Venture west to beat the heat |

Venture west to beat the heat

Now that the mercury in the thermometer is beginning to rise, it’s a perfect time to load up the wagon and head out west. No, I’m not talking about Manifest Destiny or the Gold Rush, I’m talking about the pleasantly cool and refreshing northern coast.

Kickoff the summer season by hiking and biking scenic trails with an ocean breeze. Wander amongst the redwoods feeling like an ant in the shadows of giants without all the tourists of a Lake Tahoe-Yosemite-esque destination.

As a student of geography, I was constantly reminded by professors, “75 percent of California’s population lives in the southern portion of the state,” so why not take advantage of it and venture a bit further in the opposite direction?

Follow Highway 20 west out of Grass Valley and a few hours later you’ll notice the thermostat inside your car change from 95 degrees to a brisk 62. You’ll pass through Marysville-Yuba City, catch I-5 north and link back up with Highway 20 as you meander through the southern edge of the Mendocino National Forest leaving Clear Lake in your rear view mirror.

You’ll convince yourself a dinosaur could be lurking around the corner.

After taking Highway 101 north you’ll reconnect with Highway 20 one last time in Willits and venture to its majestic end in Fort Bragg on the rugged coastline.

Where will you unload your wagon? Well, if you’re the camping type, you’ll find MacKerricher State Park will more than suffice. The park offers campsites with and without hookups, as well as flush restroom facilities and hot showers. Of course, you can always cool off in the Pacific blue without inserting any quarters. For those who don’t care so much for camping, the town offers plenty of amenities.

I’ve always made an effort to make a trip out there at least once a year, if not for the cooler temperatures, then for the recreation. MacKerricher is unique in that it offers boardwalks along the coastal bluffs and another which goes around a fresh water lake lagoon bursting with nature’s beauty.

You can kayak or fish the lake if you choose, but just walking around it will make you forget about all the work you have waiting for you back at home. There’s also a paved trail which extends approximately five miles along the ocean perfect for pedaling into town.

Once you’re there you can catch a ride on the world renown Skunk Train, sift through the sand on Glass Beach or enjoy a tasty beverage and some garlic waffle fries at North Coast Brewery. I recommend Ole No. 38 Stout.

For those who really want a workout and are willing to go even further head north on Highway 1, approximately 12 miles outside Fort Bragg you’ll come to Pacific Star Winery. There’s a taproom in town, but the winery itself is by far the better option. You’ll agree as you sit high up on the bluff looking down on to a historic earthquake fault.

For those who elect to bring their golf clubs, I suggest Little River Golf Course just south of Fort Bragg and Mendocino. The 5,548-yard course is nestled among redwoods and pines to offer a challenging round, but it’s just another great way to combine sports, nature and leisure all into one.

If you still aren’t with me on this heading-west idea, then maybe you just need an even more pristine destination. If you have the time and you’re in good company, keep heading north until you reach Gold Bluff Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which is home to one of nature’s best kept secrets, Fern Canyon.

The canyon was actually used to film scenes from Jurassic Park and as you walk through with your neck tilted skyward up at the ivy-covered walls, you’ll convince yourself a dinosaur could be lurking around the corner. It’s also a great place to bring your mountain bike for the beachfront trails. The redwoods literally hug the coast and if you’re so lucky you may just run into some Roosevelt Elk.

Yes, we have them here in California and they’re quite intimidating up close. After teaching outdoor education during the rut season in Estes Park, Colo., I have developed a deep appreciation for these creatures.

Just inland of Fern Canyon and Gold Bluff Beach are the world’s tallest trees. Of course, there even more trailheads for hiking or playing the most epic game of hide-and-seek you can ever fathom. While I don’t recommend getting lost, a spontaneous detour is always nice. At least that’s what I tell people when I have no idea where I am.

So the choice is up to you. Will you stay in Grass Valley this summer or will you head out west and chase the sunset to the horizon?

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To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, call 530-477-4234 or email

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