I did my first ride on the Royal Gorge trails on Donner Summit in Truckee. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to ride these trails – they’re so close to home! I rode the Royal Gorge Rim Trail and up Rowton Peak. The views are incredible and the wildflowers are still going off. If you’re looking for a fun climb with payoff views and a fun downhill, check out Royal Gorge.
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.
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
I recently shared a bunch of Truckee summer outdoor adventures that I love, and I’m back to share more fun things to do! While not all of these activities take place outdoors, they still take advantage of the nice summer weather and beautiful environment of Truckee!
Food & Drink
Beer: It’s no secret that I love beer, and our beer options in Truckee have been getting better and better! My #1 local brewery is still Alibi Ale Works, but the newer Truckee Brewing Company is quickly becoming a favorite. Mellow Fellow is a tap house in downtown Truckee with dozens of beers on tap (they recently had Pliny the Elder!). They’re also the northern California’s tasting room for Modern Times Beer, so they always have those beers on draft as well.
Wine: The best place to buy a bottle of wine is The Pour House on Jibboom Street in downtown Truckee. The owners put a lot of thought and effort into their wine choices and they have a huge selection. They’re always tasting something interesting and they have an excellent cheese selection as well. Though it’s not located on the river, Truckee River Winery is worth stopping by. They not only have good wine, I love hanging out in their outdoor space. Get snacks and a bottle of wine and play some bocce in the sun.
Happy Hour: There are some great happy hour deals in downtown Truckee, and my favorite is at Pianeta, an excellent Italian restaurant. Happy hour is only at the bar and it’s best to get there a little before 5. They have $6 house wine, $5 beers, $7 for certain cocktails and a great price on appetizers. I love the Bruschetta Two Ways and the Mozzarella Fresca. Best Pies has happy hour every day from 2-6 pm. It’s $5 for a big slice of pizza and a beer!
Outdoor Dining: When the weather is nice, I want to eat outside. My favorite restaurant patio is hands down Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar. It’s location on a hill, looking down at the Truckee River and downtown, means it has the best view. The food and drinks are great too, though on the higher end price-wise. For a cheaper option downtown, I like El Toro Bravo. Their patio is covered, so it’s a great option for really sunny days. I like their chile relleno best. Also downtown is Old Town Tap, which has great cocktails, and excellent beer selection and interesting toppings on their wood fired pizza. On the other side of town is Red Truck, which is located in the Truckee Airport. Red Truck is my favorite spot for vegetarian food in Truckee, and they have delicious breakfast bowls too. It’s a lunch counter style place, and you can take your food outside to picnic tables. This is a great spot to bring kids, as there’s a play area, big grassy spot to run around, and you can watch the small planes take off and land.
Coffee: I like coffee just as much as I like beer, and Truckee has some good spots. I work within walking distance of Coffeebar and Dark Horse Coffee Roasters and I’m a frequent visitor to both. At Coffeebar, I like the iced coffee and any of the baked goods and sitting outside on their patio. At Dark Horse, I HIGHLY recommend their cold brew latte with their homemade vanilla syrup. Pacific Crest Coffee Co. has been roasting and selling coffee for awhile, but their coffee shop is fairly new. It’s tiny, so not really a place to hang out for long, but the coffee is delicious and they have a selection of food to go.
Dessert: Self serve frozen yogurt is a great way to cap off a long hike or hot bike ride, and Summit Swirl has great options. It’s also open til 10 pm, which is late by Truckee standards. If you’re hanging out on Donner Lake, walk over to the Little Truckee Ice Creamery and have some of Truckee’s only locally made ice cream. I love the Truckee Trails flavor, which is sweet cream and pinenut brittle!
Big Chief Trail is the newest trail in the Truckee area, and Greyson and I rode it from the top! Check out the video (not pictured: some gnarly stuff we had to walk) which also includes some of the Sawtooth Trail.
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.
Go for a hike! (Note: some of the hikes at higher elevations might not be completely melted out due to the heavy snows this winter. Be sure to check conditions before heading out.) My favorite after work hike is to summit Donner Peak, which is about 4 miles round trip and 950 feet of climbing from the parking area. For a longer hike, the 14 mile trek from Sugar Bowl to Squaw via the Pacific Crest Trail is a local favorite, but not heavily trafficked. Lower Sagehen Creek Loop Trail and Elizabethtown Meadows Trail are both flatter options at lower elevation.
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!
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.
This is my sixth winter in Tahoe! I can hardly believe it sometimes. It feels like I was just finishing grad school in Santa Barbara, like, last month. Over that past winters, I have been able to snowboard at five of Tahoe’s resorts, and I hope to try a couple of new ones this year.
All of Tahoe’s resorts have their pluses and minuses, and I thought that I could do a Resort Report with a local perspective. I decided to start with my favorite: Sugar Bowl Resort.
I was only introduced to Sugar Bowl a couple of winters ago, when I started dating Greyson, and I started hanging out in Truckee more. It quickly worked its way up to the top of my list! I’ve written before about some of my fun days at Sugar Bowl.
First, a few facts:
- Sugar Bowl is one of the oldest ski resorts in California. It started running its lifts in 1939, and celebrated its 75th Anniversary last year. One of Sugar Bowl’s initial investors was Walt Disney, and Mt. Disney and the Disney lift are named after him.
- California’s first chairlift was built here, and lift tickets were originally $2!
- Sugar Bowl has 4 peaks, 103 trails, 1,650 skiable acres, 1,500 vertical feet, with 17% beginner, 45% intermediate, and 38% advanced terrain.
- Since Sugar Bowl is located on the Western Slope of the Sierra, it often gets hammered by winter storms. It averages ~500 inches a year, the most in the Tahoe Basin (so they claim).
- It’s Godzilla El Nino, and Sugar Bowl has the most snow of any resorts so far. 152″ this season!
- Sugar Bowl also has a cross country ski area, Royal Gorge. Last year, I got to try fat biking there!
Now, here’s my take on Sugar Bowl:
- Sugar Bowl has the shortest lift lines of any of the big resorts! Even on a “busy” powder weekend day, I’ve waited in line a max of ten minutes. Compared to Heavenly, where you can wait in line for an hour+ when things are busy, Sugar Bowl lift lines are amazing.
- Related, Sugar Bowl is not usually crowded. It feels much more like a “locals” resort. Even on busy tourist weekends, Sugar Bowl has a much mellower feel.
- There are incredible views! From the top of Lincoln, you can look towards the Sierra Crest, towards Castle Peak, down on Donner Lake, and, if it’s a clear day, you can even see the Coast Range!
- Sugar Bowl is a great resort if you want to advance from an intermediate to an advanced rider/skier. I found myself getting a lot more comfortable riding off piste once I started riding here.
- I was used to riding at resorts that had mostly two settings: easy to fairly easy groomers and difficult tree & mogul skiing. It’s hard to make that jump! Sugar Bowl has a fair amount of terrain that will ease you in. They don’t groom every run, so there’s plenty of places where you can practice your off-piste technique.
- There’s also a ton of advanced terrain and great access to the backcountry. I haven’t gotten to ride any backcountry yet, but that’s a goal for 2016!
- Sugar Bowl is not usually very crowded, so it’s also a great place to learn. I know that when I was learning, other people stressed me out way more than steep terrain, so Sugar Bowl seems like a great place to learn.
- They have the best Bloody Mary in Tahoe. Sugar Bowl also has their own beer, Sugar Bowl Pale Ale. Their food prices have gone up in the last couple of years. You used to be able to get a beer for $5! It’s still pretty reasonable compared to most resorts.
- Sugar Bowl doesn’t have all the the amenities of the bigger resort chains, so no apres party with Heavenly Angels or EpicMix for tracking vert or free hot chocolate or heated chair lifts.
Obviously, I love Sugar Bowl, and I think there are way more pros than cons. It’s my favorite resort in Tahoe, but I look forward to exploring more to compare.
How to get there: Sugar Bowl is off of old Highway 40. If Highway 40 is closed, you can get there via I80. The resort is about 20 minutes from downtown Truckee, 90 minutes from Sacramento and under 3 hours from San Francisco.
Where to eat: Here are my favorite Truckee restaurants.
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!
Earlier this week, Greyson and I checked out a fairly new local hiking trail near the Donner Summit area in Truckee.
Donner Summit Canyon trail is yet another awesome trail built by the Truckee Donner Land Trust (the organization behind the amazing Wendin Way Trail. The trail is open to hikers and mountain bikers, and we explored via hiking this time. We decided that we were glad we did, because the trail is a pretty steady uphill gravel path that turns into a narrow and rocky trail.
Though the trail is uphill the whole way, the climb felt pretty easy, and we weren’t working too hard. About a mile into the trail, there’s a sign pointing left to a scenic view point – definitely follow that detour. You’ll get a nice view of Donner Lake, and there’s even a picnic table for a quick snack or picnic lunch.
After the scenic detour, we headed back to the main trail, and up the trail, heading higher towards the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail. We hadn’t planned to hike all the way to the PCT anyway, but we ran into a creek crossing where the bridge was missing! We’d gone about 2.3 miles at this point (including the detour to the scenic overlook), so we decided to turn back instead of risking getting wet.
The spot with the missing bridge had great views, with Donner Peak above us and Donner lake below, so we enjoyed the view for a few minutes before the wind got too cold, and we headed back. The whole trip was just under 4 miles, and took us about an hour and a half with our stops for scenery and attempts at wildflower identification.
Not technically a flower.
While it’s not the most rugged or challenging hike, and there are some with better views, this is a great quick hike (or gravel grind on your bike). If you’re looking for an easy hike with great views in the Truckee area, the Donner Summit Canyon Trail is perfect.
My Favorite Restaurants in South Lake Tahoe is one of my most popular posts, so I thought I’d do a similar post for another place that I frequent – Truckee! Greyson lives in Truckee, so I end up spending a lot of time up there. Though I love South Lake Tahoe, I think of Truckee as South Lake’s slightly more charming neighbor to the north. The Truckee River flows right through town and is parallel to Truckee’s adorable historic downtown. These choices might be a little more well known that my South Lake favorites, but they’re great and I’ve hopefully exposed a few (slightly) hidden gems.
Best Happy Hour:
Pianeta: This upscale Italian restaurant has a fantastic happy hour on weekdays from 5:00 – 6:30. You have to sit at the bar, and it can get crowded, so I suggest showing up right at 5:30. They have $3 microbrews, $5 house wine, $5 well cocktails, $6 martinis and a few other cocktails on special. They also have happy hour appetizers that are generously sized – we often go in groups and split a few plates. I love the bruschetta duo and the caprese.
Taco’s Jalisco: South Lake is definitely lacking in the Mexican food arena, but Truckee delivers! Truckee has several great Mexican restaurants, and Taco’s Jalisco is by far my favorite. I love their veggie burrito, burrito bowls, and chicken tacos.
Best Hipster Coffee Shop:
Dark Horse Coffee Roasters: I’ve mentioned that I can be a bit of a coffee snob, and I love Truckee’s newest coffee shop! It’s a great place to hang out with a slightly funky vibe. Dark Horse is not at all style over substance – all the coffee I’ve had is to die for, the homemade chai is delicious, and they even do their own vanilla syrup. There’s also a Dark Horse in San Diego.
Full Belly Deli: This place is pretty well known, but for a good reason – the sandwiches can’t be beat. This is a super popular lunch spot for locals, so be prepared to wait during the lunch rush. The sandwiches are worth the wait, and there is outdoor seating for the nice weather days. I love the Cuban sandwich or build your own on the asiago bread.
Smokey’s Kitchen: Barbecue was the food I missed most during my 5 years as a vegetarian, and Smokey’s does not disappoint! I love the pulled pork sandwich and the garlic fries, but prepare to be garlicky for hours afterwards. They also do awesome (huge) brunch meals with a decent beer selection and big screen tvs, so it’s an off the beaten path place to watch football in the fall.
Best Grocery/Convenience Store:
Sticks Market: So you’re hanging out on Donner Lake’s awesome public docks and you run out of beer/chips/sunscreen/gourmet cheese. What are you going to do? Luckily, there’s Sticks Market. This adorable little market has pretty much everything you could need for a day at the beach and a great beer selection too! Note: I bought so much Deschutes Fresh Squeezed there this summer that the owner started (good-naturedly) teasing me about it.