With pockets of snow in the Sierra above 8500 feet, forests still lush, and water briskly flowing in crystal-clear streams, it’s the perfect late-summer/early-fall time for road trips for hiking, biking, good food, and stunning landscapes. Stick with us for four unique destinations close to home, just right for a one or several-day trip, with both nearby campgrounds or quaint towns for those seeking motel/hotel accommodations.
We cast our view to the northeast, east, and west for suggestions for the coming several months, with these recommendations just two hours or less distant.
Two suggestions for getting started. First, if you’re looking for overnight accommodations, either camping or hotels/motels, do a high-tech search: check recreation.gov for federal campgrounds like US Forest Service or a smartphone app like Kayak or Priceline to get last-minute motel/hotel rooms. With our recent trip, we chose to get a motel in the $60-$85 range mid-week. A Kayak search yielded a score of options, though expect to pay considerably more for Friday and Saturday night accommodations.
We just returned from Lake Tahoe’s western shore. We spent two nights in a South Lake Tahoe motel, taking in a lovely folk-music show, revisiting restaurant favorites, a favorite hike, and adding an exciting new one. We also ate very well and luxuriated in views of always-spectacular Lake Tahoe.
On our first morning, we chose a favorite trail, starting in State Line, Nevada’s Kahle Park, the Kingsbury Loop Trail, taking one on a 4.6-mile shady loop through beautiful forest, down to Lake Tahoe, and back through lovely meadows. This trail is also almost 100% paved, making it a great cycling option.
For a new hiking adventure, we headed north up Highway 89 to the Emerald Bay viewpoint, parked, and headed west along the Cascade Falls Trail. This trail is a bit technically challenging, with some steep, rocky sections requiring scrambling, agility, and good balance (skills getting a bit shaky as we age). We got about 1.75 miles out on the trail, with a good view of the Cascade Falls, then retraced our steps, though the course could’ve taken us much further and higher into the lovely Sierra, with pockets of snow beckoning above us.
In the 2 1/2 days we were there, we had a lovely dinner at the Riva Bar and Grill looking out at Lake Tahoe and Tahoe Marina, an always delightful lunch at Camp Richardson’s Beacon Restaurant (also right on the lakeshore), a delectable breakfast with the area’s best Bloody Mary’s, Artemis Lakefront Cafe, next door to Riva. We ate well at Happy Hour at the Chart House at the top of Kingsbury Grade, NV. With our penchant for thrifty travel, we invariably split a main course between the two, sometimes adding an appetizer – and never returning hungry.
One of the highlights of our stay was an evening of folk music at the Valhalla Boathouse Theater, a substantial 1920s-era boathouse revamped into an 182-seat theater, with the musicians playing in front of a view looking north up Lake Tahoe. The Valhalla property is part of the Tallac Historic Site, featuring three huge mansions remaining from the Roaring 20s, worth a tour in their own right.
Other destinations with similar appeal include heading due east from San Joaquin County up Highway 108 to the Pinecrest and Dodge Ridge area, north by northeast to the Crystal Basin area in El Dorado National Forest, looking west to East Bay Regional Parks, or due north for hiking and biking along the American River Parkway from Sacramento east to Folsom Lake State Recreation Area.
The Pinecrest/Dodge Ridge area has virtually everything you would look for. Pinecrest Lake is a striking lake nestled in the Sierras at almost 6,000 feet, with several resorts surrounding it, good restaurants like Steam Donkey, Mia’s, and Strawberry Inn, nearly a dozen campgrounds within a mile to 10 miles, and Dodge Ridge Resort offering lift-served mountain biking, as well as disc golf and summertime and early fall activities at the base area. I usually include the Highway 4 area from Murphys East to the Bear Valley/Lake Alpine area. Still, Bear Valley is not opening its lift-served mountain biking option due to winter trail damage from the extensive snow (though plenty of biking options remain in Bear Valley and the Lake Alpine area).
I’d also recommend the Crystal Basin area in El Dorado National Forest, reached by following Highway 50 out of Sacramento about 45 miles east, then heading north of the Ice House Road to the Crystal Basin area. The area offers lovely hiking and mountain biking options, six crystal-clear, high-Sierra lakes, access to the famed Rubicon Trail, and a half dozen gorgeous campgrounds, often available once school starts. Probably the only negative is a scarcity of good dining and motel options in this area, so plan to camp and prepare your meals (the Ice House Resort does offer motel lodging and meals, getting decent customer ratings even if looking a bit shop-worn in our visits).
Finally, for a one-day escape for either hiking or cycling, head due north to Sacramento and a day on the American River Parkway, with a lovely 35-mile paved trail, from Old Sacramento east up the river to Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. This iconic urban trail is surrounded by the cities of Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, Fari Oaks, and Folsom, with reasonable motel/hotel accommodations and restaurants for those wanting an extended stay.
For more information: American River Parkway, regionalparks.saccounty.net; El Dorado National Forest, fs.usda.gov.eldorado; Lake Tahoe, visitlaketahoe.com; Pinecrest/Dodge Ridge, visittulolumne.com; Valhalla Theatre, valhalla.com; Hotel/Motel options, Kayak or Priceline smart-phone apps; Camping reservations, recreation.gov.
Where are you traveling? Contact Tim, firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy travels!