Trail Report: Mountain Biking Sawtooth Trail, Truckee, California

I’ve officially given up on winter. Not that I haven’t been riding/climbing/hiking all “winter,” but I’ve now officially given up on having any real winter in California this year. In honor of this revelation, I went on my first hard mountain bike ride of 2015, the Sawtooth Trail in Truckee, California.

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Sawtooth is a really fun and challenging lollipop trail through pine forests and across rocky pumice. The trail is easy to access, with the trailhead at a gravel parking lot on Sawtooth Court, just a couple of miles south of downtown Truckee. Click here for Google Maps directions.

Map via Google Maps
Map via Google Maps

Though I used to be more into riding trails that went generally in the downhill direction (via shuttle, chair lift, steep push up, etc.), I’ve gotten more into technical cross country style trails, hopefully with a mix rollers, technical sections, short but hard climbs, fast, flowy sections and awesome views. Sawtooth Trail delivers across all of these requirements!

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Sawtooth Trail is an 11 mile lollipop with about 750 feet of climbing. The 750 feel of elevation gain definitely worked me, though I don’t know if I should blame it on being out of shape, or the fact that a lot of the climbing is more technical that I’m used to. Though there are long, smooth sections of the trail, Sawtooth is rocky enough that I would strongly recommend a full suspension bike for it. It would definitely be doable by a skilled rider on a hardtail, but I don’t think it would be very much fun!

There are some really long rocky sections, but I didn’t find anything un-rideable (and rocks are definitely not my strong point!), but my wrists and hands were exhausted by the end, and loose rocks made the short, steep climbs lung busters. It took Greyson and I about 2 hours to complete the whole loop, which included several breaks for scenery, water, mechanical difficulties, etc – we definitely weren’t in a rush.

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The one main recommendation I would make with this trail, is to be sure to ride the lollipop clockwise. At about two miles in, you’ll hit a fork in the trail with a sign pointing straight to “Sawtooth Trail” and left to “Sawtooth Road”. Take the left toward Sawtooth Road! The trail crosses the dirt road and keeps going, eventually looping back to this intersection. I’ve ridden the trail in both directions, and riding the trail clockwise is way more fun! Otherwise you’ll be climbing up some nasty loose pumice.

Map and Elevation via Strava

This trail is closed to ATVs, and though it was a beautiful Sunday, we didn’t run into too many other mountain bikers, though I imagine it will get more crowded as more people give up on winter. It’s also fairly shaded for most of the trail, so I imagine it will be a little cooler in the summer than some of the other area trails.

Sawtooth is a really fun trail, and a great place to practice your rocky climbing skills. I can’t wait to go back! Also, Greyson has playing with the slo-mo feature on his new phone, and took a silly slo-mo video of me riding on Sawtooth Trail. You can check it out here.

Trail Stats:
Location: Sawtooth Court, Truckee, California
Mileage: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 775
Difficulty: Intermediate

 

Mountain Biking Hirschman Trail – Nevada City, California

Hirschman Trail, Nevada City, Ca // tahoefabulous.com

I was back in Nevada City this week to do Site Visits at some of my AmeriCorps host sites. The weather down in the foothills was perfect – sunny and low 70s! While I have been complaining about the lack of snow in Tahoe, I certainly don’t mind basking in the sun!

Hirschman 2

Greyson lived in Nevada City for awhile a few years ago, and he remembered a short, easy trail that’s a just quick ride out of town that he rode a few times. We brought bikes and planned to do the ride after I finished up with work on Thursday. We pedaled up Broad Street from the Emma Nevada House, turned left on Highway 49 and were at the trailhead in less than a mile.

Trail Map via Strava

I was excited to see that the trail was the Hirschman Trail, a project of Bear Yuba Land Trust, one of my AmeriCorps host sites! The trail is pretty easy, both technically and exertion wise, with only about 500 feet of elevation gain over the 4.8 mile round trip trail. The trail is really well marked with signs letting you know how far you’ve come, and honoring the supporters and volunteers that keep the trail in great shape.

Hirschman 4

The trail is all on hard packed dirt, though it was pretty covered in pine needles when I rode it, as it goes mainly through the forest. There are a few spots where you pop out and parallel Highway 49, but that’s just a couple of short sections. There are a few tight switchbacks along the way, but nothing overly difficult. This is a great trail for a beginner or someone looking to do a short, mellow ride after work or while on vacation. Another highlight is Hirschman’s Pond where some of my other AmeriCorps Members are conducting frog surveys and doing other wildlife tracking. Early morning and evening riders might glimpse some local wildlife!

Hirschman 5

After our ride, Greyson and I got Mammoth Brewing Company’s IPA 395 and dinner at Matteo’s Public. That beer is great, but be careful! They’re strong! PS It’s National AmeriCorps Week! Be sure to thank a volunteer, and thanks to those who’ve participated in National Service!

Hirschman 6

Trail Stats:
Location: Cement Hill Road, Nevada City, California
Mileage: 4.8 miles
Elevation Gain: <500 feet
Difficulty: Beginner

Trail Report: Wendin Canyon from Tahoe Donner, Truckee, California

There is an awesome new trail in the Truckee area! The Truckee Donner Land Trust has been steadily working on a 23-mile, multi-use trail that will circle Donner Lake.

Wendin Way Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Currently, there’s 7.2 miles completed, and the trail accesses some of the best views in the Truckee area – the Sierra Crest, Mount Rose and Donner Lake. Eventually, the trail will connect with other area trails, including the Pacific Crest Trail and Hole in the Ground trail. Additionally, there is an offshoot access trail called Wendin Way Trail through Johnson Canyon (sometimes known as Negro Canyon) that begins and ends near the Donner Lake exit north of I-80. With this less than stellar winter we’ve been having, I’ve gotten a chance to ride it a couple of times lately.

Map via Google Maps
Map via Google Maps

Both times, we shuttled the ride for a mostly downhill trip, leaving a car parked at Donner Lake, and driving our bikes up to the Tahoe Donner Glacier Way Trailhead. You can also park your second car at the trailhead parking lot at the bottom of Johnson Canyon, just off the Donner Lake I-80 ext. Don’t forget keys for both cars!

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The trail starts with a steady but not steep climb of 300 feet over almost two miles. Due to the fact that we were riding in February at above 7,500 feet, we had to push our bikes through a few slushy snow patches on the way up, and across a small snow field when the trail flattened out.There are a few offshoot trails, but just stay on the main wide trail until you see a sign directing you to turn left on to the Donner Lake Rim Trail. We were rewarded after the climb with sweeping views of the Sierra Crest and Donner Lake once we made it through.

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Now we get to the fun part! The rest of the trail is downhill, speedy single track. There are some rocky sections at the top and again at the bottom, but the trail is mainly nice dirt, and not the sandy decomposed granite that I’m used to riding in Tahoe! There are some sharp switchbacks and slightly exposed sections, but I would classify the ride as totally doable for intermediate riders, but still exciting enough to be fun for advanced riders. Note: there were a couple of big trees down when we rode this last weekend (2/16/2015), so be on the lookout for obstacles!

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After about 700 feet of descent at 3.5 miles from the start, there is a big metal sign at the Donner Lake Rim Trail/Wendin Way intersection. Go left onto the Wendin Way trail and continue your descent for another 1.5 miles and 500 feet through Johnson/Negro Canyon. I had so much fun on this part of the trail! Wendin Way Trail will spit you out back at the trailhead parking lot, or, like we did, you can continue down the paved Donner Lake Road to Donner Lake, where we left a car.

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Map and Elevation via Strava

The Donner Lake Rim Trail and Wendin Way Trail are my favorite trails I’ve ridden in Truckee so far. The Truckee Donner Land Trust does an amazing job with their trail building. Though this is a multi-use trail, it feels like it’s designed for mountain bikes. I felt like I could build up speed without losing control. The trails have enough rocks to feel challenging without being a miles-long rock garden sufferfest. I could glide through (most of) the switchbacks. I love that the Truckee Donner Land Trust is preserving wonderful places, but also making them so accessible for people to enjoy! (They also own the Webber Falls property). They are a wonderful group, doing a lot for the area, and they can use your support, through donations or by enjoying and respecting their properties. I hope you get a chance to enjoy them. I know I will be back on the Donner Lake Rim Trail!

 Donner Rim Trail Wendin Way Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Trail Stats:
Location: Glacier Way, Truckee, California
Mileage: 4.7 miles
Elevation gain: 342 feet
Difficulty: Intermediate

Mountain Biking the Deschutes River Trail

Mountain Biking the Deschutes River Trail, Bend, Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

Greyson and I brought A LOT of gear on this road trip to Bend, because we weren’t sure how the weather was going to be. We brought skis/snowboards, camping gear, hiking gear, snowshoes, mountain bikes, climbing gear and swimsuits! We ended up not using all of it, but we made the most of what we could do.

deschutes 2

One thing I was really looking forward to was mountain biking in Bend. It’s one of the (many) outdoor activities Bend is known for, and I was excited to give it a try. As I’m feeling fairly out-of-shape bike wise, I wanted to try a trail that wasn’t going to be too difficult technically or exertion wise.

We stopped in an awesome bike store/beer & wine bar/coffee shop, Crow’s Feet Commons, and picked up a Bend bike trail map to add to Greyson’s “map library” (aka the overflowing side pockets in the Toaster). We decided on the Deschutes River Trail, as it was easily accessible and close to town and rated as beginning/intermediate in both terrain and exertion.

Map via Google Maps
Map via Google Maps

We jumped on the trail a few miles out of town (directions here) from a dirt parking lot right next to the river. After a few minutes of fire road riding we found ourselves on a gorgeous dirt trail that paralleled the Deschutes. Unfortunately, despite the supposed “beginner/intermediate” nature of this trail, we fairly quickly arrived on some technical rocky sections. I consider myself a strong intermediate rider, but I had to get off and walk a couple of these sections, especially as I was not expecting them! However, the rocky sections were over in less than a quarter mile, and the rest of the trail (that we rode) was smooth sailing – definitely beginner.

Trail Map and Elevation Profile via Strava
Trail Map and Elevation Profile via Strava

For me, the best feature of the Deschutes River Trail was the awesome packed dirt. I’m used to the decomposed granite that turns to sand that the Tahoe area trails are “famous” for, so this forest soil was a welcome change! I felt like I couldn’t slide out if I tried (note: I am sure that is not true). The trail meanders along with the Deschutes, giving gorgeous views of the river and the strange lava beds the area is famous for. The Deschutes is also a popular whitewater kayaking destination, so I’m sure that in certain times of year, you can watch people shooting the rapids.

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The trail heads south from Bend and travels about thirteen miles south to Sun River, so you could definitely make a day of it for a longer, 26 mile ride. We ended up just riding about a 9 mile out-and-back section of the trail, but I imagine most of the trail is similar. It was muddy in spots, so be sure to check conditions and practice good trail etiquette if you’re riding in the winter or spring. Additionally, the trail is mixed use, and used considerably by hikers and bikers, so be sure to keep your speed under control to avoid user conflicts.

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Overall, I enjoyed this trail. Though I didn’t experience the whole thing, I’d rank the section we rode as “beginner” with a short “intermediate to advanced” but easily walkable section on the technical side of things, and definitely “easy” for exertion. I can’t wait to get back to Bend and ride the whole Deschutes River Trail, as well as trying out some of the harder trails.

 

Hiking Alamere Falls – Bolinas, California

I finally made it out to one of my Bay Area bucket list destinations – Alamere Falls. Alamere is a rare California tidefall, a waterfall that streams directly onto the beach. It’s one of only two in northern California!

Alamere Falls Hike, Bolinas, California // tahoefabulous.com

We approached Alamere Falls from the south on the Coastal Trail outside of Bolinas, California. The trail is about 8 miles round trip, and fairly flat and easy, aside from the unmaintained trail to the top of the falls and the sketchy climb to the beach below the falls.

Trail Map via Strava
Trail Map via Strava

I had never been to Alamere, and Greyson hadn’t been in years, so we were surprised by the amount of people who were doing the fairly long hike on a Sunday. We had to park about a half mile away from the trailhead due to the amount of cars in the parking lot and along the road. We also were stopped several times before we made it onto the trail by people asking if “this is the trail to the waterfall?”

I’m not sure if it is always that busy on weekends or if it was exacerbated by some outside cause, like the gorgeous weather or being featured in a magazine or newspaper article. We saw several hundred people over the course of the ~3.5 hours we spent on the trail and on the beach. If you’re looking for a relaxing, people-free adventure, this may not be the hike for you, or be sure to time it on a week day during an off time.

Crowds at the top of Alamere Falls
Crowds at the top of Alamere Falls

Despite the many people (many who lacked basic hiking etiquette – we saw tons of dogs in the dog-free wilderness area, people hiking while blasting music, and other rude trail behavior), the Alamere Falls hike was totally worth it for us. The tide was way in, so there wasn’t much beach and we were dodging the waves, but the view of the waterfall falling into the waves was incredible!

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Because there were so many people and loose dogs running around, the steep and loose climb down to the beach and back to the trail was extra sketchy. If you’re not sure-footed and used to scrambling, I’d recommend staying on the top of the cliff and enjoying the still amazing view of the falls from above.

Elevation Profile via Strava
Elevation Profile via Strava

Though fairly long, the trail is mostly flat and not technical, so it ends up being a fairly easy hike to the top of the falls and back. There are great ocean views on some sections of the trail, and once the haze cleared out, we could see back to the skyline of San Francisco. It should definitely be on your Bay Area Bucket List!

Can you spot the SF skyline?
Can you spot the SF skyline?

Trail Report: Tahoe Mountain Trail – South Lake Tahoe, California

01Tahoe Mountain Header

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.

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Photo via Google Maps

The trail is accessed via the trail head at the intersection of Lake Tahoe Boulevard and Sawmill Road in South Lake Tahoe, California.

All photos by Lynn Baumgartner
All photos by Lynn Baumgartner

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.

What much of the single track looks like.
What much of the single track looks like.

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.

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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!

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Pyramid Peak peeks out about halfway up.

The Tahoe Mountain trail takes you through the Angora Fire burn area, and the burned out trees result in eerie but stunning views.

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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.

Tahoe Mountain trail isn’t far from Pie Shop, a famous South Shore bouldering area
Tahoe Mountain trail isn’t far from Pie Shop, a famous South Shore bouldering area

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.

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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!

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June wildflowers

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Looking south-ish towards Desolation Wilderness
Looking south-ish towards Desolation Wilderness
Looking north-ish toward Lake Tahoe
Looking north-ish toward Lake Tahoe

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!

Trail Report: Tahoe Mountain Trail in South Lake Tahoe, California // tahoefabulous.com
I hope you enjoy the trail as much as I did!

Trail Stats:
Location: Sawmill Road and Lake Tahoe Boulevard, South Lake Tahoe, California
Mileage: 6.3 miles
Elevation gain: 881 feet
Difficulty: Moderate

Note: This is an updated version of a trail report I wrote in June 2014.

Trail Report: Hiking Winnemucca Lake via the Pacific Crest Trail on National Trails Day

I spent National Trails Day hiking from Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake and Round Top Peak via the Pacific Crest Trail. The hike is a fairly easy, 5 mile round trip jaunt to a gorgeous glacial lake.

The fairly easy hike up can be exposed and buggy (especially when passing Frog Lake!), so don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, and bug spray. You’re rewarded with gorgeous views of the surrounding peaks, valleys and lakes during the whole hike.

Winnemucca Lake Hike // tahoefabulous.com

Round Top “peaks” through the trees less than a mile into the hike.

About 1.3 miles into the trail, the Pacific Crest Trail spurs off to the left. Be sure to follow the trail to right to arrive at Winnemucca Lake. This early in the summer, it’s still a little snowy, and we had to cross a few snow patches. None were longer that 200 yards or so and on flat trail, so not too difficult to navigate. This hike is famous for incredible displays of wildflowers. Unfortunately, we were a little early for the fields of color, but we found a few patches of wildflowers that we tried to identify.

Winnemucca Lake Hike // tahoefabulous.com

Greyson references the Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada.

It was a perfect sunny day for sitting on the shore of Winnemucca Lake, soaking in the view.

Winnemucca Lake Hike // tahoefabulous.com

Winnemucca Lake panorama.

I’ve heard this trail can get pretty busy during the height of the wildflower season, but we ran into very few other hikers. From Winnemucca Lake, you can continue on to other beautiful spots, like Fourth of July Lake and a couple of campgrounds. We didn’t end up going any further due to the snow and a high-ish creek crossing, but I’m looking forward to coming back to this spot later in the summer.

Winnemucca Lake Hike // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

Hike Totals:

5.2 miles, 532 feet of elevation gain in 1:53

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!

Trail Report: Donner Peak Hike

I had a little incident at the climbing gym on Wednesday:

Donner Peak Hike // tahoefabulous.com

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.

Donner Peak Hike // tahoefabulous.com

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 Hike // tahoefabulous.com

Donner Peak Hike // tahoefabulous.com

Donner Peak boasts incredible views.

Donner Peak Hike // tahoefabulous.com

Some overly friendly wildlife.

Donner Peak Hike // tahoefabulous.com

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.

Donner Peak Hike // tahoefabulous.com

Hike stats: 3.8 miles, 933 feet elevation gain, 1:27

Click here for more information and better directions to this hike.