Ultimate Northwest Mountain Bike Road Trip Itinerary

After Greyson and I got married this June, we went on an amazing, ~4 week honeymoon. We road tripped with our camping gear and our mountain bikes from Point Reyes, up through Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and back again. It was A LOT of planning, but I have to say that our route was just about perfect. I’ll go into more details about the specific destinations – the biking, the camping, the beer, and the other activities. I thought that I’d start with an overview of our route, in case anyone is looking to plan a similar trip.

Planning a PNW mountain bike road trip // tahoefabulous.com

Figuring out our route was a lot of work, but I knew there were some places that we definitely wanted to visit, places that friends recommended, some free hotel nights, and a few other requirements. The main resources I used for planning were:

  1. Trailforks
  2. Google maps
  3. BC Parks website

We needed to be in my hometown in eastern Washington exactly 4 weeks after our wedding, so our itinerary couldn’t be completely flexible. We wanted to not be too scheduled, though, so I broke our trip into a few segments.

  1. Oregon
  2. Olympic National Park
  3. Vancouver Island
  4. Sunshine Coast
  5. Whistler/Bellingham
  6. North Cascades/Eastern Washington
  7. Back to Truckee

PNW MTB Road Trip Route Map // tahoefabulous.com

The towns and regions we picked for mountain biking were

  • Ashland, Oregon
  • Vancouver Island, British Columbia
  • Sunshine Coast, British Columbia
  • Whistler/Squamish, British Columbia
  • Bellingham, Washington
  • Hood River, Oregon

We had a few other must-do non mountain biking destinations, like Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park and friends we wanted to visit. Using the above lists and research I did on camp sites, I came up with a general itinerary and route:

Route Planning Spreadsheet //tahoefabulous.com

(Though this is our final-final itinerary the “final” one we came up with before the trip got a few changes along the way.)

We had a few places booked to stay – campsites when we thought it would be too busy to get first come-first serve, a few hotels, friends to stay with. This itinerary gave us some flexibility within our set dates. For example, we ended up leaving Ashland a day early for an extra day on the coast as a lot of the trails were closed.

Here’s what we ended up doing Point Reyes, CA > Ashland< OR > Oregon Dunes (via the Umpqua River scenic route) > Newport, OR > Lake Quinault Lodge/Olympic National Park, WA > Parksville, BC > Courtney/Comox/Cumberland, BC > Campbell River, BC > Powell River, BC > Roberts Creek/Seechelt, BC > Squamish, BC > Whistler, BC > Bellingham, WA > North Cascades National Park/Winthrop, WA > Reardan, WA > Hood River, OR > Bend, OR > Truckee, CA. It was an amazing trip, and I can’t wait to share more!

Super Exciting News!

Hello all! Sorry for the absence, I’ve been super busy at work lately. If you follow my instagram (@tahoefabulous), you probably saw the good news. Greyson and I got engaged in Yosemite last week!

Yosemite Engagement Olmstead Point

Yosemite Valley Engagement

It was a beautiful, sunny fall day in Yosemite Valley and he proposed in El Cap meadow. We’re both so excited, and looking forward to a long, happy life together! P.S. Here’s a close up of my ring, from the jeweler who designed it.

 

Bouldering in the Happy Boulders – Bishop California

I needed to be down in Bishop, California for work last week, so Greyson and I decided to go down on Saturday and make a weekend of it. Not that we ever need an excuse to go to Bishop, but the American Alpine Club was hosting a stop of the Craggin Classic there during that weekend. We were excited to check it out.We took our time driving down on Saturday, stopping to check out the fall colors and expansive views whenever we felt the urge – like the Mono Lake lookout.

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Coming over Conway Summit (north of Mammoth Lakes) I spotted a huge bird flying parallel to our car. It landed in a tree a few hundred feet off of the road, and we were able to pull over on the side of the road and check it out. I had my binoculars, and Greyson had his longest lens so we were able to see it pretty clearly. We debated whether it was a juvenile golden or bald eagle, and finally settled on juvenile bald eagle (with help from instagram). He or she was quite content to hang out in the tree, so we watched it for quite awhile before moving on.

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Photo by Greyson Howard.

We pulled up  in Mammoth Lakes for lunch, beer sampler and growler fill at Mammoth Brewing Company. I’ll have to do a full review of Mammoth one of these days, but they’ve recently started serving food. I had a brussels sprouts salad and some of Greyson’s black currant, arugula, goat cheese, gruyere, and balsamic flatbread pizza and both were to die for.

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We arrived in Bishop early enough to set up camp at Pleasant Valley Campground. Last time we stayed there, I got eaten up by biting ants and the campground was filled with RVs plastered in confederate flags whose occupants partied late into the night. We vowed not to come back, but the price ($14 a night) and location lured us in. We figured that the cold weather and off season (for everything except bouldering) would keep the ants and noisy neighbors at bay.

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Greyson re-stakes the tent in a windstorm, during a previous Pleasant Valley Campground experience.

One of the best reasons to camp at Pleasant Valley Campground is its proximity to the Happy Boulders.

Bishop, California is a bouldering mecca, and people come from all over the world to climb in the area. There are several well-known areas, and the Happy Boulders are arguably the most beginner-friendly. Not to say that there’s not a bunch of challenging routes for the hard core, but I was able to find lots of routes to play around on that fit my VB-V0 skill level.

The Mountain Project describes the Happy Boulders as:

“The Happy Boulders offer highly concentrated world-class volcanic bouldering with hundreds of worthy problems ranging from simple to impossible.

Long shadowed by the more well-known and publicized Buttermilks, more and more climbers are realizing the potential inside the Happy Boulders canyon. Most first-time visitors will be overwhelmed by the amount of projects they just gathered and will find themselves making time to return. Some say at the Happies your muscles will fail first, whereas in the Buttermilks its usually your skin that will be your reason for leaving. Regardless, it’s nice to have the options so close. Visitors experiencing Bishop in the colder months can find shelter and warmer temps here rather than the exposed and wind-swept Buttermilks.”

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The parking lot was fuller than I’ve ever seen it before, as the crisp November days make for awesome climbing. We were a little worried about the crowds as we hiked up the loose, kitty litter gravel to the boulders, but once we arrived we saw that most of the people there were crowded at a couple of classic routes.

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Photo by Greyson Howard

These routes are far above my pay grade, but it was fun to watch people climb them. The best was when the girl pictured above made the route look easy after two muscled, shirtless climber bros failed on it! I have no idea what routes or boulders I actually climbed (next time we’ll remember to bring the book!), but I had a blast. Everything I climbed was easy in the scheme of things, but I did challenge myself a few times. Greyson claims that I fist pumped and said “Yes!” when I got to the top of a particularly challenging route, but I’m not sure if I believe him.

One of the many cool things about Bishop is that it’s packed with truly awesome climbers to watch and learn from. I’ve said it before, but while mountain biking is number one in my heart and will likely stay there, the people I’ve met climbing and bouldering are the best. They are friendly, outgoing, encouraging and really just want you to send it!

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Another great thing about Bishop in general and specifically the Happy Boulders is the literally hundreds of routes within a short walking distance. When we got tired of working on a problem, or our feet and fingers needed a break, we just packed up and walked 10 – 100 yards until another boulder caught our eye. We also hiked to the top of the Happy Boulders area for the first time and caught an awesome view.

I’m pretty out of shape for climbing (especially finger toughness), so we called it a day during the afternoon and drove into town. We had to stop by Mountain Rambler for a beer and lunch. I had the Phainopepla Black IPA (phainopepla is a type of silky fly catcher, FYI), Greyson got the Sky Pilot Pale Ale, and we split a Picture Puzzler Session IPA. The chef was testing out a beer fondue recipe which we got to sample, along with some beer caramels. I hope they’re both on the menu soon.

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Bishop is a must-visit destination for climbers of any levels and I’d highly recommend the Happy Boulders as a place to start. They’re easy to get to, have something for every level of climbing, and a great scene. When you’re there, be sure to stick to the paths, stay out of the plants, and pack out your garbage. “Crush the problem, not the plants!”

Check back next week, and I’ll be writing about the other place we bouldered, the Buttermilks!

How to Get There: The Happy Boulders Trail is located on Chalk Bluff Road north of Bishop. There’s a gravel parking area with an interpretive sign and a trail marker directing you where to go.

Where to Stay: There’s camping at the nearby Pleasant Valley & the primitive Pit Campgrounds. Bishop also has a hostel, The Hostel California, that I hear is pretty cool, though I’ve never stayed there.

Where to Eat & Drink: Mountain Rambler BreweryTaqueria Las Palmas

Five More Great Places to Watch the Sunset in Tahoe

More Great Places to Watch the Sunset // tahoefabulous.com

Last August, I wrote a post about the best places around Tahoe to watch the sunset. In the last year, and, especially since my move north to Truckee, I’ve found even more great places to watch sunsets in the Tahoe/Truckee area.

  1. Donner Summit,Truckee, California

Donner Summit // tahoefabulous.com

Photo by Greyson Howard.

Drive up old Highway 40 from Donner Pass Road, and you’ll find a number of great places to watch the sun set over Donner Lake and the Carson Range. This picture is from the Green Phantom climbing area under the historic bridge, but there is also a great vista point with a large parking area and some interpretive signs. Greyson took this gorgeous photo with his iphone when we were climbing a few weeks ago.

  1. The public docks at Donner Lake, Truckee, California

Donner Lake Public Docks // tahoefabulous.com

I’ve mentioned the docks at Donner Lake before, and, in addition to swimming, fishing and kayaking, the docks are a great place to watch the sunset. Cuddle up with a beer and a blanket to watch the sun set over Donner and Trestle Peak. If it’s not winter, you can even go for a night swim!

  1. Sand Harbor State Park, Incline Village, Nevada

Sand Harbor, NV // tahoefabulous.com

There are a bunch of great things about Sand Harbor State Park. For one, it’s the iconic yellow sand – turquoise water – round boulders that you see pictures of all the time. For another, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is the most scenic place to see Shakespeare in the US. Though weekend at Sand Harbor are often so crowded that the parking lot is full by 10 am, by sunset, the crowds have cleared out enough that there’s plenty of parking. Additionally, there’s a free vista point north of the park. Parking is only for 20 minutes, but that’s plenty of time to head down the short trails to the beach and catch the high points of a typical sun set.

  1. Kyburz Flat Interpretive Area, Sierra County, California

Kyburz Flat // tahoefabulous.com

There’s a gorgeous meadow area about 15 miles north of Truckee known as Kyburz Flat. On it’s own, it’s a beautiful green meadow, surrounded by pine forests with a natural spring. Beyond that, the area has a super interesting history remnants, including Native American petroglyphs and a reconstructed (and usable!) Basque brick oven from the sheep camp days. I was lucky enough to attend an incredible cook out at the Basque oven, and we saw one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve experienced in Tahoe.

  1. Donner Peak, Truckee, California

Donner Peak // tahoefabulous.com

Yet another spot accessed from Donner Summit, this is a sunset spot for those who are up for a little more of a challenge. I’ve written up the (daytime) hike to Donner Peak here. If you want to watch the sunset up there, be prepared to hike down in the dark with at least a headlamp and remember that the last mile or so (on the way down) is really rocky and unstable. It’s a little under 4 miles round trip with about 933 feet of elevation gain.

These are my favorite places to watch the sunset that I’ve discovered over the last year or so. What are your favorite places for sunsets in Tahoe, California and beyond?

 

Gnarbuckling on the South Yuba River

Have you ever heard of “gnarbuckling”? Probably not, as it’s a term that one of Greyson’s friends made up.

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To explain gnarbuckling, I have to explain a little bit about the South Yuba River. The Yuba River is a gorgeous and important waterway that drains about 1,400 square miles of the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and is a major tributary of the Feather River. It’s made of three forks, and the longest and southernmost fork is my favorite.

The South Yuba originates on Donner Pass (near where I live) and travels 65 miles before it joins with the others. The South Yuba (one of three forks) winds through Nevada County and is fairly close to Nevada City running along side or under Highway 49 in many spots. Like a lot of the areas along Highway 49, the South Yuba was heavily impacted by mining. During the California gold rush and for years afterwards, the area was mined using hydraulic mining. Though the area hasn’t been mined that way since the 1880s, the blasting left behind a unique river morphology that’s fun to explore.

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Map to 49 Crossing/Double Bridges from Nevada City. Click here for the map.

Now, for gnarbuckling. The best place to access the South Yuba for gnarbuckling is at an access spot known as the 49 Crossing or Double Bridges. This is a popular spot in the summer, so you may have to park a ways away if you get there much after 9 am. The South Yuba is littered with huge granite boulders, smoothed by years of water rushing by, and the way they’re situated in the river means that there are dozens of great swimming holes in the river.

While there is often trail or parking access to some of the more popular swimming holes, meaning that you could fairly easily hike or drive there, getting to the swimming hole isn’t the point of gnarbuckling.

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When you’re gnarbuckling, you travel upstream, while remaining in the water as much as possible. This means you’ll be wading through rushing water, climbing over rocks, swimming through deeper sections, diving under low hanging boulders, scrambling up rocky slopes, dodging nude hippies, hoisting yourself and your friends over small rapids, and falling – a lot! Basically, the journey is the point of the adventure.

Greyson and I headed up to Nevada City on Saturday and spent the afternoon gnarbuckling. I didn’t bring my garmin, but we estimated we were traveling about 1 mile an hour (or slower!). We had a great time, and we even brought Greyson’s GoPro, taking some not-so-great pictures and a few videos. Greyson made a short instagram video of us jumping off a small cliff into a deep pool of clear water. Click here to watch it, and here is a super awesome-quality still frame:

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We excited to finally make it to the Yuba this year! With the drought, we were worried that the river would be lower, slower and grosser than usual. Despite our worries, the South Yuba was still a lot of fun. It was pretty crowded, even as we made our way upstream away from the parking area, there was definitely more green slime on the rocks, and the river seemed about a foot lower than usual. It was still a great time, and the water was still cool and refreshing in the 90 degree plus heat! One of the best things about the Yuba is its clear water, and, as usual, the water was clear enough to see the schools of fish swimming around. And clear enough to attempt some underwater selfies.

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Someone isn’t very good at #underwaterselfies

When you’re gnarbuckling, you might have a final destination in mind, or you can just turn around whenever. It’s not usually a point-to-point activity, because going downstream is the really fun part! When the water level is higher, the Yuba has a ton of fun “water slides” running over the smooth granite. The water was a little low for that last weekend, but we did float feet first through some fun mini-rapids. We ended up spending 3+ hours in the river, so by the time we made it back down to where the car was parked, our arms were toast!

Gnarbuckling on the South Yuba River // tahoefabulous.com

A celebratory beverage and meal is another key part of gnarbuckling, so we headed to Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. in downtown Nevada City. I’ve been there a few times now, and the generously-poured beers were as good as usual. I love visiting Nevada City – it’s got a bunch of great restaurantsfun cultural activities and amazing outdoor opportunities – including the best place in the world for gnarbuckling!

Tahoe Rim Trail Hike from the 267 Trailhead

I spent all day on Friday being a river bro, and rafting the South Fork of the American River, so I was pretty exhausted when I woke up on Saturday. Greyson and I had already agreed to meet one of his friends for a hike that morning, so I rolled out of bed and we headed east.

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Luckily, we had planned a pretty easy going day. Greyson and I met Kyle and Stella (the dog) at the Brockway Summit Tahoe Rim Trail trailhead. The Tahoe Rim Trail is a 165-mile long loop trail that circles Lake Tahoe (and then some). The trail is single track and open to hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers (except for a few sections). The trail also shares about 50 miles with the Pacific Crest Trail. While dozens of people do the Tahoe Rim Trail as a two or three week thru hike (Greyson did it back in 2007 for a series in the Sierra Sun), its many accessible trailheads make it a great choice for a day hike or several day-long backpacking or bikepacking trip. The Tahoe Rim Trail Association has some great trip planning resources on their website.

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The trailhead we started at is known as the Brockway Summit Trailhead and is located on Highway 267 about 9.5 miles from downtown Truckee. Google map directions can be found here, and there is a parking lot and side of the road parking on the south side of 267 near the trailhead. We headed uphill and climbed switchbacks for a little over a mile until we hit a spur trail that promised a view. This offshoot trail hadn’t been constructed when Greyson thru hiked the TRT, so we decided to go check it out. The spur was about a half mile each way, and the view at the top was beautiful! Despite a hazy day, we could see all the way across the lake, down to the thunderheads building over the large peaks surrounding South Lake Tahoe.

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If you’re looking for a short hike with a bit of a climb and a rewarding view, the hike to this viewpoint would be a good option. It would be about 3 miles round trip with ~700 feet of climbing. The switchbacks make the climb manageable, but they don’t make it feel like you’re going nowhere.

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We headed back down the spur trail and, since it was still fairly early, decided to keep going on the TRT. This section of the trail travels generally northeast. We headed away from stunning lake views for a while, and we traversed through fields full of fragrant mule’s ear and sage and saw a some blooming wildflowers. If you are looking for stunning fields of multi color wildflowers, there are better trails (and times of year) than this one, but we did see occasional pops of color from Indian paintbrush and other flowers I can’t recognize without a guidebook.

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About 2.5 miles past the spur trail, we reached another nice viewpoint with a shady spot – perfect for a snack break. I broke out a new-to-me trail food, Taos Mountain Energy Bars in the Caramel Pecan flavor. I really liked it! It meets my requirement of being soy free (hard to find in an energy bar), and it tasted really good! After this high point of 8,260, the trail starts heading back downhill. We figured that this would be a good place to turn around, as we were pretty much out of water, and the day was heating up.

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The way back was mostly downhill, with a couple of short and steep uphill sections, but the TRT is so well graded in most sections that it wasn’t too hard on the knees and legs. We ended up with 9 miles and 1,970 feet of climbing, but the hike felt much easier than that to me! Afterwards, however, Greyson and I crashed on the couch for the rest of the day. It was enough distance and elevation that, combined with a full day on the river the day before, we were spent.

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This section of the Tahoe Rim Trail is a fun, moderately difficult trail with some great views that are worth the climb. We saw other hikers and bikers out, but the trail never felt crowded, which is especially awesome, since this was a beautiful Saturday morning in July.

Hike Totals: 9.0 miles, 1,970 feet of elevation gain in 3:04 moving time.

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!

Local’s Favorite: Donner Lake

I am super lucky in that my new apartment is just a few flights of stairs and across the street from public access to Donner Lake. I can go from lying on the couch to lying in a floatie in under 5 minutes! While Lake Tahoe gets most of the glory in the area, Donner Lake is an underrated gem!

Donner Lake Truckee California // tahoefabulous.com

When I lived in South Lake Tahoe, I was only a couple of blocks from a public beach, and, comparing the two, I actually prefer swimming in Donner Lake. The Lake Tahoe beach I was closest to was really, really shallow – especially these last couple drought years. You would have to walk out a half mile to be deep enough to swim! It would also get really gross from the shallow water, popularity and nearby dog beach. Uggghhh – green slime.

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Slimy and shallow Reagan Beach on the south shore. Photo by Greyson Howard.

Donner Lake, on the other hand, gets deep quite quickly, and I much prefer the nearshore water quality to the south shore of Lake Tahoe. Greyson Likes to say that Donner Lake would be way more popular if it wasn’t so close to Lake Tahoe. Honestly, though, I don’t really mind! It definitely still gets busy on nice weekends, and it can be especially crazy on holidays – Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. Check out the amazing photos he took of Donner Lake (from Green Phantom climbing area on Donner Summit) last week.

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Donner Lake is open to motorized traffic, but you’ll see tons of stand up paddle boarders, kayakers, small sailboats and swimmers in the water. There are a bunch of places around town you can rent SUP and kayaks, and a couple of places on the lake to rent boats as well.

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The coolest thing about Donner Lake are its public docks. These are small docks owned and operated by the Truckee Parks and Recreation district, and are available to the public on a first come, first serve basis. These docks aren’t big enough to launch a speedboat or anything, but they are perfect for hanging out in the sun and wading in to cool off. Most years, you could launch a canoe, kayak or stand up paddle board from the docks, but the water is a little low for that for Summer 2015. The plus side to the low water level is the small sandy beaches that have appeared making for even more public water access. We watched the fireworks on the Fourth of July from one of the new beaches on Saturday.

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For my friend’s bachelorette party last summer, we claimed a dock early in the morning, and hung out there all day, drinking beers and floating on inner-tubes when we got too warm. It was a great way to spend the day before going out that evening. For your best shot at claiming a dock, arrive by at least 9 am on weekends, though you may get lucky later in the day. You can park for free on the side of Donner Pass Road, but don’t park in the bike lane! You’ll get ticketed, and it’s rude to the many cyclists who ride that way for transportation or recreation. The docks are located on Donner Pass Road on the north side of Donner Lake. If you run out of food, drinks, or sunscreen, you can find that and more at Sticks Market, which is the best store in the area.

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If the docks are full, or you’re more interested in a sandy beach, you can head down to West End Beach, which is open to the public for a $5 admission fee before 5:00 pm. West End Beach has a number of amenities, including a playground, bathrooms, concession stand and rentals. I like to head to West End Beach to watch the sunset. You won’t have to pay the entry fee, and the water is usually still warm enough to swim in the early evenings. Occasionally, local gear shops host free stand up paddle board demo days and races, so check that out!

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Donner Lake is also the home of Donner Memorial State Park (yes Donner Lake is named after THOSE Donners), which has camping, a public boat ramp, a visitor’s center and a monument to the Donner Party. Another thing I like to do at Donner Lake is ride my bike around it. It’s pretty easy 7 mile road bike ride, that takes you through the state park with only about 170 feet of climbing (ignore the elevation on my Strava Map picture – I’m not sure what’s going on there!).

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Things to Do in Mammoth Lakes, California

This weekend, Greyson and I were in Mammoth Lakes, California. We were mainly there for mountain biking, but there are so many awesome things to do in the area, it’s definitely a worthwhile summer trip. Mammoth Lakes is a decent sized (pop. 8,000) town in Mono County in the Eastern Sierra. It’s about three hours from Tahoe, five hours from LA and the Bay area. There’s a ton of vacation rentals in town, which I’ve used pretty much every time I’ve stayed there, as well as hotels/motels, and camping in and out of town. There’s a bunch of great restaurants, bars, hikes, and outdoor activities, among other things. Here are a few of my favorites.

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  1. Ride the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain: Even if you have no interest in mountain biking, you can still ride the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain for some scenic hiking. Two kids can ride for free with every paying adult!
  2. Mammoth Brewing Company: This was the first brewery I visited in the Sierra, and it probably remains my favorite. The first time I visited, the “tasting room” was just a small area in a big warehouse that housed the brewing equipment, and the woman working the taps poured us more free tastes than we could drink, and we walked away with a growler filled on the cheap. Over the years, they made improvements to the tasting room, and started charging (a very cheap fee!) for tastings.

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Last year, Mammoth Brewing Company moved into a beautiful new location, and, as of our visit this weekend, they are now serving food. They also have an outdoor seating area and a place to hang backpacks for through hikers. The brewery offers tasting flights of their Originals and their Seasonals for a very reasonable $7 each, and you can get pints, pitchers and growlers to go. My favorites to get on draft at the brewery are Golden Trout Pilsner and Epic IPA. Those are actually two that you can get in bottles and cans in stores, but they taste so much better on draft!

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  1. Local hikes: There are a ton of great day hikes around Mammoth Lakes, and it’s a popular stopping place along the John Muir Trail. The Mammoth Lakes Trail System has more than 300 miles of trails. There are trails for every ability level, from an easy nature stroll to rugged trails with 6,000 feet of climbing. Mammoth Lakes is at elevation, so if you’re not used to that, be prepared for an extra challenge and be sure to drink lots of water. You can also use Mammoth Lakes as a jumping off point for multi-day backpacking trip.
  2. Day Trip to Mono Lake: One of the best things about Mammoth is its proximity to other great Sierra destinations. It’s only about a half hour drive to Mono Lake – the unique alkaline lake that inspired massive conservation efforts in the 90s. The weird chemistry going on at Mono Lake has led to amazing formations – tufa towers being among the most iconic.

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There’s also interesting bird watching, as it’s an important stop for many migratory birds. Check out the Mono Lake Committee’s website for more information, including guided hikes and tours.

  1. Visit the Restaurants: Here are just a few of my favorite places to eat and drink in Mammoth Lakes.
  • Base Camp Cafe has really good vegan chili and breakfast burritos
  • Stellar Brew is where I go for coffee, chai and wifi
  • Latin Market is a tucked away gem with the best burritos and a killer salsa bar
  1. Mammoth Festival of Beers & Bluesapalooza: This is an awesome festival featuring dozens of amazing breweries and great blues performances. A group of us went last year, and we had an amazing time.

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We camped within walking distance of the festival, and tried dozens of amazing beers. This year’s performers include Jonny Lang, Jelly Bread, and Robert Cray. This is the 20th Anniversary of the festival, and tickets often sell out – so if you’re interested in attending, get them sooner rather than later.

Mountain Biking Mammoth Mountain

This weekend I checked a couple of items off of my Summer Bucket List: mountain bike at Mammoth Mountain and visit a local brewery (2 down, many to go). On Friday evening, Greyson and I packed up The Toaster with biking and camping gear and headed east towards 395, the Eastern Sierra, and Mammoth Lakes California. We made a pitstop in downtown Truckee to meet my grad school roommate Allison and her husband for happy hour at Pianeta, and we were off!

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Driving down Highway 395 is always a gorgeous drive, but driving at sunset on this classic American highway is a must-do. It’s especially great if you can time your drive for watching the sunset from the Mono Lake overlook, but for this trip, we were too late and witnessed the sun set further north. The drive was smooth sailing (especially for high construction season!) and we arrived at our Airbnb rental by 10:30. I had plans for an early night since we were going to be biking all day on Saturday, but catching up with friends won out, and I didn’t go to bed until after one. I slept in a little, but Greyson and I and our two other friends were out the door and at the mountain before 11. It was now time for the fun part – mountain biking at Mammoth Mountain!

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I’ve been coming to Mammoth Mountain for lift-serviced mountain biking about once a year since I moved to Tahoe in 2010. Mammoth has diverse terrain, something for every level – beginner to advanced:

“Mammoth Mountain Bike Park offers terrain for every ability level, boasting 3,500 acres and over 80 miles of single track. We offer the best beginner experience in the industry with the Discovery Zone, miles and miles of forested intermediate trail riding and are the leaders in building diverse and creative gravity fed DH and all-mountain expert and pro level trails.” 

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Though it might seem silly to drive the three and a half hours to Mammoth Lakes from Truckee when Northstar at Tahoe is just 20 minutes away, the quality and condition of Mammoth’s trails and terrain blow Northstar out of the water. If I’m paying $50 for a lift ticket, I want amazing, fun and well maintained trails, which Mammoth delivers. The views from some of Mammoth’s trails are among the top in California, too!

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Mammoth Mountain Trail Map from here.

My Favorite Trails at Mammoth Mountain Bike Park

  1. Off The Top:This trail is my #1 everyone must-do trail at Mammoth Mountain. Ride the gondola to the very top of the mountain and prepare for amazing views! The trail itself is graded intermediate, but I think it’s pretty easy – nothing too technical, just exposure with some tight switchbacks (that are easily walked if you’re uncomfortable). This trail has views that are up there with the Tahoe Flume Trail. The steep mountain side covered in bare volcanic pumice means unobstructed views in at least 180 degrees. You can see the Minarets, as well as other stunning Sierra Peaks. If you’re a more advanced rider, take the Kamikaze cut off and bomb down the loose and rocky fire road, home to the Kamikaze Downhill race. Beginners and intermediate riders can follow Off the Top into the trees for a fun cross country trail of mostly smooth dirt, broken up by a few easy rock gardens. Take the easy Beach Cruiser trail to a fire road, and you’ll quickly be back at the base. Watch for faster riders speeding by on the fire road and stay right!
Off the Top trail (blue section) via Strava
Off the Top trail (blue section) via Strava
  1. Brake Through: This is another fun intermediate trail, though it involves more exertion and climbing that Off the Top and is slightly more technical. To ride brake through, you get off the gondola at McCoy Station at mid-mountain. After exiting the building, turn left and follow the signs to Brake Through. You’ll climb a slight incline for about a half mile, before turning left at the well-marked Brake Through trailhead. The first half mile or so after the turn off has the most technically difficult rock sections of the trail, including a small water crossing (that was already mostly dry in June 2015!). Brake Through weaves in and out through trees and exposed volcanic sections. The trail itself is mostly smooth dirt, with some loose pumice sections and small rock gardens. Towards the bottom, there are several intersections, but they’re well marked. Keep following Brake Through trail until it runs out (about 3.25 miles from the top) and hop on Downtown. You can continue on Downtown all the way into Mammoth Lakes, where you can catch the shuttle from the Village and head back to the bike park. If you’re looking for more of a challenge you can follow the signs to Shotgun – see more info below.
Brake Through (blue section) via Strava.
Brake Through (blue section) via Strava.
  1. Shotgun: This trail is more of a downhill trail than Off the Top and Brake Through. You’ll definitely want a full suspension bike with some travel to handle some drops and rocky sections. Shotgun is one of the “easier” advanced trails at Mammoth, but it’s definitely not for beginners. The best way to access Shotgun is from the Downtown trail which starts at the Mammoth Mountain base, and can be connected to from a bunch of higher mountain trails. There’s a very obvious sign pointing out the right turn onto Shotgun, and after a short, but butt kicking climb, you’ll have arrived to the fun part of this trail. The trail was fairly chopped up when I rode it, with lots of small drops and loose dirt and rocks, but it was still so much fun! I felt like I could ride it fast and aggressively (for me!) and take on features that I would normally chicken out on, because the trail is so well designed. It’s a short trail (~0.6 miles), and you end up in the parking lot of one of the ski bases that is closed in the summer. Ride downhill on the road coming out of the parking lot, and you’ll end right at the Mammoth Village shuttle stop.
Shotgun trail (blue section) via Strava.
Shotgun trail (blue section) via Strava.

Greyson hadn’t been biking at Mammoth Mountain since the mid-nineties, and he had a great time exploring the trails on his new bike. This is the first time I’ve ridden at Mammoth since I put the improved fork on my bike, and the difference it made was incredible. We had beautiful weather and didn’t wait in line once! Whether you are an experienced mountain biker, or want to try it for the first time, Mammoth Mountain Bike Park is a great destination.

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Santa Cruz: Sea Otters and Sea Otter Classic

I told Greyson that all I wanted for my birthday was to see some otters. We ended up going to Santa Cruz, and the trip delivered!

The first sea otter we visited was the Sea Otter Classic.

Sea Otter Classic // tahoefabulous.com

The Sea Otter Classic is a massive bike festival and expo that takes place in Monterey Bay, California over a few days in mid-April. Greyson had great memories of attending the festival when he was younger, and we were excited to check it out. The only word I can use to describe Sea Otter is…overwhelming. Maybe people who are more experienced with massive expos would have gotten more out of it than I did, but there were so many booths and exhibits and things going on that it was hard to find anything I wanted to see. We also went on Saturday (the festival started on Thursday), so I don’t know if it was our random wandering or if the booths were already cleared out, but we didn’t score any swag. I did get a good deal on some new bike gloves and I ran into my friends from TAMBA. While I’m glad that I went at least one time in my life, I don’t feel the need to head back to Sea Otter next year.

We drank Sierra Nevada beer, ate some expensive teriyaki, watched some cyclocross, and then it was time for the main event of the day – Men’s Pro Dual Slalom.

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The Men’s Pro Dual Slalom race kicked off with a race between two tandem teams!

Dual Slalom isn’t a super popular race anymore, but it’s a super fun one to watch. Two bikers race head to head on identical courses full of features like berms, drops and jumps. The riders then switch tracks, and their times are combined. The slower rider is eliminated and the other moves on to the next round, until a winner is declared.

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As much as I love biking and all things related, I was even more excited for the next iteration of otters – actual live sea otters in the wild!

Elkhorn Slough // tahoefabulous.com

Greyson and I drove south from Santa Cruz to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve with one goal: to see some otters!

The Elkhorn Slough NERR is

“one of 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves established nationwide as field laboratories for scientific research and estuarine education. The Reserve is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The 1700-acre Reserve is a hub of activity and hosts programs that promote education, research, and conservation in Elkhorn Slough. The Visitor Center has award-winning exhibits that invite everyone to explore the Unseen Slough. There are five miles of trails that meander through beautiful oak woodlands, calm tidal creeks, and freshwater marshes. We offer tours on the weekends and special events throughout the year.”

More importantly, Elkhorn Slough is home to the largest population of California’s sea otters, a fact I learned by watching Saving Otter 501 (a PBS Nature Documentary, available to watch online here and via Netflix!) over and over.

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Picture from Saving Otter 501 found here.

California’s southern sea otters were hunted nearly to extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries, but a surviving population of around 50 was found off of Big Sur in 1938. The population has grown to nearly 2,000, many of which live in the protected Elkhorn Slough.

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Greyson and I didn’t really have any concrete plans for finding the sea otters, other than going to Elkhorn Slough, and potentially renting kayaks. We ended up just pulling into a beach parking lot on vague instructions from Greyson’s sister, and we immediately spotted otters! We were on a little spit of sand with a manmade breakwater that made a perfect spot for otter spotting.

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I only had my phone camera, so my photos aren’t great. Greyson got some great shots though, and made an adorable video that I already posted.

Photo by Greyson Howard
Photo by Greyson Howard

A highlight was definitely the two juvenile otters who wrestled near us for 15 or 20 minutes.

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The shot I got with my phone.

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The shot Greyson got with his camera. Ha!

I also loved this otter that floated contentedly while a fisherman and his dog worked on a boat nearby.

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In addition to the dozens of otters frolicking about, the Elkhorn Slough was packed with other wildlife. We saw sea lions, harbor seals, cormorants, herons, and the ubiquitous Velella velella. If you’re in the Monterey or Santa Cruz area, I highly recommend a trip to the Elkhorn Slough. If you’re interested in the crucial conservation work they’re doing, you can learn more on their website, or become a member!

We did a few other fun things in the Santa Cruz area over the weekend. We hit up the Monterey Bay Aquarium just in time for the otter feeding and to visit the fluorescent-ly lit jellyfish:

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And we hit up Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing for some birthday beers just before we left town on Sunday. These weren’t my favorite beers of all time, and I probably won’t write up a whole review of the brewery. I did enjoy their Peoples Organic Coffee Porter and Devout Stout, and I loved their location with an outdoor beer garden and tap room.

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The whole weekend was a great way to celebrate my 31st birthday, and it will be hard to top next year!