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Planning a California North Coast Road Trip

So I’ve mentioned a few times that Greyson and I went on an amazing road trip up the North Coast of California. We managed to hit a bunch of must-see spots, both well known and off the beaten path.

Planning a CA North Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

I’ve already written about one of the hidden gems we visited, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I thought I’d share the other stops on our amazing road trip.

Road Trip Map via Google Maps

  1. Truckee, California to Inverness, California (200 miles, 3.5 hours):We stayed at the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore in Inverness, California for Greyson’s sister’s wedding. I’ve written about what to do in Point Reyes in the past – it’s an amazing place full of tons of things to do.
  2. Inverness, California to Westport, California (163 miles, 4.5 hours via Hwy 1):We headed north on the legendary Highway One, on our way to Fort Bragg and Westport-Union Landing Beach. In the Fort Bragg area, I knew I wanted to return to Pacific Star Winery and eat fresh seafood. I got my wish, and we tasted wines and watched a new batch of grapes be unloaded at the winery while the staff gave us a tour and let us taste test the different grape varieties. We ate dinner at Sea Pal Cove restaurant, where I had local rockfish fish and chips.  I had been to the area before, and I knew that I wanted to stay in a private that I had discovered allowed camping on the sand, north of Fort Bragg on Westport Beach – Westport Beach RV Park. Though it is also an RV park, the tent camping sites are secluded from the rest of the park, and all we heard all night were crashing waves.
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Beach camping at Westport Beach near Fort Bragg, CA. Photo by Greyson Howard
  1. Westport, California to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California (75 miles, 2.25 hours via Garberville, CA):I’ve already written about the amazing Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I just want to emphasize again how incredible it is! If you enjoy the outdoors, it should be on your California Bucket List. On our way to Sinkyone, we stopped for lunch in Garberville at the Eel River Cafe – a cute diner with good food in generous portions.
  2. Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California to Redwoods State and National Parks, California (142 miles, 3.5 hours): On our way to the Redwoods, we drove through the Avenue of the Giants, a well known drive that’s definitely worth getting off the highway for.
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Avenue of the Giants. Photo by Greyson Howard

 

One of the main things Greyson wanted to see on this trip was Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park(part of Redwoods National and State Parks). We found that Gold Bluffs Beach Campground was the closest access to Fern Canyon, and open on a first come-first serve basis in early October during our trip. We arrived fairly early on a Thursday, and by Thursday night the campground was pretty much full, despite it being a weeknight during the off season. If you plan on staying at Gold Bluff Beach, Fern Canyon is a pretty much year-round attraction, so plan on getting to the nearby campgrounds early in order to find a spot. Our campsite was tucked away behind some bushes for a wind break, and a quick walk to the ocean beach, surrounded by the gold cliffs that give the area its name. Fern Canyon can be accessed by a less than quarter mile hike from the parking area, but we chose a longer 7 mile loop through old growth redwoods to access the back side of the canyon. The longer hike was definitely worth it, full of wet forest plants and creatures that we don’t get to see in the Sierra, and not very strenuous at all.

Banana Slugs in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Banana Slugs in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Fern Canyon was like nothing else I’ve ever seen – sheer walls entirely covered with ferns – and worth a trip to the Redwood State and National Parks just on its own.

Fern Canyon. Photo by Greyson Howard
Fern Canyon. Photo by Greyson Howard
  1. Redwood State and National Parks, California to Nevada City, California (328 miles, 6.25 hours via Chico): The only problem we ran into on our whole road trip came on this leg. We had planned to stop in Chico, California for our last night and do a tour and tasting at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and just get a cheap motel room when we go into town. It turns out that we arrived on the Saturday of Parents Weekend at Chico State, and there wasn’t a room to rent within 50 miles. We ended up just having an early dinner/beer tasting at Sierra Nevada, and we pushed on to Nevada City. We grabbed a couple of beers at Matteo’s Public, and were asleep before ten in our room at the Emma Nevada House.
  2. Nevada City, California to Truckee, California (102 miles, 3 hours via Hwy 49 & 89): Since our inadvertent night in Nevada City meant that we were further along on our road trip, we decided to take the long way – Highway 49 to Highway 89 through Downieville. This route has beautiful views of the Sierra Buttes, and our quick stop in Downieville had us lamenting the fact that we didn’t have our bikes. This meandering, scenic route was the perfect end to a perfect Northern California road trip.
Looking back at the Sierra Buttes from Hwy 49
Looking back at the Sierra Buttes from Hwy 49

And finally, in true data-nerd form, here’s my spreadsheet of trip mileage, travel time and a few notes, for reference:

CA North Coast Road Trip Plan // tahoefabulous.com

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Sinkyone Wilderness State Park

So, I don’t want to brag…but I found the best state park in California. I considered not sharing and keeping the pristine, remote wilderness to myself. But Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is so far off the beaten path that I don’t think I need to worry about it getting overrun. Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is one of the few ways to access the Lost Coast – California’s least developed stretch of shoreline.

Sinkyone Wilderness State Park // tahoefabulous.com

We undertook quite a journey to arrive at Sinkyone (spoiler alert: worth it!). First we headed east and south from Graberville, California, taking twisty backroads through the trees, passing high fences, large fertilizer tanks, and the overwhelming smell of marijuana. We made a mental note not to wander off trail in this area of northern California. After 20 or so miles of this, we followed signs to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, Needle Rock Visitors Center, and camping and onto the steepest, windiest, narrowest dirt road I’ve ever been on.

It was pretty foggy, so we couldn’t really see where we were headed, and I’m pretty sure Greyson thought that I was taking him somewhere remote to abandon him. After three miles of dirt road (which seriously took like 40 minutes to descend), we got our first incredible glimpse of the Lost Coast.

Sinkyone Wilderness State Park // tahoefabulous.com

Can you spot the Harbor Seals?

We checked in with the camp host, and set up our tent on a bluff overlooking the ocean. (You can also book a spot in an old barn if you want!) There are only a couple of spots available at Needle Rock Visitor Center, so you are guaranteed to not feel crowded! While we were car camping, there are hike in camp sites within a mile or so of the parking area.

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We decided to head down the steep trail to the beach before dinner. The camp host had warned us about the steepness, and he was not kidding! There were several sections where a rope tied around and nearby bush were necessary to descend and later ascend.

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Photo by Greyson Howard

Like the drive, the hike to the beach was worth it. It was sheer cliffs and black sand beaches as far as we could see, and our only company were the dozens of curious harbor seals basking on the rocks. Needle Rock beach has got to be one of the best beaches in all of California.

Over the few days we spent at Sinkyone, we spent quite a bit of time at the beach – examining tide pools, getting into staring competition with the seals, watching pelicans dive, and attempting to climb on the rocks. We even saw an otter, which are supposed to be extinct that far north on the California coast! We also hiked a section of the Lost Coast trail to look at some neat geologic features. We hiked up a steep hill, hoping for a great view.

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While we didn’t exactly get a view of the ocean, hiking to above the fog was pretty awesome! We also saw the local elk herd.

If you plan on visiting Sinkyone, be sure to check the weather, as the road probably becomes impassable in the winter/rain. Bring everything you need with you, as there’s nothing in the way of supplies available. Pack out your garbage, as there is not garbage pick up in the park. Be sure to bring rain gear, hiking shoes, and binoculars!

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Trail Report: Onion Valley to Kearsarge Pass

Kearsarge Pass Hike // tahoefabulous.com

This weekend I set my feet on my highest ever point: 11,760 at Kearsarge Pass in Kings Canyon National Park.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
At the top!

The Kearsarge Pass trail is a popular re-supply route for Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail through hikers. The trail wanders uphill through the John Muir Wilderness on the way to Kings Canyon National Park with sweeping vistas of the high Sierra in every direction. The trailhead begins at the Onion Valley campground about 15 miles outside of Independence, California in the Eastern Sierra. To get to Onion Valley Campground, head towards Independence (about 42 miles south of Bishop) on Highway 395. Once in Independence, turn onto West Market Street, which quickly turns into Onion Valley Road. There are several campgrounds along Onion Valley Road or you could stay in Independence, as there is non-campground parking near the trailhead. We stayed in one of the walk-in camping spots at Onion Valley Campground, which makes for an easy and convenient early start. Note: Onion Valley Campground is high (above 9,000 feet!) – so pack accordingly. You’ll want more warm layers than the temperature in much lower, hotter Independence seems to indicate.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

The entire Kearsage Pass trail is a steady climb from about 9,200 feet up to a maximum of 11,760 feet at the top of Kearsarge Pass over 4.8 miles. While the trail is never extremely steep, be aware that you are at high elevation. The going is much more difficult than a steeper, lower elevation climb. I live at 6,200 feet and I was really feeling the difficulty when I got about 10,500. Be prepared to go more slowly and take lots of breaks, especially if you are new to high elevation hiking. We hiked the 4.8 miles and climbed just over 2,500 feet with a moving time of 2:05:40, however our elapsed time was 3:20:20 which means we took nearly 1:15 in breaks across the nearly 5 miles.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Entering John Muir Wilderness, no dogs or bikes

Kearsarge Pass trail closely passes several gorgeous alpine lakes, with Flower and Gilbert Lakes close enough for a refreshing dip or quick fishing pit stop. Warning: these lakes can be extremely mosquito-y! We were chased off before doing more than dipping our toes in, but there were a number of other hikers and fishermen that braved the swarms (probably armed with bug spray). The stunning views of the hike begin almost immediately, and we were frequently stopping to admire the vistas and take pictures.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com

The whole trail is incredibly well built and maintained. There aren’t too many tripping hazards and the switchbacks are gradual, allowing you to soak in your surroundings and concentrate less on your feet. The rocks surrounding the trail and making up the nearby peaks are interesting enough to catch the eye of the geology inclined in your group. You’ll see a bunch of California’s state rock, serpentine (hint: it’s the greasy looking, greenish one). I’d also recommend bringing along a field guide with a good wildflower section (like the Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada or Wildflowers of California). We saw at least a dozen different varieties of wildflowers during our hike.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Looking east into the Owens Valley

The trail climbs at a fairly steady 500 feet per mile, and I started really feeling the exertion of hiking at high altitude at about 2.5 miles and 10,500 feet. Luckily, the gorgeous views help distract from the hard work.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
A tiny bit of snow is still left in the high Sierra

At about 4 miles, you’ll come to your last couple switch backs and the end is in sight! You might see people up at the top of the pass that seem very far away, but the final push wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. There are only a couple of switch backs, and you’ll mostly be headed straight toward your goal. The vistas are even more incredible in this section. Keep your eyes out for a very steep summit to the south that only gets more interesting as the trail climbs higher.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Steep summit

When you finally reach the top of Kearsarge Pass, take your time to soak in the views and rest for the trip back down. Check out these amazing views!

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Kearsarge Pinnacles rise above Kearsarge Lakes

At the pass, you’ll enter Kings Canyon National Park, and could continue your hike onto the John Muir Trail and down to Kearsarge and Bullfrog Lakes, and even further to connect with the Pacific Crest Trail. We decided the top of Kearsarge Pass was enough of a climb for us. Unfortunately, I had a user-related Strava malfunction on our trip down, so I’m not sure how long it took. I paused Strava when we stopped to check out one of the lakes. Mosquito swarms descended, and, in the panic of our escape, I forgot to re-start it! It took us about an hour to do the first 2.4 miles, and I imagine the second half took about the same time. So we’ll say the descent took about 2 hours.

This was a difficult and rewarding hikes with some of the best views I’ve encountered in the Sierra. If you are looking for a high Sierra hike or backpacking trip (permits needed) that’s challenging but completely doable for an in-shape individual, I would highly recommend the Kearsarge Pass trail.

Trail Stats:

Length: 4.8 miles to the top, 9.6 round trip

Elevation: 2,500 feet of elevation gain

Duration: ~5:20 total, for reasonably in-shape hikers that live at 6,500 feet

And here are two more photos, just because I like them:

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Looking up Onion Valley Rd. into the High Sierra
Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Becky Wright
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Highlights from the weekend: Eastern Sierra Edition

We left South Lake on Friday and meandered our way towards Bishop. We drove up to Virginia Lakes, snapped some photos of Mono Lake, ate the world’s best gas station food at the Whoa Nellie Deli, and set up camp at Pleasant Valley Campground near the Happy Boulders. I also had a chance to hang out with my old roommate, having beers in her beautifully xeriscaped yard.

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  • Since we were camped near our first bouldering destination, we got a slow start on Saturday morning. But eventually, I had my coffee and we headed down the bumpy road. Bouldering at the Happys was really fun, though I chickened out on some of the taller boulders. It was a million degrees, though, so I’d definitely bring plenty of water and a hat. We left the Happys and headed into Bishop for lunch. We lucked out and stumbled on Raymond’s Deli. It was so good that I was tempted to eat there for every meal after (As of 2/2018 Raymond’s is now closed!). I had a BBQ Roast Beef sandwich with Ortega chillis called the 51/50. It’s a lot of food, but I recommend it highly!

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  • After lunch we moved on to the Buttermilk Boulders. The view from this spot was incredible! I thought that the bouldering here was more challenging than at the Happys. That could be related to the fact that I had my first real bouldering fall and sliced open a couple of fingers on a sharp flake. Ooops. That was the end of bouldering for the weekend.

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  • My bloody hands meant that we went back into Bishop to find some hot running water and soap. Cleaning out the large flap of skin on my finger was not pleasant. Bet you’re super disappointed that I didn’t take pictures! Since we were in town, we grabbed some bread and cheese and beer for dinner back at our campsite. We got the “famous” sheepherder bread from Erick Schat’s Bakkery.
  • Our leisurely outdoor dinner plans were scrapped by a massive windstorm! We ate while crammed in the front seats of the Element, taking turns running outside to re-stake the tent. Eventually the tent blew completely away! We managed to catch it and re-stake it closer to the car for a little more shelter, and it stayed attached to the ground for the rest of the night. The windstorm eventually calmed down around dusk, though all of the other tent campers in our campground had given up and left!

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  • We headed out of town the next morning, very dusty, but refreshed. Before we left Bishop, we grabbed bagels from Great Basin Bakery. Since Tuolumne Meadows were reportedly still full of snow, we decided to ditch that part of our plan, and slowly worked our way north towards Tahoe. We detoured to Convict Lake, but it was a little cold for the short loop hike. In Mammoth, we to fill my growler at Mammoth Brewing Company and checked out their gorgeous new tasting room. I filled my growler with 395 IPA but also loved Hair of the Bear, a seasonal doppelbock. For lunch, we had burgers at Toomey’s. (which I thought was a little overpriced, but pretty good with an incredibly friendly waitress). Our last stop was the Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport. I love a good hot spring, and these are amazing, with gorgeous flowstone, views of the Sierra and multiple pools at different temperatures. They were pretty crowded though, especially for the middle of the day.

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It was a totally fun weekend, and I’m excited for more throughout the spring and summer. Though I can do without the sliced up hand!

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Spontaneous Road Trip: Mendocino County

As you may know, there is currently a massive fire raging in California. The smoke from the 180,000 acre blaze is filling up the Tahoe Basin, where I live. I went to get an emergency refill on my inhaler (ooops…probably should have done that ~6 months ago), and the doctor suggested I get out of town. A prescription for an impromptu road trip? The best prescription ever! My roommate and I packed up Strawberry, my CRV, and headed toward the Mendocino coast.

We made it to the Motel 6 in Ukiah and crashed for the night, planning on doing the rest of the drive in the morning. After sampling the produce at the Ukiah Farmers Market and a leisurely breakfast at Ellie’s Mutt Hut, we made the hour or so drive to Fort Bragg.

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

I absolutely fell in love with Fort Bragg. It’s definitely a tourist town, but also a functioning harbor and fishing port. I had lots of fantasies about marrying a sea captain, getting really good at kayaking and eating fresh salmon every day.

Some highlights from the Fort Bragg area were:

  • Buying local smoked salmon and salmon fillets right off the boat in Noyo Harbor

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

  • Breakfast at Cafe 1 (which one Yelp review described as “that pretentious organic crap”),
  • Beer from North Coast Brewing Company (unfortunately, they were doing renovations, so I couldn’t do the brewery tour):

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

We ended up camping a little north of Fort Bragg near Westport at the Westport-Union Landing State Beach campground, which was “primitive” (no potable water, pit toilets), but had a gorgeous view of the coast and beach access with a bit of a hike. The tide was out and the tide pools were teeming with sea creatures! When we were walking along the beach, we discovered that the local KOA campground lets you tent camp right on the beach, far away from the motorhomes. Next time, I will definitely stay there.

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

My roommate and I played in the tide pools, splashed around in the (cold!) ocean, and attempted to make friends with some successful and attractive kayak anglers. They were friendly, but did not invite us to dinner.

Mendocino Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

On Sunday, we packed up camp and headed south on Hwy 1, admiring the gorgeous foggy views before we cut inland through Navarro River Redwoods State Park. This is a beautiful but windy drive through dense redwoods and then dozens of vineyards. This drive was a little out of our way home to Tahoe, but the most direct route to Anderson Valley Brewing Company!

I love beer and breweries, and Anderson Valley is a favorite. We hung around the tiny town of Boonville, waiting until the next tour began. Anderson Valley is a little outside of town, with fun grounds to explore, including a disk golf course and goats! The tour was fun, informative and only $5, which included two 5 ounce samples. Katie and I each split our two, so we tried 4 varieties that you can only get at the brewery.

We began our long trek back to Tahoe, hoping that the smoke had cleared. The drive back wasn’t terrible, as there were new views we had missed during the drive in the dark. Also, we stopped at Whole Foods in for dinner and Sonoma Pickles! Definitely a great weekend.