Summer’s almost over, but there’s still time to plan one last getaway to the great outdoors. But instead of sitting on your fanny in a camp chair all weekend (not that there’s anything wrong with that), consider taking a thrilling and adventurous weekend getaway that gets your blood flowing and calories burning. As a serious outdoors nut I could write a book on Northern California’s recreational getaways, but for this week’s theme I’ve narrowed it down to my seven top picks for having some serious outdoor fun.
River Rafting in Lake Tahoe
A fantastic way to spend a warm summer day in Tahoe is hopping in a raft or inner tube and floating down the tame stretch of Truckee River from Fanny Bridge in Tahoe City to the River Ranch Lodge a few miles downriver. The 2- to 3-hour outing is safe for the entire family, with only a few stretches of very small rapids. After you haul out at the River Ranch Lodge, sit at their beautiful outdoor patio overlooking the river and enjoy lunch or a cold beer (530/583-0123; www.truckeeriverraft.com). If you prefer a more exciting whitewater experience, Tributary Whitewater Tours (800/672-3846; www.whitewatertours.com) offers daily excursions (in season) down the Truckee River amid Class 2 to 3-plus rapids.
Surfing in Santa Cruz
No, I’m not crazy. You can do this. I’m living proof. I had never surfed in my life until I took a surfing class in Santa Cruz and within an hour I was standing up and surfing! It’s an amazing adrenaline rush, getting pushed by the wave as you stand on your longboard while the surfing instructor cheers you on. Santa Cruz has the best longboarding waves in Nor Cal—small, safe, easy, and fun—and the friendly folks at Santa Cruz’s Club-Ed’s Surf School will show you a great time, teaching you how to paddle, read the waves, and stand up. It’s a fantastic way to stay in shape and an incredibly rewarding accomplishment. C’mon, give it a try (800/287-SURF; www.club-ed.com).
Climbing Mount Shasta
This will probably be one of the most challenged hikes in your life, but the reward—summiting the mighty Mount Shasta—is a moment you will never forget, and the views are mind-blowing. Mount Shasta attracts thousands of hikers from around the world each year, from timid first-timers (like my mom) to serious mountaineers who search for the most difficult paths up. All the requisite equipment can be rented in town at the Fifth Season (530/926-3606; www.thefifthseason.com), and if you’d rather hire a guide, contact Shasta Mountain Guides (530/926-3117; www.shastaguides.com). Tip: For great tips on climbing Mount Shasta, google “So you want to climb Mt. Shasta.”
Simulated Skydiving in Union City
Okay, so it’s not exactly an outdoor adventure, but it’s still one of the most exciting things you will ever do—fly! I’m serious. iFly is a $10 million dollar indoor skydiving attraction located in the East Bay that simulates the sensation of jumping out of a plane. You are literally airborne, but without any danger whatsoever. In fact, it’s so safe that the age limit is 3 years old an up. Yet it’s also so realistic that professional skydivers use it to practice. After a brief training class, you suit up and an instructor (who’s right at your side the entire time) helps you fly around the vertical wind tunnel. I guarantee you it’ll be one of the most exciting getaways you’ll have this year, so give it a try (510/489-4359; www.iflysfbay.com).
Backpacking in Southern Yosemite
When I was a kid, my mom would always send me off on a week-long guided backpacking trip during the summer just to get me out of the house, and now I’m addicted to it. It’s the perfect combination of aerobic exercise, spiritual cleansing, confidence building, and appreciating our natural surroundings. If you’ve never done it before, I have a suggestion: Give my friend Ian Elman a call. He runs an outdoor guiding company called Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, and his staff are among the top outdoor guides in the nation. In fact, you’ll enjoy spending time with Ian and his crew so much you’ll want to come back for more adventures with year after year (800/231-4575; www.symg.com).
Mountain Biking in Lake Tahoe
If just the thought of biking up a mountain exhausts you, I have a solution: Take a gondola to the top. The Northstar Resort Mountain Bike Park is one of my favorite summer mountain biking destinations, mostly because I’m too lazy to pedal up a mountain. The park offers one of the most extensive lift-accessed trail network in the country, with trails to match any biking skill level, from newbie to are-you-insane? It’s a wonderful way to spend the day, cruising down the fire roads or bashing down the singletrack, relishing the clean mountain air and beautiful alpine scenery. They even offer free mountain tours for beginner and intermediate level riders (530/562-2268; www.NorthstarAtTahoe.com).