Eagle Creek Ranch Vacation Rental Scenes, Including Eagle Fishing, Old Barn with Trinity Alps in the background, Guests with Horses, and Flyfishing at nearby Lewiston Lake
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Quintessential Tours Clients - The Ridgard Family

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Day 1: San Francisco - Coffee Creek (Trinity Alps)
Tess and I picked up the Ridgards -- Paul, Gina and their 2 kids, Simon (13) and Chloe (8) -- in San Francisco, where they had spent a couple days sightseeing on their own. They were looking forward to some serious escape into peace and quiet of the California mountains. We started their trip with a "quick" trek of 6 hours up north to Coffee Creek, in the middle of the Trinity Alps Wilderness area. Having left in the early afternoon, we arrived just in time for a late dinner at the one restaurant in the town of 200 people.

Day 2: Coffee Creek - Lewiston Lake - Coffee Creek
After a late start on the day, we jumped into the Ridgards' trip, driving to Lake Lewiston, where their introduction to Trinity County by daylight was to be a quiet boat ride on one of Northern California's secret hideaways. During 4 hours on this remote lake, the family stopped to do some hiking, had a picnic lunch in the middle of the lake, and were fortunate to watch a bald eagle fighting with an osprey over a freshly caught trout.

The group returned to dock with a relaxed demeanor, and we took the slow road back to the ranch, passing the 400 foot Trinity Lake Dam en route. At the ranch, Paul invited Tess and me to explore the horse pastures with him and the kids, while Gina relaxed on the porch of their bungalo. The family stayed up as late playing cards, ultimately settling in for a peaceful sleep in the heart of the Trinity Alps Wilderness.

Day 3: Coffee Creek
Another day in the Trinity Alps began with a trip out on the Trinity River's other lake, named appropriately enough, Trinity Lake (officially Claire Engle, but the locals don't use that name). Paul and Simon wanted to get a little fishing in on one of California's premiere smallmouth bass lakes, and Gina and Chole were happy to come along for the sunshine and cool water.

Several hours on this large lake (for which Lewiston is the leveling reservoir) produced some great memories, (including Simon's first experience piloting a boat on plane), and plenty of wildlife spotting... if only a couple of small throw-backs in the fish department. Later in the day, after returning to port, the group was happy to spend the rest of their day hanging out at the ranch. Simon and Chloe played horseshoes, and Paul and Gina enjoyed some quiet time alone.

Day 4: Coffee Creek - McCloud (Mount Shasta)
Not in any hurry to leave the Trinity Alps, we got another late start on the day, finally rolling out of the ranch well after noon. Today's drive was just a couple hours, taking us to the eastern half of the state for what would become a long journey south.

After crossing Scott Mountain, and leaving the Trinity Alps, we came within sight of one of California's more spectacular mountains, the 14,179 foot high dormant vocano, Mount Shasta. We'd eventually stop in the town of McCloud, where the family would enjoy a trip on the Shasta Sunset Dinner Train, which travels right around the base of the mountain while serving a gourmet dinner. This proved a perfect ending to the day.

Day 5: McCloud - Mount Lassen - Lake Tahoe
The highlight of today's longer drive proved to be Mount Lassen, Shasta's more active, but less obvious cousin. With the road through Lassen traveling at elevations exceeding 9,000 feet, even in late June, there was plenty of snow. For the Ridgards, the snow proved to be even more enticing than the various volcanic features, and plenty of fun was had over the course of the day assaulting each other with snowballs.

Eventually, we left Lassen for a lengthy drive along scenic route 89, destination Lake Tahoe. Arriving in the evening, the Ridgards had a chance to enjoy a little bit of the casino where they stayed, after the kids turned in for the night.

Day 6: Lake Tahoe
This full day at Lake Tahoe was a special one. We picked the family up before dawn, and drove them to the launching site for the Tahoe Flyer, a floating launchpad for Lake Tahoe Balloons hot air balloon tours. They then journeyed out onto the lake where they would enjoy breakfast and a one hour hot air balloon flight over the lake, launched from, and landing back on the Flyer.

Thrilled with their morning experience, the group decided to take a bit of a break from touring for much of the day, opting to sunbathe by the lake on what became an 80°+ day. We picked them up again in the late afternoon for a trip up to Heavenly Valley's gondola, where they'd ride up the mountain for a sunset dinner overlooking the lake.

This was a perfect Lake Tahoe day.

Day 7: Lake Tahoe - Bodie - Yosemite
This day would have its own aerial views, albeit enjoyed from the vehicle, and on foot this time. As we departed over the Lake Tahoe area rim, the first aerial view was of the Carson Valley stretching off to the east. We rapidly descended into the valley, and turned south on Route 395.

After a couple hours on 395's rising and falling grades, we came to the Bodie turn-off. I had told the Ridgards about the ghost town, and they were eager to see it. We took the 7 mile drive down a dirt road, and joined the family as they explored the one-time boom town.

I have to say, I think Bodie's a great stop. The setting is almost surreal, high in the Sierra desert formed by the rain-shadow of the peaks to the west, and the history can be felt with the breeze blowing through the cracks of the well-preserved buildings. But, compared to the glorious natural landscapes of Yosemite or the Trinity Alps, I've always considered it something to see between highlights. I guess that's why I still find it cool that Gina still considers this the highlight attraction of the entire trip for her. Go figure!

Anyhow, after a couple hours of stalking the empty streets of Bodie, we drove a few more miles south, and then turned back west and back up into the crown jewel of the Sierra Nevada, Yosemite. Arriving in the early afternoon, we spent the rest of the day in the granite-carved high country, where the family took an easy hike around Tuolumne Meadows, and had a late picnic on the shores of Tenaya Lake. Finally, the family checked in to their tent-cabin accommodations at Tuolumne Lodge (more of a lodge in the Native American sense than in the tradtional sense... accommodations are in very nice tent cabins), which had just opened for the summer.

Day 8: Yosemite
We headed slowly out of the high country on day 8, and on towards the famouse Yosemite Valley, where the Ridgards were fortunate to have a reservation at the world famous Ahwahnee Lodge (a traditional lodge that defines the tradition). The highlight of the day was the hike up to Vernal and Nevada Falls, which I had recommended to the group on the way to the Valley. They invited Tess and I to join them, and we enjoyed a typically spectacular hike up the steep banks of the Merced River to see two of Yosemite's most waterfalls, returning very much exhausted from the effort, but delighted to have shared the experience.

Day 9: Yosemite - Monterey
This day was again spent primarily in Yosemite, saving the somewhat boring drive across the central valley for the cooler evening time. The Ridgards spent the early part of the day exploring the visitor's center and valley floor. As we got under way to leave the Valley, we stopped to watch the climbers on El Capitan. We ended up gawking for better than an hour before heading south. With the afternoon well under way, we decided to skip our planned detour to Glacier Point, as the group didn't want to risk missing the giant sequoias at the Mariposa Grove.

Indeed, the Mariposa Grove proved to be a great finale to the Yosemite experience, and after an hour and a half of walking among the giants, we headed for the Monterey Bay. A few hours of driving, and a quick dinner stop in Madera, and we arrived on the coast.

Day 10: Monterey
And now for something completely different! With the memories of the High Sierra, the volcanic peaks of northern California and the Trinity Alps still fresh, the Ridgards woke up to a different kind of scenic delight, and set about a day in Monterey. First on the agenda was a kayaking tour just north of Monterey in the tidal inlet of Elkhorn Slough. During the three hour paddle, they were treated to up-close experiences with sea otters, harbor seals, and a "slew" of waterfowl.

After their first Mexican food of the trip at the Whole Enchilada, we headed back to Monterey, and the group spent the rest of the day visiting Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Day 11: Monterey - Big Sur - San Luis Obispo
Today would be a day for scenic driving, as we made our way through the heart of the Central Coast. We started the drive early, taking the Ridgards out around Lover's Point towards the famous 17-mile Drive. After a leisurely spin through Pebble Beach's breathtaking links and past multimillion dollar mansions, we stopped in Carmel for breakfast.

From Carmel, it was south, through the winding 90 mile scenic road through Big Sur. While we aimed to make decent time, we did stop for several photo ops, and I introduced them to an easy trail with a big payoff at the McWay Waterfall in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

We arrived in San Simeon in plenty of time for the family's afternoon tour, and took advantage of the extra time to see the early arrivals for the summer molt at the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery. Hearst Castle proved to be its usual impressive self, particularly with Simon and Chloe.

Finally, we headed towards San Luis Obispo, where the family stayed at a Central Coast icon, the Madonna Inn.

Day 12: San Luis Obispo - Santa Barbara - Anaheim
Disneyland was now a clear blip on the kids' radar, and we made a decision to make good time to Anaheim, so that the family could check in to their park accommodations in time to start enjoying the parks. We did manage to work in a stop at Venice Beach, where I had convinced the kids that they would enjoy the street performers and Muscle Beach. Thankfully, I was a good judge of their interests by this point, and they thoroughly enjoyed not only the stop, but the cheeseburgers they scored at one of the local vendors. Simon also seemed to be impressed with California swimwear fashion.

Away from the scenic byways of the Central Coast and mountains, took the quickest freeway route to Disneyland, where we would part ways with the Ridgards, as they spent the remainder of their trip enjoying the Disneyland Resort, eventually flying home to Ireland out of Los Angeles.


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