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Hike, camp, fish Alpine County

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It’s safe to say that the word is out about the rugged splendor of Lake Tahoe and Yosemite — the destinations see a combined six million visitors each year. But Alpine County, a 743-square mile stretch of mountains sandwiched between the two, goes almost completely unvisited, even by the Northern California crowd.

Not that there’s any lack of available adventure. Car campers and day hikers make use of dozens of campsites line the county’s Highway 4, which winds east from Angels Camp and into the High Sierra. For backcountry enthusiasts, the Stanislaus National Forest offers miles and miles of untrammeled wilderness.

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Hike Nevada’s Mount Rose

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Whether you go for a conference, for a wedding, or as the pawn of a crippling gambling addiction, chances are good that sooner or later you’ll end up in Reno, Nevada. And if you’re not a fan of off-track betting and all-you-can-eat buffets, chances are equally good that you’ll want to get the heck out.

As it happens, escaping into the outdoors is sort our specialty. And in Reno, our go-to is the 10-mile (round trip) hike to the volcanic summit of Nevada’s 10,778-foot Mount Rose. The popular hike rewards climbers with magnificent views of Lake Tahoe, Reno, and much of western Nevada and the northern Sierra.

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Short Day/Long Day: Black Diamond Mines

The miners who first tunneled through the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Contra Costa County more than a century ago weren’t after diamonds at all (or climbing equipment for that matter): they were digging for coal.

Today, hikers and backpackers who visit the mines aren’t looking to fill their coffers, but they often do strike it rich (figuratively). So whether you’re looking for an easy walk or a demanding hike, check out our favorite trips in the park.

Short Day: Old Homestead Loop

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A scenic and challenging 6.6-mile day hike begins at the park office at the end of Somersville Road.  Halfway through you have the option of a picnic and even a swim in the lagoon at the Contra Loma Recreational Area.

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Short Day/Long Day: Jack London

We all know Jack London had a killer name, and that he wrote a few books about cold weather, guys with beards, and dogs. But only a few of us have visited his Bay Area estate, which is surrounded by some beautiful crowd-free trails.

Perched in the verdant, rolling valley of Sonoma County, the 1,400-acre Jack London State Historic Park is a draw not only for fans of the adventure writer, but for hikers and nature-lovers of all abilities.

Short Day: The Wolf House

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London’s grave and the remains of his mansion can be reached by an easy 1.2-mile hike. Follow a well-marked path from the park’s museum, and you’ll soon find a short trail to the grave site. Take a moment, pour out a martini, feel the sun through the Madrone canopy, and continue to the Wolf House.

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Raft NorCal’s best rivers

River rafting is an American summer tradition (it’s the focus of our greatest book, after all). So whether you’re a leather skinned old river rat or a queasy landlubber, consider spending a day (or two) on California’s best rapids.

See Bigfoot on the Klamath

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The wilderness surrounding NorCal’s Klamath River is home to more Bigfoot sightings than any other place on Earth. But visitors more often see deer, bald eagles, and bears (there are more bears in the area than people).

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NorCal’s best stargazing

Light pollution and nighttime fog make stargazing in the Bay Area tough. So if you want to enjoy the Perseid meteor showers Aug. 11-13, we suggest you pack a tent, some wine, and head east to one our hand-picked viewing spots. 

Mount Diablo State Park

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Just an hour from San Francisco, Mount Diablo State Park is shielded from the city lights, and home to some of the region’s more strenuous hiking and biking. For the best views, head to the park’s Juniper Campground, or to the Mount Diablo Summit (pictured above).

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NorCal’s best hot springs

Easing oneself into a hot bath is one of life’s great pleasures. But it’s got nothing on a soak in a remote, arbor-hugged hot spring. So the next time you need to melt some stress, consider a stew in one of our favorite NorCal springs. 

Sykes Hot Springs - Big Sur

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This one’s for the hikers. The approach to Sykes is a good ten mile hike into the Ventana Wilderness – so you’ll want to bring your backpacking gear. Camp about halfway in on your first night, then set up camp closer to the pools the next day. When you arrive at the stream, follow the slightly beaten path downstream to the concrete lined pool.

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Mt. Tam’s Hidden Peak

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In the world of people-who-like-to-stand-atop-things-in-the-Bay-Area, Mount Tamalpais’ 2,574-foot East Peak is a mainstay. But even most locals don’t know that it wasn’t always the true summit of Marin County’s iconic mountain.

The mountain’s nearby West Peak once stood more than 2,600 feet above sea level, but it was bulldozed flat in the 1950s to make way for a Cold War-era radar station and military barracks.

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Easy/Tough: Mountain Bike Marin

Marin County is the birthplace of mountain biking. The sport was conceived in the 1970s, when local gear heads hopped on their (then street) bikes to explore the rolling hills that spill into the bay.

So riding knobby tires is something of a Bay Area traditionAnd even if you’ve only ever pedaled a beach cruiser, we humbly suggest you set aside a Saturday or Sunday to celebrate properly.

 Marincello/Old Springs Trails

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For novice riders, the most accessible destination is Marin Headlands, where the very easiest offerings are the Marincello and Old Springs trails. Both trails offer epic views of the sea (and sometimes of whale migrations), and include just enough easy uphill riding to make the trip count as “exercise.”

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Hike Henry Coe’s Lakes

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Yes, 2014 has been one of the driest years in California history. But that hasn’t stopped the wildflowers in Henry Coe State Park from putting on a spring spectacular – and if you hurry, you can still catch the show.

Most hikers access Henry Coe from the entrance behind Morgan Hill (which is only 34 miles from San Jose). But the lesser-known entrance at Hunting Hollow is just five miles farther, and offers a much more secluded experience for hikers, bikers, backpackers and equestrians. (Get directions)

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