The water level on our local rivers was pretty low this spring and early summer, so Greyson and I played around with paddling our Kokopelli Nirvana Whitewater rafts on Donner Lake. Can you packraft on flat water?
Since Greyson and I spent the spring and summer sticking close to home, we took the opportunity to ride some of the local trails we haven’t ridden before. Animal & Animal Crackers shot to the top of my list of favorite local trails, and I made a quick video about it. Check it out!
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!