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!

Beartooth Pass & Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, MT & WY

Beartooth Pass // tahoefabulous.com

A way long time ago, I wrote about driving through Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park. Next on the agenda: Beartooth Pass and the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.

The Beartooth Highway is a…“…68 mile byway winds its way through southwest Montana and northwest Wyoming and leads into Yellowstone National Park at its Northeast Entrance.  Since opening to automobile travel in 1937 the Beartooth Highway has welcomed visitors from around the world – introducing them to one of the most diverse ecosystems accessible by auto in the United States.”

We drove east on the Highway, just to the top of the pass, and we we’re rewarded with incredible sweeping vistas of sawtooth mountains, fields of wildflowers (in late July!) and the eeeping of a pika! It’s a great jumping off point for recreation, and, with the right timing, wildlife abounds. Here are just a few of my (many) pictures:

beartooth 2 beartooth 3 Beartooth Highway // tahoefabulous.com

The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway connects the Beartooth Highaway (and Yellowstone National Park) with Cody, Wyoming. You’ll travel through the Shoshone National Forest, between the Beartooth and Absaroka Mountains, and across the Clark Fork River. The bridge over the high gorge of the Clark Fork was a highlight for me!

beartooth 5 Clark Fork // tahoefabulous.com

While not as iconic as Highway 1 or Route 66, I think that the Beartooth Highway and Chief Joseph Scenic Byway drive deserve to be on the list of “must-do” American road trips.

Try This Beer: Orlison Brewing Co.

I have a special connection to Orlison Brewing Co: it started in my neighbor’s barn! I’ve tried Orlison’s Lagers every step of the way, and I couldn’t be happier about their success!

Orlison Brewing // tahoefabulous.com

Here’s what they have to say about themselves:

“Orlison Brewing Co., located in Airway Heights, WA, is a small craft lager brewery looking to convert ale enthusiasts everywhere into true lager fans. Originally founded in 2009, years of tried and true brewing methods provide our team with the knowledge and capabilities needed to create the best craft beers available in the Pacific Northwest. We are also the first Inland Northwest brewery to can our beer, a distinction we are proud of.

Our motto, Brew No Evil™, is a statement of our commitment to brewing the cleanest, clearest and tastiest lagers available today. Our award-winning crisp beers stand as a representation of everything we want our customers to enjoy in a real lager. Whether you’re interested in a smooth, light Pilsner like our Havanüther or Orlison’s IPL, our crazily hoppy lager, try out a glass of real beer from Orlison Brewing Co. today.”

As a tried and true IPA (the hoppier the better!) fan, I was a little skeptical of the appeal of a lager. And, let’s face it, the vast majority of lagers I’ve tried are in the Busch Light/Budweiser realm. Not true about Orlison’s lagers.

Orlison Brewing Co. only brews the finest craft lagers. Brew-master Bernie Düenwald stays true to his heart by producing clear, crisp and refreshing lagers. With only the finest Northwest ingredients we create full bodied and delicious finishing lagers that stand apart in the craft ale world. A Lager takes longer to ferment, requires a cooler temperature and closer monitoring than your typical Ale. These cool temps and attention to detail give lagers their distinctly crisp, refreshing taste and set them apart from other craft beers.”

While all of Orlison Brewing Co.’s lagers are worth drinking, my favorites are their IPL (India Style Pale Lager), Pilsner 37 (a portion of the proceeds from this beer go to Team Gleason – a charity that provides life improving technology and services to individuals with MS) and the best light beer I’ve ever had – the Havanuther.

Orlison Brewing // tahoefabulous.com

You can find Orlison is near you by clicking here.

Lamar Valley, Yellowstone

A few weeks ago, I did an awesome trip through Montana and Wyoming with my parents. Check out my recaps of Glacier National Park and Gardiner, Montana.

Lamar Valley // tahoefabulous.com

The next section of my trip surprised me by being my favorite place we visited. I had traveled through the southern part of Yellowstone in 2009, and I had assumed all of Yellowstone National Park was like that: bubbling mud, alien landscapes and the occasional bison. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

We drove through the Lamar Valley in the north east portion of Yellowstone National park on our way towards the Northeast Entrance and beyond. The Lamar Valley is known as one of the best places to spot Yellowstone’s famous wildlife. This valley is habitat for bears, elk, pronghorn antelope, eagles, wolves, bison, bighorn sheep and more. In fact, Lamar Valley at dawn is the #1 place to spot wolves in Yellowstone!

Lamar Valley // tahoefabulous.com

Most of Yellowstone’s most spectacular wildlife are most active at dawn and dusk. Though we were a little late for dawn, we managed to see huge herds of bison, eagles and osprey, pronghorn antelope and elk.  My phone camera isn’t up to snuff for wildlife photography, so I really only managed to capture decent pictures of the large, stationary bison.

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In addition to the phenomenal wildlife, the drive from Gardiner, Montana through the northern part of the park has gorgeous mountain and river views. This part of the park was much less crowded than the southern sections, and we enjoyed the vistas in relative isolation.

Five Best Places to Watch the Sunset in Lake Tahoe

Who doesn’t love a great sunset over the water? Luckily, there are quite a few places to catch the sunset in the Lake Tahoe area. Here are a few of my favorites.

  1. Lakeview Commons, South Lake Tahoe, California

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Cotton candy clouds at Live at Lakeview

Located at the corner of Highway 50 and Lakeview Avenue in South Lake Tahoe, this easy-to-access spot is usually bustling. During the summer, you can stake out a bbq, rent a paddle board or visit the high-class concession stand for gourmet hot dogs or local ice cream. You can also enjoy live music Thursday nights at Live at Lakeview. If crowds aren’t your thing, visit Lakeview Commons in the winter, when it is significantly less busy.

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  1. Tahoe Rim Trail from the Mount Rose Highway, Incline Village, Nevada

Looking toward the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe

A quick, 1.5 mile flat hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail from the Mount Rose Highway trailhead will bring you to a great spot to camp out and watch the sunset. There are plenty of flat rocks to post up on and get comfortable while you watch the sunset over the West Shore mountains of Lake Tahoe. I’d recommend bringing in a couple of beers and some snacks.

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  1. Trout Creek Meadow/Lily Beach, South Lake Tahoe, California

Smoke particles in the air make for astounding sunsets.

If you’re looking for an easy to access, but not crowded beach in South Lake Tahoe, I have to recommend Trout Creek Meadow/Lily Beach. You can access this area from the west end of San Francisco Avenue in the Al Tahoe neighborhood or from the bike path behind Meek’s Lumber. The meadow is a great place for bird and wildlife watching, so be on the lookout for coyotes and waterfowl of all kinds. Dogs must be on leash (and are banned during certain key bird breeding seasons) and no alcohol!

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  1. Hidden Beach, Incline Village, Nevada

Sunset over the East Shore boulders is a Tahoe must-see.

I’ve talked about my love for hidden beach in a previous post. Check it out here!

  1. The Top of Mount Tallac, South Lake Tahoe, California

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Cascade Lake and Lake Tahoe from a different angle.

For our more adventurous sunset seekers, you could take a late afternoon hike up Mount Tallac, watch the sunset over Lake Tahoe and Desolation Wilderness, and then hike down under a full moon. This is a strenuous 9.5 out and back hike, with over 3,500 feet of elevation gain that starts at 6,500 feet. The views are definitely worth it!! Be prepared for the hike, especially if you plan to come down at night. You’ll need headlamps (plus extra batteries) and confidence in your ability to follow the trail in the dark.

Want even more great places to watch the sunset in Lake Tahoe? Click here for more of my suggestions.

Try This Beer: Mighty Mo Brewing Co

So I thought I’d just pop in with a quick beer recommendation: Mighty Mo Brewing Company in Great Falls, Montana.

Mighty Mo Brewing Co // tahoefabulous.com

We stopped into this awesome local brewery on a long drive between West Glacier and Gardiner, Montana. My dad and I tried a few of their beers (all delicious!) including the Rendezvous Red Ale and Smoke Jumper Strong Scotch Ale. I settled on the Rising Trout Pale Ale, which I thoroughly enjoyed. If you’re anywhere near Great Falls, Montana and looking for a fun space with great beer, I couldn’t recommend Mighty Mo Brewing Company and more highly!

Glacier National Park

Over the past few years, I’ve really expanded the number of US National Parks I’ve visited. I went from one in 2009 (North Cascades National Park) to my current count of twelve. Just last week, I was able to add another National Park to my list: Glacier National Park in Montana.

Glacier National Park // tahoefabulous.com

My parents and I spent a (too) quick day here on a drive through the park. I can’t wait to go back for a longer stay and more exploring!

We drove to Glacier National Park’s West Entrance and had to wait in a fairly long line to get in. We were there on a Saturday, so we definitely experienced the summer crowds. If you end up visiting in the summer, I encourage you to go midweek.

Glacier National Park // tahoefabulous.com

My parents aren’t huge hikers, so we didn’t get to experience much of Glacier National Park’s 700 miles of trails. In fact, in the couple of places we tried to go on short hikes, the trail head parking lots were so full we couldn’t park! We ended up just stopping at a number of little pull out areas along the way to stretch our legs, explore along the river, and take in the park’s amazing views.

Glacier National Park // tahoefabulous.com

One reason we chose to go in the summer was the opportunity to take the Going to the Sun Road over Lolo Pass. Glacier National Park describes Going to the Sun Road as

“One of the most amazing highlights of Glacier National Park is a drive on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This engineering marvel spans 50 miles through the park’s wild interior, winding around mountainsides and treating visitors to some of the best sights in northwest Montana.”

Glacier National Park // tahoefabulous.com

This drive is definitely worth fighting the summer crowds, at least once. We even got to see some great wildlife on the drive!

Glacier National Park // tahoefabulous.com

Despite the long lines and full parking lots, Glacier didn’t feel as crowded as Yosemite or Yellowstone often do. I can’t wait to come back and do more backcountry exploring. Go visit Glacier National Park soon, before all the glaciers melt!

Glacier National Park // tahoefabulous.com

Until next time, Glacier!

Tahoe Paradise: Webber Falls

This weekend I was lucky enough to experience possibly the coolest spot I’ve explored since moving to Tahoe – Webber Falls.

Webber Falls, Truckee California // tahoefabulous.com

Webber Falls is created by the Little Truckee River pouring out of Webber Lake. Water cascades down two tiers of solid granite, creating a nearly perfect swimming hole above the main part of the falls. The two tiers total about 65 feet, with about 15 feet above the pool and 50 feet below. The view down the canyon is incredible, and the surrounding rocks and deep waters make for perfect jumping off rocks or just lounging in the upper falls’ light mist.

Webber Falls // tahoefabulous.com
Have you ever swam at the top of a waterfall?

While Webber Falls often feels isolated, it’s not too far off the road and is becoming a more popular destination. If you do find your way to this natural playground, be respectful and pack out everything you pack in. While this place is still nearly pristine, we did find some garbage, including cigarette butts and beer cans.

Though Webber Falls is not very far off the road (less than a 1/4 mile hike), the way down is steep and could be treacherous. Not recommended for dogs, drunk people or children! During the spring the flow is too high (and cold) for safe swimming, but the water is usually perfect by mid-summer. However, use your best judgement! Don’t swim there if you feel it is unsafe and be sure to check water depth before jumping.

Webber Falls // tahoefabulous.com
Greyson climbs around on the fun boulders surrounding the pool.

This spot is an absolute gem, and I’m so glad that I got to experience it. I’m sure I’ll be back many times in the future.

What: Webber Falls

Where: North of Truckee, California

How to get there: I’m not going to tell you! This is such a small and special spot, you’ll just have to ask a local.

Trail Report: Onion Valley to Kearsarge Pass

Kearsarge Pass Hike // tahoefabulous.com

This weekend I set my feet on my highest ever point: 11,760 at Kearsarge Pass in Kings Canyon National Park.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
At the top!

The Kearsarge Pass trail is a popular re-supply route for Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail through hikers. The trail wanders uphill through the John Muir Wilderness on the way to Kings Canyon National Park with sweeping vistas of the high Sierra in every direction. The trailhead begins at the Onion Valley campground about 15 miles outside of Independence, California in the Eastern Sierra. To get to Onion Valley Campground, head towards Independence (about 42 miles south of Bishop) on Highway 395. Once in Independence, turn onto West Market Street, which quickly turns into Onion Valley Road. There are several campgrounds along Onion Valley Road or you could stay in Independence, as there is non-campground parking near the trailhead. We stayed in one of the walk-in camping spots at Onion Valley Campground, which makes for an easy and convenient early start. Note: Onion Valley Campground is high (above 9,000 feet!) – so pack accordingly. You’ll want more warm layers than the temperature in much lower, hotter Independence seems to indicate.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

The entire Kearsage Pass trail is a steady climb from about 9,200 feet up to a maximum of 11,760 feet at the top of Kearsarge Pass over 4.8 miles. While the trail is never extremely steep, be aware that you are at high elevation. The going is much more difficult than a steeper, lower elevation climb. I live at 6,200 feet and I was really feeling the difficulty when I got about 10,500. Be prepared to go more slowly and take lots of breaks, especially if you are new to high elevation hiking. We hiked the 4.8 miles and climbed just over 2,500 feet with a moving time of 2:05:40, however our elapsed time was 3:20:20 which means we took nearly 1:15 in breaks across the nearly 5 miles.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Entering John Muir Wilderness, no dogs or bikes

Kearsarge Pass trail closely passes several gorgeous alpine lakes, with Flower and Gilbert Lakes close enough for a refreshing dip or quick fishing pit stop. Warning: these lakes can be extremely mosquito-y! We were chased off before doing more than dipping our toes in, but there were a number of other hikers and fishermen that braved the swarms (probably armed with bug spray). The stunning views of the hike begin almost immediately, and we were frequently stopping to admire the vistas and take pictures.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com

The whole trail is incredibly well built and maintained. There aren’t too many tripping hazards and the switchbacks are gradual, allowing you to soak in your surroundings and concentrate less on your feet. The rocks surrounding the trail and making up the nearby peaks are interesting enough to catch the eye of the geology inclined in your group. You’ll see a bunch of California’s state rock, serpentine (hint: it’s the greasy looking, greenish one). I’d also recommend bringing along a field guide with a good wildflower section (like the Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada or Wildflowers of California). We saw at least a dozen different varieties of wildflowers during our hike.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Looking east into the Owens Valley

The trail climbs at a fairly steady 500 feet per mile, and I started really feeling the exertion of hiking at high altitude at about 2.5 miles and 10,500 feet. Luckily, the gorgeous views help distract from the hard work.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
A tiny bit of snow is still left in the high Sierra

At about 4 miles, you’ll come to your last couple switch backs and the end is in sight! You might see people up at the top of the pass that seem very far away, but the final push wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. There are only a couple of switch backs, and you’ll mostly be headed straight toward your goal. The vistas are even more incredible in this section. Keep your eyes out for a very steep summit to the south that only gets more interesting as the trail climbs higher.

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Steep summit

When you finally reach the top of Kearsarge Pass, take your time to soak in the views and rest for the trip back down. Check out these amazing views!

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Kearsarge Pinnacles rise above Kearsarge Lakes

At the pass, you’ll enter Kings Canyon National Park, and could continue your hike onto the John Muir Trail and down to Kearsarge and Bullfrog Lakes, and even further to connect with the Pacific Crest Trail. We decided the top of Kearsarge Pass was enough of a climb for us. Unfortunately, I had a user-related Strava malfunction on our trip down, so I’m not sure how long it took. I paused Strava when we stopped to check out one of the lakes. Mosquito swarms descended, and, in the panic of our escape, I forgot to re-start it! It took us about an hour to do the first 2.4 miles, and I imagine the second half took about the same time. So we’ll say the descent took about 2 hours.

This was a difficult and rewarding hikes with some of the best views I’ve encountered in the Sierra. If you are looking for a high Sierra hike or backpacking trip (permits needed) that’s challenging but completely doable for an in-shape individual, I would highly recommend the Kearsarge Pass trail.

Trail Stats:

Length: 4.8 miles to the top, 9.6 round trip

Elevation: 2,500 feet of elevation gain

Duration: ~5:20 total, for reasonably in-shape hikers that live at 6,500 feet

And here are two more photos, just because I like them:

Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Looking up Onion Valley Rd. into the High Sierra
Kearsarge Pass // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Becky Wright