It’s getting pretty dusty here in Truckee! The trails are still fun, even if they’re loose and beat up. I did a lap on Truckee’s most popular trail, Jackass and one on A1, the new-ish trail in that network.
Donner Peak: Hiking to the top of Donner Peak is one of my favorite short and sweet hikes that still works up a sweat. It’s just under 4 miles round trip and just under 1,000 feet of climbing, with a unique view of Donner Lake through a “window” in the summit. You can check out my Hiking Donner Peak trail guide here. Note: I wrote that guide for hiking it in the spring/early summer. By fall time, there likely won’t be much, if any, running water on the trail.
Sawtooth Loop: I’ve mainly done the Sawtooth Loop as a mountain bike ride, but it’s also a popular hiking trail. If you want a longer hike, you can do the full loop, which is about 10.75 miles and ~650 feet of climbing. For something shorter, just treat it like an out and back. Start by parking at the Sawtooth Trailhead parking area here. The trail is pretty well marked, but there are a few social trails as well, so it’s good to have an idea where you’re going. To do the full loop, start on Lower Ridgeline. I’d recommend hiking it counterclockwise, so continue on to Upper Ridgeline, then Martis Creek Meadow, Bald Meadow, and finally back on to Lower Ridgeline.
Tinker Knob: For a long hike with a scrambly summit, I’d recommend hiking to Tinker Knob on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s about 15 miles with 2,500 feet of elevation gain. The views on this hike are among my favorite of any hike I’ve done in the area. If you’re interested in a most-of-a-day hike, here’s my guide to hiking Tinker Knob.
Summit Lake: The out and back to the gorgeous Summit Lake is another route I’ve mainly done as a mountain bike ride, but it’s a beautiful spot to hike into. The way I go, it’s about 900 feet of climbing and 6 miles round trip, mainly uphill on the way out and mostly down on the way down with a beautiful lunch spot at Summit Lake at the midpoint. Park here, at the Castle Valley trailhead and head up the Castle Valley Fire Road for about 0.57 miles before turning right onto Donner Lake Rim Trail/Castle Valley East, which is usually signed. The DLRT crosses the PCT (don’t turn here!) and becomes the DLRT Castle Valley section and then the DLRT Summit Lake Trail which will bring you to Summit Lake. You can also get to Summit Lake via the PCT Castle Valley and the Summit Lake Trail, which I’d like to do someday!
Castle Peak: I think that this is the most challenging hike on my list, even if it isn’t the longest! The incredible rock outcroppings and miles of views make it totally worth it though! It’s about 7.12 miles round trip, with about 1,900 feet of climbing, though a lot of that climbing happens in just a couple of miles. The downhill on this hike is almost as challenging as the climb, and I’d recommend trekking poles for this one. Here’s my guide to summiting Castle Peak.
Fall is such a great time to go hiking in Tahoe. The mornings are crisp, the afternoons are sunny, the air is (hopefully) clear of wildfire smoke, and the trails are less crowded. Most of the fall hikes in the Tahoe area can be done with pretty simple gear – basically hiking clothes and the ten essentials. While hiking clothes and equipment can be really expensive, they don’t have to be. Below, I share some of my favorite gear at a variety of price points.
The temperature can swing pretty wildly throughout the day, so having layers is critical. In the fall, I usually wear a sweat wicking, tech tee – either a Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily ($45) or the REI Coop Shift which goes on sale frequently. I think I paid less that $20 for mine. Next up is a long sleeved, light layer. Since last summer, I’ve been all about sunshirts for this layer. I love not having to re-apply sunscreen on long hikes! I have the Patagonia Tropic Comfort Hoody ($69). I love the slim fit, back zipper pocket, and the hood that adds even more sun protection. For a cheaper option, I also have the REI Coop Sahara Button Down (currently on sale for $36). I actually bought the men’s version for extra length (I’m 5’11”), and I am very sad that they didn’t have the plaid options when I got mine! We don’t tend to have a lot of rain in the fall here, so I usually skip a raincoat in favor of a slightly water resistant windshirt. I bring my Patagonia Houdini ($99) basically everywhere. Right now seems like a great time to buy a wind breaker – there are a ton of options on sale at REI right now. This Ultimate Direction Breeze Shell for $31 seems like an amazing deal! For early morning, evening, and late fall hikes, I also add a vest. I have a Marmot down vest that’s a few years old – the Women’s Highlander ($123) seems to be the current version. If you don’t want down, they have a synthetic Women’s Featherless Avant ($105). REI Coop also has a down vest, currently on sale for $56.
My bottom layers tend to be way more simple! If the temperature is above 45 degrees, I wear shorts. I usually stick to running or athletic shorts – I’m not sure if I even own “hiking” shorts anymore. I alternate between the REI Coop Active Pursuits 4.5” ($40). They frequently go on sale, and I think I paid around $15 each for mine. This summer, I bought long spandex shorts for yoga, and I discovered how much I love hiking in them. I bought this 90 Degrees two pack ($40), and they’ve held up really well. I like the high waist to reduce rubbing from a backpack, and the legs are tight enough that they don’t roll up, but don’t dig in. On colder days, I wear leggings, usually cheap ones like these CRZ Yoga Naked Feeling Leggings ($24), so I don’t feel too bad about snagging them on a bush or scraping on a rock. These ones have held up really well for the price, though!
I exclusively hike in my trail runners at this point, even in pretty rocky terrain. My current favorite is the Salomon X-Mission 3. It fits my duck feet (wide forefoot, narrow heel) really well, and I have been very impressed with how well they’ve held up over the years. They’re currently on sale for $86 from Salomon, and you can find them even cheaper in limited sizes on Amazon and at REI. The other trail runners I’ve had and liked were the Saucony Peregrine ($120). They were comfortable and stable, but they wore out faster than my current Salomons. The Saucony Peregrines are also on Amazon for as low as $72.
Since I want somewhere to stash my layers and need a way to carry my safety gear, I need some sort of pack. If I’m planning on a shorter hike or doing any trail running, I use the Ultimate Direction Race Vesta. I have version 4.0, which is on sale on Amazon ($70) and REI ($87). This is an incredible deal, and the 4.0 version is awesome. In fact, when I bought mine from Tahoe Mountain Sports, the woman helping me said she preferred the 4.0 over the 5.0 that was about to come out, because of the additional pockets in the 4.0. The Ultimate Direction Vesta 5.0 ($139) is available now, too. For a longer day hike where I want more food and water, I repurpose my mountain biking hydration pack, a five year old Camelbak Solstice ($135).
I haven’t always been the best about carrying the ten essentials on familiar day hikes, but something unexpected could happen anywhere. For navigation, I tend to rely on my iPhone and the Trailforks app. There are some GPS tracking watches that have route uploading capacities and navigation aids. Greyson has an older version of the Garmin fenix ($690), but we haven’t really figured out how to use that feature very well. For sun protection, I ALWAYS have sunglasses with me. I’m hard on my sunglasses, so I like ones that aren’t too expensive but can handle some abuse. For warm weather hiking, I love the Goodr OGs ($25) because they have a non-slip pad on the bridge of the nose. For sunscreen, I stick to the ones with physical blockers like thinksport ($9).
I have a small first aid kit like this Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight one. Be sure to check in on it every six months or so. More than once, I’ve discovered that the band aids are gone when I really need one! In addition to the water I carry, I also have a Lifestraw ($15) for emergencies. Also in the category of things I hope that I don’t have to use, I have a lighter and matches, a space blanket ($5), and a Petzl Tikkina headlamp ($20).
Later this week, I’ll share some of my favorite fall hikes to do in the Tahoe-Truckee area, so be sure to check back! Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!
The leaves are changing in Truckee-Tahoe right now, and it’s beautiful on the trails right now. A great place to check out the fall colors and get a great ride is the Donner Lake Rim Trail. This video is of the Glacier Way & Drifter Hut Switchbacks sections of the Donner Lake Rim Trail and the Wendin Way Trail. I hope you get out and enjoy!
I think I have a new favorite trail on the south shore of Lake Tahoe – the Kingsbury Stinger trail in Stateline, Nevada. The climb isn’t terrible and the downhill is super fun ride, with a mix of fast, bermed switchbacks and rocky features. Add in incredible views of Lake Tahoe, and you’ve got an amazing trail!
The Kingsbury Stinger trail was built in 2016 as a reroute of an old, eroded moto trail as a project of TAMBA and the US Forest Service. The route we did was about 10 miles and 1,450 feet of climbing. Kingsbury Stinger is accessed from a neighborhood off of Kingsbury Grade/Highway 207. The trailhead is on Terrace View Drive (which is listed incorrectly as Terrace View Street on Trailforks, so Google Maps won’t find it!), and there’s street parking near the trail. Click here for a map to the Kingsbury Stinger trailhead and street parking.
While you can ride all the way up on the regular Kingsbury Stinger trail, we cut off about a mile and a few hundred feet of climbing by using the Lower Stinger Shortcut, which is accessed by climbing up about a tenth of a mile on Terrace View Road. The access point for this trail is on the right, and easy to spot. I highly recommend using this shortcut for the climb up, especially as the lower part of Kingsbury Stinger is pretty sandy.
The climb up to the top of Kingsbury Stinger is a steady climb, punctuated by some really steep stretches and a few techy sections that I had to hike up. It was also pretty sandy, which makes the climb feel even longer than it actually is. There are not really any notable downhill sections during the climb up, but there are a few easier climbing and flat stretches to give you a break. There are some pretty incredible views of Lake Tahoe along the way also, so I stopped to admire the view quite a few times. At about mile 4.1, you’ll cross the Tahoe Rim Trail, which is a sign that you’re almost to the top!
The climb tops out after about 4.6 miles and 1,275 feet of climbing at 7,950 feet. Here we took a break to have a snack and get ready for the long downhill to the bottom. I was a little nervous about the downhill, since some of the rock features seemed pretty challenging on the ride up, and the lower part of the trail was pretty sandy and loose. We rode the trail in early October, not too long after the area had gotten some rain and snow, so we were expecting the trail to be in decent shape. The decomposed granite sections were really loose and blown out – I had forgotten how quickly those dry out in the fall. The dirt parts of the trail were dusty and a little unconsolidated on the lower half of the trail, but there was some nice tacky dirt near the top where the snow had hung around longer. Next year, we’re going to ride it in the spring or early summer!
That said, the downhill was incredibly fun! Having good tires and riding under control makes a big difference, but I never felt like I was going to slide out in the sandy turns. As for the rock features, I was able to ride all of them. On a couple of the more challenging ones, I rode up to and got a look first, but I found everything rideable. Most of the features had very visible ride outs, so I could see where I was going, and there weren’t really features built on blind corners, which I struggle with.
We planned to ride all the way down on Kingsbury Stinger proper, and at about mile 8.7, we crossed the intersection with the Lower Stinger Cutoff. Now we were riding blind! This section was pretty loose and involved a ~0.4 mile climb in strength sapping sand, pretty late in the ride. I wasn’t super into this part. At about mile 9.5, we did get to go down again. The last part of Kingsbury Stinger was a mix of single and double track sandy whoops and loose descents. Sandy whoops are not usually my favorite, but for whatever reason, I had a blast on them this time. Maybe it made me nostalgic for when I was first learning to mountain bike in South Lake Tahoe, and ALL the trails had sandy whoops sections? After that, we popped back out in the neighborhood, right by our car. This was such and awesome ride, and I’m excited to ride it again next year!
Fall is the perfect time to get out for a trail run on one of the many awesome hiking trails in the Tahoe-Truckee area. Click here for a list of my favorite fall hikes – all make great trail runs as well. Another trail I love running in the fall, but is the trail to the top of Donner Peak. It’s about 4 miles round trip, and I usually run the flats and downhills and power hike the strenuous uphills.
As far as gear for fall trail running, I’ve been loving my Ultimate Direction Womens Ultra Vesta for a running specific hydration pack. It’s lightweight, comfortable, has TONS of pockets and can do bottles in the front pockets and a 1.5 L bladder in the main compartment. It’s really lightweight and comfortable, and it has lots of little straps to adjust and tighten it down. If I’m running in the mornings or late afternoons, when it’s chilly but not too cold, I usually go with a lightweight, long sleeve top, like this Smartwool merino one and shorts. My favorite running shorts are the Brooks Women’s Chaser 5″ and the REI Co-op Active Pursuits.
I’ve had my gravel bike, the Diamondback Bicycles Haanjo Trail for about a year, and I’m now a huge fan of gravel biking. I use mine for a bunch of things – bike commuting, riding mellow mountain bike trails, and true gravel grinding. There are miles and miles of gravel roads in the Truckee area. If you’re looking to do some exploring, I’d recommend checking out the Prosser Creek Reservoir area. For a slightly more challenging ride, check out the Elizabethtown Meadows Trail.
I’m able to use a lot of the same gear for gravel biking that I already owned, which has been nice. I did switch to a lighter weight, lower profile road helmet, like the Giro Saga. It’s more comfortable than my mountain bike helmet when I’m leaned over the bars. I also wear really basic mountain bike shoes, like the Shimano ME2. They’re fairly light weight, comfortable for long rides, and easy to walk on and stable on uneven surfaces. I don’t like wearing a full hydration pack on the gravel bike, so for really short rides close to home, I’ll just do a water bottle and a FlipBelt. For longer rides, I’ll add a saddle bag, like the Evoc Saddle Bag Tour. Greyson has the Salsa Exp Series Top Tube Bag, which is really nice for storing extra gear on really long rides.
This fall, I’ve gotten back into yoga. As the days are getting shorter, and it gets harder to go for a ride or hike after work, it’s nice to do something active that’s not the gym. I got the prAna Indigena Natural Yoga Mat as a gift, and I love it. It’s held up well, it grips well on the ground and my hands don’t slip. Since it’s made from natural rubber, it doesn’t off gas that gross plastic smell, even when brand new. For leggings, I really like the Athleta Elation Tight in Powervita. In the “Tall” length, it’s one of the few pairs I’ve had that are actually long enough. The Elation tights aren’t very thick or compressive, so if you’re looking for that, I recommend the Outdoor Voices Warm Up Leggings. During yoga I prefer more minimalist sports bras, like the Smartwool Seamless Strappy. If you’re visiting the Truckee area and looking for a yoga studio to visit, I highly recommend Truckee Yoga Collective.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!
Jackass Trail is probably the most ridded downhill trail in the Truckee area, and that’s for a good reason. It’s rideable by all levels of riders, with ride arounds for beginners and doubles, drops, and rock rolls for advanced riders. It’s newly legal (thanks Truckee Trails Foundation & US Forest Service!) and there’s a new trail for climbing so go check it out.
Fall, or “Locals Summer”, is hands down my favorite time to go mountain biking in Tahoe and Truckee. The weather is cooler, the trails are less crowded, and, if we’re lucky, we’ve gotten some rain to help tamp down the dust. However, some rides are better than other in the fall. Some trails get over ridden throughout the summer and are too loose by September, and others are high enough that early season snow renders them unrideable. Here are some of my favorite Truckee and Tahoe trails to ride in the fall.
Donner Lake Rim Trail, Truckee, California
The Donner Lake Rim Trail, which currently traverses about 10.5 miles of single track above the north side of Donner Lake is an awesome fall ride. Other than some loose, dusty corners, the trail holds up really well into the late fall. The Donner Lake Rim Trail has some of the best views of Donner Lake, it’s one of the best mountain biking trails for fall colors. It’s easy to access, has plenty of parking, and it connects to other local trails, like Hole in the Ground and Wendin Way.
The Donner Lake Rim Trail has sections for everyone, from beginners to advanced riders. The Castle Valley segment is rocky and technical, the Drifter Hut Switchbacks are mostly flowy with some tight corners, and the Skislope segment is either a mellow climb up or ride down. For more details about the trails, check out my Trail Guides for the Donner Lake Rim Trail from Castle Valley and from Glacier Way. I haven’t written a trail guide for the newest section of the Donner Lake Rim Trail that connects to Northwoods Drive, but you can check out my video of the trail here.
Upper Corral and Incense Cedar Trails, South Lake Tahoe, California
While Truckee mainly gets dusty in the fall, South Lake Tahoe trails tend to get sandy from decomposed granite. This route consisting of Upper Corral and Incense Cedar mostly avoids the sandpits that form in the fall. To access the trails, head up Fountain Place Road, a paved road that can be ridden or shuttled. Upper Corral is a pretty technical downhill trail, earning its advanced rating on Trailforks. There are some tricky turns, mandatory drops, and long rock gardens, though all the features are walkable if needed. Incense Cedar, on the other hand, is a mellow trail that’s mainly downhill, with a few short climbs sprinkled throughout. Incense Cedar pops out onto Powerline Road, a fire road that can get pretty sandy in spots, but is rideable back to the parking area on Fountain Place. To see my Strava track for this route, click here. For more information about the Corral Trail Network, click here for my trail guide.
Royal Gorge Rim Trail, Soda Springs, California
The Royal Gorge trails on Donner Summit make for great fall riding. The trails were designed with mountain biking in mind, so they hold up well. Also, since they’re less well known than other Truckee trails, they have much lower traffic than something like Jackass, and aren’t as beat up as a result.mFor a great fall ride, I’d recommend the Royal Gorge Rim Trail Loop, which is a little over 6 miles and about 1,000 feet of climbing. Be sure to take the Routen Peak Spur, and enjoy the incredible views. Click here to see my video featuring the Royal Gorge Trails.
Tyrolean Downhill, Incline Village, Nevada
The Tyrolean Downhill is an awesome shuttle trail that gets sandy, but is still an excellent late season ride. It’s got incredible views of Lake Tahoe and takes you through a variety of classic Tahoe terrain. Tyrolean has features that will challenge advanced riders, but the majority of the technical features have ride arounds that make this doable by intermediate riders – without losing the flow!
To do the Tyrolean Downhill as a shuttle (which most riders do), leave one car parked at the Diamond Peak Ski Resort parking lot, where the trail ends. While there are several ways to access the Tyrolean Downhill, my favorite is via the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT). Park at the Tahoe Meadows Tahoe Rim Trail parking area, off of Highway 431. Hop on the TRT: Tahoe Meadows to Tunnel Creek segment, and after about 1.6 miles, you’ll hit ab intersection. Turn right to get on Upper Tyrolean, which is a mellow flowing ride through the forest. After about 1.15 miles, Upper Tyrolean turns into the Tyrolean DH, which drops nearly 1,650 feet in 3.3 miles! The trail ends at the Diamond Peak parking lot, making this a super easy shuttle, with only about 350 feet of climbing over about 6 miles. Click here to see my Strava route, but ignore the spur at mile 0.8. We were riding through patchy snow at the top and took a wrong turn. For my video of the Tyrolean Downhill (also featuring a trail race and a bunch of runners who aren’t usually there), click here.
Big Chief Trail, Truckee, California
One of the newest, techiest trails in Truckee is an incredible fall ride, the Big Chief Trail. The trail is mainly in the thick forest, and is well built so the dirt segments hold up well, even after long, dry periods. There are also incredible rock work, long rock gardens, and gravel sections which won’t get very loose and dusty. It’s made up of two sections, Big Chief Upper and Big Chief Lower and can be accessed by a 7.7 mile fire road climb on the 06/Sawtooth Road. It can also be shuttled and some people ride up the trail. The trail is multidirectional, but most riders tend to ride up the fire road. The whole ride is about 15.7 miles and around 2,000 feet of climbing. For my Strava route, click here.
This is a trail for advanced and intermediate riders, especially the upper section – there are some big drops, tight corners, and technical rock gardens. I ended up walking quite a few features on Big Chief Upper! For an easier ride, you can easily just do Big Chief Lower, as the start of this segment crosses the 06 at about mile 3.7. If you’re looking for even longer ride, you can tack on Sawtooth Loop or other trails in the Sawtooth network. Click here to see my video of Big Chief Trail.