Local’s Favorite: Donner Lake

I am super lucky in that my new apartment is just a few flights of stairs and across the street from public access to Donner Lake. I can go from lying on the couch to lying in a floatie in under 5 minutes! While Lake Tahoe gets most of the glory in the area, Donner Lake is an underrated gem!

Donner Lake Truckee California // tahoefabulous.com

When I lived in South Lake Tahoe, I was only a couple of blocks from a public beach, and, comparing the two, I actually prefer swimming in Donner Lake. The Lake Tahoe beach I was closest to was really, really shallow – especially these last couple drought years. You would have to walk out a half mile to be deep enough to swim! It would also get really gross from the shallow water, popularity and nearby dog beach. Uggghhh – green slime.

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Slimy and shallow Reagan Beach on the south shore. Photo by Greyson Howard.

Donner Lake, on the other hand, gets deep quite quickly, and I much prefer the nearshore water quality to the south shore of Lake Tahoe. Greyson Likes to say that Donner Lake would be way more popular if it wasn’t so close to Lake Tahoe. Honestly, though, I don’t really mind! It definitely still gets busy on nice weekends, and it can be especially crazy on holidays – Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. Check out the amazing photos he took of Donner Lake (from Green Phantom climbing area on Donner Summit) last week.

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Donner Lake is open to motorized traffic, but you’ll see tons of stand up paddle boarders, kayakers, small sailboats and swimmers in the water. There are a bunch of places around town you can rent SUP and kayaks, and a couple of places on the lake to rent boats as well.

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The coolest thing about Donner Lake are its public docks. These are small docks owned and operated by the Truckee Parks and Recreation district, and are available to the public on a first come, first serve basis. These docks aren’t big enough to launch a speedboat or anything, but they are perfect for hanging out in the sun and wading in to cool off. Most years, you could launch a canoe, kayak or stand up paddle board from the docks, but the water is a little low for that for Summer 2015. The plus side to the low water level is the small sandy beaches that have appeared making for even more public water access. We watched the fireworks on the Fourth of July from one of the new beaches on Saturday.

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For my friend’s bachelorette party last summer, we claimed a dock early in the morning, and hung out there all day, drinking beers and floating on inner-tubes when we got too warm. It was a great way to spend the day before going out that evening. For your best shot at claiming a dock, arrive by at least 9 am on weekends, though you may get lucky later in the day. You can park for free on the side of Donner Pass Road, but don’t park in the bike lane! You’ll get ticketed, and it’s rude to the many cyclists who ride that way for transportation or recreation. The docks are located on Donner Pass Road on the north side of Donner Lake. If you run out of food, drinks, or sunscreen, you can find that and more at Sticks Market, which is the best store in the area.

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If the docks are full, or you’re more interested in a sandy beach, you can head down to West End Beach, which is open to the public for a $5 admission fee before 5:00 pm. West End Beach has a number of amenities, including a playground, bathrooms, concession stand and rentals. I like to head to West End Beach to watch the sunset. You won’t have to pay the entry fee, and the water is usually still warm enough to swim in the early evenings. Occasionally, local gear shops host free stand up paddle board demo days and races, so check that out!

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Donner Lake is also the home of Donner Memorial State Park (yes Donner Lake is named after THOSE Donners), which has camping, a public boat ramp, a visitor’s center and a monument to the Donner Party. Another thing I like to do at Donner Lake is ride my bike around it. It’s pretty easy 7 mile road bike ride, that takes you through the state park with only about 170 feet of climbing (ignore the elevation on my Strava Map picture – I’m not sure what’s going on there!).

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Tahoe Summer Bucket List

Though it has felt like summer in Tahoe since about mid-February, official summer is almost here! Summer is the best time of year to be in Tahoe, but it always feels like summer slips away before I know it. So for this summer, I’ve created my official Tahoe Summer Bucket List! My list consists of new experiences and things I’ve done before, activities close to home and a few that are a short road trip away.

bucket 1

  1. Backpack in Desolation Wilderness. I’ve lived in Tahoe for almost five years now, and I still haven’t gone backpacking in this gorgeous area in my backyard.
  2. Jump in Webber FallsI went a couple of times last summer, and I’m excited to go back.

Webber Falls // tahoefabulous.com

  1. Ride the Downieville Downhill.This world famous bike trail is famous for a reason. It’s 6,000 feet of epic descent, through smooth berms, loose rocks, slippery shale, and perfect dirt, and you can cap off the day with a jump in the Yuba River. (I actually checked off this item last week, but I hope to go back again this summer!)
  2. Boulder in Tuolumne Meadows.While the Yosemite Valley is popular for good reasons, the less crowded, east side of Yosemite National Park is an underrated gem. We have plans to do some bouldering, and then jump in the Tuolumne River.
  3. Soak in culture with Shakespeare at the Lake.The state park at Sand Harbor near Incline Village, Nevada has one of the best theatre venues in the world. All summer long, you can watch a Shakespeare play while the sun sets over Lake Tahoe at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. This year, the show is Romeo and Juliet.

Tahoe Shakespeare Festival // tahoefabulous.com

  1. Go Gnarbuckling in the Yuba River. The South Yuba River near Nevada City is a pretty magical place. The area’s mining legacy created boulder fields, deep pools and mini waterfalls. One of Greyson’s friends invented the sport of “gnarbuckling”, which is traveling upstream in the Yuba River, via hiking, scrambling, swimming, jumping and falling. It’s quite a workout, and is best chased by a Mammoth 395 at Matteo’safterwards.
  2. Do my first bikepacking trip.Neither Greyson or I have done bikepacking before, but we have big plans do a one or two day bikepacking trip on the Tahoe Rim Trail, or some other local spot.
  3. Visit all the local breweries!Tahoe is finally stepping up its local beer game, and I have yet to sample all of the new options. That’s going to change this summer. I haven’t tried Alibi Ale Works in Incline Village or The Brewing Lair in Blairsden. I need to give Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co. in Tahoe City another shot and return to Cold Water Brewery in South Lake Tahoe. I’ll hopefully go on some road trips, and visit my favorites, Mountain Rambler Brewery in Bishop, June Lake Brewing in June Lake and Mammoth Brewing Company in Mammoth Lakes. New and new-to-me breweries seem to be popping up all over the place, and I plan to visit as many as I can! Also, I hope to hit up one or two beer festivals. Maybe Truckee Brew Fest or Reno’s CANFEST.

tahoefabulous.com

  1. Raft the American River. Just down the hill from Tahoe, the American River runs through Coloma. This spot is a world class white water rafting destination, and I’d love to do a raft trip this summer.
  2. Climb a 14-er. Probably not Mount Whitney, but I’d like to climb one of California’s 14,000+ foot mountains this summer.
  3. Bike at Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. Last year was the first year in a long time that I didn’t spend at least a day biking at Mammoth Mountain. Even with lift serviced trails, you’re working hard on the fun trails with great views.

Tahoe Summer Bucket List // tahoefabulous.com

  1. Hike from Sugar Bowl to Squaw Valley on the Pacific Crest Trail.Hopefully the wildflowers will be in full bloom when I do this hike.
  2. Swim every week! We may be in the midst of a drought, but Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe still have excellent swimming. Once it warms up, my goal is to swim at leastonce a week, and spend a lot of time on our pristine beaches.

These are just a few of the things I hope to do in Tahoe this summer. Anything epic I’m missing? Or, if you are visiting the Tahoe/Truckee area and want some suggestions, feel free to get in touch!

Donner Summit Canyon in Truckee, California

Earlier this week, Greyson and I checked out a fairly new local hiking trail near the Donner Summit area in Truckee.

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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.

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From Truckee Donner Land Trust

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.

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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.

Donner Summit Canyon Hike // tahoefabulous.com

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 Truckee

Truckee Restaurants // tahoefabulous.com

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.

Best Mexican:

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.

 

Dark Horse Coffee Roasters – Truckee, California
Dark Horse Coffee Roasters – Truckee, California

Best Sandwiches:

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.

Best Barbecue/Brunch:

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.

 

I bought this Ninkasi Total Domination at Sticks Market!
I bought this Ninkasi Total Domination at Sticks Market!

Planning a California North Coast Road Trip

So I’ve mentioned a few times that Greyson and I went on an amazing road trip up the North Coast of California. We managed to hit a bunch of must-see spots, both well known and off the beaten path.

Planning a CA North Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

I’ve already written about one of the hidden gems we visited, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I thought I’d share the other stops on our amazing road trip.

Road Trip Map via Google Maps

  1. Truckee, California to Inverness, California (200 miles, 3.5 hours):We stayed at the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore in Inverness, California for Greyson’s sister’s wedding. I’ve written about what to do in Point Reyes in the past – it’s an amazing place full of tons of things to do.
  2. Inverness, California to Westport, California (163 miles, 4.5 hours via Hwy 1):We headed north on the legendary Highway One, on our way to Fort Bragg and Westport-Union Landing Beach. In the Fort Bragg area, I knew I wanted to return to Pacific Star Winery and eat fresh seafood. I got my wish, and we tasted wines and watched a new batch of grapes be unloaded at the winery while the staff gave us a tour and let us taste test the different grape varieties. We ate dinner at Sea Pal Cove restaurant, where I had local rockfish fish and chips.  I had been to the area before, and I knew that I wanted to stay in a private that I had discovered allowed camping on the sand, north of Fort Bragg on Westport Beach – Westport Beach RV Park. Though it is also an RV park, the tent camping sites are secluded from the rest of the park, and all we heard all night were crashing waves.
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Beach camping at Westport Beach near Fort Bragg, CA. Photo by Greyson Howard
  1. Westport, California to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California (75 miles, 2.25 hours via Garberville, CA):I’ve already written about the amazing Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I just want to emphasize again how incredible it is! If you enjoy the outdoors, it should be on your California Bucket List. On our way to Sinkyone, we stopped for lunch in Garberville at the Eel River Cafe – a cute diner with good food in generous portions.
  2. Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California to Redwoods State and National Parks, California (142 miles, 3.5 hours): On our way to the Redwoods, we drove through the Avenue of the Giants, a well known drive that’s definitely worth getting off the highway for.
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Avenue of the Giants. Photo by Greyson Howard

 

One of the main things Greyson wanted to see on this trip was Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park(part of Redwoods National and State Parks). We found that Gold Bluffs Beach Campground was the closest access to Fern Canyon, and open on a first come-first serve basis in early October during our trip. We arrived fairly early on a Thursday, and by Thursday night the campground was pretty much full, despite it being a weeknight during the off season. If you plan on staying at Gold Bluff Beach, Fern Canyon is a pretty much year-round attraction, so plan on getting to the nearby campgrounds early in order to find a spot. Our campsite was tucked away behind some bushes for a wind break, and a quick walk to the ocean beach, surrounded by the gold cliffs that give the area its name. Fern Canyon can be accessed by a less than quarter mile hike from the parking area, but we chose a longer 7 mile loop through old growth redwoods to access the back side of the canyon. The longer hike was definitely worth it, full of wet forest plants and creatures that we don’t get to see in the Sierra, and not very strenuous at all.

Banana Slugs in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Banana Slugs in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Fern Canyon was like nothing else I’ve ever seen – sheer walls entirely covered with ferns – and worth a trip to the Redwood State and National Parks just on its own.

Fern Canyon. Photo by Greyson Howard
Fern Canyon. Photo by Greyson Howard
  1. Redwood State and National Parks, California to Nevada City, California (328 miles, 6.25 hours via Chico): The only problem we ran into on our whole road trip came on this leg. We had planned to stop in Chico, California for our last night and do a tour and tasting at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and just get a cheap motel room when we go into town. It turns out that we arrived on the Saturday of Parents Weekend at Chico State, and there wasn’t a room to rent within 50 miles. We ended up just having an early dinner/beer tasting at Sierra Nevada, and we pushed on to Nevada City. We grabbed a couple of beers at Matteo’s Public, and were asleep before ten in our room at the Emma Nevada House.
  2. Nevada City, California to Truckee, California (102 miles, 3 hours via Hwy 49 & 89): Since our inadvertent night in Nevada City meant that we were further along on our road trip, we decided to take the long way – Highway 49 to Highway 89 through Downieville. This route has beautiful views of the Sierra Buttes, and our quick stop in Downieville had us lamenting the fact that we didn’t have our bikes. This meandering, scenic route was the perfect end to a perfect Northern California road trip.
Looking back at the Sierra Buttes from Hwy 49
Looking back at the Sierra Buttes from Hwy 49

And finally, in true data-nerd form, here’s my spreadsheet of trip mileage, travel time and a few notes, for reference:

CA North Coast Road Trip Plan // tahoefabulous.com

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.