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?
While not as popular or well known as a Big Sur or North Coast road trip, a route down Highway 395 through the Eastern Sierra is just as spectacular.
While you could spend months adventuring in the Eastern Sierra and not hit everything, you can do a more abbreviated trip and hit quite a few highlights. I’d take a week at minimum to do this route, but you could cut out some stops for a weekend version. Since the Eastern Sierra can get really hot during the summer, I’d recommend doing this trip in early spring, late fall, or even winter if you are a confident snow driver. I love camping in the Eastern Sierra, so all of my lodging suggestions revolve around camping – though many places have a variety of motels and vacation rentals in addition to my camping suggestions.
South Lake Tahoe to June Lake via Monitor Pass (137 miles, 2.75 hours) The most scenic route between South Lake Tahoe and June Lake isn’t the fastest, but it’s worth doing, especially in the fall. The aspens on Monitor Pass and throughout the June Lake Loop make the extra fifteen minutes so worth it.
On your way down, be sure to stop at the Mono Lake overlook, and take in your first glimpse at this practically alien lake. It’s also worth the detour or to navy beach and/or the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center to check out the tufa towers and learn about the natural and human history of Mono Lake.
Just past Lee Vining, turn right and stop at the world’s best restaurant located in a gas station – Whoa Nellie Deli. The Mobil Mart is on the way to Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park, so there’s usually an interesting crowd of climbers, locals and tourists. There’s even live music on Sundays and Thursdays throughout the summer.
Be sure to take the June Lake scenic loop into town – the view just keeps getting better and better. See my detailed recommendations for where to stay, what to do, and where to eat and drink in my Things to do in June Lake post from earlier this week.
June Lake to Mammoth Lakes (20 miles, 30 minutes) Mammoth Lakes has lots going on – no matter what the season. If you’re there in the winter there’s skiing or snowboarding at Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort or in the backcountry. In the summer, lift serviced mountain biking at the resort is world class! Don’t worry if you’re new to it, Mammoth Mountain has trails for all levels, and rental gear is available at the resort and in town.
Mammoth Lakes to Bishop (42 miles, 45 minutes) One of the best reasons to do this road trip during the milder weather is the abundance of hot springs! On your drive between Mammoth and Bishop, turn left at the old green church and visit Wild Willy’s Hot Spring. If Wild Willy’s is too crowded, there are quite a few others in the area, so look around.
My favorite place to stay in Bishop is actually a little north of the town at the Pleasant Valley campground on the Owens River. This campground can be kind of mixed bags – we’ve had wind, loud RVs, and biting ants on one trip and a perfect rural oasis on others. One of the reasons that I like it so much is its proximity to the Happy Boulders. While not as famous as the Buttermilks, the Happy Boulders are more my grade (beginner).
An amazing day trip from Bishop is to visit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. These gnarled trees can be up to 4,000 years old! During the winter, the gate is closed and you can’t drive all the way to the top, but it is a popular spot for snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
Bishop to Independence (42 miles, 40 minutes) If you want to get taste of high Sierra hiking, but don’t want to commit to Mount Whitney or the John Muir Trail, I suggest hiking into Kings Canyon National Park via Kearsarge Pass from the Onion Valley trailhead. You can make it a day hike just to the top of the pass and back (~9.5 miles round trip with ~2,500 feet of elevation gain). You’ll be rewarded with amazing views of the Kearsarge Pinnacles and alpine lakes. You can also use this trailhead to launch a backpacking trip – like the famous Rae Lakes Loop.
If you’re going to hike Kearsarge, I’d highly recommend staying in the Onion Valley campground. You’ll be able to leave right from your campsite and start hiking. It’s at 9,000 feet so you’ll be able to get out of the heat of the valley, too. The campsites here are pretty small – so a huge tent might not fit in the space available. Some of the sites are a bit of a hike (<0.25 miles), so keep that in mind with your packing.
Independence to Lone Pine (16 miles, 16 minutes) Just down the road from Independence is the town of Lone Pine, best known as the gateway to Mount Whitney. However, there’s more to Lone Pine than the town you drive through on your way to Whitney! The Alabama Hills around Lone Pine have a long history of filmmaking – from spaghetti westerns to standing in for the Middle East in current films to the setting of Tremors! This history is celebrated at the Museum of Western Film History in downtown Lone Pine, and it’s worth a stop.
On a more sober note, the Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of the 10 internment camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War Two. It’s now Manzanar National Historic Site and “was established to preserve the stories of the internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II and to serve as a reminder to this and future generations of the fragility of American civil liberties. Manzanar National Historic Site is between Independence and Lone Pine.
While you’re in Lone Pine, you should definitely camp in the Alabama Hills dispersed camping area. You’ll be able to find solitude, but the roads are easy enough to navigate. Camp spots are located throughout alien-looking rock features and the night skies are some of the clearest I’ve ever experienced. Since camping is dispersed, there are no services, so be sure to bring your own water and practice Leave No Trace camping principles. As long as you’re in the Alabama Hills, stop by the instagram-famous Mobius Arch.
With that, that’s the end of the trip! Like I said, you could spend months exploring all the Eastern Sierra has to offer, and I hope this route inspires you to visit. All in all, you’re looking at about 4.75 hours of drive time and 250 miles travelled, not counting any day trips or detours.
June Lake, a small town north of Mammoth Lakes off of Highway 395 is one of my favorite places in the Eastern Sierra. It’s a tiny bit off the beaten path and often overshadowed by nearby Mammoth. Which often means it’s not nearly as crowded as other, more popular spots.
Take a Scenic Drive June Lake is located on the June Lake loop (Highway 158), a u-shaped road connected to 395. I’d driven by June Lake Loop probably a dozen times before I finally took the scenic detour – and it’s worth it, even if you’re just driving through. While it’s pretty either direction, I’d recommend turning in at the north end and driving south. This is the entrance further away from the town of June Lake, but your views will be more dramatic. The towering Sierra peaks are hardly noticeable from 395, but dominate the sky only a couple of miles in. There’s a reason that they call it “The Switzerland of California.” If you’re there in October, the loop has some of the best fall colors in the Eastern Sierra. Along the way, you’ll pass the lakes this area is famous for – Grant Lake, Silver Lake, Gull Lake, and, finally June Lake. The town of June Lake is situated between Gull and June lakes. The exit back to 395 is just a few minutes past town. Note: Highway 158 sometimes closes in the winter, so while there is access to June Lake, you can’t drive the full loop.
Lodging There are all kinds of options for lodging in the June Lake area – from camping to resorts to vacation rentals. I’ve had two great experiences at the Oh! Ridge Campground and I’d highly recommend it. It has running water, flush toilets and easy access to a great beach on June Lake. I’ve also stayed at the June Lake Campground, which has convenient access to town, but it was really loud the one time I’ve stayed there. Reversed Creek Campground is very close to town, and Silver Lake Campground has great access to Silver Lake. While I’ve never stayed at any of the hotels or resorts, I’ve heard really good things about the Double Eagle Resort. There are also old school style cabins and lodges, like Fern Creek Lodge, which dates back to 1927. I’ve also stayed at a couple of vacation rentals in town, and there are plenty to choose from – I prefer VRBO for rural places like June Lake.
Eats June Lake doesn’t have a ton of dining options, which isn’t surprising in a small town. However, it does have my all time favorite food truck, Ohanas 395. Ohanas is a fresh twist on classic Hawaiian food crafted with care and generous on the portion sizes. Greyson and I usually split two dishes – one regular and one small and that’s typically plenty. I love the Kahuna Chips – Hawaiian style nachos on kettle chips topped with kalua pork or huli huli chicken, sesame cabbage slaw, jack cheese, pepperoncinis and homemade bbq sauce. Their kalua pork is so good that it was better than any I got on the Big Island in June!
Another fun place to eat is the Tiger Bar & Cafe. It’s pretty typical pub food – heavy on the burgers and fries, light on the veggies, but good, if not good for you. Tiger Bar is historic – it was established in 1932, and it supposedly has California Liquor License #2 and is the longest legally operating bar in California.
Beer June Lake is home to my favorite brewery in the Eastern Sierra – June Lake Brewing. I write in more detail about what makes the beer and the brewery so great in my June Lake Brewing post here.
This area is also getting famous for it’s awesome June Lake Autumn Beer Festival. I went in 2016, and it definitely wasn’t your typical local beer festival. It’s put on by the June Lake Brewery crew, who moved to June Lake from the San Diego area and still have a ton of connections down there. While my local favorites (Mammoth Brewing Company, Mountain Rambler, etc.) were there, there were also a ton of farther flung breweries, many that I tried for the first time, like Pizza Port and Alpine Brewing Company. If you want to go, start planning early as tickets are very limited and in high demand – they sold out in early February for the 2018 festival happening on September 29th. If you happen to be in the area, sometimes there are extra tickets are available at the door. This is my favorite beer fest that I’ve been to – lots of beers, small enough that it’s not overwhelming, and a beautiful location and time of year.
Activities There’s tons of stuff to do in the June Lake area, whether you stay in the loop or venture out a little farther. What there is to do in June Lake varies according to the season, but there’s something awesome all throughout the year.
In town, you’ve obviously got the lakes. For swimming, I like June Lake Beach, which is sandy with room to spread out and the water is clear and refreshing. Gull Lake has a nice picnic area and playground, and is great for a family picnic. June Lake is at 7,600 feet so the lakes are pretty cold, but definitely swimmable in July, August, and September.
The whole loop is well known as a popular fishing area. While you can fish in all of the lakes, Silver Lake is known for the best shore fishing, June Lake for early season catches, Gull Lake for bait fishing, and Grant Lake for trolling. Nearby, Rush Creek and Lee Vining Creek are typical fly fishing spots.
Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park usually opens between late May and late June, and it’s a convenient trip into the park from June Lake via this route. The drive is gorgeous, but steep and exposed, and it gets you into the much less crowded high, east side of the park. From this side, you’ll have easy access to Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake, Olmstead Point and all the typical Yosemite summer activities, like hiking, climbing, paddling, swimming, etc. There are far fewer services in this side of the park compared to the Valley, so plan ahead for food and water, gas, sunscreen, bug spray, and any other accessories you might need. Tioga Pass is usually closed by late October.
June Lake is home to a ton of hiking trails, though many are difficult to the steep elevation changes. Fern Lake trail is one of those short and steep trails, gaining 1,600 feet in just 1.75 miles to the lake one way. Once you make it though, the fishing is supposed to be amazing. On the easier side of things is the 2 mile Gull Lake Loop Trail. It’s right in town and doesn’t have much elevation change – perfect for kids or anyone who wants an easier hike. The Parker Lake Trail is a good middle ground. It’s 3.6 miles round trip with 650 feet of climbing, and you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous lake at the end. Some friends have used this as an easy backpacking destination, and they said it’s great for newbies or if your time is limited and just want an easy overnight.
I also have to plug the June Lake Triathlon – it’s my favorite race I’ve ever done. It’s got a small town, local feel, but it’s still incredibly well organized and the field is big enough that you never feel like you’re out there on your own. The course is challenging, and so beautiful that you get distracted from your suffering. The whole town seems to get involved, whether they are volunteering at the event or on the road cheering you on. They offer sprint, olympic, and half iron distance races, as well as aquabike and relay opportunities- plus Mammoth Brewing Company beer and a home cooked meal at the finish line.
If you’re visiting in the winter, there are still plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. June Mountain Ski Area is basically right in town, and though it’s owned by Mammoth Mountain, it still has a small town feel. If backcountry skiing or riding is your thing, there are guided tours available from Sierra Mountain Guides and through June Mountain. For non-adrenaline junkies, there is snowshoeing and cross country skiing nearby as well.
If you enjoy the outdoors, you’ll find something to do in June Lake. I hope you check out this awesome hidden gem, and enjoy it as much as I do!
Santa Cruz, California is an awesome place. It’s got the relaxed vibe of a beach town, with the amenities and cuisine of a bigger city. It’s surrounded by the Santa Cruz mountains, but you don’t even have to get out of town to be immersed in a redwood forest. In addition to all of the great beach activities, the Santa Cruz area is a hot spot for mountain biking. While newer trails like the Flow Trail in Soquel Demonstration State Forest and Emma McCrary Trail in Pogonip, get a lot more publicity (and a lot more riders), there’s an underrated gem of a trail network within easy riding distance of town – Wilder Ranch State Park.
Wilder Ranch was one of the original places to mountain bike in the Santa Cruz area. Greyson grew up riding here almost every weekend in the 90s! The network is a little more old-school than something like the Lithia Trails in Ashland, Oregon or the Hammerfest Trails in Parksville, British Columbia. Don’t worry, the trail building isn’t stuck in the 90’s. They’ve built some new switchbacked single track, so there’s less climbing up exposed fire road, while leaving old school favorites like Old Cabin and Zane Gray untouched.
One of my favorite things about Wilder is how many classic coastal California terrains that you can pack in one ride. You can go from coastal bluffs to oak woodlands to wide open ocean views to thick redwood forests and back in under ten miles! Because there are so many trails in this network, it can be hard to string together a route without a guide. So here are a couple of my favorite routes that gets you on the best of what Wilder Ranch has to offer. Note: mile markers are approximate and intended as a general guide based on my rides. I started all of these rides in the parking lot inside the state park. Any of these routes can be done by an intermediate rider, and most could be ridden by a beginner- some sections of Old Cabin and Zane Gray might be tough for a newer rider.
Wilder Ridge & Zane Gray: This lollipop route is about 6.5 miles and 850 feet of climbing and will get you good views and one of the most technical singletrack sections in Wilder. From the parking lot, head past the stables on the Wilder Ranch Connector. After a half mile, you’ll make a sharp left onto Wilder Ridge Loop (fire road). This is the trail where you’ll do most of the climbing. The climb is fairly challenging – you gain ~450 feet of elevation in about 1.5 miles, and it’s mostly fire road or double track, plus, the steepest pitch is at the very top. After the steepest part of the climb (~1.9 miles into this route), Zane Gray Cutoff is on the left. The first part of Zane Gray is wide open, bluff riding – be sure to pull off onto the overlook for gorgeous ocean views, but the trail quickly turns into shale-y, challenging riding. There are exposed corners (no banked berms here!) and shark fins ready to catch your pedals. There are even a few small drops. The whole cutoff is under a mile, but you’ll descend ~320 feet in that time. Zane Gray will basically turn into Wilder Ridge Loop (single track), but stay left if you’re unsure. This is a fairly easy, rolling single track section, but watch for erosion ruts and there are some short steep climbs. At about 5.2 miles, the Wilder Ridge Loop single track will merge back with the fire road, and you’re almost back. At 6 miles, don’t miss the sharp right back towards the parking lot (like I did on the above screen shot!), and before you know it, you’ll be back at your car. This route took Greyson and I about an hour of riding time, and we definitely weren’t pushing our speed. It was a great late-winter tune up ride for us. See Strava route here.
Englesman, Old Cabin, Eucalyptus, Twin Oaks, Zane Gray, Wilder Ridge For a longer loop that really hits all of the highlights, try this almost 12 mile route with about 1,560 feet of climbing. You’ll start on the Wilder Ranch Connector for a half a mile and then take the left fork up Englesman – NOT the sharp left onto Wilder ridge loop or right onto Englesman Loop, confusing, I know. At 1.4 miles, you’ll want to bend left onto the Englesman Reroute trail. This is really well built single track that’s fun to climb. You’ll get your heart pumping, but I never feel completely burnt out. This section is about 1.1 miles and 263 feet of climbing, but I think it feels easier than that. At 2.5 miles, you’ll on the the Englesman Loop double track/fire road for less than half a mile. Turn right to get on the classic Old Cabin trail. This trail drops you into an incredible redwood grove. You can bomb down switchbacks surrounded by giant old growth, and, if it’s a hot day, it will be much cooler in the little canyon. Now that you’ve gotten that super fun descent, you’ll have to climb back out of the other side of Old Cabin, about 260 feet. Old Cabin dead ends on Eucalyptus at 3.8 miles. Turn right and climb another 200 feet on a mile of exposed fire road. That’s definitely the worst part of this loop. Ride down the fire road until 6.2 miles and turn left onto Rodrigo for more single track. At 6.4 miles, make a sharp right on to Bobcat for 0.2 miles. Bobcat will dead end at Twin Oaks, and turn left. Twin Oaks will end with a little uphill at mile 7.3 and out you on Wilder Ridge Loop. Turn left and keep climbing, about 100 feet to mile 8. Here you’ll make a left on to the techy Zane Gray Cutoff, described in more detail above. At 8.9 miles, Zane Gray dumps you out on the single track section of Wilder Ridge Loop (stay left). You’ll hit the Wilder Ridge fire road at 10.6 miles, and after that it’s just the sharp right back on to Wilder Ranch Connector at 11.4 miles, and back to your car. We did this in 1:51 riding time, but we took lots of scenery and snack breaks – overall it took 2:24. See my Strava route here.
Englesman, Wild Boar, Old Cabin, Eucalyptus, Twin Oaks, Wilder Ridge This route gets you to Old Cabin and some great views, but is shorter and climbs a little less, 9.5 miles and ~1,300 feet of climbing. Similar to above, you’ll start on the Wilder Ranch Connector for a half a mile and then take the left fork up Englesman, and 1.4 miles, you bend left onto the Englesman Reroute trail. At 2.2 miles, turn left onto Wild Boar. At 2.7 miles, Wild Boar turns left and turns into Old Cabin, the redwood grove classic with a fun descent and a punchy climb. Old Cabin will end on Eucalyptus fire road at 3.6 miles. Turn left and keep climbing! You’ll top out on Eucalyptus at 4.8 miles – with Old Cabin you climb almost 450 feet in under two miles. It’s a stout climb. At the top, you’ll find the namesake eucalyptus tree grove with some picnic tables. It’s a great place to stop, catch your breath, and enjoy the view and a snack. Drop down the fire road – which can get pretty rutted, so watch out. At mile 5.9, you’ll go through a four way intersection, and you’ll continue going straight, which will put you on Enchanted Loop. At 6.1 miles, hit a fire road and turn left. Continue straight at mile 6.3 on to Wilder Ridge Loop fire road for only 0.1 miles, where you’ll take the left fork at mile 6.4 back on to single track – Twin Oaks. This single track spits out on to Wilder Ridge Loop fire road at mile 7.5. The sharp right on to the connecter comes at mile 9, and then back to the parking lot. We did this with a moving time of 1:24 and a leisurely 2:15 overall. See my Strava route here.
A note about Wilder: All of the trails at Wilder Ranch are mixed use, so be sure to yield to hikers and horses. I’ve never had a bad encounter with an equestrian at Wilder, but I try to spend the most time on trails that tend to see less horse traffic, like Old Cabin, Zane Gray and the single track parts of Wilder Ridge Loop. You’ll need to walk your bike through the historic ranch part of the park, but it’s very well signed and for a pretty short distance.
If you’re looking for a mellow but fun day away from the crowds, check out Wilder Ranch State Park!
Starting today, I’m launching a new blog feature that I’m excited to run for the rest of the summer – Road Trip Fridays. One of my best (and sadly underutilized at work) skills is road trip planning. In the past 4.5 years, Greyson and I have gone on some great road trips through California and beyond, and I’ve done the bulk of the planning. With Road Trip Fridays, I’m going to pass my best ideas on to you! I’ll cover the routes (including estimated mileage and time), sites to see, outdoor adventures to go on, and my favorite restaurants and breweries along the way.
To kick things off, here are a few of my favorite California itineraries. I’ll be posting detailed trip routes throughout the summer, so keep watching. If you’re interested in a specific route and don’t see a detailed post, feel free to get in touch and I’ll help you out!
Big Sur Coast: One of the most classic California drives of all time is Highway One along the coast. While the whole thing is great, the stretch between Monterrey and Gorda is one of the most breathtaking drives you can take. Distance: 67 miles, 2 hours one way. While you can do the route in an afternoon, why would you want to? Take at least a weekend and savor the drive. Highlights along the way include Carmel by the Sea, Point Lobos Natural Reserve, and McWay Falls. Click here to see my Big Sur Coast Road Trip Guide.
Tahoe to Lone Pine on 395: The drive from Tahoe to Lone Pine along 395 will take you alongside the epic peaks of the Eastern Sierra. While the views alone are worth the drive, there are so many amazing places to stop, you can spend a week or more just on this stretch. It can be quite hot along this drive, so this is a perfect early spring or late fall road trip. It’s even great in the winter if you can handle potential snow around Mammoth Lakes. Stop for hot springs and ancient pines; skiing, climbing, or mountain biking; and surprisingly good food in tiny roadside towns. South Lake Tahoe to Lone Pine is about 230 miles and 4.5 hours of driving. Click here to read my Eastern Sierra Road Trip Guide.
Santa Cruz to Point Reyes via Highway One: Sure, driving from Santa Cruz to Point Reyes taking Highway One the whole way isn’t the most efficient route, but it is the most scenic! You’ll pass by Pescadero (fresh goat cheese & artichoke bread), Half Moon Bay (views and seafood), scenic oases in San Francisco (Golden Gate Park and The Presidio), Stinson Beach (surfing and cheesy garlic bread), and much more. This drive is only a little over three hours and about 120 miles – I’d recommend doing it in a leisurely day and tack on a few days on either end. Click here to read my Highway One – Santa Cruz to Point Reyes Road Trip Guide.
Truckee to Mount Lassen: It’s no secret that I love the Lost Sierra – the stretch of the rural northern Sierra north of Truckee and extending up to Lassen Volcanic National Park. This route takes you from Truckee north on Highway 89, through the Sierra Valley, a quick side trip to the historic town of Downieville, and back toward Graeagle and along the Feather River, and finishing at one of the least visited National Parks in the continental US. I’d take at least five days for this trip, and the mileage is about 190 miles and four hours of driving time. Click here to see my Lost Sierra Road Trip Guide.
The Brewing Lair in Blairsden, California might just be my all time favorite location for a brewery. While it’s address is Highway 70 right near the intersection with California 89, its location is tucked away in the forest up a dirt road. You won’t hear the cars speeding by – only the creaking of the tall pines and an occasional happy bark from one of the dog visitors.
The Brewing Lair is all outside, with wooden picnic tables, adirondack chairs, a spacious lawn, disc golf course, and even barbecues that you can BYO-meat to and grill out. The often have live music throughout the summer, too. We usually stop by the Brewing Lair after a day of biking at the nearby Mills Peak Trail. Though the Brewing Lair occasionally has a food truck on site, you can bring your own food, and we tend to pick up greasy fare at the burger spot in downtown Graeagle.
As if the amazing location isn’t enough – the Brewing Lair has seriously good beers. Over the past few years, I’ve tried quite a few. (All descriptions by the Brewing Lair)
Uncle Elliot’s IPA (3.75/5): A heavy-hitter IPA with a strong grapefruit flavor
Ambush IPA (4/5): A well-behaved IPA, notes of fresh baked bread and dank weed. Our most popular beer.
Take a Hike Red IPA (4.5/5): A spicy-floral red IPA
Deep Cover Black IPA (4.5/5): Dry, espresso & pine
Dope is King Pale Ale (4.25/5): Simcoe and Citra hops with a hint of caramel. Early 1900’s miners raced down Eureka Peak on 12’ wooden skis, claiming that the victory relied on “good dope”—ski resin.
Visiting the Brewing Lair is a one-of-a-kind Sierra experience, and I highly recommend that you try it out!
I’ve ridden a lot of awesome trails all over the west – from Santa Barbara to Whistler and everywhere in between. I say that because after all sorts of amazing road trips to incredible riding destinations, Mills Peak Trail, which is less than an hour north of Truckee, is still one of my all time favorites.
Mills Peak Trail is the work of the awesome Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, a nonprofit trail organization that is also behind the world famous Downieville Downhill. The trail is awesome – a great mix of flowy, bermed corners and chunky, challenging rock gardens weaving through old trees with occasional wide views. You can ride it a couple of different ways – climb from the bottom or shuttle from the top.
The shuttle route takes you to the very top of Mills Peak. You’ll have great views, and there’s even an old fire lookout at the top.
From there, you’ll have a nine mile descent with 2,800+ feet of elevation loss. The trail is segmented into three sections of about three miles each. The top third is the rockiest and most technical, but I think it’s entirely doable by a strong intermediate rider, as long as you’re paying attention. The short and punchy rocky micro-climbs are more challenging than any of the downhills on this section. There are a couple spots with amazing views of the Gold Lakes Basin and you might even be able to spot a waterfall.
The second section is practically brand new. This part was all fire road until January of 2018 when SBTS finished punching through a new singletrack trail that paralleled the old fire road. Greyson and I went up for a trail work day in May to help smooth out and finish up the trail. Since it’s still so new, it’s a little rough and bumpy but I figure that it will be in great shape soon, especially after a winter’s worth of snow and rain fall on it. This section seemed like the steepest to me, and my hands and forearms were beat up after riding it in all its new trail glory. We had to take a couple of breaks to shake out our hands. See bumpy texture below.
The last third is the part of the trail I’m most familiar with, as it’s the part we’ve ridden the most times. The last third is split in half with a road crossing. When your headed downhill, the section before the road crossing is flowy with lots of bermed corners, but has enough rocky sections to keep things interesting. Watch out for the massive sugar pine cones that like to collect in the trail! They’re a worse obstacle than loose rocks. The final ~1.5 miles of the trail has lots of rock gardens and small rock drops – nothing that’s not rollable, but great for practicing techniques. This section isn’t very steep, so while the trail is pretty rocky it remains very rideable.
If you’re not lucky enough to have a shuttle (though Yuba Expeditions is supposed to start running paid shuttles in July 2018), you can ride Mills Peak from the bottom. Greyson and I have ridden up the bottom third of Mills Peak Trail quite a few times now, which is just a climb of ~1,100 feet in just over three miles, for a round trip of 6 miles. Climbing the whole thing is doable (for people in better shape than me), and you’d end up climbing around 3,000 feet in 9 miles. Maybe next year I’ll be in good enough shape for that epic day!