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.
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.
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.
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.”
This drive is definitely worth fighting the summer crowds, at least once. We even got to see some great wildlife on the drive!
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!
This weekend I was lucky enough to experience possibly the coolest spot I’ve explored since moving to Tahoe – Webber Falls.
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.
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.
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.
This weekend I set my feet on my highest ever point: 11,760 at Kearsarge Pass in Kings Canyon National Park.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
Hidden Beach is a gorgeous, fairly secluded beach on the east shore of Lake Tahoe. The beach is a few miles south of Incline Village, Nevada. While there is no actual parking for this beach, there are some spots along the side of the road, and a well developed trail and set of stairs that can get you from the legal parking area to Hidden Beach about half a mile away.
The best place to park is on the lake side of the road, about two miles north of Sand Harbor. There will probably be cars there already. Be sure you are parking in a legal parking area! You will be ticketed and possibly towed if you park in residential During the summer, arrive early! Parking is often full before noon, and I would suggest arriving before 10 am.
The water is the trademark Tahoe aqua and very clear. It often tends to be warmer than some of the other Tahoe beaches, so it’s a great place for swimming. The sand isn’t as nice as some of the North and South Shore beaches, but it’s definitely good enough for lounging around and enjoying the sun. It’s also a great place for watching the sun set over the mountains.
The last time I was there, I saw an osprey fishing, 3 paragliders showing off, and no naked people! Legally, this is not a nude beach, but I’ve heard rumors that sometimes there are nude beach goers. If you do decide to get naked, watch for cops and don’t forget your sunscreen! This beach is also a great place to take a break on a kayak or stand up paddle board trip, and you’ll often see them glide by.
Tahoe Mountain Trail is a great trail that was completed in the fall of 2013. While there has been a trail in that general area for quite some time, the new Tahoe Mountain trail is a fun piece of single track with a hard but rewarding climb, incredible views, and a speedy downhill. In the fall of 2015, an off-road bike path was completed in that area, so you can ride to the trailhead from Meyers or South Lake Tahoe on a really nice, off-road paved bike path, making for a perfect warm up. If you drive, you’ll want to park at the Sawmill Pond parking lot, just a little ways up Sawmill Road, which is across from the trail head.
The trail is accessed via the trail head at the intersection of Lake Tahoe Boulevard and Sawmill Road in South Lake Tahoe, California.
There’s a nice map of the trail system at the trailhead. I’d recommend checking it out, as there are a bunch of social trails spurring off the main Tahoe Mountain trail, and it can be easy to head off on one of them. Most of them quickly dump you off on a road, so don’t worry too much about them, just follow the main trail and head in an uphill direction.
After about 100 yards on a single track trail, you’ll come to a gravel fire road. Turn right to go to the new trail. Going left will take you to the old trail, which I DO NOT recommend. The old trail is no longer maintained and fairly overgrown, and I thought that the climb up was much more difficult.
After you’ve turned right onto the fire road and ridden about a quarter mile, start looking for the trail off to the left and uphill. Get ready to work hard on the climb! You end up climbing almost 900 feet over three miles, which requires some hard work, but isn’t so difficult that you can’t enjoy the amazing views!
The Tahoe Mountain trail takes you through the Angora Fire burn area, and the burned out trees result in eerie but stunning views.
The 880 foot climb up is mostly on fairly smooth dirt single track, but because this is South Lake Tahoe, there are some sandy spots of decomposed granite. A couple switchbacks were sandy enough that I had to push through in June, and it gets worse throughout the summer. The only really technically challenging spot is about halfway up the climb, with a tight rocky turn through some close together boulders. Speaking of boulders, there are dozens of huge boulders scattered alongside the lower sections of the trail, making for striking and unique scenery.
The last third of the trail is much rockier than the rest of the trail, but still very rideable. I’ve ridden it on a hardtail bike with no problem at all, and technical, rocky climbing is my weakest area. It just feels jarring after two miles on such smooth dirt and sand. Once you’ve finally climbed to the top you’ll be rewarded with a 360 degree view of Tahoe and beyond. Lake Tahoe is visible from one side and you’ll see Desolation Wilderness off to the other. You’ll know you’ve reached the “true” top when a tall striped tower comes into view.
At the top, I recommend that you take a break from your ride and explore the area. The views are amazing and, depending on the time of year, the wildflowers may be going crazy!
After you’ve soaked in the view and rested a little, it’s time to enjoy the most fun (downhill!) portion of the ride. The well designed Tahoe Mountain trail is a dream to descend, just watch out for those sandy corners and the one tricky boulder section. Once you get towards the bottom, pay attention and stay on the main trail to avoid the social trails! You’ll eventually get where you’re going (the fire road) but unplanned detours aren’t very much fun. In practically no time at all, you’ll be back to the trailhead with a huge smile on your face!
Location: Sawmill Road and Lake Tahoe Boulevard, South Lake Tahoe, California
Mileage: 6.3 miles
Elevation gain: 881 feet
Difficulty: Moderate Washoe Land
Note: This is an updated version of a trail report I wrote in June 2014.
Back in April, I headed to Point Reyes with some friends to do my Dirty Thirty Birthday right. Coincidentally, my good friend Becky also turned 30 on April 19th, so we did a co-birthday weekend filled with friends, hikes, laughter, mountain biking, wildflowers, sea mammals, birds, beer and cheese!
Greyson and I headed down from Tahoe early on Friday so we could get a quick mountain bike ride in. We ended up riding Estero Trail, which, aside from dodging cows and cow pies, was a beautiful, easy little ride.
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Note: the trail was SUUUUPER rutted in sections, to the point where I had to push my bikes up a couple of hills. It had rained fairly recently, so it might be in better shape now. (Note: As of 2017 the trail has been graded and graveled in a lot of sections, so it’s pretty smooth cruise.)
We grabbed a snack at Station House Cafe (I had the delicious mac and cheese) and headed back to the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore to wait for the rest of the group. Everyone else arrived that evening, and we went to bed fairly early in order to get an early start on the day. Much of the group, including me, had never been to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, so we drove there for our first stop. The park ranger stationed there told us they’d seen a bunch of whales the day before, so my hopes were high! Unfortunately, we saw zero whales. But we did see a sea lion or seal. The day wasn’t too foggy, so we could see the Farallon Islands off in the distance.
We headed back to Point Reyes Station to grab some Cowgirl Creamery cheese and called ahead to our (hopefully!) next destination – Heidrun Meadery. We were luckily able to book the last tour of the day, so we scarfed our lunches, piled in the cars and made the short drive to the old dairy farm where Heidrun Meadery is located. Here’s what they have to say about themselves:
“Located in Point Reyes Station, California, Heidrun Meadery produces dry, naturally sparkling varietal meads using the traditional Méthode Champenoise.
Mission: Our goal is to be involved in the meadmaking process from the flower that provides nectar for the honey bee to the flute from which we drink.
Company Overview: Heidrun Meadery was founded in 1997 in Arcata, California. In 2008 we purchased a slightly funky and defunct dairy farm in the agricultural and culinary oasis of Point Reyes Station, Marin County, California, with the ambitious objectives of relocating the meadery nearer to the Bay Area, expanding our mead production, setting up a commercial beekeeping operation, starting a bee forage cultivationprogram and establishing a modest visitor’s center and tasting room.Visitors are welcome on a reservation-only basis Monday-Saturday, 10am to 4pm. You can join us for a tour and tasting, just do a tasting and skip the tour, or enjoy a glass or bottle of mead while soaking up the sun on the patio. Call or email to make reservations.
Our trademark Champagne-style of mead is light, dry, delicate and refreshing, with subtle exotic aromas and flavors found only in the essence of honey. We pride ourselves on producing our mead in the most sustainable manner and supporting beekeepers around the country.”
This place was phenomenal! The mead was delicious, and I could hardly believe that the only difference between each variety was the type of flowers the bees visited. My favorites were a sweeter Orange Blossom Honey Mead and the almost beer like Carrot Blossom Honey Mead. One thing that we learned from our tour guide was that the Meadery is trying to make mead from honey they cultivate themselves, but have been having issues with colony collapse each year.
That night we played some tennis and HORSE on the tennis/basketball courts back at the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore and explored the property (watch out for poison oak!) We finished the night with a birthday barbecue back and soaked in the hot tub.
After a leisurely Sunday breakfast and Easter egg hunt, we decided to check out the Tule Elk Reserve and Tomales Point Trail. Tomales Point Trail is an easy, fairly flat 9 mile round trip hike to the end of Tomales Point. Here’s how Bay Area Hiker describes it
“The Tomales Point tule elk reserve is not only a great place to watch wildlife, it’s one of the quietest trails on Point Reyes. The single trail drifts north away from the trailhead, eventually reaching Tomales Point, nearly 5 miles from the nearest road. Squeezed on three sides by water, the only sounds are wind, surf, and bird cries. At a bluff overlooking the ocean you can spy on pelicans, cormorants, and seagulls, while elk bellow in the distance.”
While the elks, bird, and ocean views were beautiful, the mid-April wildflowers were incredible! My pictures in no way do them any justice. The whole Point Reyes area was stunningly green. I would highly recommend mid-April as a wonderful time to visit.
I would highly recommend Point Reyes as a quick weekend away from the Bay area or Sacramento, or even as a destination by itself if you are traveling from further away.
I had a little incident at the climbing gym on Wednesday:
Luckily, it’s just a strained tendon.
I wanted to take it fairly easy on my hand this weekend (no biking or climbing), so I went on a hike! Since I started mountain biking three years ago, I haven’t tended to do a lot of hiking, as I’d generally rather be on a bike. I’ve been doing more hiking recently, and I was reminded how awesome it can be.
Greyson, Sylas and I decided to climb to the top of Donner Peak, a hike they’ve both done many times.
Greyson and Sylas enjoy the view from the top.
The hike starts on the Pacific Crest Trail, just off Highway 20 in Truckee. It’s just under 4 miles, with 1.8 ish mile climb up. You take the PCT up for about a mile, then turn left onto the Judah Loop. The last part is an off-trail scramble to the top of the peak.
Donner Peak boasts incredible views.
Some overly friendly wildlife.
Bring binoculars. We spotted a couple of waterfalls rushing in the distance.
I tracked our hike via Strava. The hike up took about 43 minutes to cover 1.8 miles with 933 feet of elevation gain. We definitely weren’t rushing on this hike, stopping to enjoy the views and throw some snowballs. At this point in this low-snow year, there’s not really any snow on the trail, but some of the sections of trails are very muddy and covered by small meltwater streams. Wear boots or expect wet feet! We stopped several times on the hike down to examine and identify wildflowers. While the wildflowers aren’t going crazy yet, I imagine that this hike will be excellent for wildflowers in the next couple of weeks.
Hike stats: 3.8 miles, 933 feet elevation gain, 1:27
Back in March I took Beginning Climbing as a PE Class at Lake Tahoe Community College. The class consisted of two Wednesday lectures where we learned about climbing history, technique, safety, etc., and two Fridays & Saturdays out climbing in the field.
I’d done a little climbing (mostly indoor at the gym) in college, and was interested in trying it again, but nervous to get started. The Beginning Climbing class at LTCC was the perfect introduction!
The first two days, we climbed at 90 Foot Wall just outside of South Lake Tahoe. We practiced rappelling, learned to belay and put the climbing techniques we discussed in class into action.
Tiny green instructor at the top of 90 Foot Wall for scale.
For our second Friday of climbing, we headed to tackle some more difficult climbs at the Cosumnes River Gorge near Placerville. We did another, much more nerve wracking rappel with all our gear and then beat up our hands with our first crack climbs and squeezed into some interesting chimneys.
Setting up the scary rappel while our awesome instructor Damien checks my set up.
Cosumnes River Gorge. Can you spot the slackliner?
Two of my classmates try to figure out a weird section.
For our last day of class, we headed back to the South Lake Tahoe area and went to Pie Shop. This day definitely had the hardest routes, including a multi pitch that our instructor set up. While he was doing that, we watched the instructional assistants do a trad climbing demonstration on a 5.10 crack that I eventually climbed when they had the top rope set up. That route was by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever done!
A classmate on the difficult crack.
A view of the multi-pitch climb.
Great hand and foot holds on this section of the multi-pitch.
LTCC Beginning Climbing class.
The other really cool thing about our last day of class was that we were way up high and had a great view of the “Golden Celebration” parade that went from Meyers to Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort to celebrate the three women from South Lake Tahoe who won medals at this year’s Olympics.
We left South Lake on Friday and meandered our way towards Bishop. We drove up to Virginia Lakes, snapped some photos of Mono Lake, ate the world’s best gas station food at the Whoa Nellie Deli, and set up camp at Pleasant Valley Campground near the Happy Boulders. I also had a chance to hang out with my old roommate, having beers in her beautifully xeriscaped yard.
Since we were camped near our first bouldering destination, we got a slow start on Saturday morning. But eventually, I had my coffee and we headed down the bumpy road. Bouldering at the Happys was really fun, though I chickened out on some of the taller boulders. It was a million degrees, though, so I’d definitely bring plenty of water and a hat. We left the Happys and headed into Bishop for lunch. We lucked out and stumbled on Raymond’s Deli. It was so good that I was tempted to eat there for every meal after (As of 2/2018 Raymond’s is now closed!). I had a BBQ Roast Beef sandwich with Ortega chillis called the 51/50. It’s a lot of food, but I recommend it highly!
After lunch we moved on to the Buttermilk Boulders. The view from this spot was incredible! I thought that the bouldering here was more challenging than at the Happys. That could be related to the fact that I had my first real bouldering fall and sliced open a couple of fingers on a sharp flake. Ooops. That was the end of bouldering for the weekend.
My bloody hands meant that we went back into Bishop to find some hot running water and soap. Cleaning out the large flap of skin on my finger was not pleasant. Bet you’re super disappointed that I didn’t take pictures! Since we were in town, we grabbed some bread and cheese and beer for dinner back at our campsite. We got the “famous” sheepherder bread from Erick Schat’s Bakkery.
Our leisurely outdoor dinner plans were scrapped by a massive windstorm! We ate while crammed in the front seats of the Element, taking turns running outside to re-stake the tent. Eventually the tent blew completely away! We managed to catch it and re-stake it closer to the car for a little more shelter, and it stayed attached to the ground for the rest of the night. The windstorm eventually calmed down around dusk, though all of the other tent campers in our campground had given up and left!
We headed out of town the next morning, very dusty, but refreshed. Before we left Bishop, we grabbed bagels from Great Basin Bakery. Since Tuolumne Meadows were reportedly still full of snow, we decided to ditch that part of our plan, and slowly worked our way north towards Tahoe. We detoured to Convict Lake, but it was a little cold for the short loop hike. In Mammoth, we to fill my growler at Mammoth Brewing Company and checked out their gorgeous new tasting room. I filled my growler with 395 IPA but also loved Hair of the Bear, a seasonal doppelbock. For lunch, we had burgers at Toomey’s. (which I thought was a little overpriced, but pretty good with an incredibly friendly waitress). Our last stop was the Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport. I love a good hot spring, and these are amazing, with gorgeous flowstone, views of the Sierra and multiple pools at different temperatures. They were pretty crowded though, especially for the middle of the day.
It was a totally fun weekend, and I’m excited for more throughout the spring and summer. Though I can do without the sliced up hand!
A couple of weeks ago, I went on a slightly epic road trip for work: South Lake Tahoe > Bishop > Visalia > Truckee > Redding > South Lake Tahoe. On my way back from Redding, I took a slight (two hour) detour to the south end of Lassen National Park. The park road was mostly closed, so I just hiked up the empty road for about 3/4 of a mile for some awesome views. I’ll definitely have to come back when more of the park is open!