Eastern Sierra Highway 395 Road Trip

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.

Eastern Sierra Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

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.

#monolake panorama from #hwy395

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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.

At @junelakebrewing, my favorite #brewery in the #easternsierra.

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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.

After a long day of adventuring, you’ll probably be thirsty, so be sure to check out Mammoth Brewing Company! If you’re looking for restaurants recommendations, hikes, or other things to do in the area, check out my post – Things to do in Mammoth Lakes here.

For lodging, there are tons of options. There are even campgrounds in town! I had a good experience at Old Shady Rest, but there are quite a few options in the area. There is also dispersed camping in the area.

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.

Scenic drive in the #easternsierra.

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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).

The scene. #happyboulders #bishop #easternsierra #bouldering

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Head into town for two must try spots: Mountain Rambler Brewery and Black Sheep Coffee Roasters. The brewery doubles as a music venue and the best dinner in town. If you are in the mood for something quick or need sandwich supplies, I like Great Basin Bakery more than it’s more famous cousin, Schat’s.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Photo by Greyson Howard

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.

Entering John Muir Wilderness #jmt #latergram

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View from the top of Kearsarge Pass at 11,760′

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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.

Alabama Hills in the #easternsierra #hwy395 #roadtrip #camping

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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.

Things to do in June Lake, California

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.

Things to do in June Lake California // tahoefabulous.com

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.

June Lake Brewing // tahoefabulous.com

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.

Tuolumne Meadows // tahoefabulous.com
Tuolumne Meadows // photo by Greyson Howard

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.

Olmstead Point // tahoefabulous.com
Half Dome from Olmstead Point

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.

June Lake Triathlon // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

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!

Mountain Biking Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz

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.

Mountain Biking Wilder Ranch // tahoefabulous.com

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 Ranch Mountain Biking // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

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.

Wilder Ranch Mountain Biking // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

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.

Wilder Ranch Mountain Biking // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

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!

Five Amazing California Road Trips

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.

Five Amazing California Road Trips // tahoefabulous.com

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. Check back next Friday for a detailed route and more suggestions.

Point Reyes to Redwood National and State Parks: In 2014, Greyson and I went on an amazing road trip from Point Reyes up the North Coast to Redwood National and State Parks. We camped on the beach in Fort Bragg, hiked some of the Lost Coast Trail from the remote Sinkyone State Park, and re-enacted The Lost World in Redwood National Park’s Fern Canyon. I’ve written up this trip in detail here, though it also includes our drive from Truckee and back home via Chico and Nevada City. The Point Reyes to Redwoods stretch is about 375 miles and 9.5 hours.

Lost Coast, #california

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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. I’ll have more details on this route later this summer.

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. More recommendations to come!

#pigeonpoint on #hwy1

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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. I’ll be writing this up in more detail later this summer.

Took a detour to #lassen national park yesterday.

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There you go – five awesome road trips that you can take in California! Stay tuned for detailed routes, and I hope you like this series as much as I do.

The Brewing Lair, Blairsden, California

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 // tahoefabulous.com

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!

Mountain Biking Mills Peak Trail, Graeagle, California

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.

Mountain Biking Mills Peak // tahoefabulous.com

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.

Mills Peak from the Top
Via Strava
Mills Peak from the Top
Map via Strava

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.

Mills Peak 2

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.

Top of Mills Peak // tahoefabulous.com

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.

Mills Peak Trail Day

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.

Mills Peak from the Bottom
Via Strava
Mills Peak Map
Map via Strava

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!

Trail Stats:
Location: Graeagle, California
Difficulty: Intermediate
Distance: 9 miles from the top with shuttle
Elevation: ~2,900 feet of descent

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?