Kokopelli Packrafts Nirvana Self-Bailing First Impressions

After talking about it for literally years, Greyson and I took the plunge this summer and bought packrafts! Specifically, we bought the Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailing ($1,200). We’ve had them for a few weeks now and taken them out a few times, and I’ve got a good enough feel to give my first impressions.

Kokopelli Nirvana Packraft Review // tahoefabulous.com

Kokopelli Packrafts describes the Nirvana Self-bailing as:

The first-ever self-bailing packraft, the Nirvana is engineered to keep you above the water with our industry leading self-bailing packraft design, which allows water in the boat to drain automatically as you crush that rapid. Designed with a narrow trim, aggressive rocker on the bow, and a large-volume stern which the Nirvana performs best in Class 1 – Class 3 and offers excellent stability.

We did a lot of thinking about which specific model we wanted to buy before purchasing the Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailing. We knew that we wanted packrafts that could handle a little bit of white water, we wanted bottoms with some padding, and we didn’t want spray skirts. We also were leaning towards Kokopelli as a brand, mainly because REI carries it, and we both have REI rewards credit cards. We narrowed it down to the Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailing and the Kokopelli Rogue-Lite. We were initially leaning towards the Rogue-lite, mainly due to the lower weight, cheaper price and the fact that it is supposed to do better in flat water than the Nirvana.

Kokopelli Nirvana vs Rogue Lite // tahoefabulous.com
Kokopelli Nirvava (top) and Rogue Lite (bottom)

My friend Kristen at Bearfoot Theory has the Kokopelli Rogue (which comes with a removable spray deck), and she mentioned in her packrafting the San Rafael River trip report that when not using the spray deck, they ended up having to frequently bail water. Once we took that into consideration and acknowledged that we probably won’t often do long slogs where we would be carrying them, we decided that the extra weight and cost was worth it for increased durability, the self-bailing ability, and the extra capability in white water. Along with the packrafts, we ordered paddles. We wanted ones that broke down into four pieces, and we purchased the Werner Skagit 4-Piece Kayak Paddle ($144) in size 220 cm, which is the size Kokopelli recommended to us.

So far, we’ve paddled our packrafts on a lake, a mellow stretch of the Truckee River, and a rowdier section of the Truckee River. So far, I’m really happy with our decision to buy the Kokopelli Nirvana Self-bailing. First, it’s easy to get set up and inflate. The inflation system is pretty intuitive and goes much more quickly than I thought. We can get them set up in under ten minutes, and I imagine we’ll only get faster. You first inflate the floor and the raft most of the way using the airbag, then top off using your mouth and a hose attachment. Note: due to asthma, I struggle with this part, so Greyson usually has to do this. If you have breathing problems, you might struggle too.

Kokopelli Packrafts Nirvana Self Bailing Review // tahoefabulous.com

The seat is attached using straps and double D-rings, which I thought was pretty easy. There are also instructional videos to watch for the set up. One tip that I have is to set the seat much further forward than seems intuitive – you want some bend in your knees when seated. I ended up moving my seat forward several times the first time we took the rafts out.

As long as you’re decently athletic, the rafts are easy to get in and out of . I practiced “falling” out in the lake in water too deep to stand in, and I was able to get back in on my first try. As expected, the Nirvana doesn’t track very well in the flat water, especially with a bit of a headwind. I wouldn’t take this on a long trip on a lake, but it’s still fun to play around on.

Kokopelli Packrafts Nirvana Self Bailing Review // tahoefabulous.com

Our first river trip, we did the stretch of the Truckee River from the Truckee Regional Park to the Glenshire Bridge. This was maybe not the best choice for a maiden voyage, as it was rowdier than expected. I’m still learning how to paddle in moving water and I hit a lot of rocks, washed up on a lot of sandbars, and we had to get out and portage a particularly rocky section. I even fell out once! The Kokopelli Nirvana handled it like a champ, though. I was VERY glad we had bought packrafts with self bailing capabilities, because I’m sure I would have swamped several times without that. We’ve discovered that it’s important to top off the rafts once we put them in the water, as the air volume decreases when it gets cold. Depending on the length of the float, we have needed to top off again when the rafts start sagging. When I fell out, it was because I’d lost air, hit a rock, and the raft taco-ed.

For the second river trip, we went on the “Booze Cruise” section of the Truckee River, from Tahoe City to River Ranch. Now this section of the river can be floated in a gas station floatie while holding a Coors Light, so this turned out to be a great segment to get more comfortable on our boats. The packrafts tracked well through the moving water, even in sections with really low flow, and I was able to get a lot more comfortable steering. This paddle confirmed that the Kokopelli Nirvana is really stable in moving water – we were able to hop in and out easily when needed, and I hung my feet over the sides when I wanted to cool down.

Kokopelli Packrafts Nirvana Self Bailing Review // tahoefabulous.com

Once we finished paddling, we were able to easily pull up to shore both times. The packrafts are super easy to deflate and re-roll. The Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailing weighs a little over 10 pounds and rolls to about 16″ by 12″, so it’s pretty easy to carry short distances, even with the paddle.  So far, I’ve just rolled mine up enough to carry in my arms and strapped it up using the seat straps. It can pack down to 12″ x 9″ x 6″, so for a longer walk, I could get it smaller and put it in a pack. After we got back home, we spread them out to dry before storing in the gear room. I like that you can store them rolled, so they don’t take up much room at all.

So far, I’m very happy with my purchase of the Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailing packraft! I really like how easy it is to get out on the water with just the packrafts, paddles, and a dry bag and quickly be having a great time. I think we’re going to purchase PFDs soon, for rougher waters and get the battery powered Kokopelli Feather Pump for front country paddling. While it’s pretty easy to fill the packrafts using the human powered bag system, this will let us inflate them in less than a minute with a cheap, easily charged pump. I’m really excited about this new way to get outside and enjoy the rivers.

If you have any packrafting suggestions – gear, routes, paddling tips, etc., please let me know!

Kokopelli Nirvana Self Bailing Stats:
Size:
Outer Length – 90 in
Inner Length – 57 in
Outer Width – 37 in
Inner Width – 15.5 in

Weight:
Packraft: 8 lb 6 oz
Backband: 6 oz
Inflatable Floor with Integrated Seat: 1 lb 3 oz
Inflation Bag: 3 oz
Inflation Tube: 2 oz
Compression Straps: 2 oz total

Packed Size:
Folded- 12 x 9 x 6 in
Rolled Size – 16 x 12 in

Recommended For:
Rivers, Creeks, Extreme-Low-Flow (ELFing) – Class 3

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!

Mountain Biking Dry Pond Loop, Reno, NV

Dry Pond Loop // tahoefabulous.com

With this super long winter we’ve been having, I’ve been having so much fun exploring the trails in the lower elevations surrounding Truckee. Last weekend, Greyson and I checked out some new-to-us trails in the Mount Rose area of Reno, as you might have seen in my video. We rode the Dry Pond Loop counterclockwise, and it was a great intermediate ride, on the easier side of intermediate. It’s about 6.5 miles and a little over 1,000 of climbing, with most of the climbing coming in the first half.

Check out my video of the Dry Pond Loop here!

Dry Pond Loop // tahoefabulous.com

Dry Pond Loop // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

This loop is below Mount Rose in the Galena area, south and west of downtown Reno off of Highway 431. We parked at the Thomas Creek Trailhead parking area (Click here for Google Map directions) and headed up Thomas Creek Trail right from the large parking lot. This trail climbs steadily, but not too steeply along Thomas Creek through aspen groves and into the pines. We saw a ton of hikers with dogs on this section of the trail, but nearly everyone was very friendly. After about 1.5 miles and ~500 feet of climbing, Thomas Creek Trail intersects with the Dry Pond Trail.

Dry Pond Loop // tahoefabulous.com

Dry Pond Trail continues to climb, and the climb definitely gets steeper at this point, and there are a few very tight and steep switchbacks that I struggled with. Dry Pond trail takes you through a curly leaf mountain mahogany forest, which is really cool. I’d only ever seen bush sized mountain mahogany before. There are also really sweeping views looking down into the Washoe Valley.

Dry Pond Loop // tahoefabulous.com

After about 1.2 miles and another ~440 feet of climbing, we arrived at the dry pond that gives the trail it’s name. We stopped here to have a snack and admire the awesome view of Mount Rose across the meadow. The Dry Pond Trail starts heading downhill almost immediately after the meadow, and the trail on the south side was pretty different from what we’d just climbed up. While the climb up was mostly dirt with some embedded rocks and roots, the downhill was looser, rockier and more exposed. It’s all very rideable, but I was amazed at the quick change in the terrain.

Dry Pond Loop // tahoefabulous.com

At about mile 3.8, Dry Pond Trail intersects Whites Creek Trail. We turned left and continued down hill. Whites Creek Trail isn’t as steep as Dry Pond, and it’s back in the pines and aspen groves. The trail isn’t a “flow trail”, but I thought it was fast and flowy, with lots of little rock gardens and objects to pop off of that you can choose to challenge yourself on. It also gets a little sandy in spots, especially towards the bottom, and I imagine it will be even more sandy later in the summer. As we got closer to the end, we started to encounter more bikers, hikers, and dogs, but generally people were really friendly. Whites Creek Trail dead ends at N. Timberline Dr. where we turned left and headed the last half mile back to the car. There’s a tiny bit of a climb back to the parking area, and my legs were dead at this point. It was almost comical how hard the less than 75 feet of climbing felt to me.

Dry Pond Loop // tahoefabulous.com

I really enjoyed riding the Dry Pond Loop. There were great views, interesting ecosystems, friendly people, and enough challenge to make it entertaining. I think this would be a great trail to take newer riders on.

Trail Stats
Location: Mt. Rose, Reno, NV
Mileage: 6.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,025
Difficulty: Easier Intermediate
See my Strava Route here!
Washoe Land

Things to Do in Truckee-Tahoe When It’s Raining

Rainy Day Activities for Tahoe Truckee // tahoefabulous.com

Ugggghhh, I am not happy about this return to winter! I am ready for long, sunny days at the lake, hikes, mountain biking, and drinking beer on patios. We’re in for quite a stretch of rainy days, but luckily there’s plenty of things to do in Truckee and Tahoe when the weather isn’t great.

Bars, Breweries and Restaurants
Eating and drinking is always a fun indoor activity, and this area has a number of great ones. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Alibi Ale Works Brewery (Truckee & Incline Village): This brewery has awesome beer and something going on most nights of the week – from outdoor movies to trivia to knitting to open mikes to charity bingo to live music, there’s something for almost everyone. Check out my brewery review here!
  • Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar and Moody’s Bistro (Truckee): For a fancier night out in Truckee, these two restaurants are my favorites. Cottonwood has an amazing view of downtown Truckee and Moody’s is perfectly located for bar hopping after dinner. Both restaurants have great food and fun cocktails.
  • West Shore Pizza (Tahoma): This place has my favorite pizza in the area, great beer, and a casual, laid back atmosphere that makes it a great place to hang out while it’s raining.
  • Artemis Lakefront Cafe (South Lake Tahoe): If you want to eat with a lake view while staying dry, I love Artemis Lakefront Cafe in South Lake’s Ski Run Marina. Their whole menu is amazing, but especially their brunch food (Baklava French toast? Come on!). They also have a full bar, so you can get a real Bloody Mary. Artemis has two locations with great food, but only the Lakefront Cafe has brunch and view.
  • South Lake Brewing Company (South Lake Tahoe): Located in the more industrial part of town, South Lake Brewing Company is worth the trek. Their beer is great (be sure to try the Trail Builder Pale if it’s on draft – proceeds from this beer benefit TAMBA). The big warehouse setting means there’s plenty of room for games, well behaved dogs, and large groups.
Rainy Day Activities in Tahoe Truckee // tahoefabulous.com
Beer at Alibi Ale Works in Truckee and Incline Village.

Indoor Activities
While Tahoe and Truckee are known for their outdoor activities, there are a ton of fun things to do indoors (even ones that don’t involve the casinos!) if you know where to look. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Go see a movie at Tahoe Art Haus (Tahoe City). This awesome theater serves beer, wine, and gourmet popcorn and is locally owned. They have a great mix of blockbusters (the staff all dresses up for Star Wars movies!), indie movies, outdoor films, and local events.
  • High Altitude Fitness (Incline Village) and Blue Granite (Meyers): If it’s too wet to climb outside, there are a couple of great climbing gyms in the area. I’ve spent a lot of time climbing at High Altitude Fitness, which has top roping, auto belay and bouldering, as well as a high end gym feel, including a sauna and smoothie bar. I haven’t actually climbed at Blue Granite yet, but have heard rave reviews from friends who have.
  • If yoga is more your speed, I recommend Tahoe Yoga & Wellness (Truckee), Tahoe Yoga Shala (South Lake Tahoe). I’ve also taken some really fun aerial yoga/aerial arts classes at Inversion Tahoe.
  • There’s frequently great live music in the Truckee-Tahoe area. Some of the best venues to check out are The Divided Sky (Meyers), Crystal Bay Club (Crystal Bay), and the casinos in South Lake Tahoe.
Rainy Day Activities in Tahoe Truckee // tahoefabulous.com
Indoor Climbing at High Altitude Fitness

Get Outside Anyway
With the right gear and some planning, there are plenty of outdoor activities to do in the rain. Hiking is probably the easiest activity to do in the rain – all you need is a raincoat and some waterproof shoes!

Rainy Day Activities in Tahoe Truckee // tahoefabulous.com
A sunnier day on the Sagehen Creek Loop Trail

Biking is a little more challenging in the rain, but doable, especially if you stick to roads, gravel and paved trail. Most of the mountain bike trails in Truckee and Tahoe aren’t designed to be ridden in the wet, and will get damaged or destroyed if ridden while muddy. As much as I hate doing it, I stay off the trails until they’ve dried out enough to be safely ridden.

  • My rainy biking gear is pretty similar to hiking, with a rain coat and light baselayer. My raincoat is bright orange, which is great for visibility, but if you have a darker or more neutral color, maybe add a lightweight safety vest for visibility. I skip the rain pants and wear thick, knicker length pants – the Pearl Izumi Sugar Thermal Tights. I also wear full finger gloves when it’s rainy and cold. The Giro LA DND work great for this. There is all sorts of other gear for long road rides in the rain, like shoe covers, under helmet hats, etc., but honestly, my rides in the rain don’t last long enough to need it.
  • My recommended rainy day road rides are the Donner Lake Loop (Truckee), the Olympic Valley to Tahoe City Bike Path (Tahoe City) and exploring the miles of bike paths in South Lake Tahoe.

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!

Spring Mountain Biking in the Sierra

It’s definitely the shoulder season here in Truckee. The sky is gray, the snow piles are dirty, and I am ready for summer! Unfortunately, we have a ways to go, and I need to find ways to enjoy the spring. Luckily, spring means the start of mountain biking season here in the Sierra. Spring riding is a little different than biking in the summer or the fall, but it can be a bunch of sloppy fun.

Spring Mountain Biking // tahoefabulous.com

Trails
Depending on how much snow we get in the winter, the lower trails in Truckee and Tahoe start melting out in March and April. The earliest rideable trails in Truckee are usually Emigrant, Jackass, and Elizabethtown Meadows. In South Lake Tahoe, Powerlines, Railroad and Lower Corral in the Corral Trail Network are among the first to be rideable.

In a winter like this, the Tahoe and Truckee trails might not be rideable until summer. In that case, I drop down into the foothills to ride. My favorite spring foothills trails are Hoot Trail in Nevada City and Foresthill Divide and the Culvert/Confluence Loop in Auburn.

Trail Conditions
The biggest question about spring mountain biking is – can you ride your mountain bike when it’s been wet and raining? The answer – it depends! There are regions where the very idea of riding in the wet makes responsible mountain bikers recoil in horror and others where, if you didn’t ride in the wet, you would never ride at all.

If a trail is well designed and is mainly composed of sandy and rocky soil and drains well, it is probably safe to ride when it’s been raining. If a trail has clay type soil and the water tends to puddle in the flat spots and/or create erosion ruts, it’s not safe to ride. If you’re riding a trail and leaving tire tracks for long stretches, you shouldn’t be riding. It sucks, but if the spring conditions are such that you are damaging the trail, you should bail on the ride.

Riding on wet trails increases erosion ruts, damages jumps, berms and other features, and contributes to trail widening and reroutes. When you’re unsure if a trail is rideable due to conditions, do some research ahead of driving out to the trail. Local trail groups, like TAMBA in Tahoe or BONC in Nevada City often have up to date trail conditions reports on their websites. Regional facebook groups, like Tahoe Mountain Biking Meetup, are another great source for finding trails that are rideable. Finally, the location specific forums on websites like MTBR often have the most up to date trail data, though be sure to take personal recommendations with a grain of salt, and be ready to turn around if the trail is unrideable.

Spring Riding Gear // tahoefabulous.com

Gear
For wetter spring riding, it’s nice to have some specific gear. Layers are always good, and I decide what I want based on what the weather is actually doing. If it’s going to be actively raining, I’ll wear an actual rain coat. I have a Patagonia Torrentshell, which is a very waterproof coat. It’s not very stretchy or packable, though, and I’m interested in trying out something like the Patagonia Stretch Rainshadow which looks to be smaller, lighter, and more comfortable than a typical raincoat. When there’s no rain in the forecast, I just got a new softshell, the Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody, which I think will be perfect. If there’s a slight chance of rain, I’ll often throw my Patagonia Houdini Jacket into my hydration pack. It’s tiny enough that I don’t even notice, and while not fully waterproof, it will help if I get caught in the rain. On the bottom, I like to wear full length chamois tights if it’s cold or particularly muddy. I have the Pearl iZUMi Escape Sugar Thermal, which I like, though I wish they were a little longer. If anyone knows any good full length tight chamois that fit someone 5’11” – let me know! Greyson likes to wear water resistant baggy shorts over his chamois, but I haven’t found any water resistant women’s baggies, unfortunately. When it’s grey, cloudy, and wet, I’ll switch to clear lenses in my Smith Squad MTB Goggles. I also carry sunglasses with me in case the sun comes out, because I cannot function when it’s too bright.

A couple of other things that are nice to have during the spring is a foldable saw, like the SILKY F-180, which is useful if you encounter trees downed across the trail and something like the Nemo Helio Portable Pressure Shower, which is great for rinsing mud off your bike.

Trail Work // tahoefabulous.com

Trail Work
Trail work is a great way to give back, and spring is a time where a lot of trail work gets done. After the snow melts out, there’s often debris and garbage all over the trails. Trails are rutted out and features have been damaged. Additionally, trail builders might be cutting new trails. Some trail groups and governmental agencies might have a trail builder on staff, but all rely heavily on volunteers to get trails built, repaired, and maintained.

While anybody can just go out and pick up litter from a trailhead, trail building requires some knowledge and training, and the best way to get that is to volunteer with groups that organize trail days. Beyond the warm glow of giving back, volunteering on trails often has other benefits – you’ll almost always get at least a beer. It’s also a great way to meet other riders in your area, and once, Greyson and I even got a free shuttle to the top of Mills Peak! Here are some great trails groups in the Sierra that host trail days:

I’m hoping to get out this weekend and do some riding, but the weather that’s coming doesn’t make that likely. I guess I’ll deal with a couple more weeks of winter.

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!

Spring Skiing & Snowboarding in Tahoe

Spring Skiing and Snowboarding Tahoe // tahoefabulous.com

It’s light out in the evenings, it’s starting to warm up, and it’s officially spring on the calendar! While I appreciate a powder day or storm riding session as much as the next person, spring is my favorite time of year to get on the mountain in Tahoe.

Only in California are we #blessed with such a long spring ski season, and, with the amount of snow we got this winter, it’s going to be extra long in 2019! The days are long, it’s usually warm and sunny, everybody is more relaxed, and the resorts get much less crowded. What’s not to love?

However, there are a few tips to get the most out of the spring ski and ride season.

1. Check the weather. It’s probably going to be warm and sunny, but we can get snow storms basically every month of the year in Tahoe. And, the weather can change really quickly so be prepared for winter driving, even if it’s April or May.

2. Dress appropriately. Nothing will ruin my day faster than being overly hot, while others are miserable when cold. Know which type you are, and that will help you dress for the in-between weather. For spring skiing, I like to wear thin, light pants (like Arcteryx Sentinal Pants or Patagonia Powderbowl Pants), a light weight base layer (like the Patagonia Midweight Capilene or this Midweight Base Layer by Stoic), a down or synthetic vest (I live in my Marmot Aruna Down Vest) and a light wind shell (like the Patagonia Houdini Jacket or the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Jacket).

Good spring #skiing and #riding at @sugarbowlresort today. #selfieselfie

A post shared by Lynn (Tahoe Fabulous) (@tahoefabulous) on

3. Make sure you have sun glasses and/or dark goggles. Suncloud is my favorite brand for nice, polarized sunglasses that aren’t too expensive. For goggles, I wear the Smith Squad Snow Goggles in both winter and spring, just switching out lenses based on conditions. I’ve had other goggles that make my face sweaty when it’s warm out, but I haven’t run into that with the Smith Squads. They ventilate well.

4. Find sunscreen that doesn’t sweat into your eyes. I try to find environmentally friendly sunscreen that isn’t tested on animals, doesn’t turn my face white, and doesn’t run directly into my eyes the second I heat up. So far, Tarte Amazonian Clay BB Tinted Moisturizer is the best thing I’ve found for my face. I don’t care as much about my neck/arms/body turning white, so for that I use thinksport.

5. Get your board or skis freshly waxed and tuned. If you’ve been riding a lot all winter, your skis or board might be a little beaten up and in need of some work. Some people like to use a softer “spring” wax for warmer weather to help glide faster in wetter conditions. Note: some waxes contain fluorocarbon additives which aren’t great for human health or the environment. PFCs from the wax persist in waxers blood streams, likely enter water sources and soil from skis and snowboards, and are manufactured using toxic chemicals that end up in water pollution. Good news, there are green ski wax alternatives available. I bought a variety pack of Purl Wax for Greyson for Christmas. We haven’t tried it out yet, but I’ll report back on how it works.

6. Wear your helmet! Just because it’s mellower skiing and snowboarding doesn’t mean you don’t need to protect your brain. Even if you’re not worried about your own abilities, worry about someone else crashing into you!

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 Beginner Mountain Bike Trails in Tahoe-Truckee

Fall is definitely my favorite time to mountain bike in the Tahoe-Truckee area, and it’s great time to check out the sport and/or expand your skills if you’re new to it. The weather is cooler, wildfire smoke is out of the sky, the trails have been refreshed by fall precipitation, and the popular routes aren’t crowded with summer traffic. Mountain biking can be an intimidating sport to start, and it can especially be hard to find fun routes that are beginner-friendly and aren’t just a gravel road. If you’re new to riding or visiting the Tahoe-Truckee area, I’d recommend downloading the Trailforks or MTB Project app on your phone. Most of these trails are located in networks with multiple options, so some navigation help can be useful.

Beginner Mountain Bike Rides Tahoe // tahoefabulous.com

Here are some of my favorite trails that are suitable for newer riders.

1. Powerline Trail, South Lake Tahoe, California
Powerline Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Powerline was the first trail that I rode when I moved to Tahoe eight years ago! It’s a great introduction to the trails of South Lake Tahoe. The trail is pretty smooth, with some small rocks and roots but very rideable. There is enough climbing that you’ll get a workout, and there are great views. This trail can get a little sandy from decomposed granite in the late summer or dry fall weather. Click here to read my detailed trail report about Powerline Trail.

2. Elizabethtown Meadow Trail, Truckee, California
Elizabethtown Meadows Trail // tahoefabulous.com

The Elizabethtown Meadow Trail is a fairly new and new-to-me trail that I rode for the first time last weekend. This is a great trail to ride in the fall – the aspens were turning yellow and it was beautiful! Trailforks calls this trail intermediate, but I think it’s very doable by a beginner. It’s rocky, but the rocks are small so it feels more bumpy than technical. The actual trail is is about 2.25 miles one direction, but it does connect with other trails and fire roads in the Martis Creek area. I haven’t ridden any of those yet, so I can’t vouch for their difficulty though. Click here to see my Strava route.

3. Railroad Grade Trail, South Lake Tahoe, California
Railroad Grade Trail is a short, fun trail that can be used as a connector to other trails, or ridden as an out and back for a short and sweet ride. Click here to read my description of Railroad Grade, including how to get there and other, more challenging trails you can connect to.

4. Emigrant Trail, Truckee, California


The Emigrant Trail goes 9 ish miles from Highway 89 to Stampede Reservoir. It’s one of the flatter trails in the Truckee area, but there are plenty of small climbs and descents to get a workout. The trail surface is fairly smooth, with some small rocky or rooty sections, but no drops or jumps. Since this is an out and back trail, you can just ride for as long as you want and turn around at any time. To get to this trail, I’d recommend parking at the parking area for Donner Camp Historic Trail on the east side of Highway 89, here. From the parking lot, get on what Trailforks calls Emigrant Alternate and head north. At about mile 2.4, you’ll hit a sharp fork, you’ll want to follow the uphill one (the downhill will take you down to Prosser Creek, which is sometimes crossable, but frequently not). At mile 2.5, you’ll hit Highway 89. Turn right on 89 to go north. Cars go by pretty fast, but you’re only going to be on the road for 0.1 miles to cross Prosser Creek. Right after the bridge, you’ll see Emigrant Trail on the right. Jump back on the road and ride for as long as you want. Click here for my Strava route.

5. The Flume Trail, Incline Village, Nevada
Flume Trail // tahoefabulous.com

The Flume Trail (sometimes called the Marlette Flume) is hands-down the most iconic trail in the Tahoe area that is accessible to beginner riders. You’ll want to be in decent cardiovascular shape and not scared of heights, but all of the riding is doable by a new rider – any unrideable feature is clearly signed ahead with a warning to get off your bike. Since this trail tops out above 7,800 feet, it is one of the first to get snowed out, so check conditions before you go. I highly recommend this trail to visitors; the views can’t be beat. Click here to read my detailed trail report of the Flume Trail, including how to arrange a self shuttle.

5 Best Tahoe-Truckee Fall Hikes

Fall Hikes in Tahoe Truckee // tahoefabulous.com

Fall is my favorite time for hiking in the Lake Tahoe/Truckee area! The air is clear and crisp, the trails are less crowded, and the aspens are turning colors. Here are my favorite hikes to do before the snow flies.

1. Donner Summit Canyon, Truckee: (6 miles round trip, 1,000 feet of climbing). This trail off of Old Highway 40 was purchased and conserved by Truckee Donner Land Trust, and it has some interesting history:

A trail up the canyon follows much of the old Dutch Flat/Donner Lake Wagon Road, which later served as the Lincoln Highway. Some of the historic features visible from the upper part of the trail include Native American petroglyphs, the China Wall, and the world’s first automobile underpass (1913). Look for the abandoned Turkey Truck that careened off the road in 1955, scattering 30,000 pounds of frozen turkeys down the 175’ drop and delaying Thanksgiving dinner for hungry Nevadans!

Park at the Donner Summit Canyon Trailhead, which is here, about one third of a mile up Old Hwy 40 from South Shore Road.

Donner Summit Canyon // tahoefabulous.com
View from Donner Summit Canyon Trail

2. Fallen Leaf Lake Trail, South Lake Tahoe (8 miles around the lake): This lake is just outside of South Lake Tahoe, and is a great place to get away from the busier beaches of Lake Tahoe. The water is crystal clear, and it’s a gorgeous place to hike around. While you can make the full 8 mile trek around the lake, the trail can be tricky to find in spots and turns into a paved road for several miles. The nice thing about the Fallen Leaf Lake trail, is that there are gorgeous spots almost immediately. You can just walk until you find a serene spot and then hang out there. Fallen Leaf Lake is super easy to get to, follow the directions to here.

3. Tahoe Rim Trail from the Brockway Summit Trailhead, Kings Beach (3 miles, 700 feet elevation): For a short hike with a gorgeous, view, hike up to this little spur off of the Tahoe Rim Trail. You’ll be able to see all the way across Lake Tahoe. For a longer hike, you can keep going to reach another view point at about mile 5.
Brockway Summit Viewpoint // tahoefabulous.com

The trailhead is on the south side of Brockway Summit – click here for a map. There are quite a few parking spots on the south side of 267.

4. Mount Tallac, South Lake Tahoe: (10 miles, 3,300 feet elevation). Fall is a great time to hike one of my favorite Tahoe Peaks, Mt. Tallac. This is a very strenuous hike, but it’s a super rewarding one. The hike takes you through varied ecosystems and the view from the top of the peak is expansive and incredible. The trailhead is a few miles west of South Lake Tahoe, click here for directions.

5. Tahoe Rim Trail from Tahoe Meadows Trailhead, Incline Village (~4 miles): This is another short and sweet hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail to some awesome views. Be sure to check out the humorous leave no trace signs, addressed to wildlife.
Tahoe Meadows TRT View // tahoefabulous.com

To access the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead, head up Mount Rose Highway from Incline Village for about 6.5 miles, and it will be on your right. Click here for directions.

Fall Favorites Round Up

It’s no secret that Fall is an amazing time to be in Truckee-Tahoe – it’s definitely my favorite season, and it’s almost here.  The trails are less crowded, the weather ranges from stormy (Yay! It’s finally raining.) to hot & sunny (Yay! A little bit more summer.), and the general feel of the locals is just more relaxed. Over the years, I’ve posted a lot of my recommendations for the fall, so I thought I’d do a round up of previous fall favorites, and add some bonus new suggestions as well.

Sierra Fall Essentials:
Here’s a round up of some of my favorite products to help me get through the variable weather of fall in the Sierra.

Sierra Fall Essentials // tahoefabulous.com

Bonus Favorites:
An ultra-light, packable wind shell, like the Patagonia Houdini is perfect for cooler morning runs or to stick in your bike pack for a chilly downhill after a sweaty climb. It’s water resistant, so it will even keep you dry for a little bit in the event of a surprise rainstorm.

A mid-weight vest is the perfect fall layering piece. You can wear it under a raincoat or over a flannel, and your arms will be free while your core is warm. I think springing for a down version, like the Marmot Aruna is so worth it, for quality, packability, and warmth. The Aruna is a high quality – I own the vest and the jacket version and I love them both.

Fall In Yosemite Valley:
Fall is my favorite time to visit Yosemite – check out these photos of Yosemite Valley to see why!

Yosemite Valley Fall // tahoefabulous.com

Bonus Sierra Destinations if you want to see Fall Colors
June Lake, California: great beer, & fishing
Hope Valley, California:delicious pie & country charm
Nevada City, California: – incredible restaurants & the Yuba river

Whiskey Pumpkin Bread Recipe:
Nothing says fall like pumpkin, and this pumpkin bread recipe with a kick of whiskey is just about perfect, if I do say so myself.

Whiskey Pumpkin Bread Recipe // tahoefabulous.com

Round the Lake Beer Tour:
You’ll need a designated driver for this one, but check out my loop from Truckee, around the lake, and back, hitting up breweries and craft beer spots along the way. I just updated it for fall of 2018, so check out the new version!

Round the Lake Beer Tour // tahoefabulous.com

Favorite Fall Activities:
Sierra Fall Favorites // tahoefabulous.com
And here are some of my favorite things to do in Tahoe and the Sierra in the fall:
Go mountain biking. Often, we’ll get an early snowstorm that melts out and gets the trails in perfect condition. My favorite trails to ride in the fall are the Donner Lake Rim Trail to Wendin Canyon and Sawtooth Trail in Truckee, Mills Peak in Graeagle, and the Corral Trail Network in South Lake Tahoe.
Jump in the lake one last time. Often, the water is still warm enough for a quick swim in September and October. Or you could head to nearby hot springs, like Grover Hot Springs State Park in Markleeville or Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport.
Get in shape for snowboard season with some trail running. I like to get a few more trips up and down Donner Peak before the snow falls in Truckee. In South Lake Tahoe, Powerline Trail is my preferred trail running location.
Go on a road trip to the coast. Alright, that might be cheating for favorite Tahoe fall activities, but the California coast in the fall is amazing too! I especially like Santa Cruz, Point Reyes, Mendocino, and the North Coast during this time of year.

Shoulder Season Fun: Tahoe Triathlon

It’s now nearly mid-April and we’re deep into Spring Shoulder Season! I thought I’d continue my series of posts on fun things to do in Tahoe during the shoulder season. While the Tahoe area hosts a number of “real” triathlons in the summer months, organized races are scarce during the spring. To fill this gap, I like to put together what I call a “Tahoe Triathlon”.

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There is no official rulebook for the Tahoe Triathlon, but participants must complete three recreational activities all in one day. Since it’s the shoulder season, none of these activities will be top notch (ie probably no powder turns and the trails will have some mud and snow), but quality isn’t the emphasis here. You can pick whatever outdoor activities you want and vary them as necessary due to conditions. (bonus points for combining winter and spring sports, especially if you manage the same outfit for all legs!)

Here’s my dream itinerary for a Snowboard/Mountain Bike/Swim Tahoe Triathlon in Truckee: Start off the day with some turns at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. Be sure to get there early before it warms up too much and don’t forget your sunscreen!

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I hope you brought some trail snacks, because we’re heading straight to Emigrant Trail, a little north of Truckee off of Highway 89. Emigrant Trail isn’t my favorite Truckee mountain bike trail, but it is one of the first ones to melt out – so it’s perfect for a spring Tahoe Triathlon.

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After a 10-15 mile (depending on how we’re feeling) out and back, we re-group and drive to our final leg – the “swim” in Donner Lake. While it may have been swimming season for weeks in other parts of California, spring in Tahoe still means very cold lakes. Therefore, the swim will most likely be more like a polar bear plunge.

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Since West End Beach hasn’t officially opened for the season, you can park there for free. After your icy dip, I recommend heading straight for a hot tub. If you don’t have access to a nearby hot tub, you can warm up over beers at Mellow Fellow.

If that itinerary doesn’t sound like fun, there are dozens of other Tahoe Triathlon activities you can try: stand up paddle boarding, XC skiing, bouldering, trail running, outdoor yoga, slack lining, hiking…the list goes on and on.

What activities would you put in your “Tahoe Triathlon”?

Shoulder Season Fun: Round the Lake Beer Tour – Lake Tahoe, California & Nevada

Note: This has been updated with new breweries and bars in August 2018!

While we’ve been enjoying Miracle March, spring shoulder season is fast approaching. And, in my opinion, there’s no better time for a beer tour than spring! Maybe it’s because I’m from the Northwest, but it always seemed to me that the Tahoe area could support more breweries than we had. It took awhile, but better late than never – the brewery scene in Tahoe is finally expanding. Between the new breweries and the arrival of shoulder season, it’s the perfect time to embark on a ‘Round the Lake Beer Tour.

Tahoe Round the Lake Beer Tour // tahoefabulous.com

Obviously, you’ll want a designated driver for this endeavor! My route starts in Truckee and heads west, but it can easily be adjusted for whatever starting point you want.

  1. Smokey’s Kitchen: You’ll want a hearty breakfast before starting out, and despite being a BBQ joint, Smokey’s has something delicious for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. For veggies, I recommend the Huevos California and the Donner Pass Omelet for omnivores. To get the beer tour started, Smokey’s has a few beers on draft, including Racer 5 and lighter options.
  2. The Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co Brew Pub in Tahoe City opens at 11:30 am, so that’s our first brewery stop. Tahoe Mountain is known for its saisons, and that’s what I have to recommend. Try Provisions, a multi-grain Farmhouse saison or ask the bartender for their seasonal recommendation. If you’re a diehard IPA fan (like I am), I like the Hop Dragon Imperial IPA.Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co//Truckee, CA
  3. Head south on Highway 89, down the gorgeous West Shore of Tahoe. Just outside of Tahoe City is the West Shore Market, which has delicious coffee and a really good selection of beers if you want to grab some to go. Be sure to pull over at the look out above the famous Emerald Bay. 165702_711569911290_7476821_n
  4. Once you’ve reached South Lake Tahoe, head to South Lake Brewing Company. Here, I like the Fog Nozzle Hazy IPA and the Trail Builder Pale Ale. A portion of the Trail Builder’s proceeds go to TAMBA, which I heartily support.
  5. Next up is Sidellis Lake Tahoe, just down the road. It’s the newest brewery on this tour, but they’ve already got a few delicious beers. I like their Bitter Creek Pale and their nachos for a quick snack.
  6. Now we’re traveling back north – this time up Tahoe’s East Shore. Check out the view along the way, maybe at Sand Harbor State Park.

    View of Sand Harbor from the Flume Trail
    Sand Harbor from above. Photo by Katie Riley.
  7. Just before downtown Incline Village, stop for beer at Tunnel Creek Cafe where they always have some interesting options on draft and in the bottle/can.
  8. You’re on the home stretch now! Drive through Kings Beach and make a right at Highway 267 and head back to Truckee. Park your car downtown, and get ready to hit up the last two stops. First up, Alibi Ale Works. Alibi has an Incline Village location as well, but the Truckee spot has more beers available and amazing nachos.
  9. Alibi Ale Works // Incline Village, NV
  10. The final stop of the tour is Mellow Fellow, also in downtown Truckee. Mellow Fellow is a taproom with 40 beers on tap and a very knowledgeable staff that will help you find a beer or two or three that you’ll love.

Congratulations! You’ve finished the ‘Round the Lake Beer Tour! Now nap off all your beer on the Donner Lake Public Docks or work them off with a hike up Donner Peak.

Tahoe Round the Lake Beer Tour // tahoefabulous.com

Click here for the Google Map of my “Round the Lake Beer Tour”