52 Weekend Adventures in Northern California

My Favorite Outdoor Getaways


By Tom Stienstra

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Escape to the great outdoors with award-winning expert Tom Stienstra’s 52 Weekend Adventures in Northern California. Inside you’ll find:
  • The best weekend getaways, hand-picked by the authority on outdoor adventures: Outdoors writer Tom Stienstra reveals his favorite spots, collected over decades of hiking and camping throughout the Golden State
  • Recreation highlights: Immerse yourself in nature with the top options for hiking, backpacking, fishing, biking, boating, and more
  • Expertise and know-how: Tom shares his personal recommendations, insider tips, and memories of his adventures in the great outdoors
  • Planning tools for travelers and locals alike: Make it an easy getaway with detailed driving directions, maps for each adventure, and full-color photos throughout
  • Where to eat and sleep: Discover Tom’s favorite spots to grab a bite and find out where to stay on an overnight trip, from campsites to hotels
  • Coverage of the Redwoods, Yosemite, Shasta, Tahoe, Lassen, Sacramento, the Wine Country, the Bay Area, and Monterey and Big Sur
Pick a weekend, pack the car, and get outside: Experience the best of NorCal’s wilderness with 52 Weekend Adventures in Northern California.



When I first began writing, I started receiving letters from people asking me to plan their weekend trips: the best hikes, campgrounds, lakes, rivers, fishing spots, to see wildlife . . . it has never stopped. Often they ask, “Where are you going next?”

The answers are now in your hands: My favorite destinations—52 in all, one for each weekend of the year, from Mount Whitney to the Oregon border; from the California coast to the High Sierra.

To make each trip work, I’ve revealed my favorite places for getaways and adventures, as well as my favorite places to eat and sleep. I’ve also added personal insights. Find just the right rock to stand on for a view, the right lure for that elusive big fish, and all the places where I felt like I could stop the world for a while and take in the power of place.

My mission in this book is to shape a great trip for anybody who wants to get out there. This collection of information is based solely on my personal travels, with feedback from field scouts. It’s not available as a whole anywhere else.

These are the places I love. Over the years, I’ve found that all anybody needs is something great to look forward to. This book provides that.

As for this coming weekend, let me ask you: Where are you going next?


view of Half Dome from Glacier Point


On top of Mount Whitney, I took a seat on a rock cornice, peered across 100 miles of alpine peaks, ridges and canyons, and felt free in the world. A light breeze swept up the canyon. The air tasted thin, cool and sweet.

I felt this dreamlike sense of the past, as if the ghosts of John Muir, William Brewer, and Joe Walker were guiding me. As I took in the scope of the landscape, I also sensed the answer for my life was out there. I felt this calling to venture to every lake, river, and mountain, to every park, national forest, and wilderness, to see it all and write about it, and to live a life where I would always feel this way: free in the world.

Many know something of this sensation. We get there on different paths, but arrive at the same place. It was the only way I could find my place in the world.

One night at a gas station, at one of the many jobs I worked to pay my way through college, a guy asked me for change. As I opened the till, he got behind me and then hit me in the back of my head with a hatchet. The paramedics got there before I could bleed out; they saved my life. When I got out of the hospital, it felt like I was cast in a movie that was set in the wrong time, that I didn’t belong in the present day, but in the 1830s, out there with mountain man Joe Walker, camping at the Forks of the Kern.

In a crowd, a building, a city, in traffic, everything felt miscast. Yet in the outdoors, everything was right, even perfect. It wasn’t long before I found myself roaming across the land with my dog, Rebel. I often teamed up with my best friend, Jeffrey Patty (nicknamed Foonski) and his dog, Sam. I eventually discovered that Jeff was recovering from a car accident where he nearly died from head trauma. Back in the day, we had no idea that we had severe PTSD; our dogs were like service animals. Later, my big brother Bob (nicknamed Rambob), six years my senior and imprinted by severe trauma from combat in Vietnam, also found a place with us on the trail. Michael Furniss also joined us. In a society where few understand PTSD, we were misfits, yet on the trail, brothers.

Among us, we’ve never talked much about our near-death encounters, but on a subliminal level, they connected us. For each of us, when we were out there, hiking, fishing, boating, biking, tracking wildlife… all was right with the world.

I remember how I felt that day on top of Whitney and the lesson that came to me. It can speak to anybody. The outdoors can set you free.

—Tom Stienstra

John Muir Trail: Mount Whitney to Yosemite Valley


Mountain climb: Mount Shasta

Mountain climb for youngsters: Lassen Peak, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Sierra panorama: Mitchell Peak, Jennie Lakes Wilderness

Most difficult permit: Mount Whitney from Whitney Portal, first weekend of August, 2 percent odds in preseason lottery

Lake view: Mount Tallac, Desolation Wilderness

Most unique payoff: Sierra Buttes Lookout, Tahoe National Forest

(top left) Lassen Peak trail; (top right) Mount Shasta summit; (bottom) Mount Whitney


Most dramatic easy hike with a view: Glacier Point to Pohono Trail, Yosemite National Park

Prettiest wilderness lakes: Shadow, Garnet, Minaret, Ediza; Ansel Adams Wilderness

Chain of lakes: Meeks Creek Trail to Genevieve, Crag, Hidden, Shadow, Stony Ridge, and Rubicon Lakes, Lake Tahoe Basin

Sierra trailhead: Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park

Hikers’ boat shuttle: Echo Lakes to trailhead for PCT/Desolation Wilderness

Overnight backpack for kids: Deadfall Lakes, Trinity Divide, Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Complete mountain resort: Convict Lake Resort

Drive-to view: Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park

Prettiest lake trail: Wapama Falls, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Yosemite National Park

Trailhead for fishing: Agnew Meadows to River Trail on upper San Joaquin River

Snowshoe trek: Badger Pass to Dewey Point, Yosemite National Park

view near Glacier Point


Most overlooked, pristine redwoods: Boy Scout Tree Trail, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Most species champion trees: James Irvine Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Redwood hike behind locked gate: Tall Trees Trail, Redwood National Park

Stout Grove


Prettiest ferns: Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Kayaking: Big River Lagoon/Mendocino Bay, Mendocino coast

RV sites: Seacliff State Beach, Monterey Bay

Coastal campsite: Wildcat, Point Reyes National Seashore

Coastal waterfall: McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Scuba diving: Point Lobos Marine Reserve

Protected coastal preserve: Salt Point State Park

Most underrated trail for difficulty: Lost Coast Trail, Mattole Trailhead

(top left) Salt Point State Park; (top right) Big River Lagoon; (bottom) McWay Falls Overlook


Prettiest scope of view: East Peak, Mount Tamalpais State Park

Urban view: Mount Livermore (at night), Angel Island State Park

All-round park: Del Valle Regional Park (hiking, biking, boating, swimming, fishing, camping, backpacking, wildlife viewing, wilderness access)

Short backpack trip: Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Bike and hike: Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail out of Rancho del Oso, coastal access to Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Island campsites: Angel Island State Park

Route for continuous views: Perimeter Road, Angel Island State Park

Day hike for early spring: Montara Mountain, San Pedro County Park

(top left) Berry Creek Falls; (top right) spur on Permimeter Road on Angel Island; (bottom) my wife Denese taking in the view from the east flank of Mount Tamalpais


Water sports: San Joaquin River Delta

Prettiest one-mile canyon: Berry Creek, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Prettiest river walk: McCloud River from Lower Falls to Middle and Upper Falls and on to Lakim Dam

All-round white-water rafting: South Fork American River

Class V white-water rafting: Clavey Falls, Tuolumne River

Most technical kayak run: Cherry Valley, upper Tuolumne River

(top left) San Joaquin Delta; (top right) South Fork American River; (bottom) McCloud River


Widest array of campgrounds and cabins: Shasta Lake

Campground for quiet at night: Pardee Recreation Area

Prettiest site, boat-in camping: Emerald Bay State Park, Lake Tahoe

Prettiest lake for tent cabins: Mary Smith Campground, Lewiston Lake

Free loaner kayaks/boats: Independence Lake

Lake-based region for families: Union Valley Reservoir, Crystal Basin Recreation Area

Boat-to/hike-to waterfall: Bullards Bar Reservoir

Family destination: Historic Camp Richardson Resort, South Lake Tahoe

Emerald Bay State Park


Largest trout: Lake Almanor

Most trout: Sacramento River, Redding to Anderson

Largest bass: Clear Lake

Most bass: Shasta Lake

Prospects for long-term future: Los Vaqueros Reservoir

(top left) my son Jeremy at Shasta Lake; (top right) Lake Almanor; (bottom) striped bass at Los Vaqueros


Most unique destination: Bumpass Hell geothermal area, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Most ironic sense of history: Captain Jack’s Stronghold, Lava Beds National Monument

Waterfall, highest volume subliminal flow: Burney Falls, McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

Gold rush history: South Fork American River, Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Coloma

Bumpass Hell geothermal area


Elk: Point Reyes National Seashore

Bear: Sequoia National Park

Deer: Lava Beds National Monument (in early winter)

Wild horses: Devil’s Garden, Modoc Plateau

Sea otter viewing: Elkhorn Slough by kayak

Humpback whales: Monterey Bay

California condor: Big Sur/Ventana Wilderness

Raptors/eagles: Los Vaqueros watershed by boat

(top left) Tule elk at Point Reyes; (top right) wild horses in Devil’s Garden; (bottom) humpback whale in Monterey Bay


Tallest tree in world: Hyperion, 380.3 feet, Redwood Empire

Largest tree in world by volume: General Sherman, 275 feet tall, 36 feet diameter, 102.6 feet circumference, Sequoia National Park

North America’s highest continuous trail: John Muir Trail

Tallest waterfall in North America: Yosemite Falls, 2,425 feet in three decks, Yosemite Valley

Largest single piece of granite in North America: El Capitan, 7,569 feet

Tallest single-strand waterfall in North America: Ribbon Fall, 1,634 feet, Yosemite Valley

Highest point in continental United States: Mount Whitney, 14,505 feet

Rainiest spot in continental United States: Camp 6 Weather Station, 257 inches in 1983, near Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Largest natural freshwater lake inside state borders: Clear Lake

Longest continuous trail in state: 1,700 miles, Pacific Crest Trail

Mount Whitney

Chapter 1

1 Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

2 Lost Coast

3 Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

4 Redwood National Park

1 Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

707/465-7335 | Crescent City | www.parks.ca.gov

Venturing into Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is like taking a trip back in time. The historic park showcases giant coast redwoods and the pristine Smith River, the crown jewel of America’s last free-flowing, undammed rivers. There are two sides to Jed Smith, with park sections on each side of the Smith River.

trail to Stout Memorial Grove

On the north side of the river, just off U.S. 199, is the popular state park campground with a short trail to the river, a put-in for drift boats, and a good fishing hole (fish for steelhead in winter). In summer, a temporary bridge provides access to the Stout Memorial Grove (named after the giant Stout Tree). The pretty River Trail is popular among campers; it ventures through forest, across U.S. 199, and hooks up with the Simpson-Reed Interpretive Trail for an easy one-mile loop.

The south side of the river is a world apart. East of Hiouchi, on U.S. 199, turn right on South Fork Road and cross two bridges to Howland Hill Road, then bear right. Howland Hill Road leads to a staging area for the Stout Memorial Grove and trailheads for the Boy Scout Tree Trail and to Fern Falls.

With a little bit of effort, you can explore one of my favorite spots on the planet. Turn left on South Fork Road instead to head deep into the Six Rivers National Forest and the trailhead for the South Kelsey Trail. This gorgeous hike along the headwaters of the South Fork Smith River leads to the Buck Creek Cabin, a winter shelter close to where pretty Buck Creek pours into the South Fork Smith.

You’ll never forget how this place changes your outlook.


The Boy Scout Tree Trail (5.5 miles round-trip, 4 hours) is a soft dirt path—often sprinkled with redwood needles—that allows hikers to venture deep into an old-growth redwood forest, complete with a giant fern understory and high-limbed canopy. This is an easy hike, nearly flat and with only small hills. You just walk into the forest, and a few hours later, walk out. Those few hours can change how you feel about the world.

The trailhead is on the north side of Howland Hill Road. The Boy Scout Tree Trail leads 2.8 miles to Fern Falls, a small cascade of silver water over black rock. This is one of the area’s better hikes in winter.

The centerpiece of this hike is supposed to be the Boy Scout Tree, a big redwood that splits into two trees from a single trunk, located 2.5 miles in. Most people look for it and never find it. (Look for an unmarked spur trail that leads to it—that’s right, no sign.) It’s not the Boy Scout Tree that is unforgettable, you will discover, but rather how the scope of the experience here can transform your outlook. The beauty is pure and untouched.


The Smith River is a fountain of pure water, undammed and unbridled, running sapphire-blue and free through granite canyons. The river grows California’s biggest salmon and steelhead, which arrive at the Smith every fall and winter, respectively, to beguile and excite anglers. Most who fish come for the steelhead, which arrive mid-January-March. During summer months, a decent fishery for sea-run cutthroat trout (in the lower river) is also provided. The most favored stretch is to put in with a drift boat at the Forks River Access and then make the trip down to the Ruby van Deventer County Park or to the popular take-out below the U.S. 101 bridge. Some of the best stretches are adjacent to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, including White Horse and Covered Bridge. Covered Bridge can be accessed from the bank. There is also a good put-in spot at the park for river access in a drift boat, canoe, or raft.

Armand Castagna on the Smith River

I caught my life-best 18-pounder from the bank at Jed Smith. Another time, I calculated all the factors—river height (8.5 feet), rain (incoming storm, river coming up), tides (high tide would allow big fish to enter from ocean), and timing (second week of January)—for the best chance at a 20-pounder. Turned out that just downstream in a drift boat right in front of mine was a woman from Chico on her first steelhead trip. She got to White Horse shortly before me and was the first boat through the hole at dawn. She caught that 20-pounder, the first steelhead of her life, right in front of me.

Fishing and outdoor supplies are available from Englund Marine (191 Citizens Dock Rd., Crescent City, 707/464-3230). Rent kayaks from Smith River Kayaks (12580 Hwy. 101 N, Smith River, 707/328-2022, www.smithriverkayaks.net).


Jedediah Smith Campground (707/464-6101, www.parks.ca.gov) has campsites and cabins sprinkled amid a grove of pretty redwoods, with some sites set near the Smith River. There are 89 sites for tents or RVs and trailers, five hike-in/bike-in sites, and four camping cabins (with electricity, heat, and lighting). Picnic tables, fire grills, and food lockers are provided. Drinking water, coin/token showers, flush toilets, and a dump station are available. In the summer, interpretive programs are offered. Some facilities (including the cabins) are wheelchair-accessible. Leashed pets are permitted in the campground only.

rafters along the Smith River

Reservations (800/444-7275, www.reservecalifornia.com, fee) are accepted May-early September and are strongly advised for summer weekends (the campground always fills on three-day holidays). Sites are first-come, first-served October-mid-May. Open year-round.


The best breakfast near Jed Smith is at the Hiouchi Café (2095 Hwy. 199, Hiouchi, 707/458-3445, 6am-2pm Sat.-Thurs., 6am-8pm Fri.), located one mile east of the state park entrance. They open early (even in winter) to accommodate anglers who want to hit the Smith River by dawn.

For the best dinner, I usually drive north to Oregon for seafood in Brookings Harbor at the The Hungry Clam (16350 Lower Harbor Rd., Brookings, OR, 541/469-2526) or Catalyst Seafood (16182 Lower Harbor Rd., Brookings, OR, 541/813-2422). The best burger in the area is at Alta’s Burger Bar (109 S. Fred D. Haight Dr., Smith River, 707/487-9191, 6am-4pm Tues.-Sat., 6am-2pm Sun.).

On the way into the park, campers can pick up supplies at a 24-hour Safeway (475 M St., 707/465-3353) in Crescent City.


From Crescent City, take U.S. 101 north for four miles to the junction with U.S. 199. Bear right on U.S. 199 and drive five miles to the well-signed park entrance on the right. Turn right and drive a short distance to the park entrance kiosk.

To reach the trailhead for the Boy Scout Tree, drive one mile east of Hiouchi on U.S. 199, then turn right on South Fork Road. Cross two bridges to a T intersection. Bear right on Howland Hill Road (South Fork Road is on the left) and drive to the trailhead.

There are two visitors centers: The Jedediah Smith Visitor Center (Hwy. 99, Hiouchi, 707/458-3496, 9am-5pm daily late May-Sept.) and the Hiouchi Visitor Center (Hwy. 99, Hiouchi, 707/458-3294, 9am-5pm daily spring-fall, 9am-4pm daily winter).

2 Lost Coast

707/986-5400 | King Range National Conservation Area | www.blm.gov

Once you come here, you’ll understand why it is called the Lost Coast. This stretch of coastline features some of the most remote landscapes and beautiful beaches anywhere. The ocean views are spectacular, with miles and miles of scenery that will imprint on your mind forever. Other than country stores and the post office, there’s not much out here and, except for the tides, nobody pays much attention to the time. You can take off your watch and leave the cell phone at home—it won’t work here anyway.

hiking the Lost Coast Trail

Many visitors overlook the Lost Coast because of the slow and curvy drive required to get here. From Mattole Beach in the north down to Shelter Cove to the south, this coastal “island” is cordoned off from civilization by the Pacific ocean and the King Range National Conversation Area. Just three roads provide slow and curvy access from U.S. 101 to the coast: Mattole Road (south of Ferndale), Lighthouse Road to Mattole Campground, and Shelter Cove Road. There are no through-roads from north to south—only one long trail.

Hiking the Lost Coast Trail is one of the greatest treks on the Pacific coast. The experience is like being held in suspended animation. From the Mattole Campground south, the surroundings are peaceful and pristine with a striking lack of people. You emerge five days later at Shelter Cove, where a few small restaurants, hotels, and charter boats, a boat ramp, and all facilities are available, and where you will leave the Lost Coast behind.


  • "If you’ve ever hiked, camped, backpacked, fished or in any way outdoor-recreated in Northern California, it’s almost guaranteed you’ve garnered guidance from Tom Stienstra. In his four decades as The San Francisco Chronicle’s outdoors writer, Steinstra’s newspaper columns, guidebooks and appearances on television and radio have made him the Yoda of the California outdoors. He’s been everywhere and he knows everything."

    Datebook, San Francisco Chronicle

On Sale
Sep 15, 2020
Page Count
300 pages
Moon Travel

Tom Stienstra

About the Author

For over 30 years, Tom Stienstra’s full-time job has been to capture and communicate the outdoor experience. This has led him across California – fishing, hiking, camping, boating, biking, and flying – searching for the best of the outdoors and then writing about it.

Tom is the nation’s top-selling author of outdoors guidebooks. His documentary on the Tuolumne River received an Emmy in 2017. He has been inducted into the California Outdoor Hall of Fame and has twice been awarded National Outdoor Writer of the Year, newspaper division, by the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He has also been named California Outdoor Writer of the Year five times. Tom is the outdoors columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle; his articles appear on sfgate.com and in newspapers around the country. He also broadcasts a weekly radio show on KCBS-San Francisco.

Tom lives in Northern California. You can contact him directly via the website tomstienstra.com.

Learn more about this author