Lost Sierra Road Trip

The stretch of the Sierra from north of Truckee to Lassen, or the “Lost Sierra” is one of my favorite parts of the whole state of California. Even better, it’s highly underrated and much more lightly travelled than the coast or other parts of the Sierra. Here’s my recommendation for a five day trip through this incredible area.

Lost Sierra Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

Truckee to Downieville (60 miles, 1.5 hours)
Head north from Truckee along the scenic Highway 89 corridor – be sure to watch for migrating deer on the road because this is a very active wildlife corridor. If you want to start your day out with a hike before you get on the road, there are a couple of options very close to Truckee. There’s Emigrant Trail, which is a popular mixed use trail, so you’ll likely see hikers, mountain bikers and horses. It’s an out and back, so just walk until you feel ready to turn around. For a scenic loop of 5.3 miles, try the Sagehen Creek Loop Trail, an easy meander along Sagehen Creek that’s a good spot for wildflowers in the spring. Both these trails are right off Highway 89, so they’re very convenient for this route.

After about a half hour of driving, you’ll be in Sierraville, a gorgeous open valley that’s home to cattle grazing and hot springs. There aren’t any free hot springs open to the public here, but you can drop in at Sierra Hot Springs Resort if you’re interested. At Sierraville, you turn left to get on Highway 49 and head to Downieville.

Downieville is a historic gold rush and timber town that was slowly dying, but has been bouncing back with a growing tourism economy – especially mountain bike tourism through the efforts of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship. While Downieville is a mecca for mountain bikers due to the world famous Downieville Downhill trail and a fast growing network of new trails, there are plenty of other things to do. There’s fishing, gold panning, swimming, and even a little museum downtown if you’re into history. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses nearby around Sierra City, so there is plenty of hiking as well. I think that Downieville is worth staying for a couple of days at least to take in a few of the many activities available.

Downieville Downhill // tahoefabulous.com

If you’re at all interested in mountain biking, that’s something that you have to do while you’re here, if only to say that you did it! While I wouldn’t recommend the full Downieville Downhill route unless you are a strong intermediate+ rider, there are plenty of other options in the area. See my trail report of the Downieville Downhill here. Visit Yuba Expeditions bike shop in downtown Downieville to help you plan a route, book a shuttle, or rent a bike.

When I’ve stayed in Downieville, I’ve camped. I like the Union Flat campground. While it’s a few miles out of town, it’s right on the North Yuba River, which is  great for a post ride or hike soak. If you’re looking for something unique, you can stay the night in an old fire lookout! I haven’t got to do that yet, but some friends did and said it’s awesome. The Calpine Lookout isn’t far from Downieville and would be a great basecamp for a few days. There are also lots of little resorts, cabins, and vacation rentals in the area if camping isn’t your thing. For food, I’d recommend bringing groceries and camp kitchen set up to supplement eating out. There are a couple of restaurants in Downieville (literally a couple), and they’re okay, but a little pricey. Definitely support the local businesses, but eating there every meal would get expensive.

Downieville to Quincy (60 miles, 1.5 hours)
Head back east on Highway 49 from Downieville toward your next destination of Quincy. You’ll head north on 89/70 and pass through the small town of Graeagle, which is a fun place to stop. If you’re a mountain biker, there’s the awesome Mills Peak Trail, which is worth a ride, even if you’re exhausted from Downieville. See my trail report linked above with tips for shuttling or riding from the bottom. If you’re not into biking, you can drive up to the Mills Peak Fire Lookout (which is a working lookout and offer tours during the summer) and take in the gorgeous views of the Sierra Buttes and the Lakes Basin. A few miles of the road are unpaved, rough, and narrow, so I’d recommend high clearance and all wheel drive.

Gold Lakes Basin Lost Sierra // tahoefabulous.com

Graeagle has a bunch of little shops and restaurants, so wandering around the town is a good option. For food, I’d recommend picking up a to go order from the Graeagle Mountain Frostee and heading a few miles up the road to The Brewing Lair in Blairsden. This is one of my all time favorite breweries. They sometimes have a food truck and live music, so check their facebook for updates.

Mills Peak Fire Lookout // tahoefabulous.com

Quincy is one of the bigger towns in the Lost Sierra, and it’s located on the gorgeous Feather River. Similar to other spots in the area, there is lots of hiking, fishing, swimming, and rafting. It’s home to the High Sierra Music Festival, which is a must do for festival fans who want a more mellow experience. For mountain bikers, it’s also home to the Mount Hough trail, which I haven’t ridden yet (on my bucket list!), but I hear is awesome. There’s lots of campgrounds around Quincy, and plenty of resorts, RV parks, and vacation rentals for lodging.

Quincy to Lassen Volcanic National Park (71 miles, 1.5 hours)
Compared to more popular parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone, Lassen Volcanic National Park is practically deserted. While lacking iconic landmarks like Old Faithful or Half Dome, Lassen is worth spending a couple of days exploring the park. The National Park’s website gives a great overview of places to stay and things to do while you’re there.

There are literally dozens of day hikes you can do in the park, and in the summer, you can climb Mount Lassen with a reasonable level of fitness and some hiking experience. It’s also a popular backcountry ski destination, since there’s some level of snow all year. Like Yellowstone, Lassen Volcanic National park is home to thermal areas. The most well known area, Bumpass Hell is currently closed for a rehabilitation project, but there are many others you can visit.

Lassen Volcanic National Park // tahoefabulous.com

One of the coolest things about Lassen is how little light pollution there is. It has incredibly dark skies, making it a great area for stargazing. The Park even hosts a Dark Skies Festival in August, which would be an awesome reason to plan a visit.

Just a 45 minute drive from Lassen is the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. This park is home to the incredible Burney Falls, which is another one for my California bucket list. If you’ve got a couple of days in Lassen, a visit to Burney Falls is worth the drive.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a little off the beaten path – which is why it’s so quiet, and the park doesn’t have huge infrastructure of the larger parks. While there are a few places to eat in the park, you’d be better off stocking up on groceries in Quincy or Almanor. While you’re staying in the park, be sure to be bear aware and store your food and garbage in the proper way.

The entire trip is about 190 miles and 4.25 hours of driving, not accounting for any scenic detours or side trips. While you could drive straight from Truckee to Lassen, I think that taking multiple days to explore the Lost Sierra is worth it – especially if you bring your mountain bike or fishing pole.

North Cascades National Park

Heading east from Bellingham, we decided to take the scenic route – through North Cascades National Park. Greyson had never been before, and I hadn’t been since right after college, so we were excited about this very scenic drive. We didn’t get to do any hikes, since we were just driving through, but we did lots of stopping and photo taking. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves! (All photos by Greyson)

North Cascades National Park // tahoefabulous.com

North Cascades National Park // tahoefabulous.com

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We’re hoping to do more than just drive through some day, but it’s definitely worth the detour to drive through the park in the summer.

Gear List for the Ultimate Mountain Bike Road Trip

Mountain Bike Road Trip Packing List // tahoefabulous.com

I’ve done quite a few mountain biking/camping road trips over the past few years, and I really think that I’ve got my gear list dialed in. Overpacking and underpacking are both things you want to avoid on a road trip – especially a long one. You don’t want to run out of clean chamois or have too much stuff to dig through when you’re looking for a specific tool. It took a lot of trial and error, so I’m going to share my gear lists and what I’ve learned.

I’ve broken down my packing list into a few categories: biking, camping, apparel, and miscellaneous for ease. In this post, I’m focusing on bike gear and apparel. I’ll be posting about camping gear and the other odds and ends soon. I’m basing this on our one month, 2,700+ mile road trip. We used pretty much everything we brought, and there wasn’t really anything I felt like I was missing. For a shorter road trip, you might not need as much stuff, but I think that this is a good base. Here’s what to pack for the Ultimate Mountain Bike Road Trip:

Mountain Bike Gear List // tahoefabulous.com

Bike Gear:
BikeYou’re definitely going to need this. I love my 2016 Transition Smuggler (a short travel 29er) so much. It was a perfect bike for nearly everything we rode. Spoiler: I wish I had more travel at Whistler.

Mountain Bike Gear Packing List // tahoefabulous.com
HelmetFor a nearly perfect combination of safety, comfort, and versatility, you really can’t beat Bell Super R Helmet series. The newest version is the Super 3R, but I have the Super 2R, which is just an earlier version that you can still find a really good deal on. These helmets have a removable chin bar. I love this feature, because I can leave it off for easier rides or climbs, and then attach it for more protection on the more technical rides. Overall, the helmet has lots of venting, so it’s cooler than pretty much all full face helmets, even with the face bar attached. If you don’t plan to ever need the chin bar, I really like the Giro Feather helmet. I wrote a long review about it here.
PedalsI ride clipless pedals 95% of the time, but I almost always pack both clipless pedals and flats for road trips. Two sets of pedals and shoes don’t take up that much room and add a lot of versatility. Even for clipless pedals, I like ones with a bit of a platform, like these Shimanos. For flats, I like these basic Answer Rove R2s. They have small hex screws for extra grip that are easily replaced.
ShoesI am recommending my biking shoes with a caveat. Once I’ve got the Five Ten Kestrel on, they are a perfect biking shoe. They’re comfortable, the boa system instead of laces makes sure they’re always secure, easy to walk in, shed mud well, and, if I can’t clip in immediately, their slightly sticky bottom means that my feet still stay on the pedals pretty well. However, they are a little hard to get on and off, and the pull strap that’s on the heel of the right shoe broke immediately on both mine and Greyson’s, which is annoying but doesn’t effect the function at all. I’d still highly recommend them.

Mountain Biking Gear List // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Corey Vannoy

Hydration packI think that a comfortable and functional hydration pack is one of the pieces of gear that’s most integral to having a fun ride, especially as the distances get longer. I’ve recommended the CamelBak Solstice before. It’s a women’s specific, lumbar pack designed for mountain biking. I still love it, though the light grey color mine is has started to look pretty gross on the back. Greyson has the men’s version, the CamelBak Skyline shown above.
GlovesIt’s really nice to have two pairs of gloves to give each pair a chance to dry out. I don’t pay a lot for gloves. I usually buy what’s on sale and what fits my rather large hands. Right now, I alternate between the Giro Xena and the Giro LA DND.

#Enduro bros.

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EyewearI am hard on and terrible to sunglasses. I admit it. I’ve found that the Suncloud brand is a nice balance. They’re polarized and hold up pretty well, but don’t break the bank so I don’t feel too bad about immediately dropping and scratching them. I also have very light sensitive eyes, so I tend to like my sunglasses pretty dark, even when mountain biking. I’ve finally come around, and I like the Suncloud Cookie with rose lenses for rides in the trees where the light is variable. For rainy/windy/dusty conditions, or just when I want to look like an enduro bro, I wear Smith Squad MTB.
Pads: For a trip like this, we went for light, breathable and smaller pads to save space. The SixSixOne Recon knee are really comfortable – they’re fine if you need to pedal and are about as cool and breathable as you can get.
Anti Chafe Protection: For long, sweaty summer rides, Chamois Butt’r and Body Glide are essentials.
Various Tools: You’re going to want a few things with you on a ride, like a basic multi tool and a mini bike pump for repairs on the trail. However, when you’re on a long bike trip, a more thorough tool kit will save you time and money. If you don’t already have a bike tool kit assembled, this Park Tool SK-2 Home Mechanic Starter Kit is a good place to start. Finally, having a nice floor pump makes keeping your tires at exactly the right psi simple and easy. We have the Bontrager Flash, which has an air chamber and can set tubeless tires, but if you don’t want to pay more than $100 for a tire pump, there are other options at lower price points.

 

I might have a slight turquoise/teal #mountainbike clothes problem. Off to #mammoth!

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Apparel: 

    • Liners: First off, think of how many liners/chamois you think you need. Then pack at least one more, especially on a long trip. While you can wash these by hand, they take a long time to dry, even in the summer sun. We were doing a lot of liner algebra. “Ok, I have two pairs of clean ones, and two wet ones and we want to ride three times in the next four days, and the wet ones should dry in x hours…” etc. Liners are definitely not a one size fits all type of gear – find what fits your body best. I tend to like Fox’s liners, which can be hard to buy separately, but I did find these Fox Switchback shorts.
    • Baggies: I also like the Fox baggies, especially the Fox Ripley shorts and Fox Lynx shorts. Note: the Lynx only have a tiny back zipper pocket, which is dumb.
    • Tops: I am a very sweaty person, and mostly bike in tank tops. If I am going to wear long sleeves, I like lightweight tops like the Pearl iZUMi Launch Jersey, which is so breathable I don’t even notice it. For wind, I have a Patagonia Houdini Jacket, which packs down very, very small.
    • Accessories: Smartwool makes good socks and low impact sports bras. For high impact sports bras, Brooks Rebound Racer (formerly Moving Comfort) is amazing.

I hope you’re reading this because you’re planning an awesome mountain bike road trip. Check back in for my camping recommendations. If you’ve been on a mountain bike or other long road trip, chime in with your suggestions.

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!

Beartooth Pass & Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, MT & WY

Beartooth Pass // tahoefabulous.com

A way long time ago, I wrote about driving through Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park. Next on the agenda: Beartooth Pass and the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.

The Beartooth Highway is a…“…68 mile byway winds its way through southwest Montana and northwest Wyoming and leads into Yellowstone National Park at its Northeast Entrance.  Since opening to automobile travel in 1937 the Beartooth Highway has welcomed visitors from around the world – introducing them to one of the most diverse ecosystems accessible by auto in the United States.”

We drove east on the Highway, just to the top of the pass, and we we’re rewarded with incredible sweeping vistas of sawtooth mountains, fields of wildflowers (in late July!) and the eeeping of a pika! It’s a great jumping off point for recreation, and, with the right timing, wildlife abounds. Here are just a few of my (many) pictures:

beartooth 2 beartooth 3 Beartooth Highway // tahoefabulous.com

The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway connects the Beartooth Highaway (and Yellowstone National Park) with Cody, Wyoming. You’ll travel through the Shoshone National Forest, between the Beartooth and Absaroka Mountains, and across the Clark Fork River. The bridge over the high gorge of the Clark Fork was a highlight for me!

beartooth 5 Clark Fork // tahoefabulous.com

While not as iconic as Highway 1 or Route 66, I think that the Beartooth Highway and Chief Joseph Scenic Byway drive deserve to be on the list of “must-do” American road trips.

Highlights from the weekend: Eastern Sierra Edition

We left South Lake on Friday and meandered our way towards Bishop. We drove up to Virginia Lakes, snapped some photos of Mono Lake, ate the world’s best gas station food at the Whoa Nellie Deli, and set up camp at Pleasant Valley Campground near the Happy Boulders. I also had a chance to hang out with my old roommate, having beers in her beautifully xeriscaped yard.

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  • Since we were camped near our first bouldering destination, we got a slow start on Saturday morning. But eventually, I had my coffee and we headed down the bumpy road. Bouldering at the Happys was really fun, though I chickened out on some of the taller boulders. It was a million degrees, though, so I’d definitely bring plenty of water and a hat. We left the Happys and headed into Bishop for lunch. We lucked out and stumbled on Raymond’s Deli. It was so good that I was tempted to eat there for every meal after (As of 2/2018 Raymond’s is now closed!). I had a BBQ Roast Beef sandwich with Ortega chillis called the 51/50. It’s a lot of food, but I recommend it highly!

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  • After lunch we moved on to the Buttermilk Boulders. The view from this spot was incredible! I thought that the bouldering here was more challenging than at the Happys. That could be related to the fact that I had my first real bouldering fall and sliced open a couple of fingers on a sharp flake. Ooops. That was the end of bouldering for the weekend.

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  • My bloody hands meant that we went back into Bishop to find some hot running water and soap. Cleaning out the large flap of skin on my finger was not pleasant. Bet you’re super disappointed that I didn’t take pictures! Since we were in town, we grabbed some bread and cheese and beer for dinner back at our campsite. We got the “famous” sheepherder bread from Erick Schat’s Bakkery.
  • Our leisurely outdoor dinner plans were scrapped by a massive windstorm! We ate while crammed in the front seats of the Element, taking turns running outside to re-stake the tent. Eventually the tent blew completely away! We managed to catch it and re-stake it closer to the car for a little more shelter, and it stayed attached to the ground for the rest of the night. The windstorm eventually calmed down around dusk, though all of the other tent campers in our campground had given up and left!

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  • We headed out of town the next morning, very dusty, but refreshed. Before we left Bishop, we grabbed bagels from Great Basin Bakery. Since Tuolumne Meadows were reportedly still full of snow, we decided to ditch that part of our plan, and slowly worked our way north towards Tahoe. We detoured to Convict Lake, but it was a little cold for the short loop hike. In Mammoth, we to fill my growler at Mammoth Brewing Company and checked out their gorgeous new tasting room. I filled my growler with 395 IPA but also loved Hair of the Bear, a seasonal doppelbock. For lunch, we had burgers at Toomey’s. (which I thought was a little overpriced, but pretty good with an incredibly friendly waitress). Our last stop was the Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport. I love a good hot spring, and these are amazing, with gorgeous flowstone, views of the Sierra and multiple pools at different temperatures. They were pretty crowded though, especially for the middle of the day.

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It was a totally fun weekend, and I’m excited for more throughout the spring and summer. Though I can do without the sliced up hand!

Lassen National Park

Lassen National Park // tahoefabulous.com

A couple of weeks ago, I went on a slightly epic road trip for work: South Lake Tahoe > Bishop > Visalia > Truckee > Redding > South Lake Tahoe. On my way back from Redding, I took a slight (two hour) detour to the south end of Lassen National Park. The park road was mostly closed, so I just hiked up the empty road for about 3/4 of a mile for some awesome views. I’ll definitely have to come back when more of the park is open!

Lassen National Park // tahoefabulous.com lassen 6 lassen 5 lassen 4 lassen 2 lassen 1 

Definitely worth the extra driving!