After an absolutely amazing time in Canada, it was time to head back the US. Luckily, we couldn’t be too sad, because we were heading to one of my favorite towns, Bellingham, to visit some good friends, Rebecca and Corey. We had a few goals – ride Galbraith, see friends, and drink good beer. We managed to do all of them.
On day one in Bellingham, Greyson went and rode Galbraith with Corey while Rebecca and I hung out with their daughter. After Greyson and Corey got back, we headed to Kulshan Brewing Company. When I lived in Bellingham, there was only one brewery – Boundary Bay. Now there are way more and it seems like new ones pop up every few months! I’ve had Kulshan beer a bunch of times while back visiting the PNW, but this was my first time visiting their brewery location. We went for the very generous six-beer sampler, and here’s what I tried (descriptions by Kulshan):
Party iN the Woods (4/5)
Pilsner (4.25/5): We raise a glass to the men and women who pioneered this classic session beer in 1842. Crisp and refreshing with clean and balanced bitterness from floral, bright and spicy Noble hops, this lager is our tribute to their hard work, precision and good taste. Prost.
Good Ol’ Boy Pale Ale (4.25/5): This beer is your best friend, reliable, refreshing, honest and true. Life is gritty, wash it all away with a Good Ol’ Boy Pale Ale, and do it again tomorrow. Enjoy Absolutely.
Bastard Kat IPA (3.5/5): Brewed with passion and precision, Bastard Kat is an American Style West Coast IPA with a prolific full hop flavor and aroma predicated upon the citrus notes of the Cascade Hop. Brewed for your next adventure.
Bull of the Woods Double IPA (3.5/5): Walking down endless rows of a green forest, the onslaught of hop aroma seduces one to a time, a place, a dream, a memory, an ideal ideal. How can I put that in a pint and deliver it unto you? Never limiting, always pursuing, climbing to the top. Allow yourself to be enveloped by this blanket of hops, and dream a little dream, of a forest of green.
Sunnyland IPA (5/5): Crisp, Refreshing, Hoppy, Hoppy punch up front, soft middle, and an evaporating finish.
After only a couple of days in Bellingham, we had to be on the road, but I still hadn’t had a chance to ride at Galbraith this trip. We decided to go on a short ride before we headed east.
I’d ridden at Galbraith a few times before, but this time we tackled a different section of the trail network. We parked at the parking area on Samish Way and headed north on Gailbraith Lane. The first real trail we hopped on was Dog Patch, a pretty easy climb. We popped out on a fire road and climbed that for about a third of a mile before getting back on the trail with Three Pigs. We only stayed on Three Pigs for about a half mile before turning right onto Pony Express. Pony Express crosses a fire road, and there we got back on Dog Patch before finishing it out on Last Call.
I’m by no means an expert on Galbraith, but I thought that was a fun short loop – it was under 4 miles with less than 500 feet of climbing. It took us under an hour – and I imagine it would be way shorter if we didn’t have to route check quite so often.
While we were bummed about leaving Bellingham and our friends behind, we were looking forward to our next destination – North Cascades National Park!
I left off in Campbell River, BC. We woke up bright at early and headed down the scenic coastal route to the ferry that would take us to the Sunshine Coast (with a quick stop for one more ride in Cumberland).
A huge inspiration for the #toasterroadtrip route was a video made by Bellingham-based mountain bike publication, Freehub Magazine. They made a video that highlighted mountain biking on the Sunshine Coast and the locals that worked hard to turn a depressed logging region into a mountain biking destination. We were sold, and the Sunshine Coast was a major priority destination on our honeymoon.
A quick word of warning – the Sunshine Coast is amazing, and I would highly recommend it as a place to visit. But, I wouldn’t recommend it as a mountain biking destination unless you are an advanced-intermediate rider or above. The trails we rode were really, really difficult (like, we were walking mile+ segments) and we had a hard time finding anything intermediate or below, other than at Sprockids near Gibsons. We did ride some amazing trails, and maybe you’ll have better luck than us, but I wouldn’t recommend the Sunshine Coast to beginner or intermediate riders, unless you do a lot of research. For newer riders, go to Cumberland or Parksville for biking and Sunshine Coast for the scenery.
The Sunshine Coast is an isolated, but awesome little region, north of Vancouver on the West Coast of British Columbia. It is only accessible by a series of ferries. We started at the north end and drove/ferried south towards the city of Vancouver. I’ll write more about the non-mountain biking parts of the Sunshine Coast in a later post, because there are plenty of non-biking things to do and see.
We continued our non-intentional following of the BC Bike Race route and arrived in Powell River just after the race concluded for the day. The main word I can use to describe biking on the Sunshine Coast (besides gnarly) is isolated. We drove for what seemed like forever on logging roads with no service, not seeing anyone else, before popping out at a surprisingly well maintained parking lot with a detailed trail map sign.
We decided to take it a little easier on Day One, and rode from the parking area on Duck Lake Rd. We rode the Mud Lake Trail, a pretty easy 4 mile loop with only about 300 feet of climbing. It was pretty muggy, buggy, and mucky with not a lot of views. If you’re looking for an easier trail in this area, it fits the bill, but there was some bushwacking and it wasn’t the most exciting.
In all of the trail research we’d done, one trail in Powell River kept popping up in the recommendations: Aloha – so we made that our goal for Day Two. We weren’t able to find an open bike shop in Powell River, so our route was cobbled together from internet recommendations and MTB Project tracts.
We parked in the parking area on Alaska Pine Road, just off of Halsam Lake Road. We rode up Alaska Pine Road (with a ~0.5 mi detour when we took the wrong spur) for about 0.9 miles before turning right onto Death Rattle. Don’t ride up Death Rattle. This was a mistake and I pushed up the entire way. Death Rattle dead ends on Green Road, an easy trail that is somewhere between a double track and a fire road. After a mile of easy riding, the trailhead for Aloha & Blackwater trails will be on your right.
Aloha is a super fun, flowy trail with bridges and features that I found very rideable (and I’m a total chicken on wooden features). There’s also a Tiki Bar which is a must stop for photos.
Aloha and Blackwater cross each other a few times on the descent, and I think we rode a little on both, and you’ll finish out the ride on Blackwater. Despite its black diamond rating, I found it pretty rideable and comparable to Aloha on difficulty. We did find a downed tree, and Greyson was very excited to break out his Silky saw for some freelance trail maintenance.
Aloha was my favorite trail that I rode on the Sunshine Coast, and I’d highly recommend it. I’d actually recommend riding up Aloha and back down, though or find a different route that doesn’t require the ride up Death Rattle.
West Sechelt was not a very successful day for us. Greyson got in a couple of bad, scary crashes and we ended up walking huge swaths of trail. We stopped by a couple of bike shops to ask about trail recommendations, but getting suggestions was like pulling teeth and we didn’t feel like we ever got a solid lead. A friendly local at the trail head did give us a bunch of suggestions, but his ideas were for a much longer ride than we were interested in that day. We started at the Gowland/Reeves Road parking area and headed up the access road. Next we climbed up Duracell, a rideable trail that gains about 350 feet in a mile before hopping on Shakecutters. Shakecutters dumped us out on an access road which we rode to Beaver Pond. After about ~0.7 miles on Beaver Pond, we turned right onto Baby Beaver.
Baby Beaver dead ends at another access road, where we turned right and rode for less than 0.1 mile before hopping on Parbac. We rode Parbac for about 0.3 mi before turning left and getting on VFR, which we’d read good things about. This is where the climbing got impossible for me, and I pushed my bike up about 95% of the 286 foot climb. It was steep. Greyson and I also both got the heebie jeebies on this section of the trail for some unidentified reason. We finally reached the top and got ready to finally descend.
Despite VFR’s blue rating, I found myself walking long sections of the descent. VFR was one of the hardest trails I’ve ever ridden. The trail was narrow and steep, with sections of tight trees, loose rocks, and steep drop offs to the side. Sometimes all three at once. When we were there, the Sunshine Coast was towards the end of an usually long dry spell and the trails were pretty beat up, so I don’t know how much that contributed to the difficulty, but after Greyson’s crashes and my long stretches of walking, we decided to bail on to the access road as soon as we could. Luckily, we were able to easily navigate back to our car.
Greyson was still feeling pretty beat up from his crash, and we had to catch our ferry to Vancouver, but we decided to do a little bit of exploring at Sprockids Park. Despite its name, Sprockids is open to everyone. It’s a park made up of a bunch of short mountain bike trails, ranging from easy to advanced, and you can string them together for a longer ride, or just session small sections easily. There’s also a skills development area where you can practice riding wooden features, ramps, and small drops. We didn’t spend a lot of time here, but it was a fun stop, especially if you are newer to mountain biking or have kids along.
Next up, places to stay, things to do, and beers to drink on the Sunshine Coast!
After a fun couple of days in the Cumberland area, we headed north to Campbell River. Taking the advice of locals, we got off of Hwy 19 and drove up the coast. The drive was gorgeous and worth the slightly longer trip. Considering that it only added about 20 minutes, I would highly recommended the scenic route.
As I mentioned in my lodging post, we stayed at Elk Falls Provincial Park. This was yet another amazing BC Provincial Park with access to a waterfall. A brand new suspension bridge giving new access to amazing views had just been completed so we made sure to check it out.
We had fun exploring Campbell River, which had a more rustic and ocean-y feel than the other spots we’d visited on the island so far. I especially liked driving out to Dick Murphy Park at the very end of a long spit and getting my feet wet in the ocean. Next time we’ll have to go on a whale watching or kayaking trip out of Campbell River. My parents did a multi day kayaking trip off of Quadra Island, which looked amazing!
Of course, we also went biking while we were in Campbell River. I ride a 2016 Transition Smuggler, a shorter travel 29er that was basically designed for the rooty XC trails of Campbell River. I, on the other hand, am not used to that type of riding, and spent a lot of time getting stuck on short, steep, punchy and rooty climbs. I was also surprised by how narrow lots of the trails are up there! The forests of BC have a lot more biomass that the Sierra and we were frequently fighting our way through overgrown trails. Note: ferns are better than blackberries, but will still scratch you up! There were some frustrating moments along the trail and I didn’t feel like I was riding very well.
I did have fun on the trails we rode in the Pumphouse area of Campbell River, especially on the return trip when I finally loosened up. We rode Water Tower , which is a gradually climbing, wide trail (basically a double track) to the Ridge Trail for about a third of a mile before turning onto Dean Martin. Dean Martin had some really steep climbs – I could have used that twelfth gear. We then took Lower Deliverance until we hit the Forest Service road. I decided that with the struggle riding I’d been doing so far that day that I was ready to turn around. We headed back down Lower Deliverance until we came to Connector which took us to Alligator Rock. I enjoyed Alligator Rock much more than Deliverance, so I’m glad we came back that way. Though it was rockier, it was less exposed. After that we were back on Dean Martin and back the way we came.
When we were planning this trip, one of Greyson’s “must dos” was Olympic National Park. Despite growing up in Washington, I’d never been either. Also, Greyson’s parents went to Olympic National Park on their honeymoon and they gave us two nights at the Lake Quinault Lodge as a wedding gift. After four nights of camping, we were excited for the luxury.
The Lake Quinalt Lodge is a historic lodge, on the shores of Lake Quinault, just outside of the National Park. The building was beautiful, the rooms were really nice – we had a deck over looking the lake and a fireplace, which we didn’t end up using. There is wifi, but it’s pretty spotty and slow – not really a problem unless you are planning on doing some work. The property has it’s own beach with boat rentals and there are lawn games you can borrow or just sit on one of the adirondack chairs and watch the sunset.
“There are some places so blissfully disconnected from the modern world that they seem to stand suspended in time. Lake Quinault Lodge is one such place – a grand and rustic lodge built in 1926 that welcomes guests with warmth, hospitality, and a sincere feeling of home-away-from-home comfort. Here you can unwind in front of our majestic fireplace, dine in the historic Roosevelt Dining Room, curl up with a good book by the lake, paddleboard or fish in the afternoon sun, or venture deep into the temperate rainforest and enjoy the cool shade of the giant trees.”
Lake Quinault Lodge had great access to the park, and it was fun to inject a little luxury on the trip. We did eat dinner in the fancy Roosevelt Dining Room one night, but it was super expensive and not worth the prices. On night two, we ended up getting pizza and beer at the convenience store/restaurant across the street, which was a much better price and delicious.
We knew that we wanted to do a long-ish hike while we were in the park (and while we had a place to keep our bikes secure), and we decided on the Hoh River Trail. The trail parallels the Hoh River and is through the rainforest, which we really wanted to see. The trailhead was about an 1.5 hour drive from the Lake Quinault Lodge, but the route was scenic and took us by places we’d hoped to stop anyway.
On our way there, we stopped for some beach access. It was gray and cloudy in the morning, but we could tell the fog was already burning off. We also stopped to gape at trees. They’re no coast redwoods or giant sequoias, but they’re plenty big and strange.
After stopping in at the Hoh River Visitor’s Center to confirm that the Hoh River Trail was really what we wanted to do, we were off. Lots of visitors use the Hoh River Trail to access the back country – we saw tons of backpackers and even a few groups with alpine climbing gear. It’s also great for a day hike. It’s an out an back that goes 17.5 miles out to Glacier Meadows, so for a day hike, just turn around where ever you want.
The trail is fairly flat and not technical, at least for the first five miles that we did. I’ve read that it gets steeper as you get closer to Glacier Meadows. Despite the very sunny day we had, it was cool and shaded along the trail. Since it’s through the rainforest, you don’t always have sweeping views. We did get some gorgeous mountain views in spots where the trail got close enough to the river that we could see up or down canyon.
We’d heard there was a waterfall along the trail, so we made that our unofficial goal. The sun had completely come out by noon and it was an absolutely gorgeous day, though Greyson kept joking that he felt cheated by a sunny day in the rainforest. At some point on our way out, we stopped on the side of the river and had a snack and basked in the sun. About 2. 5 miles after the Visitor’s Center, we arrived at a little bridge and a verdant waterfall – Mineral Creek Falls.
We decided to keep hiking for awhile longer to see where the trail took us. While still not steep, there were more up and downs for the next 2.5 miles, where we decided to turn around. Sometimes out and backs can seem boring, since you are seeing the same scenery twice, but the Hoh River Trail didn’t feel that way to me. While the hike was relatively flat, my hiking muscles were not in shape. I was feeling it in my legs, especially at about mile 7. The faster I hiked, the better I felt, so I was seriously speed walking by the end.
We decided to break up the drive with a stop at the iconic Ruby Beach. It was a beautiful weekend day, and Ruby Beach was pretty crowded – there was even a culturally appropriative staged wedding photo shoot happening. We walked down to the beach and got a few pictures, but we decided that we’d leave a little earlier the next morning and stop by when it was less crowded (which is when the picture at the top of the post is from).
After the long hike and drive, a long shower back in our room felt amazing. While I love camping, and I don’t mind getting dirty, I have to say that the luxury of Lake Quinault Lodge felt pretty nice!
One of the first mountain biking destinations we decided on was Ashland, Oregon. We’d heard that it has an amazing trail network, good beer and food, nearby camping, fun culture, and was a quick ~6.5 hour drive up I5 from our wedding location in Point Reyes.
We’d planned on camping at a free USFS campground on Mount Ashland, and, while the campground was open the access road was not. We had way too much stuff to make the hike into the campground, so we headed towards other campgrounds in town. We ended up camping at Emigrant Lake County Park, which wasn’t the best campsite on the trip, but definitely wasn’t the worst. For $20 for a tent site, it was fine. Plus, the bathrooms were really clean and it stayed quiet on the weeknights we were there. It was in the oak woodlands and pretty hot. We never ended up swimming in the lake, but there is water access. We also got this great sunset view.
Ashland’s great access to the outdoors, a huge Shakespeare festival, and a university make it into a really cool town. We didn’t spend as much time as we would have liked exploring the city, but we’ll definitely be back.
We woke up eager to ride in Ashland, so after delicious bagels at Little Shop of Bagels, we headed to Ashland Mountain Adventures, excited to catch the shuttle. We arrived and the store was closed. That’s when we discovered that the upper part of the trail network was closed to riding, and, therefore, the shuttle wasn’t running. Oh, well, we decided. We’ll just pedal up – Greyson told me that the trail we were most excited about riding, Jabberwocky, was only ~500 feet of climbing.
As you can see, this was not true. We had to climb up and up and up and up a hot, exposed road, then a hot exposed fire road before we got to the trailhead we were looking for. It was really, really hard and we regretted not taking up the shuttle offer of the local we met at the bottom parking area. On the bright side, none of the climbs for the whole rest of the trip seemed as bad in comparison.
We ended up riding Caterpillar to Lizard to our ultimate goal, Jabberwocky. The trails were all definitely well built, flow trails. Jabberwocky is the newest trail in the network, and has machine bermed corners, table top jumps and not much in the way of rocks or roots. It had a few super steep super tight turns that were above my pay grade, especially early on since I didn’t yet trust the dirt to hold me. It’s got a couple of small, easy rock gardens and rollable drops. I had the most fun on the Lizard trail segment. It was also a flow trail, but nothing that sketched me out as much as the steep corners on Jabberwocky, so I could just relax and ride.
We’d originally planned to spend three days riding in Ashland, but since much of the mountain biking was inaccessible, we decided to shorten our stay and do an extra day on the Oregon Coast. We wanted to do a quick ride and get on the road for day two, so we drove up to the highest parking area and cut off almost 1,000 feet of climbing.
This time, we rode Lizard again (which confirmed it as my favorite trail we rode in Ashland) and lower Caterpillar. Lower Caterpillar was still fun and flowy, but much easier and a little less “built” than Jabberwocky or Lizard.
Trails of Note: Jabberwocky, Lizard, Caterpillar
Location: Lithia Park, Ashland, Oregon
Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced
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After Oakridge, Oregon and Bellingham, Washington, the next stop on our awesome OR/WA Mountain Bike Road Trip was Leavenworth, Washington. Leavenworth is an adorable “Bavarian” mountain town in the Alps-like Washington Cascades. Leavenworth is on the east side of Stevens Pass (both the ski resort and the physical feature) on Highway 2. I drove Highway 2 across the state during college when I was traveling between my hometown of Reardan and Bellingham, so I’ve been through Leavenworth lots of times, and I’ve stayed there with friends and family several times.
While the Bavarian theme can be a little cheesy, Leavenworth is an amazing town. In the Leavenworth area, there is great camping (I’ve stayed at Lake Wenatchee State Park), epic backpacking and hiking (the PCT runs by Stevens Pass), Icicle Creek and the Wenatchee River flow through town, so there are swimming, floating and rafting opportunities galore, world class climbing, great food, wineries and beer, and more! The drive along Highway 2 from Everett in the Seattle area is beautiful and is almost worth the trip by itself.
Greyson and I met my parents at Stevens Pass to caravan the last segment of the drive to the rental house. We stopped at a couple of points along the way to stick our feet in the gorgeous (and cold!) Wenatchee River.
Obviously of interest to us this trip was the mountain biking, which Leavenworth is also on the map for. Nearby Stevens Pass offers lift serviced biking (sadly, only on weekends so we missed out by arriving on a Monday) and the epic, 24 mile, 3,000 foot climb and descent on the Devils Gulch Trail is on my bucket list, and there are many more trails in the area. We weren’t sure which of the trails we wanted to tackle! Luckily, two of my best friends from college, Morgan and Tommy, met us in Leavenworth, and Tommy is an avid mountain biker. He recommended Freund Canyon.
Freund Canyon turned out to be an amazingly fun, featured, and flowy trail with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains that are so beautiful, you are slightly distracted from the brutal climb.
It was pretty hot by the time we got on the trail, which did not make the 1,950 foot climb any easier. The climb wasn’t technical at all, just unrelenting. I’m in much better mountain bike shape than I have been in the last couple of years, but it still took me over an hour to do the ~4 mile climb.
The hour of suffering (Type 2 fun!) was truly cancelled out by the incredible downhill. We lost those ~2,000 feet in about 3.5 miles of fun berms and jumps, well built out of Washington’s amazing dirt. This is one of my favorite trails I’ve ever ridden (even though I don’t jump my bike, except when I get a tiny bit of accidental air), and I was woo-ing it up with pure joy. Some of the berms are built so that you’re turning into the steep, downhill side of the mountain, which felt a little disconcerting (what if the berm collapses and I fly into space?), but for the most part I felt comfortable letting off by brakes a little and flying down the trail. Greyson and I were talking about it later, and decided that the downhill part felt a lot like resort riding without the crowds. It was definitely a very “built” trail.
We spent a couple of days hanging out in Leavenworth – swimming in the river, drinking beer, eating good food, watching turkey vultures, ospreys and a bald eagle from the deck of our rental cabin, and we even had some very special guests on the morning we left – a mama bear and her two cubs up in a tree. Greyson got some great pictures with his nice camera.
I just got back from an amazing road trip, mountain biking, camping, kayaking and beer drinking across Oregon and Washington. I had a great time at all of our stops, both those I’ve visited before and those that were new to me. I’ll be recapping our whole trip over the next couple weeks. Our first stop was Oakridge, Oregon.
Oakridge, Oregon is a small town nestled in the heart of the Cascades and parallels the Willamette River, about an hour east of Eugene on Highway 58. Oakridge had been a busy logging town, but since the down turn in the logging industry, it had struggled, with many businesses closing and families moving away. Oakridge is a beautiful place, with trails for hiking, camping spots along Salmon Creek, rafting and fishing opportunities on local rivers and streams, and, more recently, trails for mountain biking. Oakridge has become a popular destination for mountain bikers – only 2.5 hours from Portland and a “quick” ~7 hours from the Bay Area and Tahoe. (Greyson and I stopped by the local brewery for dinner and literally everyone eating on the patio was visiting from California.)
Mountain biking and other outdoor adventures are helping to bring some much needed money and business to Oakridge. However, it’s a much more complicated story than “mountain biking saves dying logging town!” – check out this interesting article from NPR:
For decades after World War II, the small town of Oakridge in the southern Cascade mountains of Oregon was a booming lumber town. But by the early 1990s, the lumber industry had collapsed, and Oakridge has struggled ever since, losing families and businesses. Now, residents like Randy Dreiling are trying to reinvent the place as a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Dreiling owns Oregon Adventures, which offers mountain bike tours. Some 350 miles of trails have earned Oakridge the self-proclaimed title of “Mountain Biking Capital of the Northwest. Mountain biking is just a piece of the pie. It’s not the end all be all, but it’s what we got. And it’s been good to us,” he says. “Anybody that’s being honest to themselves can see the amount of people mountain biking is bringing to town — more and more every year.”
Greyson found us an awesome campsite, Salmon Creek Falls Campground, about five miles outside of town. We snagged one of the last few first-come, first-serve campsites and set up the tent. This campground has some amazing spots right along the river, but I’m guessing you have to get there early on a weekday to get one of them.
While there are a ton of trails in the Oakridge area, mostly built and maintained by GOATS (Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards), we had decided to shuttle the Alpine Trail, booking a shuttle with Oregon Adventures, a local shuttle and tour company. They describe the Alpine Trail as
Oh glorious Alpine! Known as the Crown Jewel, this is one wicked trail. A combination of every pleasure known to mountain biking, you can’t not love Alpine.
I pre-booked the shuttle for 8:45 am the next day, so we decided to head in from our campsite for an early dinner and to scope out where we’d be meeting up. We (surprise, surprise) ended up at the only brewery in town, the Brewers Union Local 180. The brewery only has cask ale (or as they claim, the only “real ale” in Oregon) which undergoes a secondary fermentation in a wooden cask. These ales are much less carbonated that a typical IPA (it reminded me of a beer on nitro), and both of the ones we tried were tasty. This was by far the most popular restaurant in town, filled with tourists and locals alike. It was a long wait for food and beer, but both were worth it. We even met a group of people we’d be riding the shuttle with (and the Oregon Adventures owner!) at the brewery that night.
We met bright and early at the Oregon Adventures parking lot to drop off bikes with the shuttle van, and carpool to the bottom of the trail, a few miles from headquarters. We reconvened with the ten or so other riders, loaded into the shuttle and were off on the ~30 minute ride. The shuttle driver was very helpful, pointing out road crossings and landmarks that we’d use on the ride back, and soon arrived at our destination. While shuttling the Alpine Trail means a mostly downhill ride, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any climbing. In fact, you start off the trail with a ~350 foot climb that feels steeper than it actually is on cold legs.
After less than a mile of climbing, you come to a flat, grassy field with a narrow trail cut out and beautiful views. I remember commenting to Greyson about how it was hard to ride in such a narrow trail, and that I kept bumping my wheel on the edges. Little did I know that this was just a preview of the majority of the trail width to come!
The day was cool and cloudy, which was nice but I had a real problem with my sunglasses fogging up for most of the day! After the meadow, we rode into the trees and the first of the many downhills. At this point, we stopped to put on kneepads. This was the first of many stops – we definitely did not break any speed records on this trail. One of the coolest things about this trail was that it had some of everything – awesomely sticky Oregon dirt, miles of fast, flowy sections, rocky and rooty drops, long climbs, steep exposure, loose rocky sections, epic views and closed in forest canopies.
I’m used to the wider trails of the Sierra, so the narrow, more overgrown trails took some getting used to, and I definitely walked some sections of narrow trail that had steep exposure. Luckily, the Alpine Trail seemed to be about 85% fun flow on good dirt, with a smaller percentage of steep climbs, loose rocks, and only a few sections that I needed to walk.
According to my Garmin, we climbed about 1,224 feet over the 13.8 miles (the shuttle cut off some climbing and mileage from the full, official Alpine Trail.) The trail was very well marked and easy to follow. We got a little confused at about 12.5 miles in, where there was a junction. The MTB Project app told us to go right to stay on the Alpine Trail, but we were pretty sure we needed to go left to get back to our car. One of the things our shuttle driver told us at the beginning was “when in doubt, go left.” We went left and followed an obviously newer trail (I think called A.T.A.C., but I’m not 100% sure) that did bring us back to our cars.
We quickly loaded up and headed straight for pizza and beer. The pizza wasn’t amazing, but we were hungry so that didn’t matter all too much. After buying some cans of local beer, we went back to the campsite and spent some time lounging in my birthday ENO hammock for national hammock day.
Salmon Creek Falls campground is next to (no surprise) a creek and a small waterfall. Just upstream from the waterfall was a great, but cold swimming hole. We tentatively waded in, and, once my feet and legs were numb, the water felt great!
We stayed two nights in Oakridge and I wish we could have stayed longer to explore more trails! The town was beautiful, the people were friendly, the beer was good and the mountain biking was phenomenal. That’s all I can really ask in a destination. I loved camping at Salmon Creek Falls, and there are a number of motels in downtown Oakridge. The Alpine Trail was worth traveling for, and it’s a trail I’d love to do again with a little more confidence now that I know what it’s like.
On Donner Summit, there are some old train tunnels that the train used to run through. The train has since been re-routed and the tracks have been pulled out, making it an interesting destination for a snowshoe (winter) or hike (summer). The tunnels are technically on railroad property, but I didn’t see any “no trespassing” signs, and my friends have visited dozens of times over the years. Just be warned! They’re pretty easy to get to – we parked at the pull out a few hundred yards below the Donner Summit Scenic View Area (on your left when you’re heading up hill). Even in the winter, there was parking for at least 10 cars, but it is a popular sledding area and can get full.
Most of our group had snowshoes and poles – it gets icy in the tunnel so you’ll want something with grip. Greyson just wore hiking boots and carried poles and made it pretty well, but I wouldn’t recommend this to people not used to hiking on ice. It was warm for February when we headed up; it was in the 50’s and sunny, but the tunnels are at least 20 degrees colder inside. I appreciated by soft shell and gloves on the return trip. We all brought headlamps and flashlights, but didn’t need to use them. There’s enough light in the tunnel to see fairly well during the day.
It’s pretty straight forward once you’ve gotten out of the car – put on your snowshoes and head up towards the very obvious train tunnels. It’s a pretty steep climb, but the only hard part of the whole hike.
Since there’s not a lot of scenery inside of the tunnels, the natural ice sculptures and human made graffiti are the attractions.
I was really surprised by how much light made it into the tunnels! There are some sections with windows cut into the concrete, and sunlight travels far from the openings. I was expecting the whole inside to be concrete, and loved that many of the tunnel walls were simply exposed granite that the tunnel had been cut through.
Along the way, there are several spots where you can pop out of the tunnels and enjoy the view.
The entrance back into the tunnels looks more foreboding than it actually is. After less than a mile of hiking (which is slow going on all the ice), you’ll get to the end of the accessible tunnels. We hiked around on the snow some, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, before heading back towards the cars.
We hiked back the same way we came, through the tunnels, but we did see other groups snowshoeing along the outside. I imagine it would depend on snow levels if there is enough room on the outside to do that. Of our group of five, Greyson was the only person who had been to the train tunnels before, and we all had a great time. To be honest, Greyson had suggested doing this snowshoe or hike a couple of times before, but I didn’t really have much interest. In my head, it was just going to be a cold, slippery walk in the dark where I couldn’t see anything. It definitely was not on my Tahoe bucket list. I’m happy to report that I was totally wrong! While not exactly strenuous, action packed or filled with “best of” views, this hike is totally unique and worth doing!
I am lucky enough to get both Lincoln’s Birthday and President’s Day off, so I had a four day weekend this weekend. I packed a lot of fun into this weekend, and I managed to fit two of my favorite things (beer and mountain biking) into Valentine’s Day. We’ve been having a bit of a dry spell up in the mountains, and while it’s led to fun, spring-like conditions for snowboarding, I was ready to get out of the Tahoe area and find some real spring weather. Greyson had heard some good things about the mountain biking around Auburn, and with the forecast calling for 74 and sunny, we decided to check out the Foresthill Divide Trail.
The trailhead for the Foresthill Divide trail is easy to find – it’s 3.7 miles east from the Foresthill Bridge on Foresthill Road. (Note: Google Maps has the trailhead in the wrong location). From Auburn, the trailhead is on your right with enough parking for 15-20 cars. If you don’t have a California State Parks Pass, it will cost $10 to park. There are porti-potties, but not permanent bathrooms here. They were very clean porti-potties though! There are signs up reminding you to hide valuables and to lock your cars – locals we talked to agreed with that recommendation. Apparently, there have been break ins and thefts at the trailhead. The Foresthill Divide trail is open to horses, hikers and leashed dogs (but not OHVs), so be aware and practice good trail manners. We saw lots of hikers out yesterday.
The Foresthill Divide Trail is a lollipop with a very short stick, and it is very well marked. There are easily read “Foresthill Divide Trail” signs at every major intersection. As long as you follow these signs and stay on the main trail, you will be fine. After you leave the parking lot follow the signs, you’ll ride about 0.6 miles before hitting the loop part of the trail. The sign here points right, and follow that to do the loop counterclockwise. Pretty much every biker we encountered was doing the loop that direction. You’ll get the harder climbs out of the way sooner, and the steeper sections will be downhill.
I’m feeling pretty out of shape bike wise, and the thought of lugging my heavy Sanction up ~1,600 feet of climbing sounded pretty miserable to me, so I did some research into whether this ride would be a good candidate for riding my hardtail. To be honest, that is my number one question whenever I am thinking about riding a new trail. Can I ride my hardtail, or do I need suspension? The research I did had me leaning toward hardtail acceptable, so that’s what I brought. Spoiler alert: the trail is definitely doable on a hardtail and it was enjoyable, but next time I will be riding a full suspension bike.
The Mountain Bike Project describes the Foresthill Divide Trail as “A very good intermediate Level XC Trail. Rolling singletrack that’s very well designed and maintained,” and I wholeheartedly agree with this description. The trail is hard packed dirt for the majority of the length, with a few rocky and rooty sections. The trail definitely had some erosion damage when we rode it yesterday, but it is generally a well built, FUN to ride trail.
While I enjoy the more technical, rocky trails that Tahoe has to offer, it is just so FUN to be able to let go and ride fast on hard packed, sticky dirt. There are also long, straight downhill sections with lots of visibility ahead, so I felt safe getting my speed up and not worrying about coming up on unsuspecting hikers or horses. While there were rocky sections, none lasted more than a few hundred yards, and there was only one steep, rooty section that I felt like I couldn’t have handled on my hardtail. (There were definitely other sections that I chose to walk due to out-of-bike-shapeness). I said earlier that next time I’d choose to ride a full suspension bike, and that was more due to the bumpy erosion damage and hard packed dirt than the size of the rocks.
While the ride had ~1,600 feet of climbing (according to Strava), none of the climbs were too steep to ride. I definitely stopped for many breaks, but I also haven’t been on a bike since October. You spend most of your time riding through classic California oak woodlands, but you pop out for gorgeous views quite a few times along the way, and we caught a glimpse of the American River a couple of times.
The only major downside to this trail is the couple of times you have to cross a major road. You cross Foresthill Road at 5.6 miles and again at 10.3 miles. Cars are coming fast, and the corners are a little blind for my taste. We obviously made it across safely, but be careful, because there are no warning signs for cars about bike crossings.
We had a great time riding the Foresthill Divide Trail, and I definitely recommend it as a good intermediate cross country trail. It would be a challenge for a beginner, but doable, especially if they’re in good cardio-shape. It’s rideable for an intermediate rider, and there’s enough going on that an advanced rider would have fun. Plus, there’s lots of other fun stuff to do around the Auburn area, and I plan on writing about that in the next week or so.
Like I said before this is my sixth winter in Tahoe, but somehow I’d never been snowshoeing. Since our Sugar Bowl passes are blacked out for the holidays, we couldn’t go snowboarding/skiing at the resort, and we decided to try something different. I decided it was finally time to try snowshoeing.
Greyson got out his backcountry set up and lent me his snowshoes, and we headed to the nearby Cold Stream Canyon. This is a popular area with lots of snowshoers, cross country skiers, sledders, and people accessing backcountry skiing and riding. We were able to park pretty close to the gate and started the walk in.
I was worried that snowshoeing would be pretty miserable, slogging through the snow in an inefficient manner (these pre-conceived notions were the main reason I had never tried it before), but I was surprised by how easy it was. We started off on a very packed down fire road, which made things easier. I had a difficult time adjusting to using the poles – I ended up just carrying the poles on the hard packed sections, and only using them when we got to the untracked sections and steep downhills for balance.
The Cold Stream Canyon trail started with an ~180 foot climb over 0.4 miles, the only significant climb of the whole trail. It wasn’t too hard, but I worked up enough of a sweat to strip to my capilene base layer which was perfect for the rest of the hike.
It was a gorgeous day, and the views were beautiful, snow sparkling on the trees and clear views to the peaks in the west. The temperature was around 33 degrees, perfect in the sunshine! We walked on the frozen pond, which has been restored from a polluted gravel mining remnant, and parallel to it before reconnecting with the main fire road and heading back to the parking lot. (Cool side note – if you continue on the main Cold Stream Road, which is not drivable in the winter, you’ll reach The Lost Trail Lodge, a backcountry lodge. You can rent it and stay there, winter or summer. I’ve never been there, but it’s on my bucket list!)
While the parking area had seemed full, we only ran into a half dozen or so people and a few dogs on the trail. We made it nearly back to the parking area before we got to any sort of a downhill. Greyson stopped to remove his skins and set up for the (.4 mile, 180 foot downhill) while I trekked on on the snowshoes. This area was definitely more well trafficked, and the snow was packed down and a little icy. I found myself using the poles a lot for stability on the downhill.
Before I knew it, Greyson came whooshing by me, and we were back at the gate. It was a perfect introduction to snowshoeing – great weather, gorgeous scenery, hard enough to feel like I was working but not miserable. I doubt that snowshoeing is something I’ll get really into, but it’s definitely a fun way to get into the backcountry.
P.S. Greyson got me this amazing shirt for Christmas. I wore it today on our adventure, even though I was on snowshoes instead of a bike.
How to Get There: Cold Stream Canyon is just a couple of miles from downtown Truckee. From downtown Truckee, head west on Donner Pass Rd for ~2 miles. Turn left at the four way stop on to Cold Stream Rd and park near the gate. Note: you can park further up the road if the gate is open, but the gate might be closed and locked by the property owners. I don’t think it’s worth the risk and park outside.