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”

Sierra Fall Essentials

The leaves are changing, the weather has cooled off, and I’ve started craving pie at every meal. It’s fall!Boots, scarves, tea, pumpkin spice lattes, etc – there are many things that people consider essentials for the autumn season. Here’s my list of must-haves for a perfect fall in the mountains.

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  1. Boots that can handle rain and a little bit of snow:During a normal year, most of the precipitation that falls in Tahoe comes down in the form of snow. The last few years have been anything but typical, and, fall is our rainiest season. I have these amazing Sorel Women’s Winter Boots for heavy snows, but I wanted something a bit lighter and more puddle proof for fall. A bunch of my New Englander friends clued me in to the wonder that is the Original Duck Boot by LL Bean. More commonly known as “Bean Boots”, these things are amazing. I have the 8 Inch Women’s Bean Boots. They keep my feet dry, are way lighter than my snow boots, don’t make my feet swampy like previous all-rubber boots and can handle a few inches of snow with ease. Since mine are unlined, I got mine a little big (I normally wear a 10.5, got the 11) and wear them with fluffy wool socks and sweater pants. I couldn’t be happier!
  2. Wool clothing: See above. I have a bunch of Smartwool Socks – including biking, running, hiking,skiing/compressionand fluffy, a pair of Smartwool footless tights (aka sweater pants), and a Smartwool Sports Bra.

LL Bean Boots and Smartwool Leggings

Bean Boots and Sweater Pants

I also have a great soft shell jacket from Icebreaker and a wool base layer that I got at the Patagonia outlet years ago. Why wool? According to Sierra Trading Post, “Wool is one of nature’s best insulating fibers and has been used to make clothing for centuries. Not only is wool extremely good at holding in warmth, it also wicks moisture and dries faster than cotton.” Wool is definitely worth the cost, and it smells way better than synthetic fabrics after sweating. Just a warning – I dry my socks in the dryer, but all of my other wool products get laid flat for drying.

  1. Something to keep my tea and coffee hot. I have and use a double walled, stainless steel bottle from both Hydro Flask and Klean Kanteen. I slightly prefer the Klean Kanteen, mostly because I think the lid holds on to less smells/flavors that the Hydro Flask Both do an excellent job keeping my tea and coffee hot for hours – up to 6!
  2. A raincoat: Living in Bellingham and Seattle for 6+ years, I’ve worn a lot of raincoats. I think that I finally have a favorite!

Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Jacket

The Patagonia Torrentshell is slightly visible in this picture of Yosemite Valley last October.

While not the lightest or the most packable, the Patagonia Torrentshell raincoat keeps me totally dry while still looking pretty cute. I was at a mostly outdoor work training last week, and it poured for much of Saturday. The Torrentshell kept me dry, warm and comfortable the whole time. This time, I wore it over my Patagonia Half Zip Fleece, but I have also worn it over a puffy vest or down coat for wet snowboarding days.

  1. A seasonal drink: While Negronis might be the drink of the summer, come fall, I’m drinking something different. I crave darker beers (like Great Basin Brewing’s Outlaw Milk Stout) and I start enjoying my ales over nitro – like thisAlibi Ale Works Pale Ale. When it comes to something a little harder, I like the Boulevardier(aka a Negroni that replaces the gin with rye). I bought a huge thing of Bulleit Rye at Costco, and we are enjoying slowly going through that.

Sierra Fall Essentials // tahoefabulous.com

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!

 

Fall in Yosemite Valley

Fall in Yosemite Valley // tahoefabulous.com

I was lucky enough to spend some time in Yosemite for a work training that I put on. (Lucky me!) While we spent most of our time in a classroom setting at the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort (more on that later), we were able to spend a gorgeous fall afternoon in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park. Fall is definitely my favorite time to visit Yosemite Valley. It’s less crowded, the temperatures are cooler, the waterfalls may be running again, and the changing leaves are amazing against the stark bare rocks and dark evergreens.

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We headed into the park on Saturday. After it rained all night on Friday and most of Saturday morning, the rain cleared out just in time for our arrival in Yosemite Valley. The precipitation had left a coating of snow on the high peaks surrounding the valley, while leaving the valley floor just a little muddy, and awash with the smell of fall leaves in the rain. After many years in the Pacific Northwest, that’s one of my favorite smells.

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Though the rain had cleared out, there were wispy clouds blowing in and out of the otherwise clear sky, resulting in gorgeous light and dappled patterns on the granite monoliths. We headed out of the park in the early evening and we were able to watch the setting sun as we drove away.

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If you’re going to be spending your days in a classroom looking at powerpoint presentation, the Yosemite Bug has got to be one of the best places in California to do it! I love hosting events at the Bug due to it’s perfect location, amazing staff, on-site amenities and gorgeous facilities.

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The Yosemite Bug is not just a great place to host events! Located in Midpines, California, it’s a wonderful home base for exploring Yosemite National Park – only 26 miles from the Yosemite Valley entrance which is open year round. The Bug has private rooms, tent cabins, and shared dorm rooms. It’s also a member of Hostelling International, if hostel hopping is your thing!

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In addition to the beautiful grounds, which you can explore on their well maintained trail, the Yosemite Bug has a luxurious spa (you can soak in the essential oil hot tub for only $10!) and a restaurant that’s in my top ten. The food is organic, local, delicious, and affordable. In fact, one of the training evaluations said the food was “too good. I gained 3 pounds.”

Yosemite Bug is not at all paying me to say this – I just love the place so much and think that everyone should check it out, even if you’re just passing through for a meal. They also host events throughout the year like a Thanksgiving dinner, live music, Wilderness First Aid trainings, yoga retreats, art events, and scientific lectures, just to name a few examples.

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We had a great time at the Yosemite Bug and visiting Yosemite Valley in the fall. I can’t wait to make my way back, hopefully for my first winter trip to Yosemite!

Where to Go: Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park

Where to Stay: The Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort, Midpines, CA

 

Sinkyone Wilderness State Park

So, I don’t want to brag…but I found the best state park in California. I considered not sharing and keeping the pristine, remote wilderness to myself. But Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is so far off the beaten path that I don’t think I need to worry about it getting overrun. Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is one of the few ways to access the Lost Coast – California’s least developed stretch of shoreline.

Sinkyone Wilderness State Park // tahoefabulous.com

We undertook quite a journey to arrive at Sinkyone (spoiler alert: worth it!). First we headed east and south from Graberville, California, taking twisty backroads through the trees, passing high fences, large fertilizer tanks, and the overwhelming smell of marijuana. We made a mental note not to wander off trail in this area of northern California. After 20 or so miles of this, we followed signs to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, Needle Rock Visitors Center, and camping and onto the steepest, windiest, narrowest dirt road I’ve ever been on.

It was pretty foggy, so we couldn’t really see where we were headed, and I’m pretty sure Greyson thought that I was taking him somewhere remote to abandon him. After three miles of dirt road (which seriously took like 40 minutes to descend), we got our first incredible glimpse of the Lost Coast.

Sinkyone Wilderness State Park // tahoefabulous.com

Can you spot the Harbor Seals?

We checked in with the camp host, and set up our tent on a bluff overlooking the ocean. (You can also book a spot in an old barn if you want!) There are only a couple of spots available at Needle Rock Visitor Center, so you are guaranteed to not feel crowded! While we were car camping, there are hike in camp sites within a mile or so of the parking area.

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We decided to head down the steep trail to the beach before dinner. The camp host had warned us about the steepness, and he was not kidding! There were several sections where a rope tied around and nearby bush were necessary to descend and later ascend.

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Photo by Greyson Howard

Like the drive, the hike to the beach was worth it. It was sheer cliffs and black sand beaches as far as we could see, and our only company were the dozens of curious harbor seals basking on the rocks. Needle Rock beach has got to be one of the best beaches in all of California.

Over the few days we spent at Sinkyone, we spent quite a bit of time at the beach – examining tide pools, getting into staring competition with the seals, watching pelicans dive, and attempting to climb on the rocks. We even saw an otter, which are supposed to be extinct that far north on the California coast! We also hiked a section of the Lost Coast trail to look at some neat geologic features. We hiked up a steep hill, hoping for a great view.

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While we didn’t exactly get a view of the ocean, hiking to above the fog was pretty awesome! We also saw the local elk herd.

If you plan on visiting Sinkyone, be sure to check the weather, as the road probably becomes impassable in the winter/rain. Bring everything you need with you, as there’s nothing in the way of supplies available. Pack out your garbage, as there is not garbage pick up in the park. Be sure to bring rain gear, hiking shoes, and binoculars!