There’s a new mountain bike trail in Truckee, the Big Chief Trail, and it is awesome! While mountain bike/keyboard warriors may complain on the internet that the Forest Service only builds boring, easy trails, that’s absolutely not true of the Big Chief Trail. Ridden from the top down, the trail descends about 2,175 feet over ~8.5 miles, but it’s a pain to shuttle and involves a lot of driving. If you’re riding up, you can either ride up the Big Chief trail or up the 06 fire road, which I prefer. The Big Chief trailhead is about 3 miles up the 06 past the Sawtooth Trailhead. If you are shuttling from the top, the Upper Big Chief Trailhead is near the intersection of the Fiberboard Freeway and the 500 road. There’s limited parking, but the drive in is all paved. (Strava route for the shuttle here and Strava route for the fire road ride here.)
Big Chief Trail is split into two main sections, the top third (which was just completed this summer) and the bottom two thirds. Big Chief Upper is the most technical part, earning its advanced rating. At this point there are several large features that I couldn’t ride and didn’t have ride arounds, though I was able to walk them fairly easily. (I’ve heard, though, that eventually all the features will have ride arounds.) This section is pretty rocky overall in addition to the several technical features. After about 2.15 miles and ~850 feet of descent, the upper section crosses the 06 fire road and Big Chief Lower begins.
The lower section of Big Chief begins with a tiny climb that opens into expansive views and impressive rock work. The lower segment is easier overall than the upper section, but there are still challenging sections and lots of features like drops, rock rolls, wall rides and more. There’s also a fair amount of climbing on this section, with about 550 feet of climbing overall. Most of the climbing comes in a half mile section at about 1.3 miles into the lower section.
After the climb, the trail flattens out and gets bumpy with rock rolls, drops, wall rides, wooden features, and more. All the features have ride arounds, and this is a good spot to session and practice. After the techy features, it’s mostly a fun, flowy, downhill ride to the bottom. There are great jumps and berms, and the trail is mostly smooth, though there are a few rock gardens and roots to keep you on your toes.
The Big Chief Trail is a fun, challenging trail that I’d recommend for intermediate or better riders. There are definitely advanced features on the Big Chief Upper and lower sections, but the trail is totally doable as an intermediate rider as long as you’re paying attention and prepared to walk or ride around when available. That said, riding just the Big Chief Lower section is less challenging than doing the whole thing, and a great option for an easier ride.
(from the top of Big Chief Upper down)
Mileage: 7.85 miles
Elevation: 2,178 descent, 675 feet of climbing
Difficulty: Advanced Intermediate Washoe Land
PS: Check out my lists of things to do in Truckee here and here for after your ride!
Summer is an amazing time of year in Truckee, and I want to share some of my favorite things to do. In honor of the solstice and summer OFFICIALLY starting, I thought I’d share the best things to do outside in Truckee.
Check out Truckee’s awesome mountain bike trails! Truckee has mountain bike trails for all levels and types of riders. For easier rides, I’d recommend the Emigrant Trail segment that goes from Highway 89 to Stampede Reservoir, which is an out and back and can be made as long or short as you like. Sawtooth Loop is a 10 mile, intermediate route that is slightly more cross country style. For a fun but challenging climb, head up towards the Donner Lake Rim Trail from the Wendin Way Access Trail. If you prefer to shuttle, the Donner Lake Rim Trail has a couple of great options, either riding in from the Castle Valley side or from the Glacier Way trailhead in Tahoe Donner. The newly completed Big Chief Trail is a great option for advanced riders. For groups with a variety of skill levels, check out the trails in the Tahoe Donner neighborhood, especially those around the Alder Creek Adventure Center. There’s a wide variety of trails at all levels here. Finally, the Truckee Bike Park is a must do for mountain bikers visiting the area.
Get in the water! Though you might not guess it from my blog name, in some ways I prefer Donner Lake over Lake Tahoe. I love that there are publicly accessible, free docks that are available on a first come, first serve basis – the Donner Lake Public Piers. They tend to fill up fast on summer days, so get there early to claim one! If a regular beach is more your scene, the West End Beach is great for that. It’s $5 for an adult entrance fee (or $50 for a season pass), and, besides a great swimming beach, there are life guards, nice bathrooms, concessions, picnic tables, a play area, grills, boat rentals, and more! Floating the Truckee River is a popular activity, and you can avoid the crowds by choosing a less popular section to float. I recommend the stretch from the Truckee Regional Park to the Glenshire Bridge which is rowdier than the booze cruise section between Tahoe City and Alpine Meadows, but still doable by amateurs. Be sure to check river conditions, it can be too cold, deep and fast moving to be safe early in the summer. I’d also recommend a raft that’s a step up from a cheap innertube!
Get on a rock! I haven’t been climbing a ton lately, but it’s still one of my favorite ways to experience the outdoors. My favorite top roping spot (mainly for the awesome views of Donner Lake) is Green Phantom on Donner Summit. If bouldering is your thing, Donner Memorial State Park has a bunch of fun routes that are super easy to access. If you want a little bit of a hike before you climb, the Grouse Slab boulder area is a fun area with great views.
Go with a group! During the summer, Truckee has a lot of opportunities to hike, bike, run, and learn with locals, visitors, and experts. The Truckee Donner Land Trust runs a free, docent led hiking program in the summer. This is a great chance to get out on incredible TDLT properties, including ones that are not yet open to the public, like Carpenter Valley. Paco’s bike shop has a group road ride on Wednesday nights and a no-drop ladies mountain bike ride on Fridays. For trail running enthusiasts, Donner Party Mountain Runners hosts lots of group events and has an up to date calendar on their website.
Other outdoor stuff! The Truckee River Legacy Trail is a paved trail paralleling the Truckee River that is great for running, dog walking, and biking. For another easy road bike route, I like doing a lap around Donner Lake (though I highly recommend doing it clockwise!) – it’s 7 miles and under 400 feet of climbing. The climb up to the top of Donner Summit up Old Highway 40 is a lung burning challenge. It’s more than 1,000 feet of climbing in about three miles and tops out at over 7,000 feet. Truckee is a great place to do some high elevation trail running – Emigrant Trail and the Boreal to Old 40 section of the PCT are both great options. Disc golf is a great, low key way to spend time outside and Truckee has a few options. Right in town, there’s a course near the entrance of the Truckee River Regional Park and one on the campus of Sierra College. Up on Donner Summit, the Donner Ski Ranch resort has its own course.
This is just scratching the surface of fun outdoor things to do this summer in Truckee. Get outside and enjoy this great place!
The Brewing Lair in Blairsden, California might just be my all time favorite location for a brewery. While it’s address is Highway 70 right near the intersection with California 89, its location is tucked away in the forest up a dirt road. You won’t hear the cars speeding by – only the creaking of the tall pines and an occasional happy bark from one of the dog visitors.
The Brewing Lair is all outside, with wooden picnic tables, adirondack chairs, a spacious lawn, disc golf course, and even barbecues that you can BYO-meat to and grill out. The often have live music throughout the summer, too. We usually stop by the Brewing Lair after a day of biking at the nearby Mills Peak Trail. Though the Brewing Lair occasionally has a food truck on site, you can bring your own food, and we tend to pick up greasy fare at the burger spot in downtown Graeagle.
As if the amazing location isn’t enough – the Brewing Lair has seriously good beers. Over the past few years, I’ve tried quite a few. (All descriptions by the Brewing Lair)
Uncle Elliot’s IPA (3.75/5): A heavy-hitter IPA with a strong grapefruit flavor
Ambush IPA (4/5): A well-behaved IPA, notes of fresh baked bread and dank weed. Our most popular beer.
Take a Hike Red IPA (4.5/5): A spicy-floral red IPA
Deep Cover Black IPA (4.5/5): Dry, espresso & pine
Dope is King Pale Ale (4.25/5): Simcoe and Citra hops with a hint of caramel. Early 1900’s miners raced down Eureka Peak on 12’ wooden skis, claiming that the victory relied on “good dope”—ski resin.
Visiting the Brewing Lair is a one-of-a-kind Sierra experience, and I highly recommend that you try it out!
Last year, I shared my top essentials for an amazing summer by Lake Tahoe. Now I’m back to share more of my favorite things for a perfect summer!
Something to lounge around in/on. We’ve all seen the hammocks that are all over Instagram, and I have an ENO two person hammock that I’m sure will get a ton of use on Greyson and my road trip next week. But even better, I got a LayBag for my birthday from Greyson’s parents!
The LayBag™ as a brand-new product and the lifestyle innovation of the season has been created to perfectly relax anywhere. The inflatable sofa that fills air within seconds is super comfortable and can be described as a clever combination of an inflatable couch with the very simple filling-technique used on dry-bags. No external pump needed!
Therefore it can be inflated and deflated within seconds and stored in a small carrying-bag giving you the opportunity to carry your LayBag anywhere you want, giving you more time to lounge on your LayBag.
I took the LayBag for its first test run this past weekend. We watched the instructional video first, which made inflation look super simple, just flapping the LayBag through the air while alternating sides, roll, clip, and done. It was a little more complicated, and we definitely needed a breeze to help us out. We did get it filled pretty quickly once the wind picked up, and I was floating in no time.
Sun Shirt/Rashguard. Before Indonesia, I wasn’t 100% sold on the idea of a sun shirt or rashguard. I thought I’d be too hot, and that it couldn’t work that well. I started coming around on the idea when I rafted the American River last June. I wore a NRS Rashguard in the boat, and I didn’t burn at all, and barely had to reapply sunscreen. When I got too hot, I got in the water, shirt and all and the wet fabric helped me stay cool. In Raja Ampat, where it was often over 90 degrees and 90% humidity, I wore a sun shirt pretty much any time I was outside and not in the water. I don’t go to that extent in our fairly mild Tahoe summers, but sun shirts are really nice for hiking on high altitude, exposed trails. Hint for tall/long armed women: this men’s columbia button down in a medium fit me perfectly. I also have a men’s Patagonia sun shirt with a hood that is really comfy.
Approach Shoes: I am a huge fan of sandals like Chacos (which you can probably tell by my telltale Z tan in the above photo!) for summer adventures, but they aren’t perfect for everything. Approach shoes fill the gap when you want something with more protection than sandals, a softer sole than trail runners, and more low key than hiking boots. I recently bought a pair of Five Ten Guide Tennies and they have been great for all sorts of activities this summer. Their sticky bottoms are great for scrambling around on the granite of Donner Summit, they protect my toes from loose rocks on the approach to the climbing wall, and I’ve even worn them biking when I have flat pedals on my mountain bike.
Hydration System: The air up here in Tahoe is very dry, and it’s important to stay hydrated during your runs, hikes, rides, climbs, etc. (especially if you plan on sampling some of the great beer we have up here!) I’m a big fan of hydration packs, especially for mountain bike rides and hikes. I have and LOVE the CamelBak Solstice. It’s a mountain bike specific hydration pack with lots of extra features, which I think add to the functionality of the Solstice.
Our newest women’s mountain bike pack is a low rider. The Solstice™ is a full-featured pack that shifts your load—and most importantly, your water supply—down towards your waist. That small change gives you a lower center of gravity and a wider range of motion, which makes it easier to maneuver as you’re barreling downhill. The Solstice also stores enough water and gear for a full day on the trail: a 3-liter Antidote® reservoir, helmet hooks, attachment points for soft armor, and a tool roll to keep your gear organized. We designed the Solstice specifically for women, with an S-shaped harness that curves comfortably around your chest, and a slightly shorter back panel for a more ergonomic fit. The velvetex-lined harness also keeps the straps from chafing against your skin.
For hiking, I have an older Osprey Packs Raptor pack, which is technically a bike specific pack. I like it better for hiking than biking, and I love the fact that the bladder has the easy to use Nalgene screw top. I’ve even gone on some trail runs with this pack, but it’s not the best for that. I almost bought the Osprey Rev 6 to use for trail running/biking, but I decided on a bike specific pack since I use it way more. For running, I’ve been sticking with a handheld bottle, like this Nathan VaporMax Plus.
Cush Comforts for Car Camping. Did you like my alliteration there? I love car camping, and, one of the reasons why I love it is how comfortable you can be! While a few pieces of lighter weight gear make their way into my car camping set up (ahem, this super comfortable Sea To Summit Aeros Premium Pillow), I take advantage of the packing room to bring some larger items. My favorite is a super comfortable sleeping pad. I have the backcountry.com knock off of the Therm-a-Rest BaseCamp (which it looks like they don’t make any more, sadly). If you’re not worried about space and you are worried about comfort, look for a car camping mattress that has a foam core AND inflates.
Greyson recently bought himself a Yeti Cooler. Yes, they are really expensive. Yes, they are really heavy. Yes, they are really that awesome at keeping your food cold. Definitely go check them out in person before you buy them, though, because all of that insulation comes at a price – the usable space inside the cooler. Stay tuned later this month for more of my car camping recommendations!
A Perfect Summer Cocktail: I’m not usually a huge fan of sweet drinks (black coffee, gin & tonics, and IPAs, all the way!), but this fruit and herb infused cocktail is perfect for summer.
Muddle half a lime, a couple spoonfuls of watermelon and 4-5 large basil leaves in the bottle of a rocks glass.
Pour in a shot or two of your favorite gin.
Add ice to top of the glass.
Finish with tonic and enjoy! I like to garnish with a slice of watermelon when I’m feeling fancy.
So there are a few of my essentials for this summer. What are you loving right now?
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!
A couple of weeks ago, I hinted on Instagram that I have a new adventure coming up:
I’m getting SCUBA certified! In the late winter/early spring, Greyson and I are going on a trip to Indonesia with his family. They’re big into SCUBA diving, and have been on a bunch of SCUBA trips all over the world. SCUBA diving is something I have always been interested in, so this seemed like the perfect excuse to learn. My parents got me the certification course for my birthday, and, hopefully, my mom will get SCUBA certified at some point too! (All photos following by Greyson Howard!)
I’m doing the SCUBA certification course through a dive shop down in Reno, and I bought the “SCUBA beginner” package when I was down there signing up for the class. I now have my own snorkel, goggle, fins and booties! Greyson and I decided to get some practice with my new gear, so we headed down to one of the small beaches on Donner Lake.
It’s been pretty warm out, but I decided to wear my triathlon wetsuit since the lake temperature isn’t that warm. It had been awhile since I put on my wetsuit, but luckily it still fits! I’ll be renting a thicker, long sleeve wetsuit for the open water training dive in Lake Tahoe this fall, but mine was fine for summer messing around.
I practiced getting into the gear, and I discovered that it’s really, really hard to walk in fins. Note: always put them on while already in the water, then walk backwards. We swam around, and I practiced going under water and clearing my ears. Kicking with the giant fins on is definitely different than the lap and open water swimming that I’m used to.
While Donner Lake is super fun to swim in, it’s not the most interesting for snorkeling. I saw a lot of: rocks, pinecones and garbage. It was really fun to see a side of the lake I don’t normally see though. I’m really excited for the SCUBA certification class, which starts soon. I’ll be writing about the process on the blog, and I’ll hopefully have fun SCUBA adventures to share in the future!
Last weekend (I’m behind on blogging!), Greyson and I took a short hike on a beautiful section of the Tahoe Rim Trail. We had been wanting to try Alibi Ale Works for months, so we decided to work up our beer-drinking-appetites with a short hike to a spot with a gorgeous view of Lake Tahoe.
I’m trying to improve my photography, so we packed Greyson’s nice cameras and headed to the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead off of Highway 431/Mt. Rose Highway, about a half mile southwest of the Mt. Rose Summit. The Tahoe Meadows Trailhead has a large dirt parking lot, a decently clean pit toilet bathroom and a 1.2 mile interpretive trail, if you’re looking for a short and easy hike.
To reach the viewpoint, follow the trail on the right side of the parking lot, through the expansive meadow and towards the forest. This section of the Tahoe Rim Trail is open for bikes on even days and horses every day, so be aware that you may be sharing the trail! Be sure to check out the humorous trail signs you’ll encounter, including one addressed to dog visitors.
It’s about 1.6 miles from the trailhead, through the meadow, and into the forest until you reach a large open space with beautiful views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding peaks.
There’s a little bit of a climb (~300 feet over ~1 mile), but the high elevation meant that I was feeling the climb more than normal. The view was worth it though!
There’s not a viewing platform or cleared out space, but there are a number of rock outcroppings to sit on and enjoy the view. I practiced my photography skills and Greyson and I both enjoyed snacks in the sunshine. I even got a few decent pictures of a bird, that I subsequently forgot to look up – so I have no idea what it is.
Greyson and I wandered around the open field for awhile, looking for a sign we had spotted in the distance. The sign didn’t look like it was on any sort of trail, so we were really curious about what it said. We eventually found the sign:
At this point, I was starting to get hungrier for something more than granola bars. We scrambled across the meadow back to the trail, and headed back to civilization.
When I was living in South Lake Tahoe, Greyson and I met up in Incline Village fairly often, since it is about the halfway point between South Lake and Truckee. Since moving to Truckee, we haven’t made our way over there very often. I requested that we grab food at an old favorite – Crosby’s, my favorite sports bar in the Tahoe area. Greyson and I would head to Incline Village on Wednesdays to meet after work to go climbing at High Altitude Fitness, and we’d be starving afterwards. We would usually eat at Crosby’s, because it was one of the few places that served food after 8 pm. This time, we split a burger and an order of their specialty – seasoned waffle fries. The waffle fries are amazing, but warning, the “side” of fries is HUGE. A burger with salad on the side and an order of waffle fries was more than enough food for the two of us.
A quick hike, interesting clouds, a ton of good food, and delicious beer was a great way to spend a beautiful and relaxing Sunday!
Last August, I wrote a post about the best places around Tahoe to watch the sunset. In the last year, and, especially since my move north to Truckee, I’ve found even more great places to watch sunsets in the Tahoe/Truckee area.
Drive up old Highway 40 from Donner Pass Road, and you’ll find a number of great places to watch the sun set over Donner Lake and the Carson Range. This picture is from the Green Phantom climbing area under the historic bridge, but there is also a great vista point with a large parking area and some interpretive signs. Greyson took this gorgeous photo with his iphone when we were climbing a few weeks ago.
I’ve mentioned the docks at Donner Lake before, and, in addition to swimming, fishing and kayaking, the docks are a great place to watch the sunset. Cuddle up with a beer and a blanket to watch the sun set over Donner and Trestle Peak. If it’s not winter, you can even go for a night swim!
There are a bunch of great things about Sand Harbor State Park. For one, it’s the iconic yellow sand – turquoise water – round boulders that you see pictures of all the time. For another, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is the most scenic place to see Shakespeare in the US. Though weekend at Sand Harbor are often so crowded that the parking lot is full by 10 am, by sunset, the crowds have cleared out enough that there’s plenty of parking. Additionally, there’s a free vista point north of the park. Parking is only for 20 minutes, but that’s plenty of time to head down the short trails to the beach and catch the high points of a typical sun set.
There’s a gorgeous meadow area about 15 miles north of Truckee known as Kyburz Flat. On it’s own, it’s a beautiful green meadow, surrounded by pine forests with a natural spring. Beyond that, the area has a super interesting history remnants, including Native American petroglyphs and a reconstructed (and usable!) Basque brick oven from the sheep camp days. I was lucky enough to attend an incredible cook out at the Basque oven, and we saw one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve experienced in Tahoe.
Donner Peak, Truckee, California
Yet another spot accessed from Donner Summit, this is a sunset spot for those who are up for a little more of a challenge. I’ve written up the (daytime) hike to Donner Peak here. If you want to watch the sunset up there, be prepared to hike down in the dark with at least a headlamp and remember that the last mile or so (on the way down) is really rocky and unstable. It’s a little under 4 miles round trip with about 933 feet of elevation gain.
These are my favorite places to watch the sunset that I’ve discovered over the last year or so. What are your favorite places for sunsets in Tahoe, California and beyond?
I spent all day on Friday being a river bro, and rafting the South Fork of the American River, so I was pretty exhausted when I woke up on Saturday. Greyson and I had already agreed to meet one of his friends for a hike that morning, so I rolled out of bed and we headed east.
Luckily, we had planned a pretty easy going day. Greyson and I met Kyle and Stella (the dog) at the Brockway Summit Tahoe Rim Trail trailhead. The Tahoe Rim Trail is a 165-mile long loop trail that circles Lake Tahoe (and then some). The trail is single track and open to hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers (except for a few sections). The trail also shares about 50 miles with the Pacific Crest Trail. While dozens of people do the Tahoe Rim Trail as a two or three week thru hike (Greyson did it back in 2007 for a series in the Sierra Sun), its many accessible trailheads make it a great choice for a day hike or several day-long backpacking or bikepacking trip. The Tahoe Rim Trail Association has some great trip planning resources on their website.
The trailhead we started at is known as the Brockway Summit Trailhead and is located on Highway 267 about 9.5 miles from downtown Truckee. Google map directions can be found here, and there is a parking lot and side of the road parking on the south side of 267 near the trailhead. We headed uphill and climbed switchbacks for a little over a mile until we hit a spur trail that promised a view. This offshoot trail hadn’t been constructed when Greyson thru hiked the TRT, so we decided to go check it out. The spur was about a half mile each way, and the view at the top was beautiful! Despite a hazy day, we could see all the way across the lake, down to the thunderheads building over the large peaks surrounding South Lake Tahoe.
If you’re looking for a short hike with a bit of a climb and a rewarding view, the hike to this viewpoint would be a good option. It would be about 3 miles round trip with ~700 feet of climbing. The switchbacks make the climb manageable, but they don’t make it feel like you’re going nowhere.
We headed back down the spur trail and, since it was still fairly early, decided to keep going on the TRT. This section of the trail travels generally northeast. We headed away from stunning lake views for a while, and we traversed through fields full of fragrant mule’s ear and sage and saw a some blooming wildflowers. If you are looking for stunning fields of multi color wildflowers, there are better trails (and times of year) than this one, but we did see occasional pops of color from Indian paintbrush and other flowers I can’t recognize without a guidebook.
About 2.5 miles past the spur trail, we reached another nice viewpoint with a shady spot – perfect for a snack break. I broke out a new-to-me trail food, Taos Mountain Energy Bars in the Caramel Pecan flavor. I really liked it! It meets my requirement of being soy free (hard to find in an energy bar), and it tasted really good! After this high point of 8,260, the trail starts heading back downhill. We figured that this would be a good place to turn around, as we were pretty much out of water, and the day was heating up.
The way back was mostly downhill, with a couple of short and steep uphill sections, but the TRT is so well graded in most sections that it wasn’t too hard on the knees and legs. We ended up with 9 miles and 1,970 feet of climbing, but the hike felt much easier than that to me! Afterwards, however, Greyson and I crashed on the couch for the rest of the day. It was enough distance and elevation that, combined with a full day on the river the day before, we were spent.
This section of the Tahoe Rim Trail is a fun, moderately difficult trail with some great views that are worth the climb. We saw other hikers and bikers out, but the trail never felt crowded, which is especially awesome, since this was a beautiful Saturday morning in July.
Hike Totals: 9.0 miles, 1,970 feet of elevation gain in 3:04 moving time.
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!