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!
I’m back today to finish sharing my gear list for the Ultimate Mountain Bike Road Trip, this time focusing on camping gear and the miscellaneous things that enhance a road trip experience. You can check out part one, Mountain Biking Gear Packing List here.
I mentioned that Greyson and I got married this summer, and our Ultimate Mountain Bike Road Trip was how we celebrated our honeymoon. We registered at REI for our wedding, and our generous friends and family helped us really upgrade our camping set up. Our amazing wedding gifts, plus some big upgrades we’ve made over the past few years meant that our car camping set up is pretty luxurious. When you’re on the road for a month, nice gear makes a big difference.
Camping Gear List Sleeping Set Up: Your sleeping set up is one of the most critical parts of an enjoyable camping road trip. I’ve had my sleeping bag, the Sierra Designs Zissou Plus, which has Dridown, a water repellant down filling. This has all the advantages of down (fluffy, very packable) with the advantages of synthetic (can keep you warm even if it gets a little wet). The biggest wedding present upgrade was the Nemo Cosmo Insulated sleeping pad. This sleeping pad is wide, warm, cushy, quiet and not crinkly, and easy to inflate with the integrated foot pump. For a pillow, I got the NEMO Fillo backpacking pillow. A camping pillow is never going to be as supportive as a regular pillow, but this one is pretty good. I finally got a sleeping bag liner, which was really nice for variable temperatures and keeping my sleeping bag from getting super gross when we went a long time without showering. I have the Sea To Summit Expander Travel Liner.
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Kitchen Gear: The kitchen item we used the most on the road trip wasn’t something that we registered for, but it was awesome – Sea To Summit X Mug. We filled a lot of growlers with beer, and then poured the beer into these folding cups. They’re also really stable, which is nice on uneven ground and picnic tables. We also got a lot of use out of the classic Coleman 2-Burner Stove. For our cookset, we used the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Cookset, which has everything two people could need. The Snow Peak Cutting Board Set was another great addition to our camp kitchen. And I’m sure we would have gotten food poisoning several times without the YETI Tundra Cooler which kept our food cold for days at a time with only a couple of bags of ice.
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Tent: During this trip, I joked to Greyson, “This is how people end up buying motorhomes, isn’t it?” I was referring to our huge, luxurious tent. We have the Big Agnes Tensleep Station Tent, a four person tent. We’re both tall people (I’m 5’11”, he’s 6’3″), and a two person tent is not made for two people our size. This tent is big enough for us to stretch out, have our clothing bags inside with us, and have room to spare. The Tensleep also has two doors, which was a must have for me. It has two vestibules, one of which is large enough to take off wet gear, while staying dry, which is really nice for camping in wet places. The tent is huge – which means it has a large footprint and only packs down to the size of a large duffel bag. It’s very tall – I can almost stand up in it, but it has held up in the wind really well. The price is high, but even the small details are well designed, like plenty of very reflective guy lines and multiple ways to set up the “front door”. If you can’t make the full commitment to #vanlife, the Big Agnes Tensleep is the next best thing. Battery/Solar Panel: Not going to lie, I like to stay connected. Also, since we were gone for so long, there were points when we both needed to check in with work, so we had an array of technology that occasionally needed to be charged. This was easy with our Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station and the Goal Zero Nomad 20 Solar Panel. It was easy to keep the portable power station charged up – we pretty much never dipped below 80% between our occasional motel stops and the solar panel.
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Seating: I spent a lot of time in our ENO DoubleNest Hammock – occasionally I even let Greyson use it. I tried to convince Greyson that we should register for smaller, packable chairs, but he convinced me that we should stick with his big, bulky REI chairs. He was right. Having big, comfortable chairs to relax in was so nice at the end of a long day. Roof Box: We needed every inch of storage in the Toaster for this road trip, and the Yakima RocketBox Pro 11 Rooftop Cargo Box helped increase our storage area. It’s not the fanciest roof box on the market, but it worked well. It’s not as loud as some roof boxes – we didn’t even notice a sound. It didn’t reduce gas mileage by that much, but the Toaster isn’t the most aerodynamic vehicle to begin with. Lighting: We had two sources of light on this trip: our Petzl Tikka headlamps and the extremely awesome MPOWERD Luci color changing inflatable solar lanterns. We registered for one of these, and somehow ended up with three. I’m definitely not complaining – they all got used and have been a hit on every camping trip we’ve gone on since. Bike Rack: An easy to use bike rack is critical, and nothing is easier than the Kuat Racks NV tray style. This rack comes with a flimsy cable lock, which we bolster with the Kryptonite 999546 lock for extra security. Miscellaneous: There are a few more odds and ends that helped make this road trip awesome – the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel, whose water resistant nature came in handy during a rainstorm in Whistler, the ridiculously awesome YETI Rambler can cooler, Packtowl RobeTowl, which made changes at the trailhead much easier, and our storage system of bins, two heavy duty ones for camping stuff and biking stuff and a collapsible one for our kitchen.
So there it is – my in depth packing list for the Ultimate Mountain Bike Road Trip. Don’t forget, you can check out my list of Mountain Bike Gear here. Did I miss anything?
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!
When we were planning this trip, one of Greyson’s “must dos” was Olympic National Park. Despite growing up in Washington, I’d never been either. Also, Greyson’s parents went to Olympic National Park on their honeymoon and they gave us two nights at the Lake Quinault Lodge as a wedding gift. After four nights of camping, we were excited for the luxury.
The Lake Quinalt Lodge is a historic lodge, on the shores of Lake Quinault, just outside of the National Park. The building was beautiful, the rooms were really nice – we had a deck over looking the lake and a fireplace, which we didn’t end up using. There is wifi, but it’s pretty spotty and slow – not really a problem unless you are planning on doing some work. The property has it’s own beach with boat rentals and there are lawn games you can borrow or just sit on one of the adirondack chairs and watch the sunset.
“There are some places so blissfully disconnected from the modern world that they seem to stand suspended in time. Lake Quinault Lodge is one such place – a grand and rustic lodge built in 1926 that welcomes guests with warmth, hospitality, and a sincere feeling of home-away-from-home comfort. Here you can unwind in front of our majestic fireplace, dine in the historic Roosevelt Dining Room, curl up with a good book by the lake, paddleboard or fish in the afternoon sun, or venture deep into the temperate rainforest and enjoy the cool shade of the giant trees.”
Lake Quinault Lodge had great access to the park, and it was fun to inject a little luxury on the trip. We did eat dinner in the fancy Roosevelt Dining Room one night, but it was super expensive and not worth the prices. On night two, we ended up getting pizza and beer at the convenience store/restaurant across the street, which was a much better price and delicious.
We knew that we wanted to do a long-ish hike while we were in the park (and while we had a place to keep our bikes secure), and we decided on the Hoh River Trail. The trail parallels the Hoh River and is through the rainforest, which we really wanted to see. The trailhead was about an 1.5 hour drive from the Lake Quinault Lodge, but the route was scenic and took us by places we’d hoped to stop anyway.
On our way there, we stopped for some beach access. It was gray and cloudy in the morning, but we could tell the fog was already burning off. We also stopped to gape at trees. They’re no coast redwoods or giant sequoias, but they’re plenty big and strange.
After stopping in at the Hoh River Visitor’s Center to confirm that the Hoh River Trail was really what we wanted to do, we were off. Lots of visitors use the Hoh River Trail to access the back country – we saw tons of backpackers and even a few groups with alpine climbing gear. It’s also great for a day hike. It’s an out an back that goes 17.5 miles out to Glacier Meadows, so for a day hike, just turn around where ever you want.
The trail is fairly flat and not technical, at least for the first five miles that we did. I’ve read that it gets steeper as you get closer to Glacier Meadows. Despite the very sunny day we had, it was cool and shaded along the trail. Since it’s through the rainforest, you don’t always have sweeping views. We did get some gorgeous mountain views in spots where the trail got close enough to the river that we could see up or down canyon.
We’d heard there was a waterfall along the trail, so we made that our unofficial goal. The sun had completely come out by noon and it was an absolutely gorgeous day, though Greyson kept joking that he felt cheated by a sunny day in the rainforest. At some point on our way out, we stopped on the side of the river and had a snack and basked in the sun. About 2. 5 miles after the Visitor’s Center, we arrived at a little bridge and a verdant waterfall – Mineral Creek Falls.
We decided to keep hiking for awhile longer to see where the trail took us. While still not steep, there were more up and downs for the next 2.5 miles, where we decided to turn around. Sometimes out and backs can seem boring, since you are seeing the same scenery twice, but the Hoh River Trail didn’t feel that way to me. While the hike was relatively flat, my hiking muscles were not in shape. I was feeling it in my legs, especially at about mile 7. The faster I hiked, the better I felt, so I was seriously speed walking by the end.
We decided to break up the drive with a stop at the iconic Ruby Beach. It was a beautiful weekend day, and Ruby Beach was pretty crowded – there was even a culturally appropriative staged wedding photo shoot happening. We walked down to the beach and got a few pictures, but we decided that we’d leave a little earlier the next morning and stop by when it was less crowded (which is when the picture at the top of the post is from).
After the long hike and drive, a long shower back in our room felt amazing. While I love camping, and I don’t mind getting dirty, I have to say that the luxury of Lake Quinault Lodge felt pretty nice!
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.
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:
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.
Olympic National Park
North Cascades/Eastern Washington
Back to Truckee
The towns and regions we picked for mountain biking were
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Sunshine Coast, British Columbia
Whistler/Squamish, British Columbia
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:
(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!
On Donner Summit, there are some old train tunnels that the train used to run through. The train has since been re-routed and the tracks have been pulled out, making it an interesting destination for a snowshoe (winter) or hike (summer). The tunnels are technically on railroad property, but I didn’t see any “no trespassing” signs, and my friends have visited dozens of times over the years. Just be warned! They’re pretty easy to get to – we parked at the pull out a few hundred yards below the Donner Summit Scenic View Area (on your left when you’re heading up hill). Even in the winter, there was parking for at least 10 cars, but it is a popular sledding area and can get full.
Most of our group had snowshoes and poles – it gets icy in the tunnel so you’ll want something with grip. Greyson just wore hiking boots and carried poles and made it pretty well, but I wouldn’t recommend this to people not used to hiking on ice. It was warm for February when we headed up; it was in the 50’s and sunny, but the tunnels are at least 20 degrees colder inside. I appreciated by soft shell and gloves on the return trip. We all brought headlamps and flashlights, but didn’t need to use them. There’s enough light in the tunnel to see fairly well during the day.
It’s pretty straight forward once you’ve gotten out of the car – put on your snowshoes and head up towards the very obvious train tunnels. It’s a pretty steep climb, but the only hard part of the whole hike.
Since there’s not a lot of scenery inside of the tunnels, the natural ice sculptures and human made graffiti are the attractions.
I was really surprised by how much light made it into the tunnels! There are some sections with windows cut into the concrete, and sunlight travels far from the openings. I was expecting the whole inside to be concrete, and loved that many of the tunnel walls were simply exposed granite that the tunnel had been cut through.
Along the way, there are several spots where you can pop out of the tunnels and enjoy the view.
The entrance back into the tunnels looks more foreboding than it actually is. After less than a mile of hiking (which is slow going on all the ice), you’ll get to the end of the accessible tunnels. We hiked around on the snow some, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, before heading back towards the cars.
We hiked back the same way we came, through the tunnels, but we did see other groups snowshoeing along the outside. I imagine it would depend on snow levels if there is enough room on the outside to do that. Of our group of five, Greyson was the only person who had been to the train tunnels before, and we all had a great time. To be honest, Greyson had suggested doing this snowshoe or hike a couple of times before, but I didn’t really have much interest. In my head, it was just going to be a cold, slippery walk in the dark where I couldn’t see anything. It definitely was not on my Tahoe bucket list. I’m happy to report that I was totally wrong! While not exactly strenuous, action packed or filled with “best of” views, this hike is totally unique and worth doing!
Greyson and I spent Christmas down in Point Reyes with his family. We didn’t have perfect weather, but we were still able to get out and hit most of the highlights.
On Christmas Eve day, we headed to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, hoping to see whales and birds. Thanks to the 50 mile an hour winds, the ocean was too choppy to see any whales.
Apparently the high winds also affected the birds. We saw way more birds hanging out on fence posts and low rocks than we normally do. Greyson let me use his nice camera with the big lens to get these bird photos – definitely not with my iphone!
We also stopped by a completely deserted Drake’s Beach. Well, not completely deserted. There was a bachelor elephant seal.
We didn’t end up doing anything on Christmas, other than jokingly participating in the Christmas Bird Count. I counted six different birds from the comfort of the hot tub!
The day after Christmas was much calmer, so Greyson and I went to McClures Beach to look for whales. I hadn’t been to McClures Beach before, so we spent some time wandering around and looking for tide pools.
There wasn’t anything interesting in the tide pools, so we made our way onto the nearby Tomales Point trail. The trail follows along the top of the bluff and I was able to spot 5 or 6 whales way off in the distance through my binoculars.
We also stopped at the famous Point Reyes Tree Tunnel.
Greyson had heard about a biking museum that had opened up in nearby Fairfax, so we drove down there on Saturday. The Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame is awesome, and Greyson wrote more about it on his blog. You can read more about it here.
Finally, on our way out of town on Monday we stopped by my favorite place in Point Reyes – Heidrun Meadery! We bought a couple of bottles, Alfalfa & Clover Blossom and Macadamia Nut. I also bought some Humboldt Wildflower honey. I wonder what is the predominant “wildflower” in Humboldt County?
Heidrun Meadery had their second batch ever of mead made from honey from their own bees based in Point Reyes. It’s not available in the tasting, you have to buy a separate glass to taste it. We decided to do it, because if you can’t drink a glass of sparkling mead at ten am on a Monday, what fun is vacation? I’m so glad that we did, because it was amazing! I wasn’t a huge fan of their first batch of local honey mead, but this one blew me out of the water. Seriously, if you are in the Bay Area, it’s worth the trip up to Point Reyes just to taste it! Well, and to experience the million other amazing things in Point Reyes!
Like I said before this is my sixth winter in Tahoe, but somehow I’d never been snowshoeing. Since our Sugar Bowl passes are blacked out for the holidays, we couldn’t go snowboarding/skiing at the resort, and we decided to try something different. I decided it was finally time to try snowshoeing.
Greyson got out his backcountry set up and lent me his snowshoes, and we headed to the nearby Cold Stream Canyon. This is a popular area with lots of snowshoers, cross country skiers, sledders, and people accessing backcountry skiing and riding. We were able to park pretty close to the gate and started the walk in.
I was worried that snowshoeing would be pretty miserable, slogging through the snow in an inefficient manner (these pre-conceived notions were the main reason I had never tried it before), but I was surprised by how easy it was. We started off on a very packed down fire road, which made things easier. I had a difficult time adjusting to using the poles – I ended up just carrying the poles on the hard packed sections, and only using them when we got to the untracked sections and steep downhills for balance.
The Cold Stream Canyon trail started with an ~180 foot climb over 0.4 miles, the only significant climb of the whole trail. It wasn’t too hard, but I worked up enough of a sweat to strip to my capilene base layer which was perfect for the rest of the hike.
It was a gorgeous day, and the views were beautiful, snow sparkling on the trees and clear views to the peaks in the west. The temperature was around 33 degrees, perfect in the sunshine! We walked on the frozen pond, which has been restored from a polluted gravel mining remnant, and parallel to it before reconnecting with the main fire road and heading back to the parking lot. (Cool side note – if you continue on the main Cold Stream Road, which is not drivable in the winter, you’ll reach The Lost Trail Lodge, a backcountry lodge. You can rent it and stay there, winter or summer. I’ve never been there, but it’s on my bucket list!)
While the parking area had seemed full, we only ran into a half dozen or so people and a few dogs on the trail. We made it nearly back to the parking area before we got to any sort of a downhill. Greyson stopped to remove his skins and set up for the (.4 mile, 180 foot downhill) while I trekked on on the snowshoes. This area was definitely more well trafficked, and the snow was packed down and a little icy. I found myself using the poles a lot for stability on the downhill.
Before I knew it, Greyson came whooshing by me, and we were back at the gate. It was a perfect introduction to snowshoeing – great weather, gorgeous scenery, hard enough to feel like I was working but not miserable. I doubt that snowshoeing is something I’ll get really into, but it’s definitely a fun way to get into the backcountry.
P.S. Greyson got me this amazing shirt for Christmas. I wore it today on our adventure, even though I was on snowshoes instead of a bike.
How to Get There: Cold Stream Canyon is just a couple of miles from downtown Truckee. From downtown Truckee, head west on Donner Pass Rd for ~2 miles. Turn left at the four way stop on to Cold Stream Rd and park near the gate. Note: you can park further up the road if the gate is open, but the gate might be closed and locked by the property owners. I don’t think it’s worth the risk and park outside.
Last weekend (I’m behind on blogging!), Greyson and I took a short hike on a beautiful section of the Tahoe Rim Trail. We had been wanting to try Alibi Ale Works for months, so we decided to work up our beer-drinking-appetites with a short hike to a spot with a gorgeous view of Lake Tahoe.
I’m trying to improve my photography, so we packed Greyson’s nice cameras and headed to the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead off of Highway 431/Mt. Rose Highway, about a half mile southwest of the Mt. Rose Summit. The Tahoe Meadows Trailhead has a large dirt parking lot, a decently clean pit toilet bathroom and a 1.2 mile interpretive trail, if you’re looking for a short and easy hike.
To reach the viewpoint, follow the trail on the right side of the parking lot, through the expansive meadow and towards the forest. This section of the Tahoe Rim Trail is open for bikes on even days and horses every day, so be aware that you may be sharing the trail! Be sure to check out the humorous trail signs you’ll encounter, including one addressed to dog visitors.
It’s about 1.6 miles from the trailhead, through the meadow, and into the forest until you reach a large open space with beautiful views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding peaks.
There’s a little bit of a climb (~300 feet over ~1 mile), but the high elevation meant that I was feeling the climb more than normal. The view was worth it though!
There’s not a viewing platform or cleared out space, but there are a number of rock outcroppings to sit on and enjoy the view. I practiced my photography skills and Greyson and I both enjoyed snacks in the sunshine. I even got a few decent pictures of a bird, that I subsequently forgot to look up – so I have no idea what it is.
Greyson and I wandered around the open field for awhile, looking for a sign we had spotted in the distance. The sign didn’t look like it was on any sort of trail, so we were really curious about what it said. We eventually found the sign:
At this point, I was starting to get hungrier for something more than granola bars. We scrambled across the meadow back to the trail, and headed back to civilization.
When I was living in South Lake Tahoe, Greyson and I met up in Incline Village fairly often, since it is about the halfway point between South Lake and Truckee. Since moving to Truckee, we haven’t made our way over there very often. I requested that we grab food at an old favorite – Crosby’s, my favorite sports bar in the Tahoe area. Greyson and I would head to Incline Village on Wednesdays to meet after work to go climbing at High Altitude Fitness, and we’d be starving afterwards. We would usually eat at Crosby’s, because it was one of the few places that served food after 8 pm. This time, we split a burger and an order of their specialty – seasoned waffle fries. The waffle fries are amazing, but warning, the “side” of fries is HUGE. A burger with salad on the side and an order of waffle fries was more than enough food for the two of us.
A quick hike, interesting clouds, a ton of good food, and delicious beer was a great way to spend a beautiful and relaxing Sunday!