After our awesome wedding, Greyson and I went on an even better honeymoon. We road tripped from Point Reyes, up through Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and back, mountain biking, camping, and drinking beer across nearly 3,000 miles! I’m planning on writing about this amazing trip, now that I have a little more time on my hands.
After Oakridge, Oregon and Bellingham, Washington, the next stop on our awesome OR/WA Mountain Bike Road Trip was Leavenworth, Washington. Leavenworth is an adorable “Bavarian” mountain town in the Alps-like Washington Cascades. Leavenworth is on the east side of Stevens Pass (both the ski resort and the physical feature) on Highway 2. I drove Highway 2 across the state during college when I was traveling between my hometown of Reardan and Bellingham, so I’ve been through Leavenworth lots of times, and I’ve stayed there with friends and family several times.
While the Bavarian theme can be a little cheesy, Leavenworth is an amazing town. In the Leavenworth area, there is great camping (I’ve stayed at Lake Wenatchee State Park), epic backpacking and hiking (the PCT runs by Stevens Pass), Icicle Creek and the Wenatchee River flow through town, so there are swimming, floating and rafting opportunities galore, world class climbing, great food, wineries and beer, and more! The drive along Highway 2 from Everett in the Seattle area is beautiful and is almost worth the trip by itself.
Greyson and I met my parents at Stevens Pass to caravan the last segment of the drive to the rental house. We stopped at a couple of points along the way to stick our feet in the gorgeous (and cold!) Wenatchee River.
Obviously of interest to us this trip was the mountain biking, which Leavenworth is also on the map for. Nearby Stevens Pass offers lift serviced biking (sadly, only on weekends so we missed out by arriving on a Monday) and the epic, 24 mile, 3,000 foot climb and descent on the Devils Gulch Trail is on my bucket list, and there are many more trails in the area. We weren’t sure which of the trails we wanted to tackle! Luckily, two of my best friends from college, Morgan and Tommy, met us in Leavenworth, and Tommy is an avid mountain biker. He recommended Freund Canyon.
Freund Canyon (called Freund Climb to Rosy Boa on MTBProject) turned out to be an amazingly fun, featured, and flowy trail with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains that are so beautiful, you are slightly distracted from the brutal climb.
It was pretty hot by the time we got on the trail, which did not make the 1,950 foot climb any easier. The climb wasn’t technical at all, just unrelenting. I’m in much better mountain bike shape than I have been in the last couple of years, but it still took me over an hour to do the ~4 mile climb.
The hour of suffering (Type 2 fun!) was truly cancelled out by the incredible downhill. We lost those ~2,000 feet in about 3.5 miles of fun berms and jumps, well built out of Washington’s amazing dirt. This is one of my favorite trails I’ve ever ridden (even though I don’t jump my bike, except when I get a tiny bit of accidental air), and I was woo-ing it up with pure joy. Some of the berms are built so that you’re turning into the steep, downhill side of the mountain, which felt a little disconcerting (what if the berm collapses and I fly into space?), but for the most part I felt comfortable letting off by brakes a little and flying down the trail. Greyson and I were talking about it later, and decided that the downhill part felt a lot like resort riding without the crowds. It was definitely a very “built” trail.
Location: Freund Canyon Rd., Leavenworth, Washington
Mileage: 7.8 miles
Elevation gain: ~1,95o feet
We spent a couple of days hanging out in Leavenworth – swimming in the river, drinking beer, eating good food, watching turkey vultures, ospreys and a bald eagle from the deck of our rental cabin, and we even had some very special guests on the morning we left – a mama bear and her two cubs up in a tree. Greyson got some great pictures with his nice camera.
After an amazing time in Oakridge, Greyson and I pointed north (and west) towards Bellingham, Washington! I went to Bellingham back in February to visit friends and test ride a Transition Smuggler, the bike I ended up buying. I’ve been loving riding my Smuggler all over the Sierra, and I was excited to bring it back “home” to ride on the terrain that it was designed for.
While there is a lot of seemingly awesome riding in the Bellingham area, Greyson and I decided to keep it easy and head back to the trails at Galbraith that we had ridden in February. Hopefully, with less taking the wrong trail, backtracking and bonking. Galbraith is an amazing trail network located in the city of Bellingham, just a quick pedal from downtown. The trails of Galbraith have something for everyone – flowy single track, long climbs, wooden features, jumps, drops and more on the sticky, perfect Bellingham dirt. There are more than 50 miles of singletrack on 3,000 acres of privately owned land. Galbraith trails are built and maintained by the Whatcom Mountain Bike Club (WMBC), who have more than 30 years of stewardship on the property. They also have the Joyriders, a women’s ride club that I follow jealously on Instagram.
I had such an amazing time riding at Galbraith that I didn’t stop to take pictures, even of the gorgeous views of the Olympics and Bellingham Bay, so apologies for the text heavy post. We started at the trailhead on Birch Street, the Galbraith Mountain Bike Park North Entrance, heading up Miranda to the Ridge Trail. When we did this trail in February, we missed the correct entrance and ended up pushing our bikes up a steep, punishing slope (a huge reason that I think I bonked) to join with the Ridge Trail. This time we figured out that we needed to go left up some tight switchbacks, and our hunch was confirmed by a very friendly woman at the trailhead with her dog.
After climbing up for ~1.4 miles and ~500 feet, we were back at a familiar trail marker with a detailed map at a nexus of several trails, including Family Fun Center, Upper Bob’s and Cedar Dust. We rode Family Fun Center, a ~0.25 mile trail that’s mostly downhill (with a short climb at the end) until it intersected a fire road. We remembered from February that turning left on the fire road would bring us to an intersection with SST, a Galbraith classic.
We stopped on the fire road to gear up for the downhill. I probably didn’t need to, but I had just gotten some new, lighter weight kneepads before this trip (SixSixOne Recon, highly recommended, review coming soon). I also had had so much trouble with watering eyes on the Alpine Trail that I wanted to put on goggles to see if that would help. After I was geared up, we hit the trail. I had so much fun on SST this time! At this point in February, I was completely bonked and my confidence was so shattered that I ended up walking so much of this trail, despite it being entirely rideable for me. This time I rode everything, and I rode it well. I could tell this is exactly the type of trail my bike is made for. The twenty-nine inch wheels rolled over all the rooty and rocky drops and the geometry was perfect for the downhills and the short, steep uphills I encountered.
After SST, we rode Backdoor to the road crossing, carried our bikes cyclocross style up a couple of flights of steps and we were back on Miranda for some tight switchbacks on the way down. We ended up the at the trailhead with huge smiles on our faces, and ready for a beer! I had so much more fun riding at Galbraith this time around. Last time, I was on an unfamiliar bike, out of bike shape and not nutritionally prepared. I’ve also improved my riding a fair amount this summer.
If you’re looking for a short (<4 miles), intermediate loop, this is a really fun one. I got a lot of bang for my buck (aka a lot of fun downhill for the climb) and it showcases the kind of riding Galbraith is known for, with well built trails, a little bit of unpredictability with rooty drops and narrow trees, nice views and great dirt. P.S. Don’t forget to stop by Aslan Brewing Company for a beer after your ride!
Trails Ridden: Miranda, Ridge Trail, Family Fun Center, Lower SST, and Backdoor
Location: Bellingham, Washington via Birch St
Mileage: 3.7 miles
Elevation gain: ~750 feet
I just got back from an amazing road trip, mountain biking, camping, kayaking and beer drinking across Oregon and Washington. I had a great time at all of our stops, both those I’ve visited before and those that were new to me. I’ll be recapping our whole trip over the next couple weeks. Our first stop was Oakridge, Oregon.
Oakridge, Oregon is a small town nestled in the heart of the Cascades and parallels the Willamette River, about an hour east of Eugene on Highway 58. Oakridge had been a busy logging town, but since the down turn in the logging industry, it had struggled, with many businesses closing and families moving away. Oakridge is a beautiful place, with trails for hiking, camping spots along Salmon Creek, rafting and fishing opportunities on local rivers and streams, and, more recently, trails for mountain biking. Oakridge has become a popular destination for mountain bikers – only 2.5 hours from Portland and a “quick” ~7 hours from the Bay Area and Tahoe. (Greyson and I stopped by the local brewery for dinner and literally everyone eating on the patio was visiting from California.)
Mountain biking and other outdoor adventures are helping to bring some much needed money and business to Oakridge. However, it’s a much more complicated story than “mountain biking saves dying logging town!” – check out this interesting article from NPR:
For decades after World War II, the small town of Oakridge in the southern Cascade mountains of Oregon was a booming lumber town. But by the early 1990s, the lumber industry had collapsed, and Oakridge has struggled ever since, losing families and businesses. Now, residents like Randy Dreiling are trying to reinvent the place as a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Dreiling owns Oregon Adventures, which offers mountain bike tours. Some 350 miles of trails have earned Oakridge the self-proclaimed title of “Mountain Biking Capital of the Northwest. Mountain biking is just a piece of the pie. It’s not the end all be all, but it’s what we got. And it’s been good to us,” he says. “Anybody that’s being honest to themselves can see the amount of people mountain biking is bringing to town — more and more every year.”
Greyson found us an awesome campsite, Salmon Creek Falls Campground, about five miles outside of town. We snagged one of the last few first-come, first-serve campsites and set up the tent. This campground has some amazing spots right along the river, but I’m guessing you have to get there early on a weekday to get one of them.
While there are a ton of trails in the Oakridge area, mostly built and maintained by GOATS (Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards), we had decided to shuttle the Alpine Trail, booking a shuttle with Oregon Adventures, a local shuttle and tour company. They describe the Alpine Trail as
Oh glorious Alpine! Known as the Crown Jewel, this is one wicked trail. A combination of every pleasure known to mountain biking, you can’t not love Alpine.
I pre-booked the shuttle for 8:45 am the next day, so we decided to head in from our campsite for an early dinner and to scope out where we’d be meeting up. We (surprise, surprise) ended up at the only brewery in town, the Brewers Union Local 180. The brewery only has cask ale (or as they claim, the only “real ale” in Oregon) which undergoes a secondary fermentation in a wooden cask. These ales are much less carbonated that a typical IPA (it reminded me of a beer on nitro), and both of the ones we tried were tasty. This was by far the most popular restaurant in town, filled with tourists and locals alike. It was a long wait for food and beer, but both were worth it. We even met a group of people we’d be riding the shuttle with (and the Oregon Adventures owner!) at the brewery that night.
We met bright and early at the Oregon Adventures parking lot to drop off bikes with the shuttle van, and carpool to the bottom of the trail, a few miles from headquarters. We reconvened with the ten or so other riders, loaded into the shuttle and were off on the ~30 minute ride. The shuttle driver was very helpful, pointing out road crossings and landmarks that we’d use on the ride back, and soon arrived at our destination. While shuttling the Alpine Trail means a mostly downhill ride, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any climbing. In fact, you start off the trail with a ~350 foot climb that feels steeper than it actually is on cold legs.
After less than a mile of climbing, you come to a flat, grassy field with a narrow trail cut out and beautiful views. I remember commenting to Greyson about how it was hard to ride in such a narrow trail, and that I kept bumping my wheel on the edges. Little did I know that this was just a preview of the majority of the trail width to come!
The day was cool and cloudy, which was nice but I had a real problem with my sunglasses fogging up for most of the day! After the meadow, we rode into the trees and the first of the many downhills. At this point, we stopped to put on kneepads. This was the first of many stops – we definitely did not break any speed records on this trail. One of the coolest things about this trail was that it had some of everything – awesomely sticky Oregon dirt, miles of fast, flowy sections, rocky and rooty drops, long climbs, steep exposure, loose rocky sections, epic views and closed in forest canopies.
I’m used to the wider trails of the Sierra, so the narrow, more overgrown trails took some getting used to, and I definitely walked some sections of narrow trail that had steep exposure. Luckily, the Alpine Trail seemed to be about 85% fun flow on good dirt, with a smaller percentage of steep climbs, loose rocks, and only a few sections that I needed to walk.
According to my Garmin, we climbed about 1,224 feet over the 13.8 miles (the shuttle cut off some climbing and mileage from the full, official Alpine Trail.) The trail was very well marked and easy to follow. We got a little confused at about 12.5 miles in, where there was a junction. The MTB Project app told us to go right to stay on the Alpine Trail, but we were pretty sure we needed to go left to get back to our car. One of the things our shuttle driver told us at the beginning was “when in doubt, go left.” We went left and followed an obviously newer trail (I think called A.T.A.C., but I’m not 100% sure) that did bring us back to our cars.
We quickly loaded up and headed straight for pizza and beer. The pizza wasn’t amazing, but we were hungry so that didn’t matter all too much. After buying some cans of local beer, we went back to the campsite and spent some time lounging in my birthday ENO hammock for national hammock day.
Salmon Creek Falls campground is next to (no surprise) a creek and a small waterfall. Just upstream from the waterfall was a great, but cold swimming hole. We tentatively waded in, and, once my feet and legs were numb, the water felt great!
We stayed two nights in Oakridge and I wish we could have stayed longer to explore more trails! The town was beautiful, the people were friendly, the beer was good and the mountain biking was phenomenal. That’s all I can really ask in a destination. I loved camping at Salmon Creek Falls, and there are a number of motels in downtown Oakridge. The Alpine Trail was worth traveling for, and it’s a trail I’d love to do again with a little more confidence now that I know what it’s like.
I went to college in (what I consider) the best college town in the US – Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.
It’s nestled between the North Cascades and the Puget Sound and between Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s got easy access to skiing, mountain biking, paddling, hiking, climbing, local beer, live music, art, theater – really something for everyone. Luckily, I have a few friends who have made Bellingham their permanent home, so I have friends to stay with when I go visit.
Flights were cheap, so Greyson and I headed up after work on Thursday for a long weekend jam-packed with activities. Here are just a sampling of the fun things we did.
We got in late on Thursday night, so we headed straight to meet Stacey, Jodi and Beth at the Beaver Inn. The Beave (as we called it in college) is a true dive bar. The drinks are cheap & strong, there’s free popcorn, and don’t bother trying to make friends with Don, the locally-famous bartender.
One of the things I really wanted to do while in Bellingham was to test ride a Transition Smuggler. I’m in the market for a 29-er trail bike, and the Smuggler is on my short list. (More on that in a later post!) It’s hard to find Transition demos down in California, but their headquarters is located in Bellingham! They offer bike demos for a $20 donation that goes to Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition for trail building and maintenance.
Greyson and I got set up and headed to a trail on Galbraith Mountain recommended by the awesome people at Transition. We started from the Birch Street trailhead in a light rain, where we tried out our new Smith goggles.
I’m so not used to riding in mud and roots and it took me awhile to get my riding legs under me. There are a bunch of social trails, and we ended up climbing up the wrong one! There was a section that was so steep – maxed out at 46% grade! We did eventually make it to where we wanted to be.
I wore myself out on the climb and bonked a little – I ended up walking more than I should have until I forced down a granola bar. When my blood sugar stabilized I had a blast riding the down SST. The Galbraith Mountain trails are super fun and well built. I really wished I had gotten into mountain biking while I was still living in Bellingham. Oh well, guess I’ll just have to come back to visit a lot.
After biking, Greyson and I met back up with the group for dinner at On Rice. We gorged ourselves on delicious Thai food, and headed to Bellingham Circus Guild to see one of my favorite local musicians, Jason Webley, perform. We didn’t quite know what to expect when we walked in, but I told Greyson that he had to experience the weird parts of Bellingham, as well as the outdoorsy adventure parts. Jason Webley was as awesome as always, playing fun songs on his accordion and guitar. I’d never heard of the headliner, Andru Bemis, before, but he was really talented and I enjoyed his set as well. The other acts…well, as Greyson put it, “That was more Portlandia than Portland.” There might have been a tiny piano, a Huck Finn themed aerial performance, and some truly un-fathomable interpretive dance. We ended our night with a stop at Mallard’s Ice Cream, where I had an amazing scoop of chocolate lavender. Stay tuned for part two!
Have you ever been to Bellingham? How amazing is it, right?
I am lucky enough to get both Lincoln’s Birthday and President’s Day off, so I had a four day weekend this weekend. I packed a lot of fun into this weekend, and I managed to fit two of my favorite things (beer and mountain biking) into Valentine’s Day. We’ve been having a bit of a dry spell up in the mountains, and while it’s led to fun, spring-like conditions for snowboarding, I was ready to get out of the Tahoe area and find some real spring weather. Greyson had heard some good things about the mountain biking around Auburn, and with the forecast calling for 74 and sunny, we decided to check out the Foresthill Divide Trail.
Sidenote: Greyson has been obsessed with Mountain Bike Project basically since it came out. It took me longer to jump on the bandwagon/download the app to my phone, but it is totally awesome! I highly recommend it.
The trailhead for the Foresthill Divide trail is easy to find – it’s 3.7 miles east from the Foresthill Bridge on Foresthill Road. (Note: Google Maps has the trailhead in the wrong location). From Auburn, the trailhead is on your right with enough parking for 15-20 cars. If you don’t have a California State Parks Pass, it will cost $10 to park. There porti-potties, but not permanent bathrooms here. They were very clean porti-potties though! There are signs up reminding you to hide valuables and to lock your cars – locals we talked to agreed with that recommendation. Apparently, there have been break ins and thefts at the trailhead. The Foresthill Divide trail is open to horses, hikers and leashed dogs (but not OHVs), so be aware and practice good trail manners. We saw lots of hikers out yesterday.
The Foresthill Divide Trail is a lollipop with a very short stick, and it is very well marked. There are easily read “Foresthill Divide Trail” signs at every major intersection. As long as you follow these signs and stay on the main trail, you will be fine. After you leave the parking lot follow the signs, you’ll ride about 0.6 miles before hitting the loop part of the trail. The sign here points right, and follow that to do the loop counterclockwise. Pretty much every biker we encountered was doing the loop that direction. You’ll get the harder climbs out of the way sooner, and the steeper sections will be downhill.
I’m feeling pretty out of shape bike wise, and the thought of lugging my heavy Sanction up ~1,600 feet of climbing sounded pretty miserable to me, so I did some research into whether this ride would be a good candidate for riding my hardtail. To be honest, that is my number one question whenever I am thinking about riding a new trail. Can I ride my hardtail, or do I need suspension? The research I did had me leaning toward hardtail acceptable, so that’s what I brought. Spoiler alert: the trail is definitely doable on a hardtail and it was enjoyable, but next time I will be riding a full suspension bike.
The Mountain Bike Project describes the Foresthill Divide Trail as “A very good intermediate Level XC Trail. Rolling singletrack that’s very well designed and maintained,” and I wholeheartedly agree with this description. The trail is hard packed dirt for the majority of the length, with a few rocky and rooty sections. The trail definitely had some erosion damage when we rode it yesterday, but it is generally a well built, FUN to ride trail.
While I enjoy the more technical, rocky trails that Tahoe has to offer, it is just so FUN to be able to let go and ride fast on hard packed, sticky dirt. There are also long, straight downhill sections with lots of visibility ahead, so I felt safe getting my speed up and not worrying about coming up on unsuspecting hikers or horses. While there were rocky sections, none lasted more than a few hundred yards, and there was only one steep, rooty section that I felt like I couldn’t have handled on my hardtail. (There were definitely other sections that I chose to walk due to out-of-bike-shapeness). I said earlier that next time I’d choose to ride a full suspension bike, and that was more due to the bumpy erosion damage and hard packed dirt than the size of the rocks.
While the ride had ~1,600 feet of climbing (according to Strava), none of the climbs were too steep to ride. I definitely stopped for many breaks, but I also haven’t been on a bike since October. You spend most of your time riding through classic California oak woodlands, but you pop out for gorgeous views quite a few times along the way, and we caught a glimpse of the American River a couple of times.
The only major downside to this trail is the couple of times you have to cross a major road. You cross Foresthill Road at 5.6 miles and again at 10.3 miles. Cars are coming fast, and the corners are a little blind for my taste. We obviously made it across safely, but be careful, because there are no warning signs for cars about bike crossings.
We had a great time riding the Foresthill Divide Trail, and I definitely recommend it as a good intermediate cross country trail. It would be a challenge for a beginner, but doable, especially if they’re in good cardio-shape. It’s rideable for an intermediate rider, and there’s enough going on that an advanced rider would have fun. Plus, there’s lots of other fun stuff to do around the Auburn area, and I plan on writing about that in the next week or so.
Location: near Auburn, California
Mileage: 11.0 miles
Elevation Gain: ~1,600 feet
I really love my brain. And I do a lot of activities that could damage it. So over the years, I have amassed quite a collection of helmets that cover a range of activities. I’ve tried good helmets and bad helmets, and I thought I’d share my favorites with you. Note: I have a pretty small head for someone as tall as I am – I’m usually a women’s small or medium in helmets.
I do both road riding and mountain biking (with a heavy emphasis on mountain biking) and I have different helmets for each pursuit. You can easily wear the same helmet for both, and I did for a long time before purchasing any mountain bike specific helmets.
I have a Giro Indicator that I bought 4 or 5 years ago for about $40. It’s a great basic helmet for road riding. It has enough vents that it doesn’t get too hot, light enough to be comfortable and adjusts to fit a wide range of head sizes. Giro doesn’t seem to make it anymore, but it looks like there are a few still available around the web.
Update (July 2016): It was time to replace my Indicator after 6+ years, and I bought the Specialized Sierra. I wore it for the June Lake Triathlon and I really like it so far.
The first mountain bike specific helmet I ever bought was a really awesome, light full face helmet by Rockgardn for more technical riding, like at Mammoth Mountain, Northstar or Downieville. Many people do rides like these without a full face, but I prefer the extra confidence I get from having my face covered. A couple of summers ago, I crashed at Mammoth hard enough that I needed a new one. Unfortunately, Rockgardn stopped manufacturing helmets, and I was on the market for a full face helmet that was light, comfortable and safe.
I got a really amazing deal on a DOT certified One Industries Atom Helmet and tried that out at Northstar last summer. While it does have some advantages – it’s very heavy duty, sturdy and can be used on a motorcycle or dirt bike (neither things I’m interested in), I find it too heavy and uncomfortable for frequent wearing. I’m keeping it around, just in case I decide that I’m going to ride something super hardcore. It would be a good choice for someone who rides bikes and dirt bikes and does steep, high consequence downhill riding.
This year, Bell came out with a helmet that is basically perfect for my kind of riding – Bell Super 2R. This helmet has a removable chin-bar that can take it from a basic mountain biking helmet to a full face with just a couple of easy steps.
It’s also got 27 vents, so it’s super cool and really light. The Super 2R is only 24.5 oz, while another light full face, the Giro Cypher is 40.3 oz and the One Industries Atom is 47.6 oz. The Super 2R also has adjustable padding on the inside so you can get the perfect fit.
I love this helmet and I’ve worn it a bunch of times since I got it earlier this summer. I felt totally protected while riding at Mammoth and while doing the Downieville Downhill. Despite the name, Downieville has a few sections that require sustained pedaling, and it was about 90 degrees the day we did it. The Super 2R stayed comfortable even through that! Another cool technology that this helmet uses is MIPS (or Multi-directional Impact Protection System). MIPS helps to reduce rotational forces on the brain. The Super 2R is available in MIPS (which I have) and non-MIPS (which Greyson has – it fits his extra large head better) versions. Also, if you already have a Bell Super 2 helmet, you can buy just the chin bar to add on.
My last bike helmet is the women’s specific Giro Feather. I wrote a long review of this helmet last summer after I’d been using it for a couple of months. More than a year later – I’m still loving it!
Note: I purchased all of these helmets with my own money, and I didn’t get any discounts beyond sale prices. 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!
This weekend, Greyson and I were in Mammoth Lakes, California. We were mainly there for mountain biking, but there are so many awesome things to do in the area, it’s definitely a worthwhile summer trip. Mammoth Lakes is a decent sized (pop. 8,000) town in Mono County in the Eastern Sierra. It’s about three hours from Tahoe, five hours from LA and the Bay area. There’s a ton of vacation rentals in town, which I’ve used pretty much every time I’ve stayed there, as well as hotels/motels, and camping in and out of town. There’s a bunch of great restaurants, bars, hikes, and outdoor activities, among other things. Here are a few of my favorites.
Ride the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain: Even if you have no interest in mountain biking, you can still ride the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain for some scenic hiking. Two kids can ride for free with every paying adult!
Mammoth Brewing Company: This was the first brewery I visited in the Sierra, and it probably remains my favorite. The first time I visited, the “tasting room” was just a small area in a big warehouse that housed the brewing equipment, and the woman working the taps poured us more free tastes than we could drink, and we walked away with a growler filled on the cheap. Over the years, they made improvements to the tasting room, and started charging (a very cheap fee!) for tastings.
Last year, Mammoth Brewing Company moved into a beautiful new location, and, as of our visit this weekend, they are now serving food. They also have an outdoor seating area and a place to hang backpacks for through hikers. The brewery offers tasting flights of their Originals and their Seasonals for a very reasonable $7 each, and you can get pints, pitchers and growlers to go. My favorites to get on draft at the brewery are Golden Trout Pilsner and Epic IPA. Those are actually two that you can get in bottles and cans in stores, but they taste so much better on draft!
Local hikes: There are a ton of great day hikes around Mammoth Lakes, and it’s a popular stopping place along the John Muir Trail. The Mammoth Lakes Trail System has more than 300 miles of trails. There are trails for every ability level, from an easy nature stroll to rugged trails with 6,000 feet of climbing. Mammoth Lakes is at elevation, so if you’re not used to that, be prepared for an extra challenge and be sure to drink lots of water. You can also use Mammoth Lakes as a jumping off point for multi-day backpacking trip.
Day Trip to Mono Lake: One of the best things about Mammoth is its proximity to other great Sierra destinations. It’s only about a half hour drive to Mono Lake – the unique alkaline lake that inspired massive conservation efforts in the 90s. The weird chemistry going on at Mono Lake has led to amazing formations – tufa towers being among the most iconic.
There’s also interesting bird watching, as it’s an important stop for many migratory birds. Check out the Mono Lake Committee’s website for more information, including guided hikes and tours.
Visit the Restaurants: Here are just a few of my favorite places to eat and drink in Mammoth Lakes.
We camped within walking distance of the festival, and tried dozens of amazing beers. This year’s performers include Jonny Lang, Jelly Bread, and Robert Cray. This is the 20th Anniversary of the festival, and tickets often sell out – so if you’re interested in attending, get them sooner rather than later.
This weekend I checked a couple of items off of my Summer Bucket List: mountain bike at Mammoth Mountain and visit a local brewery (2 down, many to go). On Friday evening, Greyson and I packed up The Toaster with biking and camping gear and headed east towards 395, the Eastern Sierra, and Mammoth Lakes California. We made a pitstop in downtown Truckee to meet my grad school roommate Allison and her husband for happy hour at Pianeta, and we were off!
Driving down Highway 395 is always a gorgeous drive, but driving at sunset on this classic American highway is a must-do. It’s especially great if you can time your drive for watching the sunset from the Mono Lake overlook, but for this trip, we were too late and witnessed the sun set further north. The drive was smooth sailing (especially for high construction season!) and we arrived at our Airbnb rental by 10:30. I had plans for an early night since we were going to be biking all day on Saturday, but catching up with friends won out, and I didn’t go to bed until after one. I slept in a little, but Greyson and I and our two other friends were out the door and at the mountain before 11. It was now time for the fun part – mountain biking at Mammoth Mountain!
I’ve been coming to Mammoth Mountain for lift-serviced mountain biking about once a year since I moved to Tahoe in 2010. Mammoth has diverse terrain, something for every level – beginner to advanced:
“Mammoth Mountain Bike Park offers terrain for every ability level, boasting 3,500 acres and over 80 miles of single track. We offer the best beginner experience in the industry with the Discovery Zone, miles and miles of forested intermediate trail riding and are the leaders in building diverse and creative gravity fed DH and all-mountain expert and pro level trails.”
Though it might seem silly to drive the three and a half hours to Mammoth Lakes from Truckee when Northstar at Tahoe is just 20 minutes away, the quality and condition of Mammoth’s trails and terrain blow Northstar out of the water. If I’m paying $50 for a lift ticket, I want amazing, fun and well maintained trails, which Mammoth delivers. The views from some of Mammoth’s trails are among the top in California, too!
Off The Top:This trail is my #1 everyone must-do trail at Mammoth Mountain. Ride the gondola to the very top of the mountain and prepare for amazing views! The trail itself is graded intermediate, but I think it’s pretty easy – nothing too technical, just exposure with some tight switchbacks (that are easily walked if you’re uncomfortable). This trail has views that are up there with the Tahoe Flume Trail. The steep mountain side covered in bare volcanic pumice means unobstructed views in at least 180 degrees. You can see the Minarets, as well as other stunning Sierra Peaks. If you’re a more advanced rider, take the Kamikaze cut off and bomb down the loose and rocky fire road, home to the Kamikaze Downhill race. Beginners and intermediate riders can follow Off the Top into the trees for a fun cross country trail of mostly smooth dirt, broken up by a few easy rock gardens. Take the easy Beach Cruiser trail to a fire road, and you’ll quickly be back at the base. Watch for faster riders speeding by on the fire road and stay right!
Brake Through: This is another fun intermediate trail, though it involves more exertion and climbing that Off the Top and is slightly more technical. To ride brake through, you get off the gondola at McCoy Station at mid-mountain. After exiting the building, turn left and follow the signs to Brake Through. You’ll climb a slight incline for about a half mile, before turning left at the well-marked Brake Through trailhead. The first half mile or so after the turn off has the most technically difficult rock sections of the trail, including a small water crossing (that was already mostly dry in June 2015!). Brake Through weaves in and out through trees and exposed volcanic sections. The trail itself is mostly smooth dirt, with some loose pumice sections and small rock gardens. Towards the bottom, there are several intersections, but they’re well marked. Keep following Brake Through trail until it runs out (about 3.25 miles from the top) and hop on Downtown. You can continue on Downtown all the way into Mammoth Lakes, where you can catch the shuttle from the Village and head back to the bike park. If you’re looking for more of a challenge you can follow the signs to Shotgun – see more info below.
Shotgun: This trail is more of a downhill trail than Off the Top and Brake Through. You’ll definitely want a full suspension bike with some travel to handle some drops and rocky sections. Shotgun is one of the “easier” advanced trails at Mammoth, but it’s definitely not for beginners. The best way to access Shotgun is from the Downtown trail which starts at the Mammoth Mountain base, and can be connected to from a bunch of higher mountain trails. There’s a very obvious sign pointing out the right turn onto Shotgun, and after a short, but butt kicking climb, you’ll have arrived to the fun part of this trail. The trail was fairly chopped up when I rode it, with lots of small drops and loose dirt and rocks, but it was still so much fun! I felt like I could ride it fast and aggressively (for me!) and take on features that I would normally chicken out on, because the trail is so well designed. It’s a short trail (~0.6 miles), and you end up in the parking lot of one of the ski bases that is closed in the summer. Ride downhill on the road coming out of the parking lot, and you’ll end right at the Mammoth Village shuttle stop.
Greyson hadn’t been biking at Mammoth Mountain since the mid-nineties, and he had a great time exploring the trails on his new bike. This is the first time I’ve ridden at Mammoth since I put the improved fork on my bike, and the difference it made was incredible. We had beautiful weather and didn’t wait in line once! Whether you are an experienced mountain biker, or want to try it for the first time, Mammoth Mountain Bike Park is a great destination.
One of the most iconic mountain biking trails in the country is the Flume Trail, and I finally rode it last week with Greyson and my friends Katie and Gavin.
The flume trail is known for it’s incredible views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains. For much of the trail, you are more than 1,000 feet over the tropical-colored East Shore of Lake Tahoe, looking down at the aqua waters and sandy beaches, and across to the snowy mountains on the West Shore. The flume trail itself is not very technical and can be done by anyone in moderately good shape with fairly basic mountain bike skills (though it does have a fair amount of exposure for those nervous about that). This is definitely a trail to savor the views, not rushed through for thrills.
The Flume Trail is usually done via shuttle (though it can be looped). We shuttled it ourselves, but there is a really convenient shuttle provided by Flume Trail Bikes for $15, a shop located at the end of the Flume Trail, where you can also rent bikes. Self shuttling is super easy with two cars. We parked a car on the side of the road by Flume Trail Bikes and Tunnel Creek Cafe (don’t park in their lot!) at the end of the Flume Trail and took off from the parking near the Highway 50 and Highway 28 boat inspection site at Spooner Summit. Both of these places have free parking, but you could also pay $5 to park at the Nevada State Park entrance to the Spooner Summit area. We just rode the half mile from where we parked to the park entrance along the road. Note: even if you ride into the park, you do have to pay an entrance fee of $2 per person for bikes, so be sure to have a little bit of cash.
Trail Ends at Flume Trail Bikes and where to leave a shuttle car.
Intersection of Hwy 50 & Hwy 28 – where we started and left a shuttle car.
Once you’re in the park, hit up the super nice restrooms and follow the signs to the Flume Trail/Marlette Lake.
Now we get to the only really challenging part of the Flume Trail – the climb to Marlette Lake. This section of the ride is on an old fire road that was in really good riding condition in mid-May, but I imagine will get sandier and sandier as summer progresses. You’ll climb from ~6,850 to ~8,020 in about 4. 5 miles, with the steepest section occurring in the last quarter mile or so of the climb. We took our time on the way up to save our legs for the last climb, and I even got off and pushed on a couple of the steeper sections during that last quarter mile. It took us over an hour to make the 4.5 mile climb, but going slow was the right decision and kept us from being miserable on the fun parts!
Forced smiles only on this part.
After the climb, there’s a quick downhill via fire road to Marlette Lake. I recommend taking a long-ish snack and water break here. You’ll want to feel good enough to enjoy the scenic portion of the Flume Trail.
Photo by Katie Riley
After eating our snacks of PROBAR Meal and workout candy (aka Clif Shot Bloks) and enjoying the view, we rode along the side of Marlette Lake and finally connected with the Flume Trail. Though the whole ride is commonly called the Flume Trail, the actual Flume Trail is a 4.5 mile section built on top of an old logging flume. The Flume Trail is flat, sandy and easy to ride. There are a couple of high-consequence technical sections (ie, don’t fall off the cliff), but those come with large warning signs asking you to dismount well in advance. Though we could have burned through this slightly downhill, non-technical section quickly, we didn’t want to. The views are what makes the climb worth it!
We quickly got our first view of Lake Tahoe – and it only got better from here. We stopped and took a million pictures along the way. It took us over an hour to ride 4.2 miles of non-technical, net downhill trail! But, like I said, the views are the reason that you ride this trail, so there’s no reason not to linger.
The trail is fairly narrow, and has a steep drop off in sections, but as long as everyone is cautious and polite, passing is not really an issue as even the narrowest sections eventually widen out for a safe passing area. People generally ride it in the downhill direction (or south to north), but we did encounter a few people taking the opposite way. Here’s a typical picture of the Flume Trail – as you can see it’s flat and non-technical.
And here’s an example of a more technical section. Katie and Greyson are picking their way though a narrow opening in the rocks.
photo by Gavin Feiger
We could not get over how awesome the views were! We decided that the view of Lake Tahoe from the Flume Trail is one of the few things that could be accurately described as “hella epic”.
Since we weren’t in any sort of race to the finish, we took a ton of pictures – not only of the stunning views, but also pictures of us enjoying the trail. One of the cool things about the Flume Trail is that it is cut through huge granite outcroppings in a few areas. So you are surrounded by and ride through these massive boulders!
photo by Greyson Howard
photo by Greyson Howard
Sand Harbor is one of the most well-known spots in the Lake Tahoe area, and for good reason! It’s got aqua blue water, large sandy beaches, and spherical boulders dotting the shores. If you’re on the ground, you can hang out on the beach, paddle board or kayak through the clear water and even attend a Shakespeare play on the beach! Now that I’ve done the Flume Trail, I can say you haven’t experienced Sand Harbor at its best until you’ve seen it from 1,000 feet up.
photo by Gavin Feiger
After the incredible views of Sand Harbor, we started winding our way back into the trees and towards the end of the trail. But not before a final view of Lake Tahoe!
photo by Gavin Feiger
The last part of the ride is 3 miles of a fast fire road down to Flume Trail Bikes and Tunnel Creek Cafe. The fire road is in excellent condition, but there are some sections with loose gravel and ruts, as well as plenty of hikers so be sure to keep your speed under control. When we got to the end, we were totally ready for food and beer, and luckily, Tunnel Creek Cafe has both. We all enjoyed Deschutes Fresh Squeezeds in the sun – well deserved after an awesome day on the bike!
P.S. Did you notice I added a “Beer” page to my site? You can check out my favorite breweries by clicking here!