Earlier this week, Greyson and I checked out a fairly new local hiking trail near the Donner Summit area in Truckee.
Donner Summit Canyon trail is yet another awesome trail built by the Truckee Donner Land Trust (the organization behind the amazing Wendin Way Trail. The trail is open to hikers and mountain bikers, and we explored via hiking this time. We decided that we were glad we did, because the trail is a pretty steady uphill gravel path that turns into a narrow and rocky trail.
Though the trail is uphill the whole way, the climb felt pretty easy, and we weren’t working too hard. About a mile into the trail, there’s a sign pointing left to a scenic view point – definitely follow that detour. You’ll get a nice view of Donner Lake, and there’s even a picnic table for a quick snack or picnic lunch.
After the scenic detour, we headed back to the main trail, and up the trail, heading higher towards the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail. We hadn’t planned to hike all the way to the PCT anyway, but we ran into a creek crossing where the bridge was missing! We’d gone about 2.3 miles at this point (including the detour to the scenic overlook), so we decided to turn back instead of risking getting wet.
The spot with the missing bridge had great views, with Donner Peak above us and Donner lake below, so we enjoyed the view for a few minutes before the wind got too cold, and we headed back. The whole trip was just under 4 miles, and took us about an hour and a half with our stops for scenery and attempts at wildflower identification.
Not technically a flower.
While it’s not the most rugged or challenging hike, and there are some with better views, this is a great quick hike (or gravel grind on your bike). If you’re looking for an easy hike with great views in the Truckee area, the Donner Summit Canyon Trail is perfect.
I finally made it out to one of my Bay Area bucket list destinations – Alamere Falls. Alamere is a rare California tidefall, a waterfall that streams directly onto the beach. It’s one of only two in northern California!
We approached Alamere Falls from the south on the Coastal Trail outside of Bolinas, California. The trail is about 8 miles round trip, and fairly flat and easy, aside from the unmaintained trail to the top of the falls and the sketchy climb to the beach below the falls.
I had never been to Alamere, and Greyson hadn’t been in years, so we were surprised by the amount of people who were doing the fairly long hike on a Sunday. We had to park about a half mile away from the trailhead due to the amount of cars in the parking lot and along the road. We also were stopped several times before we made it onto the trail by people asking if “this is the trail to the waterfall?”
I’m not sure if it is always that busy on weekends or if it was exacerbated by some outside cause, like the gorgeous weather or being featured in a magazine or newspaper article. We saw several hundred people over the course of the ~3.5 hours we spent on the trail and on the beach. If you’re looking for a relaxing, people-free adventure, this may not be the hike for you, or be sure to time it on a week day during an off time.
Despite the many people (many who lacked basic hiking etiquette – we saw tons of dogs in the dog-free wilderness area, people hiking while blasting music, and other rude trail behavior), the Alamere Falls hike was totally worth it for us. The tide was way in, so there wasn’t much beach and we were dodging the waves, but the view of the waterfall falling into the waves was incredible!
Because there were so many people and loose dogs running around, the steep and loose climb down to the beach and back to the trail was extra sketchy. If you’re not sure-footed and used to scrambling, I’d recommend staying on the top of the cliff and enjoying the still amazing view of the falls from above.
Though fairly long, the trail is mostly flat and not technical, so it ends up being a fairly easy hike to the top of the falls and back. There are great ocean views on some sections of the trail, and once the haze cleared out, we could see back to the skyline of San Francisco. It should definitely be on your Bay Area Bucket List!
So I’ve mentioned a few times that Greyson and I went on an amazing road trip up the North Coast of California. We managed to hit a bunch of must-see spots, both well known and off the beaten path.
I’ve already written about one of the hidden gems we visited, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I thought I’d share the other stops on our amazing road trip.
Truckee, California to Inverness, California (200 miles, 3.5 hours):We stayed at the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore in Inverness, California for Greyson’s sister’s wedding. I’ve written about what to do in Point Reyes in the past – it’s an amazing place full of tons of things to do.
Inverness, California to Westport, California (163 miles, 4.5 hours via Hwy 1):We headed north on the legendary Highway One, on our way to Fort Bragg and Westport-Union Landing Beach. In the Fort Bragg area, I knew I wanted to return to Pacific Star Winery and eat fresh seafood. I got my wish, and we tasted wines and watched a new batch of grapes be unloaded at the winery while the staff gave us a tour and let us taste test the different grape varieties. We ate dinner at Sea Pal Cove restaurant, where I had local rockfish fish and chips. I had been to the area before, and I knew that I wanted to stay in a private that I had discovered allowed camping on the sand, north of Fort Bragg on Westport Beach – Westport Beach RV Park. Though it is also an RV park, the tent camping sites are secluded from the rest of the park, and all we heard all night were crashing waves.
Westport, California to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California (75 miles, 2.25 hours via Garberville, CA):I’ve already written about the amazing Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I just want to emphasize again how incredible it is! If you enjoy the outdoors, it should be on your California Bucket List. On our way to Sinkyone, we stopped for lunch in Garberville at the Eel River Cafe – a cute diner with good food in generous portions.
Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California to Redwoods State and National Parks, California (142 miles, 3.5 hours): On our way to the Redwoods, we drove through the Avenue of the Giants, a well known drive that’s definitely worth getting off the highway for.
One of the main things Greyson wanted to see on this trip was Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park(part of Redwoods National and State Parks). We found that Gold Bluffs Beach Campground was the closest access to Fern Canyon, and open on a first come-first serve basis in early October during our trip. We arrived fairly early on a Thursday, and by Thursday night the campground was pretty much full, despite it being a weeknight during the off season. If you plan on staying at Gold Bluff Beach, Fern Canyon is a pretty much year-round attraction, so plan on getting to the nearby campgrounds early in order to find a spot. Our campsite was tucked away behind some bushes for a wind break, and a quick walk to the ocean beach, surrounded by the gold cliffs that give the area its name. Fern Canyon can be accessed by a less than quarter mile hike from the parking area, but we chose a longer 7 mile loop through old growth redwoods to access the back side of the canyon. The longer hike was definitely worth it, full of wet forest plants and creatures that we don’t get to see in the Sierra, and not very strenuous at all.
Fern Canyon was like nothing else I’ve ever seen – sheer walls entirely covered with ferns – and worth a trip to the Redwood State and National Parks just on its own.
Redwood State and National Parks, California to Nevada City, California (328 miles, 6.25 hours via Chico): The only problem we ran into on our whole road trip came on this leg. We had planned to stop in Chico, California for our last night and do a tour and tasting at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and just get a cheap motel room when we go into town. It turns out that we arrived on the Saturday of Parents Weekend at Chico State, and there wasn’t a room to rent within 50 miles. We ended up just having an early dinner/beer tasting at Sierra Nevada, and we pushed on to Nevada City. We grabbed a couple of beers at Matteo’s Public, and were asleep before ten in our room at the Emma Nevada House.
Nevada City, California to Truckee, California (102 miles, 3 hours via Hwy 49 & 89): Since our inadvertent night in Nevada City meant that we were further along on our road trip, we decided to take the long way – Highway 49 to Highway 89 through Downieville. This route has beautiful views of the Sierra Buttes, and our quick stop in Downieville had us lamenting the fact that we didn’t have our bikes. This meandering, scenic route was the perfect end to a perfect Northern California road trip.
And finally, in true data-nerd form, here’s my spreadsheet of trip mileage, travel time and a few notes, for reference:
So, I don’t want to brag…but I found the best state park in California. I considered not sharing and keeping the pristine, remote wilderness to myself. But Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is so far off the beaten path that I don’t think I need to worry about it getting overrun. Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is one of the few ways to access the Lost Coast – California’s least developed stretch of shoreline.
We undertook quite a journey to arrive at Sinkyone (spoiler alert: worth it!). First we headed east and south from Graberville, California, taking twisty backroads through the trees, passing high fences, large fertilizer tanks, and the overwhelming smell of marijuana. We made a mental note not to wander off trail in this area of northern California. After 20 or so miles of this, we followed signs to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, Needle Rock Visitors Center, and camping and onto the steepest, windiest, narrowest dirt road I’ve ever been on.
It was pretty foggy, so we couldn’t really see where we were headed, and I’m pretty sure Greyson thought that I was taking him somewhere remote to abandon him. After three miles of dirt road (which seriously took like 40 minutes to descend), we got our first incredible glimpse of the Lost Coast.
Can you spot the Harbor Seals?
We checked in with the camp host, and set up our tent on a bluff overlooking the ocean. (You can also book a spot in an old barn if you want!) There are only a couple of spots available at Needle Rock Visitor Center, so you are guaranteed to not feel crowded! While we were car camping, there are hike in camp sites within a mile or so of the parking area.
We decided to head down the steep trail to the beach before dinner. The camp host had warned us about the steepness, and he was not kidding! There were several sections where a rope tied around and nearby bush were necessary to descend and later ascend.
Photo by Greyson Howard
Like the drive, the hike to the beach was worth it. It was sheer cliffs and black sand beaches as far as we could see, and our only company were the dozens of curious harbor seals basking on the rocks. Needle Rock beach has got to be one of the best beaches in all of California.
Over the few days we spent at Sinkyone, we spent quite a bit of time at the beach – examining tide pools, getting into staring competition with the seals, watching pelicans dive, and attempting to climb on the rocks. We even saw an otter, which are supposed to be extinct that far north on the California coast! We also hiked a section of the Lost Coast trail to look at some neat geologic features. We hiked up a steep hill, hoping for a great view.
While we didn’t exactly get a view of the ocean, hiking to above the fog was pretty awesome! We also saw the local elk herd.
If you plan on visiting Sinkyone, be sure to check the weather, as the road probably becomes impassable in the winter/rain. Bring everything you need with you, as there’s nothing in the way of supplies available. Pack out your garbage, as there is not garbage pick up in the park. Be sure to bring rain gear, hiking shoes, and binoculars!
This weekend I set my feet on my highest ever point: 11,760 at Kearsarge Pass in Kings Canyon National Park.
The Kearsarge Pass trail is a popular re-supply route for Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail through hikers. The trail wanders uphill through the John Muir Wilderness on the way to Kings Canyon National Park with sweeping vistas of the high Sierra in every direction. The trailhead begins at the Onion Valley campground about 15 miles outside of Independence, California in the Eastern Sierra. To get to Onion Valley Campground, head towards Independence (about 42 miles south of Bishop) on Highway 395. Once in Independence, turn onto West Market Street, which quickly turns into Onion Valley Road. There are several campgrounds along Onion Valley Road or you could stay in Independence, as there is non-campground parking near the trailhead. We stayed in one of the walk-in camping spots at Onion Valley Campground, which makes for an easy and convenient early start. Note: Onion Valley Campground is high (above 9,000 feet!) – so pack accordingly. You’ll want more warm layers than the temperature in much lower, hotter Independence seems to indicate.
The entire Kearsage Pass trail is a steady climb from about 9,200 feet up to a maximum of 11,760 feet at the top of Kearsarge Pass over 4.8 miles. While the trail is never extremely steep, be aware that you are at high elevation. The going is much more difficult than a steeper, lower elevation climb. I live at 6,200 feet and I was really feeling the difficulty when I got about 10,500. Be prepared to go more slowly and take lots of breaks, especially if you are new to high elevation hiking. We hiked the 4.8 miles and climbed just over 2,500 feet with a moving time of 2:05:40, however our elapsed time was 3:20:20 which means we took nearly 1:15 in breaks across the nearly 5 miles.
Kearsarge Pass trail closely passes several gorgeous alpine lakes, with Flower and Gilbert Lakes close enough for a refreshing dip or quick fishing pit stop. Warning: these lakes can be extremely mosquito-y! We were chased off before doing more than dipping our toes in, but there were a number of other hikers and fishermen that braved the swarms (probably armed with bug spray). The stunning views of the hike begin almost immediately, and we were frequently stopping to admire the vistas and take pictures.
The whole trail is incredibly well built and maintained. There aren’t too many tripping hazards and the switchbacks are gradual, allowing you to soak in your surroundings and concentrate less on your feet. The rocks surrounding the trail and making up the nearby peaks are interesting enough to catch the eye of the geology inclined in your group. You’ll see a bunch of California’s state rock, serpentine (hint: it’s the greasy looking, greenish one). I’d also recommend bringing along a field guide with a good wildflower section (like the Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada or Wildflowers of California). We saw at least a dozen different varieties of wildflowers during our hike.
The trail climbs at a fairly steady 500 feet per mile, and I started really feeling the exertion of hiking at high altitude at about 2.5 miles and 10,500 feet. Luckily, the gorgeous views help distract from the hard work.
At about 4 miles, you’ll come to your last couple switch backs and the end is in sight! You might see people up at the top of the pass that seem very far away, but the final push wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. There are only a couple of switch backs, and you’ll mostly be headed straight toward your goal. The vistas are even more incredible in this section. Keep your eyes out for a very steep summit to the south that only gets more interesting as the trail climbs higher.
When you finally reach the top of Kearsarge Pass, take your time to soak in the views and rest for the trip back down. Check out these amazing views!
At the pass, you’ll enter Kings Canyon National Park, and could continue your hike onto the John Muir Trail and down to Kearsarge and Bullfrog Lakes, and even further to connect with the Pacific Crest Trail. We decided the top of Kearsarge Pass was enough of a climb for us. Unfortunately, I had a user-related Strava malfunction on our trip down, so I’m not sure how long it took. I paused Strava when we stopped to check out one of the lakes. Mosquito swarms descended, and, in the panic of our escape, I forgot to re-start it! It took us about an hour to do the first 2.4 miles, and I imagine the second half took about the same time. So we’ll say the descent took about 2 hours.
This was a difficult and rewarding hikes with some of the best views I’ve encountered in the Sierra. If you are looking for a high Sierra hike or backpacking trip (permits needed) that’s challenging but completely doable for an in-shape individual, I would highly recommend the Kearsarge Pass trail.
Length: 4.8 miles to the top, 9.6 round trip
Elevation: 2,500 feet of elevation gain
Duration: ~5:20 total, for reasonably in-shape hikers that live at 6,500 feet
And here are two more photos, just because I like them:
The fairly easy hike up can be exposed and buggy (especially when passing Frog Lake!), so don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, and bug spray. You’re rewarded with gorgeous views of the surrounding peaks, valleys and lakes during the whole hike.
Round Top “peaks” through the trees less than a mile into the hike.
About 1.3 miles into the trail, the Pacific Crest Trail spurs off to the left. Be sure to follow the trail to right to arrive at Winnemucca Lake. This early in the summer, it’s still a little snowy, and we had to cross a few snow patches. None were longer that 200 yards or so and on flat trail, so not too difficult to navigate. This hike is famous for incredible displays of wildflowers. Unfortunately, we were a little early for the fields of color, but we found a few patches of wildflowers that we tried to identify.
It was a perfect sunny day for sitting on the shore of Winnemucca Lake, soaking in the view.
Winnemucca Lake panorama.
I’ve heard this trail can get pretty busy during the height of the wildflower season, but we ran into very few other hikers. From Winnemucca Lake, you can continue on to other beautiful spots, like Fourth of July Lake and a couple of campgrounds. We didn’t end up going any further due to the snow and a high-ish creek crossing, but I’m looking forward to coming back to this spot later in the summer.
5.2 miles, 532 feet of elevation gain in 1:53
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Back in April, I headed to Point Reyes with some friends to do my Dirty Thirty Birthday right. Coincidentally, my good friend Becky also turned 30 on April 19th, so we did a co-birthday weekend filled with friends, hikes, laughter, mountain biking, wildflowers, sea mammals, birds, beer and cheese!
Greyson and I headed down from Tahoe early on Friday so we could get a quick mountain bike ride in. We ended up riding Estero Trail, which, aside from dodging cows and cow pies, was a beautiful, easy little ride.
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Note: the trail was SUUUUPER rutted in sections, to the point where I had to push my bikes up a couple of hills. It had rained fairly recently, so it might be in better shape now. (Note: As of 2017 the trail has been graded and graveled in a lot of sections, so it’s pretty smooth cruise.)
We grabbed a snack at Station House Cafe (I had the delicious mac and cheese) and headed back to the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore to wait for the rest of the group. Everyone else arrived that evening, and we went to bed fairly early in order to get an early start on the day. Much of the group, including me, had never been to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, so we drove there for our first stop. The park ranger stationed there told us they’d seen a bunch of whales the day before, so my hopes were high! Unfortunately, we saw zero whales. But we did see a sea lion or seal. The day wasn’t too foggy, so we could see the Farallon Islands off in the distance.
We headed back to Point Reyes Station to grab some Cowgirl Creamery cheese and called ahead to our (hopefully!) next destination – Heidrun Meadery. We were luckily able to book the last tour of the day, so we scarfed our lunches, piled in the cars and made the short drive to the old dairy farm where Heidrun Meadery is located. Here’s what they have to say about themselves:
“Located in Point Reyes Station, California, Heidrun Meadery produces dry, naturally sparkling varietal meads using the traditional Méthode Champenoise.
Mission: Our goal is to be involved in the meadmaking process from the flower that provides nectar for the honey bee to the flute from which we drink.
Company Overview: Heidrun Meadery was founded in 1997 in Arcata, California. In 2008 we purchased a slightly funky and defunct dairy farm in the agricultural and culinary oasis of Point Reyes Station, Marin County, California, with the ambitious objectives of relocating the meadery nearer to the Bay Area, expanding our mead production, setting up a commercial beekeeping operation, starting a bee forage cultivationprogram and establishing a modest visitor’s center and tasting room.Visitors are welcome on a reservation-only basis Monday-Saturday, 10am to 4pm. You can join us for a tour and tasting, just do a tasting and skip the tour, or enjoy a glass or bottle of mead while soaking up the sun on the patio. Call or email to make reservations.
Our trademark Champagne-style of mead is light, dry, delicate and refreshing, with subtle exotic aromas and flavors found only in the essence of honey. We pride ourselves on producing our mead in the most sustainable manner and supporting beekeepers around the country.”
This place was phenomenal! The mead was delicious, and I could hardly believe that the only difference between each variety was the type of flowers the bees visited. My favorites were a sweeter Orange Blossom Honey Mead and the almost beer like Carrot Blossom Honey Mead. One thing that we learned from our tour guide was that the Meadery is trying to make mead from honey they cultivate themselves, but have been having issues with colony collapse each year.
That night we played some tennis and HORSE on the tennis/basketball courts back at the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore and explored the property (watch out for poison oak!) We finished the night with a birthday barbecue back and soaked in the hot tub.
After a leisurely Sunday breakfast and Easter egg hunt, we decided to check out the Tule Elk Reserve and Tomales Point Trail. Tomales Point Trail is an easy, fairly flat 9 mile round trip hike to the end of Tomales Point. Here’s how Bay Area Hiker describes it
“The Tomales Point tule elk reserve is not only a great place to watch wildlife, it’s one of the quietest trails on Point Reyes. The single trail drifts north away from the trailhead, eventually reaching Tomales Point, nearly 5 miles from the nearest road. Squeezed on three sides by water, the only sounds are wind, surf, and bird cries. At a bluff overlooking the ocean you can spy on pelicans, cormorants, and seagulls, while elk bellow in the distance.”
While the elks, bird, and ocean views were beautiful, the mid-April wildflowers were incredible! My pictures in no way do them any justice. The whole Point Reyes area was stunningly green. I would highly recommend mid-April as a wonderful time to visit.
I would highly recommend Point Reyes as a quick weekend away from the Bay area or Sacramento, or even as a destination by itself if you are traveling from further away.
I had a little incident at the climbing gym on Wednesday:
Luckily, it’s just a strained tendon.
I wanted to take it fairly easy on my hand this weekend (no biking or climbing), so I went on a hike! Since I started mountain biking three years ago, I haven’t tended to do a lot of hiking, as I’d generally rather be on a bike. I’ve been doing more hiking recently, and I was reminded how awesome it can be.
Greyson, Sylas and I decided to climb to the top of Donner Peak, a hike they’ve both done many times.
Greyson and Sylas enjoy the view from the top.
The hike starts on the Pacific Crest Trail, just off Highway 20 in Truckee. It’s just under 4 miles, with 1.8 ish mile climb up. You take the PCT up for about a mile, then turn left onto the Judah Loop. The last part is an off-trail scramble to the top of the peak.
Donner Peak boasts incredible views.
Some overly friendly wildlife.
Bring binoculars. We spotted a couple of waterfalls rushing in the distance.
I tracked our hike via Strava. The hike up took about 43 minutes to cover 1.8 miles with 933 feet of elevation gain. We definitely weren’t rushing on this hike, stopping to enjoy the views and throw some snowballs. At this point in this low-snow year, there’s not really any snow on the trail, but some of the sections of trails are very muddy and covered by small meltwater streams. Wear boots or expect wet feet! We stopped several times on the hike down to examine and identify wildflowers. While the wildflowers aren’t going crazy yet, I imagine that this hike will be excellent for wildflowers in the next couple of weeks.
Hike stats: 3.8 miles, 933 feet elevation gain, 1:27