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.
As much as I love Lake Tahoe, the California coast, Yosemite National Park, etc., they’re often busy with visitors and locals, especially on a nice summer weekend, taking away some of the natural charm. If I’m wanting a less crowded experience, I head north of Truckee on Highway 89 into the “Lost Sierra” of eastern Plumas and Sierra counties.
The Lost Sierra is a gem of a region, dotted with small towns and hundreds of outdoor opportunities. There’s really something for everyone there! Unsurprisingly, my favorite thing about this area is the awesome mountain bike trails – Mt. Hough (Quincy), Mills Peak (Graeagle), and the Downieville Downhill (Downieville) are all in the Lost Sierra. There are lots more great trails in this area, and the Sierra Buttes Trails Stewardship is constantly adding and improving miles of trails.
The Lost Sierra is well known for hiking, and you can get to some incredible destinations on your feet. The hiking the Sierra Buttes trail to the tallest point in the Lakes Basin. There are dozens of other great day hikes in this area – check out this link from Plumas National Forest as a resource. The Pacific Crest Trail goes through the Lost Sierra as well, with Sierra City and Quincy being popular town stops for thru hikers. Day hikes on this section of the PCT will take you to some incredible places and views.
There are quite a few rivers and streams flowing through the Lost Sierra which means there’s great fishing, swimming, rafting and floating. There’s rafting and whitewater kayaking on the Feather River, and it has gentle stretches and tributaries that can be tube floated or canoed. The confluence of the North Yuba River and the Downie River is in downtown Downieville, and it makes basically a perfect swimming hole. Nothing feels better than jumping in after a hot, summer mountain bike ride! For lake recreation, Bucks Lake, southwest of Quincy, and Gold Lake, north of Sierra City are great options. If hot springs are more your style, Sierraville is home to the Sierra Hot Springs, a private, relaxing resort in the Sierra Valley.
The Lost Sierra is also a great place to experience history, art, and culture. Did you know that Downieville was almost the capital of California? Also, it was the most populous city at one point during the gold rush. Located in a building from 1852 in the heart of downtown, the Downieville Museum is small, but worth a visit. There are also a few historic fire lookouts throughout the region. There’s one on top of Mills Peak that you can drive to (via rough road) and one at Calpine that you can reserve and stay at!
The High Sierra Music Festival is an incredible festival that happens in Quincy every year during the first weekend in July. Beyond the music, there is a parade, costume contests, art, comedy, a pool, great food and much more. Much smaller, but just as awesome is the Lost Sierra Hoedown, which takes place in September at the Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl. It’s got a focus on community, music, outdoor recreation, and it’s fundraiser for local groups.
Small rural towns aren’t usually known for their food scenes, but there definitely a few great restaurants in the Lost Sierra. The Brewing Lair (Blairsden) is one of my favorite breweries in all of California. They don’t serve food, but they sometimes have a food truck, and you can always bring your own. If we’re doing that, we usually stop at Graeagle Mountain Frostee to grab greasy, comfort food to go. Also in Blairsden is Bread & Butter, which is an excellent stationary food truck with outdoor seating. Quintopia Brewing in Quincy is fairly new, but already has great beer, delicious food, and reasonable prices. Try the chicken tikka masala fries! My favorite place in Downieville is Two Rivers Cafe. It’s a little on the pricy side, but the food is good and the deck seating overlooks the river confluence. Finally, Los Dos Hermanos is a good Mexican restaurant tucked away in Sierraville.
This is just scratching the surface of all of the great things to do and see in the Lost Sierra region. I hope you’ll plan a trip to the Lost Sierra this summer or fall and that you love it as much as I do.
I spent an amazing four day weekend in June Lake recently, celebrating at a bachelorette party for one of my best friends. We did many super fun things – beer at June Lake Brewing, swimming in June Lake, dancing to Lizzo, barbecuing, etc. A huge highlight was a short but hard hike up to the incredible Fern Lake.
The trail to Fern Lake is only 3.2 miles, but it gains around 1,500 feet of elevation. It’s really steep – apparently the trail builders didn’t believe in switch backs. I think there’s only a couple on the whole trail! There are also a few short sections that are closer to scrambling than hiking. It’s also at altitude, starting above 7,000 feet and topping out around 8,900 feet. The trail is rated as difficult – which I agree with. Everyone in our group struggled at some point, but we took it slow with lots of breaks and we made it to the top.
We parked at the Yost Creek/Fern Lake Trailhead – even on a beautiful Saturday during a busy weekend there was plenty of parking. The trail was easy to find and we headed up Yost Creek Trail, which would eventually fork into Fern Lake Trail. The trail starts climbing immediately through an aspen grove. It was really mosquito-y through this part, but there were also fields of mariposa lilies, which was incredible.
After about half a mile, we were out of the mosquitos and aspens, and the trails started to have incredible views of the surrounding mountains, the green valley below us, and waterfalls off in the distance. At about one mile into the hike, the Yost Creek Trail heads east and crosses Fern Creek – which was raging and basically a waterfall when we were there. The Fern Lake Trail is the right fork and heads steeply up. While the whole route is a steep climb, this next ~0.25 mile section is the steepest, loosest and most technical. It’s also exposed and hot.
Eventually, the trail flattens out for a bit and we got back in the cool shade of the trails. This flat section (less than 0.2 miles) is a nice respite from the mostly relentless climb, but we weren’t totally done climbing yet (despite what the well-meaning but entire wrong trail runner we encountered told us). After another ~0.1 miles of climbing, Fern Lake came into view.
It was totally worth the work to get there! We shared summit beers & snacks and a few of us jumped in the very cold lake before heading back down the trail. The descent was much easier physically than the climb up, but it required a lot of mental energy since it was dusty and rocky. We all slipped a few times, but luckily no one got hurt. Before we knew it, we were back at the car. (Click here for my Strava route for just the downhill. I forgot to turn on my watch for the trip up.) We made a beeline for June Lake Brewing for hard earned Hawaiian food from Ohana’s 395 and delicious IPAs (This summer, I’m loving June Lake Brewing’s Changing of the Guard IPA). This trail is incredible, and I’d highly recommend it to in shape hikers who have experience with steep, sandy climbs.
Summer is an amazing time of year in Truckee, and I want to share some of my favorite things to do. In honor of the solstice and summer OFFICIALLY starting, I thought I’d share the best things to do outside in Truckee.
Check out Truckee’s awesome mountain bike trails! Truckee has mountain bike trails for all levels and types of riders. For easier rides, I’d recommend the Emigrant Trail segment that goes from Highway 89 to Stampede Reservoir, which is an out and back and can be made as long or short as you like. Sawtooth Loop is a 10 mile, intermediate route that is slightly more cross country style. For a fun but challenging climb, head up towards the Donner Lake Rim Trail from the Wendin Way Access Trail. If you prefer to shuttle, the Donner Lake Rim Trail has a couple of great options, either riding in from the Castle Valley side or from the Glacier Way trailhead in Tahoe Donner. The newly completed Big Chief Trail is a great option for advanced riders. For groups with a variety of skill levels, check out the trails in the Tahoe Donner neighborhood, especially those around the Alder Creek Adventure Center. There’s a wide variety of trails at all levels here. Finally, the Truckee Bike Park is a must do for mountain bikers visiting the area.
Get in the water! Though you might not guess it from my blog name, in some ways I prefer Donner Lake over Lake Tahoe. I love that there are publicly accessible, free docks that are available on a first come, first serve basis – the Donner Lake Public Piers. They tend to fill up fast on summer days, so get there early to claim one! If a regular beach is more your scene, the West End Beach is great for that. It’s $5 for an adult entrance fee (or $50 for a season pass), and, besides a great swimming beach, there are life guards, nice bathrooms, concessions, picnic tables, a play area, grills, boat rentals, and more! Floating the Truckee River is a popular activity, and you can avoid the crowds by choosing a less popular section to float. I recommend the stretch from the Truckee Regional Park to the Glenshire Bridge which is rowdier than the booze cruise section between Tahoe City and Alpine Meadows, but still doable by amateurs. Be sure to check river conditions, it can be too cold, deep and fast moving to be safe early in the summer. I’d also recommend a raft that’s a step up from a cheap innertube!
Get on a rock! I haven’t been climbing a ton lately, but it’s still one of my favorite ways to experience the outdoors. My favorite top roping spot (mainly for the awesome views of Donner Lake) is Green Phantom on Donner Summit. If bouldering is your thing, Donner Memorial State Park has a bunch of fun routes that are super easy to access. If you want a little bit of a hike before you climb, the Grouse Slab boulder area is a fun area with great views.
Go with a group! During the summer, Truckee has a lot of opportunities to hike, bike, run, and learn with locals, visitors, and experts. The Truckee Donner Land Trust runs a free, docent led hiking program in the summer. This is a great chance to get out on incredible TDLT properties, including ones that are not yet open to the public, like Carpenter Valley. Paco’s bike shop has a group road ride on Wednesday nights and a no-drop ladies mountain bike ride on Fridays. For trail running enthusiasts, Donner Party Mountain Runners hosts lots of group events and has an up to date calendar on their website.
Other outdoor stuff! The Truckee River Legacy Trail is a paved trail paralleling the Truckee River that is great for running, dog walking, and biking. For another easy road bike route, I like doing a lap around Donner Lake (though I highly recommend doing it clockwise!) – it’s 7 miles and under 400 feet of climbing. The climb up to the top of Donner Summit up Old Highway 40 is a lung burning challenge. It’s more than 1,000 feet of climbing in about three miles and tops out at over 7,000 feet. Truckee is a great place to do some high elevation trail running – Emigrant Trail and the Boreal to Old 40 section of the PCT are both great options. Disc golf is a great, low key way to spend time outside and Truckee has a few options. Right in town, there’s a course near the entrance of the Truckee River Regional Park and one on the campus of Sierra College. Up on Donner Summit, the Donner Ski Ranch resort has its own course.
This is just scratching the surface of fun outdoor things to do this summer in Truckee. Get outside and enjoy this great place!
This winter, I’ve been getting more and more into snowshoeing. If you don’t want to by a lift ticket or a season pass, snowshoeing is a great way to get outside and enjoy the winter. There are a bunch of great places to snowboard in and around Truckee, and here are some of my favorites:
1. Donner Summit Train Tunnels
This is not your typical Truckee snowshoe! This route takes you into the abandoned Transcontinental Railroad tunnels. Don’t worry, the tracks have been pulled out so there’s no chance you’ll get hit by a train. The appeal of the tunnels is the natural ice sculptures and graffiti that collects in the tunnels. Click here to read my blog post with more details, and don’t forget your headlamp!
2. Donner Memorial State Park
This state park commemorates the site of the ill-fated Donner Party, who spent the winter of 1846-47 in this area and famously resorted to cannibalism to survive. Park at the Visitor’s Center ($10 parking or use your California State Parks Pass) and explore the east end of Donner Lake. During the summer, this park is packed, but it’s much emptier in the winter. Be sure to check out the giant statue memorial to the men, women, and children of the Donner Party (the base of the sculpture is the height of the ’46-’47 snows!) and head into the recently remodeled museum when you’re done with the hike.
If this visit gets you interested in the story of the Donner Party, read the book The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown. I just finished it, and it’s amazing!
3. Donner Summit Canyon
Donner Summit Canyon is a moderately strenuous hike with beautiful views of Donner Lake, Donner Peak, and Shallenberger Ridge. It doesn’t get a ton of sun, so it’s a great option when snow has melted off of other sunnier trails. Check out my blog post with more details here.
4. Coldstream Canyon
For a mellow, flat snowshoe, I highly recommend Coldstream Canyon. It has more widely spaced trees than a lot of the snowshoe hikes in the area, so it gets great sun on a bluebird day. It’s a perfect hike for a sunny day after some storms, and it’s close to both downtown Truckee and Donner Lake. It can be a pretty popular area on busy weekends, so get there early if you don’t want to have to park too far away. Check out my blog post with more details here.
5. Commemorative Overland Emigrant Trail
So there were actually two Donner Party camps, and the eponymous Donners didn’t actually camp at Donner Lake! They set up their shelters a few miles away by Alder Creek, which is now the home of the trail most locals just call “Emigrant”. This is a great place to explore via snowshoes. You can stick to the flatter areas, or climb up the small hills for a view of Prosser Creek Reservoir. To get here, head north on Highway 89 to the Donner Party Picnic Area. The actual parking lot is closed in the winter, but there are plowed spots across the road. Click here to see my Strava route.
A few weeks ago, my friend Erin was in town visiting from Seattle, so Greyson and I took her on a snowshoeing adventure up Donner Summit Canyon.
Donner Summit Canyon was purchased by the Truckee Donner Land Trust in 2010, and it’s now part of Donner Memorial State Park and it’s a great place to snowshoe or cross country ski in the winter and hike or bike in the summer. To access the Donner Summit Canyon Trail, there is a small parking area on the south side of Highway 40, about a third of a mile up from the intersection with South Shore Drive.
This is a great snowshoe that’s pretty safe (but check avalanche conditions before you go) and not overly difficult. It’s not so steep that you’ll be sliding backwards, but there’s enough of an elevation change that you’ll work up a sweat. On our route, we gained ~300 feet in ~2.75 miles. The canyon also doesn’t get a lot of sun in the winter, so it holds snow well. It’s a good option for snowshoeing when the snow has melted off more exposed trails.
We went up on a gorgeous, sunny Saturday, and though we had plenty of tracks to follow, we only saw a couple of other people the whole time we were out. A lot of the trail follows the old Dutch Flat/Donner Lake Wagon Road, which was used to ferry supplies up to the transcontinental railroad construction site and was later used by auto traffic until Highway 40 was built in the 1920s (more history here). The canyon has views of Donner Peak, Donner Lake, and Shallenberger Ridge that are different from the usual angle that the more popular lookouts see. One thing that I really enjoy about snowshoeing, especially when the snow is deep, is the ability to go cross country, away from the normal trails and see familiar sights from new vantage points. Here’s a link to my Strava track, if you want to check out this awesome snowshoe!
Like other winter sports, having comfortable, effective snowshoeing gear is critically important for enjoyment. I used to think that I hated snowshoeing, but it turns out that I just didn’t like the snowshoes I was using! I’ve never had my own, and I’ve always borrowed Greyson’s, which are similar to the MSR Evo Trail. This style is a little too wide for me, and I was always walking a little bowlegged, which was uncomfortable. For this trek, I borrowed a longer, narrower pair that let me walk with a gait closer to my natural one, which was much more comfortable, like these Tubbs Women’s Wilderness snowshoes. I enjoyed snowshoeing so much more with this style! When I buy snowshoes, this is the style I’m getting, but I plan to try on a few different pairs to get a feel for what I really want.
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!
Greyson and I went down to Santa Cruz last weekend to hang out with our niece and my sister in law and brother in law. Usually, we bring mountain bikes when we head to Santa Cruz, but Greyson was between bikes, so we had a bike free road trip. This opened us up to do some activities we normally skip in favor of bike rides, like hiking. We decided to check out a park I’d never been to before – Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
“Imagine a time when the whole peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose shall become one great city; then picture, at its very doorstep, this magnificent domain of redwood forests and running streams, the breathing place of millions of cramped and crowded denizens of the city.”
– Carrie Stevens Walter, Sempervirens Club, 1901
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest state park, and contains the largest continuous stand of redwoods south of San Francisco. The trees are huge and old – some are more than 300 feet tall and over 1,000 years old. There are plenty of hiking trails to explore, and the Skyline to the Sea trail meanders through Big Basin on its way to Waddell Beach. There are also lots of campsites in the park, but I imagine they book up quickly due to the park’s proximity to Santa Cruz and the Bay Area. Big Basin is about 40 minutes from Santa Cruz – it’s only 20 ish miles, but the road is windy and narrow.
When we got to Big Basin, we checked in with the visitor’s center to ask for hiking suggestions. We wanted a pretty easy hike, and the ranger suggested the hike out to Sempervirens Falls, which is about 3.5 miles round trip and has the option to tack on additional miles if we wanted to. We ended up taking Sequoia Trail to Sempervirens Falls, continuing on Sequoia Trail to Skyline to the Sea Trail, and then following Skyline to the Sea Trail back to the visitor’s center, which was 5 miles and almost 800 feet of climbing.
The Sequoia Trail to Sempervirens Falls is pretty easy. It doesn’t have much elevation gain, probably around 150 feet in ~1.7 miles. The trails in Big Basin are very well marked – every intersection has a sign. This section of our route had the most impressive redwoods, and there were a few that were hollowed out that we climbed inside. Sempervirens Falls is not a huge waterfall, and it was running pretty low in October. I imagine it’s more impressive in the winter and spring, but I’m glad we checked it out.
Almost directly after Sempervirens Falls is the hardest part of the trail. We climbed basically straight up a steep, sandstone slab. We gained 200 feet in ⅓ of a mile! It was a cool rock outcropping, and we found some grinding holes in the area. This part of the park is really interesting. The trees are a mix of redwoods and oaks, and the oaks seemed like they were attacking us with acorns! We didn’t get hit at all, but there were a couple of close calls with falling acorns. I love hiking in the trees, and this trail is great for that, though not really a route for sweeping views. The redwoods are just too tall and thick.
As we got closer to the visitors center, the trail started to get more crowded. For such a popular park, most of the route was pretty deserted. We saw more people when we got close to parking areas and trailheads, but it wasn’t overly crowded, even on a sunny Saturday. The hike ended up taking us about an hour and 45 minutes, including photography time at the waterfall. If you’re looking for a moderately easy hike in the Santa Cruz area that gets you in the redwoods, I’d highly recommend this route. See my Strava route here.
After our hike, I was starving. I wasn’t in the mood for state park cafeteria food, so we headed 15 minutes down the road to the small town of Boulder Creek. I voted for pizza (like always), and we ended up at Boulder Creek Pizza & Pub. It wasn’t anything incredible, but the pizza was pretty good and they had a decent local beer selection. Which is exactly what I want after a hike.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a really neat wilderness park in a heavily populated area. If you’re in the Santa Cruz area, I’d highly recommend checking it out. I’m excited to get back and do some more exploring in that area! If you want other recommendations for things to do in Santa Cruz – check out my blog post here.
Hiking Gear Recommendations
Here are a few of my favorite pieces of gear for hiking! Shoes: I like light weight, low profile trail runners like Salomon XA Elevate. GPS Watch: I am a data and numbers nerd, so I like to track my hikes, bikes, and runs with the Garmin Forerunner. Hydration Pack: My CamelBak Solstice is technically a mountain bike pack, but it does double duty and works great as a hiking pack as well. This version is from 2016 and is a great deal at $75!
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!
Fall is my favorite time for hiking in the Lake Tahoe/Truckee area! The air is clear and crisp, the trails are less crowded, and the aspens are turning colors. Here are my favorite hikes to do before the snow flies.
A trail up the canyon follows much of the old Dutch Flat/Donner Lake Wagon Road, which later served as the Lincoln Highway. Some of the historic features visible from the upper part of the trail include Native American petroglyphs, the China Wall, and the world’s first automobile underpass (1913). Look for the abandoned Turkey Truck that careened off the road in 1955, scattering 30,000 pounds of frozen turkeys down the 175’ drop and delaying Thanksgiving dinner for hungry Nevadans!
Park at the Donner Summit Canyon Trailhead, which is here, about one third of a mile up Old Hwy 40 from South Shore Road.
2. Fallen Leaf Lake Trail, South Lake Tahoe (8 miles around the lake): This lake is just outside of South Lake Tahoe, and is a great place to get away from the busier beaches of Lake Tahoe. The water is crystal clear, and it’s a gorgeous place to hike around. While you can make the full 8 mile trek around the lake, the trail can be tricky to find in spots and turns into a paved road for several miles. The nice thing about the Fallen Leaf Lake trail, is that there are gorgeous spots almost immediately. You can just walk until you find a serene spot and then hang out there. Fallen Leaf Lake is super easy to get to, follow the directions to here.
3. Tahoe Rim Trail from the Brockway Summit Trailhead, Kings Beach (3 miles, 700 feet elevation): For a short hike with a gorgeous, view, hike up to this little spur off of the Tahoe Rim Trail. You’ll be able to see all the way across Lake Tahoe. For a longer hike, you can keep going to reach another view point at about mile 5.
The trailhead is on the south side of Brockway Summit – click here for a map. There are quite a few parking spots on the south side of 267.
4. Mount Tallac, South Lake Tahoe: (10 miles, 3,300 feet elevation). Fall is a great time to hike one of my favorite Tahoe Peaks, Mt. Tallac. This is a very strenuous hike, but it’s a super rewarding one. The hike takes you through varied ecosystems and the view from the top of the peak is expansive and incredible. The trailhead is a few miles west of South Lake Tahoe, click here for directions.
5. Tahoe Rim Trail from Tahoe Meadows Trailhead, Incline Village (~4 miles): This is another short and sweet hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail to some awesome views. Be sure to check out the humorous leave no trace signs, addressed to wildlife.
To access the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead, head up Mount Rose Highway from Incline Village for about 6.5 miles, and it will be on your right. Click here for directions.
June Lake, a small town north of Mammoth Lakes off of Highway 395 is one of my favorite places in the Eastern Sierra. It’s a tiny bit off the beaten path and often overshadowed by nearby Mammoth. Which often means it’s not nearly as crowded as other, more popular spots.
Take a Scenic Drive June Lake is located on the June Lake loop (Highway 158), a u-shaped road connected to 395. I’d driven by June Lake Loop probably a dozen times before I finally took the scenic detour – and it’s worth it, even if you’re just driving through. While it’s pretty either direction, I’d recommend turning in at the north end and driving south. This is the entrance further away from the town of June Lake, but your views will be more dramatic. The towering Sierra peaks are hardly noticeable from 395, but dominate the sky only a couple of miles in. There’s a reason that they call it “The Switzerland of California.” If you’re there in October, the loop has some of the best fall colors in the Eastern Sierra. Along the way, you’ll pass the lakes this area is famous for – Grant Lake, Silver Lake, Gull Lake, and, finally June Lake. The town of June Lake is situated between Gull and June lakes. The exit back to 395 is just a few minutes past town. Note: Highway 158 sometimes closes in the winter, so while there is access to June Lake, you can’t drive the full loop.
Lodging There are all kinds of options for lodging in the June Lake area – from camping to resorts to vacation rentals. I’ve had two great experiences at the Oh! Ridge Campground and I’d highly recommend it. It has running water, flush toilets and easy access to a great beach on June Lake. I’ve also stayed at the June Lake Campground, which has convenient access to town, but it was really loud the one time I’ve stayed there. Reversed Creek Campground is very close to town, and Silver Lake Campground has great access to Silver Lake. While I’ve never stayed at any of the hotels or resorts, I’ve heard really good things about the Double Eagle Resort. There are also old school style cabins and lodges, like Fern Creek Lodge, which dates back to 1927. I’ve also stayed at a couple of vacation rentals in town, and there are plenty to choose from – I prefer VRBO for rural places like June Lake.
Eats June Lake doesn’t have a ton of dining options, which isn’t surprising in a small town. However, it does have my all time favorite food truck, Ohanas 395. Ohanas is a fresh twist on classic Hawaiian food crafted with care and generous on the portion sizes. Greyson and I usually split two dishes – one regular and one small and that’s typically plenty. I love the Kahuna Chips – Hawaiian style nachos on kettle chips topped with kalua pork or huli huli chicken, sesame cabbage slaw, jack cheese, pepperoncinis and homemade bbq sauce. Their kalua pork is so good that it was better than any I got on the Big Island in June!
Another fun place to eat is the Tiger Bar & Cafe. It’s pretty typical pub food – heavy on the burgers and fries, light on the veggies, but good, if not good for you. Tiger Bar is historic – it was established in 1932, and it supposedly has California Liquor License #2 and is the longest legally operating bar in California.
Beer June Lake is home to my favorite brewery in the Eastern Sierra – June Lake Brewing. I write in more detail about what makes the beer and the brewery so great in my June Lake Brewing post here.
This area is also getting famous for it’s awesome June Lake Autumn Beer Festival. I went in 2016, and it definitely wasn’t your typical local beer festival. It’s put on by the June Lake Brewery crew, who moved to June Lake from the San Diego area and still have a ton of connections down there. While my local favorites (Mammoth Brewing Company, Mountain Rambler, etc.) were there, there were also a ton of farther flung breweries, many that I tried for the first time, like Pizza Port and Alpine Brewing Company. If you want to go, start planning early as tickets are very limited and in high demand – they sold out in early February for the 2018 festival happening on September 29th. If you happen to be in the area, sometimes there are extra tickets are available at the door. This is my favorite beer fest that I’ve been to – lots of beers, small enough that it’s not overwhelming, and a beautiful location and time of year.
Activities There’s tons of stuff to do in the June Lake area, whether you stay in the loop or venture out a little farther. What there is to do in June Lake varies according to the season, but there’s something awesome all throughout the year.
In town, you’ve obviously got the lakes. For swimming, I like June Lake Beach, which is sandy with room to spread out and the water is clear and refreshing. Gull Lake has a nice picnic area and playground, and is great for a family picnic. June Lake is at 7,600 feet so the lakes are pretty cold, but definitely swimmable in July, August, and September.
The whole loop is well known as a popular fishing area. While you can fish in all of the lakes, Silver Lake is known for the best shore fishing, June Lake for early season catches, Gull Lake for bait fishing, and Grant Lake for trolling. Nearby, Rush Creek and Lee Vining Creek are typical fly fishing spots.
Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park usually opens between late May and late June, and it’s a convenient trip into the park from June Lake via this route. The drive is gorgeous, but steep and exposed, and it gets you into the much less crowded high, east side of the park. From this side, you’ll have easy access to Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake, Olmstead Point and all the typical Yosemite summer activities, like hiking, climbing, paddling, swimming, etc. There are far fewer services in this side of the park compared to the Valley, so plan ahead for food and water, gas, sunscreen, bug spray, and any other accessories you might need. Tioga Pass is usually closed by late October.
June Lake is home to a ton of hiking trails, though many are difficult to the steep elevation changes. Fern Lake trail is one of those short and steep trails, gaining 1,600 feet in just 1.75 miles to the lake one way. Once you make it though, the fishing is supposed to be amazing. On the easier side of things is the 2 mile Gull Lake Loop Trail. It’s right in town and doesn’t have much elevation change – perfect for kids or anyone who wants an easier hike. The Parker Lake Trail is a good middle ground. It’s 3.6 miles round trip with 650 feet of climbing, and you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous lake at the end. Some friends have used this as an easy backpacking destination, and they said it’s great for newbies or if your time is limited and just want an easy overnight.
I also have to plug the June Lake Triathlon – it’s my favorite race I’ve ever done. It’s got a small town, local feel, but it’s still incredibly well organized and the field is big enough that you never feel like you’re out there on your own. The course is challenging, and so beautiful that you get distracted from your suffering. The whole town seems to get involved, whether they are volunteering at the event or on the road cheering you on. They offer sprint, olympic, and half iron distance races, as well as aquabike and relay opportunities- plus Mammoth Brewing Company beer and a home cooked meal at the finish line.
If you’re visiting in the winter, there are still plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. June Mountain Ski Area is basically right in town, and though it’s owned by Mammoth Mountain, it still has a small town feel. If backcountry skiing or riding is your thing, there are guided tours available from Sierra Mountain Guides and through June Mountain. For non-adrenaline junkies, there is snowshoeing and cross country skiing nearby as well.
If you enjoy the outdoors, you’ll find something to do in June Lake. I hope you check out this awesome hidden gem, and enjoy it as much as I do!
While we were on the Big Island, volcanic fog (or “vog”) from the devastating eruption of Mount Kilauea was causing unsafe air quality conditions in Kailua-Kona where we were staying, so we went on quite a few day trips to the parts of the island that were less affected.
Our first day trip was a drive north to Pololu Valley and the (literal) end of the road. This viewpoint and short and steep hike give you dramatic views of tall cliffs, verdant rainforest, and crashing seas. Part of our group headed down the trail while the rest remained at the view point. The trail is very sketchy! It’s steep and eroded and the clay mud is extremely slippery. We made it less than halfway down before stopping at a break in the trees to take a few photos and turning around. If you decide to hike to the beach, I’d recommend decent shoes and trekking poles or a walking stick, though I’m sure many people make it down in flip flops.
From there, we headed about an hour to Waimea, to have lunch at The Fish and The Hog, which had come highly recommended from some local friends. I had the best Cuban sandwich of my life, and Greyson’s kalua pork tacos were also great. We also stopped at the Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company, which is definitely a tourist trap. I ate my weight in free macadamia nuts, though, so I’d say it was worth it.
Our next day trip took us to the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, which, while touristy, I absolutely loved. It’s on the rainforest-y side of the island and up a long, winding the road. The drive from Kailua-Kona to this area takes you through so many different biomes and from sea level to over 6,000 feet. The Hawaiian Vanilla Company is in an old house, and stuffed with tons of different vanilla products. I got an iced vanilla coffee and Greyson got a vanilla milkshake and they were both to die for. I bought some vanilla Kona coffee to bring home, and I’m already kicking myself that I didn’t buy more. You can do a tour of the factory, but it’s an hour plus in length and we figured that a four month old baby wouldn’t be very into it. For lunch, we went with Italian at Cafe Il Mondo in Honokaa. You can’t go to Hawaii without getting Hawaiian pizza (pineapple on pizza forever!), and Cafe Il Mondo’s wood fired version did not disappoint.After lunch, we headed back south to Akaka Falls State Park.
We attempted a quick detour at a swimming hole we read about in a guide book that came in our vacation rental, but it turned out that the park had been closed due to lead contamination. Yikes! Akaka Falls is a very impressive, 422 foot waterfall in the midst of a dense jungle. The hike to the falls is a paved loop less than half a mile and pretty easy, though the heat and humidity in the jungle were oppressive. The falls are incredible, but I was even more wowed by the verdant plant life just off the trail. This is a pretty popular spot, so be prepared for lots of tourists!
We drove back through Hilo and along the base of the imposing Mauna Kea. On that stretch of Highway 200, we had to come to a screeching halt while a herd of hundreds of goats crossed the road.
Our final day trip, we headed south to Naalehu. Naalehu is now a tourist destination because it’s the furthest south city in the US, but we went there for another reason. Greyson’s mom spent some of her childhood growing up on the Big Island, and she lived in Naalehu when it was just a sugar cane plantation. Even though it’s still very rural, it’s grown a lot since she was living there, but we found the house she lived in and the building that had housed her dad’s doctors office. We were there on a Tuesday, and a lot of the shops and restaurants were closed, but Punalu’u Bake Shop was open! Since we’d arrived in Hawaii, I’d wanted to try a malasada – a Hawaiian donut. I finally got my chance here. Greyson and I shared a plain one and a lilikoi one. The rest of the family tried their favorites, and we got a dozen to bring back with us. When you’re in Hawaii, track down a malasada. I’m a huge fan of donuts and I loved these!
I have one final recommendation for the Big Island. On our last day, I was looking for an interesting place to grab lunch, and I ended finding my best meal of the whole trip. We went to Broke da Mouth Grindz, a Filipino/Hawaiian restaurant in a strip mall in Kona. It’s definitely a local’s place on island time – don’t expect to get in and out quickly, but the food is worth the wait. I got adobo pork, kimchi fried rice, and potato salad and they were all phenomenal. It was the best adobo pork I’ve ever had! The kimchi fried rice was delicious and super spicy, and I could have eaten a gallon of the potato salad. Why can’t I get purple sweet potatoes in Truckee? We also caught one final sunset before we had to go to the airport.
All in all, our trip to the Big Island was amazing. We visited beautiful beaches, lush jungles, crashing waterfalls and awesome wildlife. The food was fresh and delicious and the beer is highly recommended. I can’t wait to go back!