain Place Rd. should hopefully be open again by summer 2019).
This can be ridden as a shuttled ride, but if not, get ready to climb! Depending where along Fountain Place Road you park, you’ll climb about 1,500 feet of pavement in 3.4 miles. This is a killer climb (which is why I usually shuttle!), but I feel so accomplished when I actually do it. A little before the end of the pavement, look for the Armstrong Connector sign on the left.
Here, you’ll get on Armstrong Connector, a techy trail with gorgeous views. Trailforks rates this trail as intermediate, and I think it’s definitely on the hard side of intermediate, with a few slabby technical sections that I still end up walking. Connector is about two miles, with 750 feet of descent and just a little bit of climbing.
Connector pops out at the parking area you passed on the pavement climb. From here, get on the trail and go about a tenth of a mile and turn right to get on Sidewinder. Sidewinder is full of tight switchbacks, but they’re all very rideable. There are a few natural features – rocky and rooty sections. Everything is rollable and the harder sections tend to have easier and harder lines – it’s a great trail to progress on. There is one rocky, steep section that it took me years to be able to ride. You really have to pick your correct line on it (ask me about my huge bruise from a recent crash that came from a bad line choice there!), but it’s a good challenge. Sidewinder is ~1 mile and drops about 290 feet.
Sidewinder merges with Lower Corral, and the entry in to this trail can get really beat up and choppy – it was when we rode it earlier this month. Lower Corral starts out with a bit of a false flat, but pretty quickly drops into a really fun jump and berm line that was entirely rebuilt by TAMBA a few years ago. The jumps are all tabletops, so they’re rollable and there are go arounds on the bigger ones. It can get pretty sandy though, so watch your speed and be ready for deep sandy spots. The trail is about 1.2 miles with 400 feet of descent, and pops out on Power Line Road, and old fire road/double track. Turn left on Power Line to get back to the parking area. Click here to see my route on Strava. Total Route: ~11 miles, 1,680 feet of climbing and descending.
Railroad/Incense Cedar Uphill/Lower Corral
For this route, park at the end of Columbine Trail Road in South Lake Tahoe (click here for Google Maps link). This trail is in a neighborhood, so be sure to pay attention to no parking signs and be courteous! Railroad Grade Trail begins in where Columbine Trail road dead ends, and is well marked with a sign. This route starts with a nice warm up, rolling climb, Railroad Grade is a pretty easy trail – just be on the look out for a few bridges that seem to come out of nowhere. This trail is about 1.5 and 170 feet of climbing and takes you along Trout Creek.
Railroad Grade ends on Power Line Road, where you’ll turn left and start climbing. This climb can suck, especially when it gets sandy in the late summer. It’s over in less than a mile though! Just after a short, steep downhill around mile 2.3, look right for a trail – Incense Cedar. You’ll keep climbing, but it’s a much more pleasant, shaded single track climb. The trail is pretty beginner friendly – there are just a few natural rock features, but it’s mostly smooth singletrack. Incense Cedar is 1.8 miles and a little over 500 feet of climbing. It ends with a short downhill on to Lower Corral (see more detailed description above), where you’ll turn right and head downhill.
At the end of Corral, turn left onto Power Line, and make almost an immediate right back onto Railroad Grade. It’s pretty shortly after Corral, so don’t ride by, like I did in the map above, and then you’ ll follow Railroad Grade back to your car. Click here to see my route on Strava.Total Route ~7 miles and ~600 feet of climbing and descending.
This is the most challenging route of the three – there are some serious rock gardens and drops on this route and I definitely don’t ride everything! If you start from the Fountain Place parking area (details in the first route) you’ll climb up Fountain Place Road for two miles and 750 feet of elevation gain. (If you want to tack on a few miles and start with a more gentle climb, you can park at Columbine Trail Rd. and ride up Railroad Grade Trail). Stop at the paved parking area just past the cattle grate.
From the parking lot, go about 0.1 miles and take the left fork, following the signs for Corral. Upper Corral is definitely advanced riding – there are long, technical rock gardens, stone steps, tricky corners, and large drops. It can also get reallly beat up, adding to the difficulty. There are features that I have to walk, but the technical stuff is all very visible and as long as you pay attention you’ll be able to stop in time to walk. I wouldn’t recommend this trail to anyone who isn’t a fairly strong intermediate rider, though, just because you’ll end up walking a ton of stuff. You’ll drop about 380 feet in just under a mile on Upper Corral, and I always feel like I’m dropping elevation really quickly on this section.
You’ll merge on to Lower Corral for just under a mile, then look to the right just after the bridge for the Incense Cedar turn off. Incense Cedar starts with a steep but smooth climb, but starts going downhill pretty quickly. Cedar is a fun trail to ride in this direction, mainly smooth and flowy, but with a few rocky and rooty sections. There are some fun whoops at the beginning, and it’s a good place to practice popping off small features. Like all South Lake trails, it can get sandy thought. While the trail is mostly downhill, there’s one punchy climb a little more than a mile in. The trail ends at Power Line Road, descending about 500 feet in ~1.8 miles. Turn left on Power Line to head back to your car. Be sure to save some energy for this one mile section – there are some steep climbs that can really sap your legs when it’s sandy in late summer. Click here for my route on Strava. Route Total ~6 miles, ~940 feet of climbing and descending.
Those are just a few of my favorite routes at the Corral Trail Network. There are lots more trails to ride here and in the South Lake Tahoe area, thanks to TAMBA. If you enjoy riding these trails, consider throwing a donation their way or help out on a trail building day.
Back in 2016, I came up with a a round the lake route that stopped at my favorite beer destinations from Truckee to South Lake and back to Truckee. There’s been an expansion of the beer scene since then, and I just updated that post to include some of my new favorites.
Last fall, Greyson and I took a spontaneous long weekend road trip to one of my favorite parts of the California coast – Mendocino. Fall is the perfect time to visit Mendocino, if anyone is planning any trips. The weather is warm, but not hot and we didn’t get any rain or fog while we were there. In the afternoons, it got pretty breezy on the coastal cliffs, but that was about the only thing that wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t crowded at all, and though it was the tail end of abelone season, we were able to get a campsite at Russian Gulch State Park on Friday night with no reservations.
I’d been to Mendocino a couple of times before, once during a road trip with Greyson and once with my friend Katie. Both of those times we did typical coast things – beach walks, looking for tidepools, stuffing myself with smoked salmon. This time we brought our mountain bikes with the goal of exploring some of the singletrack we’d heard a lot about.
Most of the mountain biking in Mendocino is in Jackson Demonstration State Forest, located between the towns of Mendocino and Fort Bragg. When researching mountain biking in this area, one thing we heard over and over is that the trails are nearly impossible to navigate without a guide. They’re not signed, you won’t get any service on your phone so you can track using GPS, and then you’ll get lost and murdered by weed farmers. We found this to be a slight exaggeration.
Since we’d heard about the navigation difficulty, we started our Saturday with a visit to Catch a Canoe & Bicycles Too, a local bike shop that came highly recommended. The staff at Catch a Canoe were super great – really helpful, very friendly, and willing to share route recommendations. We ended up buying a guidebook put together by a local expert with maps and suggested routes. The proceeds from the book went towards local trails and we found the maps helpful, though the routes we’re all much longer than what we were interested in this trip.
Manly Gulch/Forest History/Cookhouse We decided that for day one, we wanted to ride Manly Gulch, one of the better known trails in Mendocino. We parked at the top of Manly Gulch on Little Lake Road/408. We had a little difficulty finding the parking area, but figured it out eventually. Manly Gulch is about 2.2 miles with almost 900 feet of elevation loss. The trail isn’t super technical beyond some roots and blind corners, but is just about a perfect example of a flow trail. It’s fast and fun, and can be ridden carefully by beginners and more advanced riders can challenge themselves with speed and small, natural jumps.
After all we’d heard about the un-navigable forest and non-marked trails, we didn’t find this to be true. Maybe it was the specific trails we rode (or our recent experience bushwhacking in British Columbia), but we thought the trails were well signed and we were able to use Trailforks on our phones to help us navigate.
At the end of Manly Gulch, we turned right onto Thompson Gulch, a fire road. We could see another trail ( Marsh Creek Trail) paralleling us, but it peels off and wouldn’t have taken us back to our car. After about 1.2 miles on the fire road, Thompson Gulch bends right, goes for about 0.2 miles before a sharp switchback in the road. Right at that switchback is the entrance to Forest History Trail and the beginning of the climb back to the car. We stayed on Forest History for about 0.6 miles, before hitting a fork. At the fork, we went left and got on Cook House, as Forest History recommends no bikes at that point. Between those two trails, we climbed about 850 feet in 2.2 miles. There are some steep sections on both, and there were some spots I was definitely pushing my bike up, but the majority of the trail is quite rideable. We took quite a few breaks, but it isn’t the worst climb in the world, especially since it was decently shaded and cool. Exhausted and sweaty, we made it back to the car with 5.94 miles, 952 feet of climbing in 1:09 moving time.
Russian Gulch On day two, we decided to ride something really close to our campground, Russian Gulch State Park. Theoretically, we could have ridden from our campground to the trails, but that would have involved a long road climb that I was not into, so we were lazy and drove the mile or so uphill to the trailhead. We hopped on North Boundary Trail, which was an interesting riding experience unlike anything I’ve ridden before or since. After the first half mile or so of wide singletrack climbing, we ended up on something between double track and fire road, that was a mix of hard pack and sand pits. This mix of terrain, especially the strength-sapping sand made for a ride that was more challenging that it looked.
At mile 2.7, we crossed Caspar Little Lake Road. Almost directly across from where North Boundary Trail comes out, there’s a break in the forest that signals the start of a fork with two trails. We took the right fork onto Parallel Action, which we rode for about 1.5 miles. There are lots of little offshoot trails in this area, but if you pay attention to your route, we didn’t find it hard to navigate here either. Also, most of the trails stick pretty close to Caspar Little Lake Road, so you could always jump back onto the main road fairly easily.
Parallel Action was a fun trail – it reminded me a lot of the BC style of trails (minus wooden features). There were lots of quick, little turns, the trails were narrow and heavily wooded and you have to pay attention and not go off onto social trails that go nowhere. After returning on Parallel Action, we got back on North Boundary Trail, but decided that we were going to try some of the offshoot trails we’d seen on our way up. There are some trails that are hiker only in this area, but they’re clearly marked and they’re not trails you’d even want to take a bike on, from what we could see when we walked a little ways down.
At mile 6.4, we took a left onto North Cutoff, a ~0.1 mile trail that took us to North Trail. We turned right on North Trail to head back to our car and were treated to the most fun section of trail we’d ridden all day. This trail only dropped 80 feet in about 1.1 miles, but whoever built it did a great job. It felt like a consistent downhill where you could really let go, go fast, and play on its natural features. At about 7.6 miles, the trail forked and we went right to get back on North Boundary Trail and back to our cars. We think that the trail to the left might have gone back to our campground, but we weren’t sure, and, since it isn’t listed on TrailForks, it might not be bike legal. In total, we rode 8.68 miles with 628 feet of climbing in 1:14.
Where to Camp & Eat We camped in Russian Gulch State Park, which we loved! It was pricey – $40 a night, but that’s the going price for coastal state parks now, I guess. The location was gorgeous in the redwoods, there were nice, clean bathrooms that had hot water showers, and, though you can’t camp super close to the beach, there is one in the campground within easy biking distance. One of the nights we were there, a wedding was going on in the park’s small venue, but our campsite was far enough away that we weren’t bothered by noise at all. I’ve also camped at Westport Beach Campground, which is a private RV park and campground, which I usually try to avoid. However, if you’re tent camping here, you can actually camp on the beach and you’re far away from the RVs! Westport-Union Landing State Beach is a nice cliffside campground, though you’re fairly north of Mendocino at this point.
Over a few trips to Mendocino, I’ve tried quite a few restaurants. My favorite overall is a pizza place in Fort Bragg – Piaci Pizza. There’s really nothing better after a long day of riding. Also in Fort Bragg, is North Coast Brewing Company. I wasn’t super excited about their food, but their beer is great, so I’d at least go for a tasting, even if you eat somewhere else. For seafood, I like Noyo River Grill in Noyo Harbor. The view is the best, and there are lots of fish sellers nearby where you can buy fresh fish to take back to your campsite or bring home. In the town of Mendocino, we had a great dinner at Mendocino Cafe and a delicious breakfast at GoodLife Cafe & Bakery.
I love Mendocino, and I had a great visit last fall. I’m excited to go back!
The stretch of the Sierra from north of Truckee to Lassen, or the “Lost Sierra” is one of my favorite parts of the whole state of California. Even better, it’s highly underrated and much more lightly travelled than the coast or other parts of the Sierra. Here’s my recommendation for a five day trip through this incredible area.
Truckee to Downieville (60 miles, 1.5 hours) Head north from Truckee along the scenic Highway 89 corridor – be sure to watch for migrating deer on the road because this is a very active wildlife corridor. If you want to start your day out with a hike before you get on the road, there are a couple of options very close to Truckee. There’s Emigrant Trail, which is a popular mixed use trail, so you’ll likely see hikers, mountain bikers and horses. It’s an out and back, so just walk until you feel ready to turn around. For a scenic loop of 5.3 miles, try the Sagehen Creek Loop Trail, an easy meander along Sagehen Creek that’s a good spot for wildflowers in the spring. Both these trails are right off Highway 89, so they’re very convenient for this route.
After about a half hour of driving, you’ll be in Sierraville, a gorgeous open valley that’s home to cattle grazing and hot springs. There aren’t any free hot springs open to the public here, but you can drop in at Sierra Hot Springs Resort if you’re interested. At Sierraville, you turn left to get on Highway 49 and head to Downieville.
Downieville is a historic gold rush and timber town that was slowly dying, but has been bouncing back with a growing tourism economy – especially mountain bike tourism through the efforts of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship. While Downieville is a mecca for mountain bikers due to the world famous Downieville Downhill trail and a fast growing network of new trails, there are plenty of other things to do. There’s fishing, gold panning, swimming, and even a little museum downtown if you’re into history. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses nearby around Sierra City, so there is plenty of hiking as well. I think that Downieville is worth staying for a couple of days at least to take in a few of the many activities available.
If you’re at all interested in mountain biking, that’s something that you have to do while you’re here, if only to say that you did it! While I wouldn’t recommend the full Downieville Downhill route unless you are a strong intermediate+ rider, there are plenty of other options in the area. See my trail report of the Downieville Downhill here. Visit Yuba Expeditions bike shop in downtown Downieville to help you plan a route, book a shuttle, or rent a bike.
When I’ve stayed in Downieville, I’ve camped. I like the Union Flat campground. While it’s a few miles out of town, it’s right on the North Yuba River, which is great for a post ride or hike soak. If you’re looking for something unique, you can stay the night in an old fire lookout! I haven’t got to do that yet, but some friends did and said it’s awesome. The Calpine Lookout isn’t far from Downieville and would be a great basecamp for a few days. There are also lots of little resorts, cabins, and vacation rentals in the area if camping isn’t your thing. For food, I’d recommend bringing groceries and camp kitchen set up to supplement eating out. There are a couple of restaurants in Downieville (literally a couple), and they’re okay, but a little pricey. Definitely support the local businesses, but eating there every meal would get expensive.
Downieville to Quincy (60 miles, 1.5 hours) Head back east on Highway 49 from Downieville toward your next destination of Quincy. You’ll head north on 89/70 and pass through the small town of Graeagle, which is a fun place to stop. If you’re a mountain biker, there’s the awesome Mills Peak Trail, which is worth a ride, even if you’re exhausted from Downieville. See my trail report linked above with tips for shuttling or riding from the bottom. If you’re not into biking, you can drive up to the Mills Peak Fire Lookout (which is a working lookout and offer tours during the summer) and take in the gorgeous views of the Sierra Buttes and the Lakes Basin. A few miles of the road are unpaved, rough, and narrow, so I’d recommend high clearance and all wheel drive.
Graeagle has a bunch of little shops and restaurants, so wandering around the town is a good option. For food, I’d recommend picking up a to go order from the Graeagle Mountain Frostee and heading a few miles up the road to The Brewing Lair in Blairsden. This is one of my all time favorite breweries. They sometimes have a food truck and live music, so check their facebook for updates.
Quincy is one of the bigger towns in the Lost Sierra, and it’s located on the gorgeous Feather River. Similar to other spots in the area, there is lots of hiking, fishing, swimming, and rafting. It’s home to the High Sierra Music Festival, which is a must do for festival fans who want a more mellow experience. For mountain bikers, it’s also home to the Mount Hough trail, which I haven’t ridden yet (on my bucket list!), but I hear is awesome. There’s lots of campgrounds around Quincy, and plenty of resorts, RV parks, and vacation rentals for lodging.
Quincy to Lassen Volcanic National Park (71 miles, 1.5 hours) Compared to more popular parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone, Lassen Volcanic National Park is practically deserted. While lacking iconic landmarks like Old Faithful or Half Dome, Lassen is worth spending a couple of days exploring the park. The National Park’s website gives a great overview of places to stay and things to do while you’re there.
There are literally dozens of day hikes you can do in the park, and in the summer, you can climb Mount Lassen with a reasonable level of fitness and some hiking experience. It’s also a popular backcountry ski destination, since there’s some level of snow all year. Like Yellowstone, Lassen Volcanic National park is home to thermal areas. The most well known area, Bumpass Hell is currently closed for a rehabilitation project, but there are many others you can visit.
One of the coolest things about Lassen is how little light pollution there is. It has incredibly dark skies, making it a great area for stargazing. The Park even hosts a Dark Skies Festival in August, which would be an awesome reason to plan a visit.
Just a 45 minute drive from Lassen is the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. This park is home to the incredible Burney Falls, which is another one for my California bucket list. If you’ve got a couple of days in Lassen, a visit to Burney Falls is worth the drive.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a little off the beaten path – which is why it’s so quiet, and the park doesn’t have huge infrastructure of the larger parks. While there are a few places to eat in the park, you’d be better off stocking up on groceries in Quincy or Almanor. While you’re staying in the park, be sure to be bear aware and store your food and garbage in the proper way.
The entire trip is about 190 miles and 4.25 hours of driving, not accounting for any scenic detours or side trips. While you could drive straight from Truckee to Lassen, I think that taking multiple days to explore the Lost Sierra is worth it – especially if you bring your mountain bike or fishing pole.
Santa Cruz is many things – a hippie college town, a laid back surf city, a growing hub for tech, a great location for foodies, and it offers just about every outdoor opportunity. Different neighborhoods of Santa Cruz have distinct vibes, and nearby cities and towns offer different feelings as well. Everyone knows the big Santa Cruz landmarks, like the Santa Cruz Wharf or the brightly colored houses of Capitola, but I’m giving you some recommendations that you won’t find everywhere.
Food & Drink: While I’m in Santa Cruz, I have two must stops: Verve Coffee Roasters and The Penny Ice Creamery. Both are Instagram dream locations – Verve Coffee Roasters 41st Street location has a succulent wall, along with incredible coffee and their other locations are worth visits as well. At The Penny Ice Creamery, the toasted marshmallow topping tastes just as good as it looks.
Even in the last couple of years, Santa Cruz’s beer scene has exploded. I used to be unimpressed with the town’s beer selection, but now I have a couple of favorites. I haven’t written reviews yet, but I really like Humble Sea Brewing Company in Santa Cruz proper and Corralitos Brewing Co. a little south in Watsonville. Sante Adarius has a Santa Cruz and Capitola location.
For actual meals, I’m going to recommend two different Hawaiian restaurants – Hula’s Island Grill & Tiki Bar and Pono’s Hawaiian Grill. Hula’s is more kitschy – think velvet Elvis paintings and mai tais served in pineapples. The Big Sur Veggie Burger is one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had and the Caesar Salad is similarly amazing. Pono’s is a little more traditional, with a good beer selection plus full bar, outdoor seating, and live music pretty often. Go traditional here and get a plate lunch.
Another place I love to eat is burger. – the period is part of the name. It has a couple of locations – both Aptos and Santa Cruz and an absolutely bonkers menu. You can get a burger with a grilled cheese sandwich for the bun (the Snooki), a burger made with mac and cheese (Johnny Marzetti), or including a donut AND bacon (Luther). I like a more simple burger, the Johnny Cash which still has fries, bacon, and blue cheese. Even if you just get a few of their sides, it’s worth a visit.
I’m just scratching the surface of all of the awesome things to do in Santa Cruz. It’s one of my favorite California cities, and I can’t wait to get back. What are your favorite things to do in Santa Cruz? What did I miss?