Eastern Sierra Highway 395 Road Trip

While not as popular or well known as a Big Sur or North Coast road trip, a route down Highway 395 through the Eastern Sierra is just as spectacular.

Eastern Sierra Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

While you could spend months adventuring in the Eastern Sierra and not hit everything, you can do a more abbreviated trip and hit quite a few highlights. I’d take a week at minimum to do this route, but you could cut out some stops for a weekend version. Since the Eastern Sierra can get really hot during the summer, I’d recommend doing this trip in early spring, late fall, or even winter if you are a confident snow driver. I love camping in the Eastern Sierra, so all of my lodging suggestions revolve around camping – though many places have a variety of motels and vacation rentals in addition to my camping suggestions.

South Lake Tahoe to June Lake via Monitor Pass  (137 miles, 2.75 hours)
The most scenic route between South Lake Tahoe and June Lake isn’t the fastest, but it’s worth doing, especially in the fall. The aspens on Monitor Pass and throughout the June Lake Loop make the extra fifteen minutes so worth it.

On your way down, be sure to stop at the Mono Lake overlook, and take in your first glimpse at this practically alien lake. It’s also worth the detour or to navy beach and/or the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center to check out the tufa towers and learn about the natural and human history of Mono Lake.

#monolake panorama from #hwy395

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Just past Lee Vining, turn right and stop at the world’s best restaurant located in a gas station – Whoa Nellie Deli. The Mobil Mart is on the way to Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park, so there’s usually an interesting crowd of climbers, locals and tourists. There’s even live music on Sundays and Thursdays throughout the summer.

At @junelakebrewing, my favorite #brewery in the #easternsierra.

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Be sure to take the June Lake scenic loop into town – the view just keeps getting better and better. See my detailed recommendations for where to stay, what to do, and where to eat and drink in my Things to do in June Lake post from earlier this week.

June Lake to Mammoth Lakes (20 miles, 30 minutes)
Mammoth Lakes has lots going on – no matter what the season. If you’re there in the winter there’s skiing or snowboarding at Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort or in the backcountry. In the summer, lift serviced mountain biking at the resort is world class! Don’t worry if you’re new to it, Mammoth Mountain has trails for all levels, and rental gear is available at the resort and in town.

After a long day of adventuring, you’ll probably be thirsty, so be sure to check out Mammoth Brewing Company! If you’re looking for restaurants recommendations, hikes, or other things to do in the area, check out my post – Things to do in Mammoth Lakes here.

For lodging, there are tons of options. There are even campgrounds in town! I had a good experience at Old Shady Rest, but there are quite a few options in the area. There is also dispersed camping in the area.

Mammoth Lakes to Bishop (42 miles, 45 minutes)
One of the best reasons to do this road trip during the milder weather is the abundance of hot springs! On your drive between Mammoth and Bishop, turn left at the old green church and visit Wild Willy’s Hot Spring. If Wild Willy’s is too crowded, there are quite a few others in the area, so look around.

Scenic drive in the #easternsierra.

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My favorite place to stay in Bishop is actually a little north of the town at the Pleasant Valley campground on the Owens River. This campground can be kind of mixed bags – we’ve had wind, loud RVs, and biting ants on one trip and a perfect rural oasis on others. One of the reasons that I like it so much is its proximity to the Happy Boulders. While not as famous as the Buttermilks, the Happy Boulders are more my grade (beginner).

The scene. #happyboulders #bishop #easternsierra #bouldering

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Head into town for two must try spots: Mountain Rambler Brewery and Black Sheep Coffee Roasters. The brewery doubles as a music venue and the best dinner in town. If you are in the mood for something quick or need sandwich supplies, I like Great Basin Bakery more than it’s more famous cousin, Schat’s.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Photo by Greyson Howard

An amazing day trip from Bishop is to visit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. These gnarled trees can be up to 4,000 years old! During the winter, the gate is closed and you can’t drive all the way to the top, but it is a popular spot for snowshoeing and cross country skiing.

Bishop to Independence (42 miles, 40 minutes)
If you want to get taste of high Sierra hiking, but don’t want to commit to Mount Whitney or the John Muir Trail, I suggest hiking into Kings Canyon National Park via Kearsarge Pass from the Onion Valley trailhead. You can make it a day hike just to the top of the pass and back (~9.5 miles round trip with ~2,500 feet of elevation gain). You’ll be rewarded with amazing views of the Kearsarge Pinnacles and alpine lakes. You can also use this trailhead to launch a backpacking trip – like the famous Rae Lakes Loop.

If you’re going to hike Kearsarge, I’d highly recommend staying in the Onion Valley campground. You’ll be able to leave right from your campsite and start hiking. It’s at 9,000 feet so you’ll be able to get out of the heat of the valley, too. The campsites here are pretty small – so a huge tent might not fit in the space available. Some of the sites are a bit of a hike (<0.25 miles), so keep that in mind with your packing.

Entering John Muir Wilderness #jmt #latergram

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View from the top of Kearsarge Pass at 11,760′

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Independence to Lone Pine (16 miles, 16 minutes)
Just down the road from Independence is the town of Lone Pine, best known as the gateway to Mount Whitney. However, there’s more to Lone Pine than the town you drive through on your way to Whitney! The Alabama Hills around Lone Pine have a long history of filmmaking – from spaghetti westerns to standing in for the Middle East in current films to the setting of Tremors! This history is celebrated at the Museum of Western Film History in downtown Lone Pine, and it’s worth a stop.

On a more sober note, the Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of the 10 internment camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War Two. It’s now Manzanar National Historic Site and  “was established to preserve the stories of the internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II and to serve as a reminder to this and future generations of the fragility of American civil liberties. Manzanar National Historic Site is between Independence and Lone Pine.

Alabama Hills in the #easternsierra #hwy395 #roadtrip #camping

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While you’re in Lone Pine, you should definitely camp in the Alabama Hills dispersed camping area. You’ll be able to find solitude, but the roads are easy enough to navigate. Camp spots are located throughout alien-looking rock features and the night skies are some of the clearest I’ve ever experienced. Since camping is dispersed, there are no services, so be sure to bring your own water and practice Leave No Trace camping principles. As long as you’re in the Alabama Hills, stop by the instagram-famous Mobius Arch.

With that, that’s the end of the trip! Like I said, you could spend months exploring all the Eastern Sierra has to offer, and I hope this route inspires you to visit. All in all, you’re looking at about 4.75 hours of drive time and 250 miles travelled, not counting any day trips or detours.

Things to do in June Lake, California

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.

Things to do in June Lake California // tahoefabulous.com

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.

June Lake Brewing // tahoefabulous.com

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.

Tuolumne Meadows // tahoefabulous.com
Tuolumne Meadows // photo by Greyson Howard

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.

Olmstead Point // tahoefabulous.com
Half Dome from Olmstead Point

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.

June Lake Triathlon // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

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!

Big Sur Coast Road Trip

Back in February, I had some time off between jobs, and Greyson and I were able to go on an amazing road trip along the Big Sur Coast. We drove from Truckee to Big Sur, driving down Highway One as far as we could go. Until recently, the road ended near Gorda, due to the massive landslide, so that’s where we stopped. We stayed a few days in Big Sur, then drove up to Santa Cruz to visit friends and family before heading home.

Big Sur Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

This trip inspired me  to plan a three-day Big Sur Coast Road Trip itinerary – from Monterey, California down to Gorda and back. This road trip would work great as a long weekend, but now that I’ve experienced Big Sur during the week, I have to recommend that if you’re able to swing it.  I’ve always had a great experience in Big Sur in late winter, so I’d go then as well, but you’re more likely to get storms than a summer trip, but there will be fewer crowds. Quick note about Big Sur parks – some of the state parks are managed by outside vendors, so your State Parks Pass won’t work at all of them and you’ll have to pay an entrance fee. Bring your pass, but beware of that!

Big Sur Road Trip Route
Map via Google Maps

Day One: Monterey to Lucia
While you’re in Monterey, check out the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s a major tourist destination, but for good reason. Spend some time on their deck – I’ve seen everything from otters to humpback whales. Cannery Row is pretty touristy, but fun to check out at least once. There’s actually a lot to do in Monterey, and if you have extra time, it’s worth adding on a day to explore – especially if you’re into John Steinbeck.

Big Sur Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

Head south on Highway One towards the tiny town of Lucia. You’ll drive through the thick redwood forest of northern Big Sur (don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to explore this area) before popping out in the more open oak woodlands characteristic of the central coast. It’s about an hour and a half drive to Lucia from Monterey, but be sure to keep your eyes out for whale spouts in the Pacific – we saw dozens when we were driving down in February. Less than 20 miles from Monterey you’ll arrive at the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. There’s a large pull out area on the north side of the bridge, so it’s easy to stop and take photos. Otter related fact: Bixby Creek is where the last remaining population of southern sea otters was found in the 70s, when they were thought to be extinct!

Bixby Creek Bridge // tahoefabulous.com

There are a few lodging options near Lucia. I’ve camped at Limekiln State Park and Kirk Creek campground. Both are great and fill up fast, so be sure to get reservations ahead of time. Limekiln has a slight advantage with beach access, though. There are also some non-camping lodging options including the Lucia Lodge, glamping at Treebones Resort, and the super fancy Esalen Hot Springs retreat center.

Limekiln Park View // tahoefabulous.com
View from Limekiln State Park Campground

For meals, I’d suggest bringing a picnic dinner to eat on the beach or at a scenic cliff – charcuterie and sauvignon blanc on Limekiln Beach at sunset is one of my top ten meals of all time. If you’re looking for a restaurant, both the Lucia Lodge and Treebones have restaurants that are open to non-guests and Whale Watchers Cafe is a restaurant in Gorda.

Big Sur Picnic // tahoefabulous.com

Day Two: Explore Big Sur
If you’re up early, morning is the best time to take photos of the iconic McWay Falls. McWay Falls is one of only two California waterfalls to pour directly on the beach. It’s got to be one of the most photographed spots on the Big Sur Coast, but it’s worth the hike to the view point. While people occasionally do hike down to the falls and the beach, there is no developed trail and it’s an incredibly dangerous undertaking. Stick to the walk to the viewpoint, the view is still incredible and you won’t die. If you don’t make it in the morning, and you want to take good photos, come back in the evening.

McWay Falls Big Sur // tahoefabulous.com

McWay Falls Big Sur // tahoefabulous.com

The Henry Miller Memorial Library is about 15 minutes north of McWay Falls and is quirky spot that’s worth a visit. It’s part bookstore/part performance venue/part museum.

“The Henry Miller Library is a public benefit, non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization championing the literary, artistic and cultural contributions of the late writer, artist, and Big Sur resident Henry Miller.  The Library also serves as a cultural resource center, functioning as a public gallery/performance/workshop space for artists, writers, musicians and students. In addition, the Library supports education in the arts and the local environment. Finally, the Library serves as a social center for the community…The Library hosts events throughout the year, but particularly in the summer months (May-October), including music, lectures, book signings, and countless community events…”

Another worthy stop is Pfeiffer Beach – this is a big sandy beach with a very recognizable sea arch. The walk from the parking to the beach is kind of long, but this would be another great spot for a picnic. If you’re looking for a quick snack and amazing coffee, stop by Big Sur Bakery or at Big Sur Taphouse for a bigger meal. There are also a ton of unique shops filled with local items, perfect for gifts or souvenirs.

Big Sur Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

One of the best parts of the Big Sur Coast is that there are so many amazing view points. When you’re driving along, be sure to pull over and stop anywhere that looks appealing – you’ll be sure to see something spectacular. After your leisurely day exploring the coast, you’ll be ready to get a good night’s sleep, whether that’s on an inflatable mattress or in a super nice hotel bed. I’d recommend heading back towards where you stayed on night one since the drive is so short and scenic, but there are plenty of lodging options closer to the town of Big Sur.

Big Sur to Monterey
One of the best known restaurants in Big Sur is the ultra-fancy Nepenthe, but one of the best kept secrets in Big Sur is the fact that Nepenthe has a less ritzy breakfast and lunch restaurant called Cafe Kevah. Cafe Kevah’s menu is smaller (and less expensive), but you can eat out on their amazing deck – one of the best views on the Big Sur coast. I’d call it a good trade off and recommend waking up early enough on your last day to make it to breakfast here.

After a leisurely breakfast, head north to the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Point Lobos is a spectacular part of the California State Parks system and a can’t miss stop on the drive between Big Sur and Monterey. Guided walks are available every day, or you can just wander around and see the sights. When we were there, the water was so clear in some coves that we could see the baby harbor seals swimming around. We also saw a bunch of sea otters – including a tiny baby tied up in the kelp! You can even SCUBA dive and snorkel in Point Lobos – more information here.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve // tahoefabulous.com

Point Lobos // tahoefabulous.com

Extend your last day with a final stop in Carmel by the Sea. This tiny and ritzy town is always worth a visit. Wander around the cute downtown and pop into a restaurant for lunch – chances are wherever you stop will be delicious. Monterey is only about a ten minute drive from Carmel, so savor your last glimpses of the ocean. With that, your road trip is complete!

I hope you like this new blog feature, and check back next week for a more inland, but just as epic road trip.

Car Camping Road Trip Necessities

On the scale from ultralight backpacking to yurt glamping, I prefer to do my road tripping on the luxurious side. There’s a time and a place for cutting down your toothbrush and sitting on the ground, but, for me, road trips are not it! I’ve done a lot of car camping and road trips, and I have some great suggestions to make your time on the road and in your tent as comfortable as possible. I found options at lower and higher price points, so you can get a pleasant set up, no matter your budget.

Road Trip Must Haves // tahoefabulous.com

Sleeping:
Being comfortable while sleeping makes a huge difference to your quality of life on the road, and I think it’s the most important area to splurge on. I love having a big-ass tent. Greyson and I are both tall people, and, while we can both fit in a two-person tent, it’s a tight squeeze. We have the Big Agnes Tensleep Station ($449.95) and the footprint ($50.00), and it is incredible. The tent is tall enough to get dressed in and there is enough room for both Greyson and me, and our bags. It also has a large vestibule, so you can take off wet and muddy gear, but stay dry. The tent is easy to set up – though it definitely helps to have two people, it can be set up by one. It has plenty of guylines, so you can stake it out and make it stable in high winds, despite its height. It doesn’t pack down very small and is heavy, which is the only real downside. For four-person tents under $200 from reputable brands, you could look at the highly-rated REI Co-op Camp Dome 4 or the Kelty Salida 4. For sleeping, I want something long, wide and cushy, and the insulated Nemo Cosmo in long and wide is perfect ($139.95). It also has an integrated foot pump for easy filling. For comfort under $100, try Kelty Weekender ($59.95), ALPS Mountaineering Comfort Series Airpad ($39.99), or the old reliable close-cell foam Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest.

Car Camping Must Haves // tahoefabulous.com

After more than 5 years, I’m still really happy with my Sierra Designs Zissou ($144.95). With water-resistant down, it has the benefits of down without the drawbacks in wet weather. For warmer weather, Greyson prefers a backpacking quilt-style sleeping arrangement, even for car camping, like the Enlightened Equipment Revelation ($255). With quilt bags, you can cinch up the sides and bottoms when it’s chillier, or use it like a blanket on warmer nights. If you opt for synthetic, affordable and reliable sleeping bags are easy to find. There’s the Mountain Hardwear Bozeman Quilt ($69.27) or the REI Co-op Trail Pod ($89.95) or the Marmot NanoWave ($89.95), which also comes in long. I didn’t use a sleeping bag liner until our honeymoon, and now I can’t imagine camping without one. I have the easily-washable and light Sea to Summit Expander Travel Liner ($34.95) which is on the cheaper end of liners. If you tend to sleep cold, you could get the Sea to Summit – Reactor Extreme Thermolite liner ($59.99) which can add up to 25 degrees of warmth! You could even use it as a standalone ultralight bag in really warm weather. Don’t forget a pillow! You can just bring a pillow from home for the cheapest and easiest option, but I have and like the NEMO Fillo ($39.95). A cheaper travel pillow is the Cocoon Ultralight Pillow ($25.95).

Car Camping Must Haves // tahoefabulous.com

Eating:
I’ve found that having a nice and easy to use kitchen set up makes us much more likely to cook and less likely to cave in to eating out. First up, a really nice cooler is worth the money. We are so impressed with our YETI Tundra cooler ($249.99). Stuff stays cold for so long! At a lower price point, the old school Coleman Steel-Belted cooler has good reviews and holds a ton ($94.99). For cooking, nothing beats the Coleman Classic 2-burner Stove, ($32.99) for both price and performance. If you want something that packs down smaller, there’s the Jetboil Genesis 2 ($239.59). We also have a Jetboil Flash ($99.95) that we use if we’re just heating water for coffee in the morning. On the cheaper side, the MSR PocketRocket ($44.95) is a classic for a reason – it works and, while not quite as easy to use as a Jetboil, it’s quite simple.

Car Camping Must Haves // tahoefabulous.com

I like the ease of an all in one camp cookset, like the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Camper ($139.95). For a smaller cookset, look at the Snow Peak Personal Cooker ($29.95). You’ve also got to have utensils, and nothing beats a Titanium Spork ($9.95). You can also go super budget with this reusable GSI plastic spork ($1.75)

Car Camping Must Haves // tahoefabulous.com

Miscellaneous:
If you’re not spending more than a day in each of your stops, and you have a lot of time on the road, you can probably get away with charging your phones via a car charger. If you’re spending a few days exploring a destination or you have bigger things (computers, cameras, gps units, etc.) to charge, you’ll want a battery system. No matter what, this isn’t going to be cheap, but it’s better than camping out in Starbucks for hours! We have the Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station ($199.95), which can charge up to five devices at once, via USB ports, regular plugs, or car chargers. You can recharge the power station from a wall outlet or via Goal Zero solar panel ($125.49).

Once you’ve settled in to your campsite for the night, you’ll want to be comfortable and entertained. While a lot of developed campsites have picnic tables for seating, dispersed or primitive camping lacks that amenity. Plus, a chair with a back is so much more comfortable! I’m not a fan of the ultra light or small packing camp chairs – if I’m bringing a chair, it needs to be the real thing. The REI Co-op Camp X chair ($39.95) is perfect. It’s roomy, has cup holders, and they seem to last forever. I’m also big on having a hammock whenever possible, and I’ve had no complaints about the ENO DoubleNest Hammock ($52.46). Don’t forget the Hammock Suspension System ($29.95) – you won’t be able to swing without it.

Car Camping Must Haves // tahoefabulous.com

Hopefully, you’ll be stopping for outdoor meals in gorgeous places on your road trip. I’ve found that having a water-resistant picnic blanket for these occasions is a must have. We’ve given the Nemo Victory Blanket ($79.95) as a gift, and the recipients love it. It’s truly waterproof (non just resistant), and you can even stake down the edges if it’s windy out! There are much cheaper options out there, like this one ($9.99) or this one ($21.99), but they aren’t going to be fully waterproof.

Camp games are a great way to entertain yourself and to make friends with your neighbors. I’ve played Spikeball ($55.99), Bocce Ball ($29.95) and Ladder Golf ($37.49) while camping and had a blast. Get waterproof versions of playing cards ($8.99) or games like UNO ($9.95) for durability and to protect from spills or sudden storms.

Finally, we love our solar powered, inflatable, multi-color Luci Lanterns ($19.50). While they might just seem like a silly gimmick, we truly use ours a lot. They don’t take up very much space at all, charge quickly (we put ours on the car dash while we drive), and the white is bright enough to read by. The multi-color function is fun for the wilder nights and for entertaining kids. If you just want white light, you can get the Original Lucy ($17.95) for a little cheaper.

There are some of my suggestions to make your next car camping road trip a little more luxurious! I didn’t hit everything, so what did I miss?

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!

Five Amazing California Road Trips

Starting today, I’m launching a new blog feature that I’m excited to run for the rest of the summer – Road Trip Fridays. One of my best (and sadly underutilized at work) skills is road trip planning. In the past 4.5 years, Greyson and I have gone on some great road trips through California and beyond, and I’ve done the bulk of the planning. With Road Trip Fridays, I’m going to pass my best ideas on to you! I’ll cover the routes (including estimated mileage and time), sites to see, outdoor adventures to go on, and my favorite restaurants and breweries along the way.

Five Amazing California Road Trips // tahoefabulous.com

To kick things off, here are a few of my favorite California itineraries. I’ll be posting detailed trip routes throughout the summer, so keep watching. If you’re interested in a specific route and don’t see a detailed post, feel free to get in touch and I’ll help you out!

Big Sur Coast: One of the most classic California drives of all time is Highway One along the coast. While the whole thing is great, the stretch between Monterrey and Gorda is one of the most breathtaking drives you can take. Distance: 67 miles, 2 hours one way. While you can do the route in an afternoon, why would you want to? Take at least a weekend and savor the drive. Highlights along the way include Carmel by the Sea, Point Lobos Natural Reserve, and McWay Falls. Check back next Friday for a detailed route and more suggestions.

Point Reyes to Redwood National and State Parks: In 2014, Greyson and I went on an amazing road trip from Point Reyes up the North Coast to Redwood National and State Parks. We camped on the beach in Fort Bragg, hiked some of the Lost Coast Trail from the remote Sinkyone State Park, and re-enacted The Lost World in Redwood National Park’s Fern Canyon. I’ve written up this trip in detail here, though it also includes our drive from Truckee and back home via Chico and Nevada City. The Point Reyes to Redwoods stretch is about 375 miles and 9.5 hours.

Lost Coast, #california

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Tahoe to Lone Pine on 395: The drive from Tahoe to Lone Pine along 395 will take you alongside the epic peaks of the Eastern Sierra. While the views alone are worth the drive, there are so many amazing places to stop, you can spend a week or more just on this stretch. It can be quite hot along this drive, so this is a perfect early spring or late fall road trip. It’s even great in the winter if you can handle potential snow around Mammoth Lakes. Stop for hot springs and ancient pines; skiing, climbing, or mountain biking; and surprisingly good food in tiny roadside towns. South Lake Tahoe to Lone Pine is about 230 miles and 4.5 hours of driving. I’ll have more details on this route later this summer.

Santa Cruz to Point Reyes via Highway One: Sure, driving from Santa Cruz to Point Reyes taking Highway One the whole way isn’t the most efficient route, but it is the most scenic! You’ll pass by Pescadero (fresh goat cheese & artichoke bread), Half Moon Bay (views and seafood), scenic oases in San Francisco (Golden Gate Park and The Presidio), Stinson Beach (surfing and cheesy garlic bread), and much more. This drive is only a little over three hours and about 120 miles – I’d recommend doing it in a leisurely day and tack on a few days on either end. More recommendations to come!

#pigeonpoint on #hwy1

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Truckee to Mount Lassen: It’s no secret that I love the Lost Sierra – the stretch of the rural northern Sierra north of Truckee and extending up to Lassen Volcanic National Park. This route takes you from Truckee north on Highway 89, through the Sierra Valley, a quick side trip to the historic town of Downieville, and back toward Graeagle and along the Feather River, and finishing at one of the least visited National Parks in the continental US. I’d take at least five days for this trip, and the mileage is about 190 miles and four hours of driving time. I’ll be writing this up in more detail later this summer.

Took a detour to #lassen national park yesterday.

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There you go – five awesome road trips that you can take in California! Stay tuned for detailed routes, and I hope you like this series as much as I do.

Beer, Camping & Biking in Winthrop, Washington

All too soon, our trip through North Cascade National Park was over! We had plans to spend a couple days biking and hanging out in Winthrop, Washington before heading to Reardan for our wedding reception in my home town.

Winthrop is a cute little tourist town just on the east side of the Cascades on Highway 20. The downtown is historic, old west style, and it’s a good base camp for families who want to get outside. Our first stop was the Old Schoolhouse Brewery, which came highly recommended. Like many places we visited on the #toasterroadtrip, this was high season for Winthrop, and though a weekday, the brewery was packed! While the food and beer at Old Schoolhouse was some of the best we had on the trip, the service left something to be desired, especially at the bar. Like I said, it was super busy so I don’t blame them too much and would still recommend them highly. Just be prepared for it to be busy and potentially pretty slow. Here’s the beer (all descriptions by Old Schoolhouse Brewery)

Old Schoolhouse Brewery // tahoefabulous.com

Epiphany Pale Ale (4.25/5): A medium-bodied pale with moderate bitterness, slight caramel malt flavor, and citrusy hop aroma. This is a good beer to start with when building up the courage for the stronger beers.

Ruud Awakening Douple IPA (4/5): Big, bold American IPA with plenty of piney, citrusy, and floral Pacific Northwest hops that completely overwhelm its medium malt body. This is our signature beer, named after Evan Ruud, the first hop-head in our family.

Renegade IPA (4/5)

Imperial IPA (4.5/5): Our Imperial IPA is bigger and more balanced than its little brother, Ruud Awakening IPA, with a stronger malt presence and increased hopping rate. Mild caramel malt character and plenty of Pacific Northwest hops. The Imperial IPA is part of our Brewer’s Reserve Series.

We camped at Pearrygin Lake State Park, just a little ways out of the town of Winthrop. The campground is huge, and I imagine it can get to be quite the party scene during certain weekends, especially in the motorhome heavy section of the park. However, we were near the lake with mainly other tent campers. Our section was quiet and peaceful, and our lake front neighbors never even showed up. We took advantage of this and used the empty site to access the lake. It seeemed a little pricey, especially for a state park campground, but I think we’d just gotten used to the cheap prices of Canadian Provincial campgrounds. I’d definitely camp there again – check out this sunset!

Pearrgyn Lake State Park // tahoefabulous.com

Unfortunately, smoke from some of the many wildfires last July started blowing in, and we decided to cut our stay to only one night. We woke up in the morning, and headed to a bike shop to ask about local rides. The person working was super friendly and showed us a bunch of options, but they were all long with a ton of climbing, which we weren’t into on a hot and smoky day. We ended up just doing a quick spin to stretch out our legs on an easy trail near Sun Mountain Lodge before packing up camp. We jumped in the lake one more time, and then headed east towards Reardan!

North Cascades National Park

Heading east from Bellingham, we decided to take the scenic route – through North Cascades National Park. Greyson had never been before, and I hadn’t been since right after college, so we were excited about this very scenic drive. We didn’t get to do any hikes, since we were just driving through, but we did lots of stopping and photo taking. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves! (All photos by Greyson)

North Cascades National Park // tahoefabulous.com

North Cascades National Park // tahoefabulous.com

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We’re hoping to do more than just drive through some day, but it’s definitely worth the detour to drive through the park in the summer.

Mountain Biking Galbraith & Kulshan Brewing

After an absolutely amazing time in Canada, it was time to head back the US. Luckily, we couldn’t be too sad, because we were heading to one of my favorite towns, Bellingham, to visit some good friends, Rebecca and Corey. We had a few goals – ride Galbraith, see friends, and drink good beer. We managed to do all of them.

On day one in Bellingham, Greyson went and rode Galbraith with Corey while Rebecca and I hung out with their daughter. After Greyson and Corey got back, we headed to Kulshan Brewing Company. When I lived in Bellingham, there was only one brewery – Boundary Bay. Now there are way more and it seems like new ones pop up every few months! I’ve had Kulshan beer a bunch of times while back visiting the PNW, but this was my first time visiting their brewery location. We went for the very generous six-beer sampler, and here’s what I tried (descriptions by Kulshan):

Kulshan Brewing Company // tahoefabulous.com

Party iN the Woods (4/5)

Pilsner (4.25/5): We raise a glass to the men and women who pioneered this classic session beer in 1842. Crisp and refreshing with clean and balanced bitterness from floral, bright and spicy Noble hops, this lager is our tribute to their hard work, precision and good taste. Prost.

Good Ol’ Boy Pale Ale (4.25/5): This beer is your best friend, reliable, refreshing, honest and true. Life is gritty, wash it all away with a Good Ol’ Boy Pale Ale, and do it again tomorrow. Enjoy Absolutely.
Bastard Kat IPA (3.5/5): Brewed with passion and precision, Bastard Kat is an American Style West Coast IPA with a prolific full hop flavor and aroma predicated upon the citrus notes of the Cascade Hop. Brewed for your next adventure.

Bull of the Woods Double IPA (3.5/5): Walking down endless rows of a green forest, the onslaught of hop aroma seduces one to a time, a place, a dream, a memory, an ideal ideal. How can I put that in a pint and deliver it unto you? Never limiting, always pursuing, climbing to the top. Allow yourself to be enveloped by this blanket of hops, and dream a little dream, of a forest of green.

Sunnyland IPA (5/5): Crisp, Refreshing, Hoppy, Hoppy punch up front, soft middle, and an evaporating finish.

After only a couple of days in Bellingham, we had to be on the road, but I still hadn’t had a chance to ride at Galbraith this trip. We decided to go on a short ride before we headed east.

Galbraith Mountain Biking // tahoefabulous.com

I’d ridden at Galbraith a few times before, but this time we tackled a different section of the trail network. We parked at the parking area on Samish Way and headed north on Gailbraith Lane. The first real trail we hopped on was Dog Patch, a pretty easy climb. We popped out on a fire road and climbed that for about a third of a mile before getting back on the trail with Three Pigs. We only stayed on Three Pigs for about a half mile before turning right onto Pony Express. Pony Express crosses a fire road, and there we got back on Dog Patch before finishing it out on Last Call.

I’m by no means an expert on Galbraith, but I thought that was a fun short loop – it was under 4 miles with less than 500 feet of climbing. It took us under an hour – and I imagine it would be way shorter if we didn’t have to route check quite so often.

While we were bummed about leaving Bellingham and our friends behind, we were looking forward to our next destination – North Cascades National Park!

Beer and Camping in Whistler/Squamish, BC

So one thing I quickly learned when planning this trip is that, unless you’re staying in the Whistler village or on the mountain, you’re probably hanging out in Squamish, BC. That’s fine, because it turns out that Squamish is an amazing town. It reminded Greyson and me a lot of Truckee, actually.

Squamish Beer and Camping // tahoefabulous.com
Squamish, BC is an outdoorsy town on the northern end of the Howe Sound. It’s in a gorgeous setting, with towering granite cliffs and unbelievably blue water. It’s about 50 minutes from Whistler, and the drive is on the gorgeous but nerve wracking Sea to Sky Highway. In addition to miles of mountain bike trails, it’s also famous for climbing – especially Stawamus Chief. Think of an outdoor activity, and you can probably do it in Squamish – hiking, kayaking, trail running, rafting, etc.

After a full day of downhill mountain biking in Whistler, we were too exhausted to ride the trails of Squamish, which is probably our biggest regret of our whole road trip. Oh, well, we’ll just need to go back! Unsurprisingly, we visited several breweries in the Whistler/Squamish area and I really liked them. We were there in early-July, which is definitely high season in Squamish, so all of these breweries were packed. If you go during a busy time of year, prepare to stand or share a table with friendly locals. I also got to pet a lot of cute dogs at these breweries, too.

Beer
First up was Backcountry Brewing. This brewery has a full kitchen (we had good thin crust pizza) and was super busy. We tried two IPAs, Close Talker (3.5) and Sid Rogers Lil IPA (4.25) that appear to have gone off the menu. I really liked this place and would definitely go back. They also have cider, if you can’t do gluten.

Next was A-FRAME Brewing, which was just down the street. Here we did a four beer tasting flight, and this was my favorite Squamish brewery overall. We sampled (beer descriptions by A-FRAME):
Okanagan Lake Cream Ale (4.5/5): Okanagan Lake Cream Ale is pale gold with a sweet malty flavour, light in hop aroma and a smooth dry finish.

Elfin Lake Belgian Ale (3.5/5)

Shuswap Lake IPA (4/5): Shuswap Lake IPA is a bold, lean and assertive West Coast IPA. Brewed with Galena and Horizon hops in the kettle and dry-hopped with Centennial, Chinook and Cascade hops. This hop forward ale has a smooth, crisp, hop forward flavour with Centennial hops providing medium aromas of floral, grapefruit and mild citrus.

Sproat Lake Pale Ale (4.75/5): Sproat Lake Dry-Hopped Pale Ale is a fresh, light and sessionable ale where every new batch is hopped with an entirely different varietal. This batch of Sproat Lake Pale Ale focuses on the juicy side of today’s most popular hops. Brewed with Flaked Oats, Wheat and dry hopped with Amarillo, Mosaic and Citra. Smooth and silky malt body, light orange hues with aromas of citrus, orange zest and tropical fruits.

Finally, we have Coast Mountain Brewing, the only brewery we went to that was in Whistler. Here we tried (again, descriptions by brewery):

Forecast West Coast Pale Ale (3.75/5): Forecast gives us a peak into the future where fairer days breed serious mountain Apres sessions. The incredible Amarillo dry-hops here add tremendous, beautiful fresh-squeezed juice like character.

Day Dreamer NE IPA (3.75/5): Beautiful hazy, juicy goodness with notes of tropical fruits and citrus throughout. Brewed with generous additions of Canadian flaked oats, flaked wheat and tremendous late and dry-hop additions of Citra hops.

Lodging
There are not a ton of camping options in the Whistler/Squamish area, especially for non-private campgrounds. We ended up staying at two private campgrounds and one night in a hotel.

Our first night in the area, we camped at MTN Fun Basecamp in Squamish which I would highly recommend. The sites are spacious, the crowd wasn’t too rowdy and there are bike trails right from the resort. It also looks like a great base camp for rafting and climbing and booking guided trips as well. Post biking, we got a room at the Sea to Sky Hotel. The hotel was fine, the price was decent and the rooms were clean. They had a bike storage room, which was just a conference room, but better than nothing. I wished we could have locked up our bikes while they were in there, though. The best part of Sea to Sky Hotel was the restaurant within walking distance Pepe & Gringo’s (also known as Pepe’s Chophouse). Generally, when a place has a bunch of different cuisines on the menu, none of them are that good. But Pepe’s had Indian, Italian, and Indian and more, and everything we had was delicious. Finally, we stayed at Riverside Resort in Whistler. This is a private campground with walk in-only and drive in camping, motorhome spaces, and rental cabins. This was definitely the worst place we camped – very much a party campground and pretty pricey.

Overall, I’d recommend staying in and exploring Squamish and making the trek to Whistler when needed. If you really want to stay in Whistler, splurge and stay in the village. Overall, Whistler and Squamish are awesome and I can’t wait to go back.

Food, Lodging, and Things To Do at the Sunshine Coast

Things to do on the Sunshine Coast // tahoefabulous.com
I already wrote about the mountain biking and the breweries of the Sunshine Coast, but that’s not all we did while we were there.  The Sunshine Coast is an awesome destination and I highly recommend visiting.

Camping
We camped at two different places on the Sunshine Coast – in both Powell River on the north end and in Roberts Creek towards the south.

In Powell River, we camped at a private campground located right in town – Willingdon Beach Campsite. Often, that combination is a recipe for a loud, un-scenic stay, but that wasn’t the case at Willingdon. The spots were pretty close together and we struggled finding a spot flat enough for our tent. Our neighbors were super friendly and respectful and a beautiful beach was a short walk away. It was also pretty cheap for a private campground, and it had laundry available if you needed it.

In Roberts Creek, which is between Sechelt and Gibsons, we stayed at Roberts Creek Provincial Park. This was a nice campground with spaced out spots in the old growth trees, but even in the height of summer it wasn’t staffed like the other provincial park campgrounds. This was the only campground we stayed at in all of BC where we put money in an envelope!

Other Lodging
We stayed at a couple of non-camping lodgings while we were on the Sunshine Coast. I was worried about finding camping when we took the evening ferry from Vancouver Island to Powell River, so we booked a night at the Island View Lodge for our first night. Now, the Island View Lodge is not the height of luxury, but I thought it was perfectly fine for a hotel on the cheaper end of things. It had recently been remodeled and had a better than average continental breakfast. It’s pretty close to a mill though, and, while we couldn’t smell it in the room, the distinct mill smell was noticeable outside.

If you’re looking for a nice place to stay on the south end of the Sunshine Coast, I highly recommend the Huckleberry Cottage in Roberts Creek. We stayed in the Carriage House, an adorable studio with all the amenities we could want after camping. There was a washer/dryer, a full kitchen, and an amazing soaking tub. The owners were so nice and friendly and had a great spot for locking up bikes.

Restaurants
While we did some camp cooking on the Sunshine Coast, we did eat out more often at this point in the road trip.

Costa Del Sol was an amazing Mexican restaurant in Powell River. It’s more a hipster type of Mexican restaurant, not a hole in the wall and it’s pretty small so you might have to wait for a table. I loved the Costa Cesar, which was made with tequila, and the Yam Tacos.

In Sechelt, we ate at The Lighthouse Pub, which was at the marina. The restaurant is right on the water, and we could watch sea planes take off and land from our table. We even saw a seal pop up its head while we ate! The halibut fish and chips were incredible! Seriously, I’ve eaten a lot of fish and chips in my life and these were #1.

Between Sechelt and Roberts Creek, we stopped at Gourmet Girl, another waterfront restaurant. I had Belgian waffles with local berries, which were delicious, but Greyson’s home fry poutine stole the show. If you’re looking for something quick and easy in the Roberts Creek area, the pizza from Pepper Creek was good, if a little pricey for basic pizza. The staff was also super friendly.

Finally, Smitty’s Oyster House in Gibsons is in an amazing location, but you’ll definitely pay high food prices for the view! They were also out of the oysters I wanted when we got there, which was a total bummer. The food we got was good, and Greyson found non-seafood things to eat.

Kayaking in Sechelt Inlet

We wanted to do some exploring on the water instead of via mountain bike while we were on the Sunshine Coast, so we booked a guided kayak tour with Pedals & Paddles, who have an incredible spot on Sechelt Inlet, almost at the end of the road. The two hour tour was only $75 per person, which included the boat and life jacket rental, which was a great price. Our tour guide was friendly and knowledgable, and the time flew by. The water was so clear that we could see down to the star fish hanging out on the bottom! The sea life highlight was definitely the moon jelly blooms where tens of thousands of translucent jelly fish turned the water a beautiful turquoise color. We also saw a mink playing along the shoreline!