Take a two-hour drive and find yourself surrounded by the forest, in the mountains or gazing at a pristine mountain lake. If camping, leave your tent at home. You won’t need it, but you’ll still be there, knocking on the forest door. There are fantastic places to stay while enjoying the natural world right outside your cozy cabin or lodge room. Roughing it doesn’t have to be rough. Why bother with mosquitoes and ants when you don’t have to?
14255 Highway 88
Hope Valley, CA 96120
Sorensen’s sits across from the West Fork of the Carson River on Highway 88, tucked into a stunning stand of aspens. John and Patti Brisenden keep guests comfortable and well informed about activities and possibilities in the Hope Valley corridor. Hiking in spring, summer and fall and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter are literally right outside your cabin door. Put your pack on and head out into Hope Valley for a day of gentle exploration, or take off to the Big Meadow trail head on Highway 89 and put some more serious trekking under your boots. There’s a great hike up the mountain behind Sorensen’s that offers stunning views of the valley. Hit the trails as hard as you want and fly fish in the river or at Blue Lakes. The end-of-the-day payoff is back at your cabin with a hot shower, your own kitchen for a hearty repast or a meal in the lodge. Put your feet up and relax while looking at the map for tomorrow’s adventure. A few of the cabins, all stunners, are dog friendly, an added plus if Fido is an outdoor type like you.
17510 U.S. Highway 50
Kyburz, CA 95720
Located just off U.S. Highway 50, this historic lodge is nestled against the American River, not far from where it originates. Once a Pony Express stop, the lodge has the river in its backyard. Rooms are hotel style and provide a comfortable and charming place to spend the night after your day of exploring the area. Rock climbers will enjoy Lover’s Leap. Hikers can head just up the road to the Horsetail Falls trail head or make their way up to Pyramid Peak. Echo Summit and Echo Lakes are a few minutes away. The El Dorado National Forest and Desolation Wilderness may entice you to a great hike from here. Work up a good layer of trail dust, then come back to your room, clean up, have dinner in the lodge or go up to Tahoe for a meal. You will be happy with a comfortable bed, warm room and a fluffy pillow under your head instead of a rock.
Related: A Sacramento Rock Climbers Guide
Camp Richardson Resort
1900 Jameson Beach Road
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96158
With Lake Tahoe within a shout, Camp Rich, as it’s called by locals and returning guests, offers both hotel and cabin accommodations. Since about 1926, this historic Lake Tahoe resort has been the jumping-off spot for all kinds of adventures in the Lake Tahoe basin. The hotel rooms are very nicely appointed and very, very comfortable. The cabins that are spread out around the property have their own kitchens and are simply wonderful to stay in. Waking up in your cozy cabin or hotel room and gazing out onto an early morning Lake Tahoe view is always good. Hiking along the shore of the lake and enjoying the beauty of mountains is a must do. From here, the Mt. Tallac trail head is just a short drive away. It’s a strenuous but extremely rewarding hike. Branch out to many other trails in the area, perhaps Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake, or climb the 90-foot wall at Eagle Falls. When you’re about out of energy, instead of hoping you can start a fire at your campsite, relax in your cabin after sprucing up. Cook your own meals or head to one of the great restaurants close by. You’ll be surrounded by the El Dorado National Forest, without the mosquitoes and assorted other bugs that really like to find you in your tent.
Clair Tappaan Lodge
19940 Donner Pass Road
Norden, CA 95724
This venerable Sierra Club lodge has been enjoyed by families looking for outdoor fun since it was built by Sierra Club volunteers in the 1930s. It’s at Donner Summit, at 7,000 feet, surrounded by the forests that you likely will be hiking, trekking and exploring. Billed as its flagship lodge, it is a very family friendly place. Meals are family style with everyone pitching in. Spend the day on the Pacific Crest trail or making your way to a forest meadow or lake. While it’s not really camping, guests here are responsible for their own toiletries, towels and a bathing suit if you head to the hot tub. To make it more camp like, guests also have to bring their own sleeping bag or other gear for the bed. Just like camp, without the camping, it’s communal style here, and everyone has to do a small daily chore to keep everything in order. Sierra Club members get a discount on the already low rates.
Kit Carson Lodge
32161 Kit Carson Road
Kit Carson, CA 95644
Just off Highway 88, Kit Carson rests on the shores of Silver Lake. The rustic but elegant cabins have their own kitchens and decks. The lodge is a great place to relax and check out the art work that graces the walls. Silver Lake will call to you for kayaking, fishing or swimming. Exploring the shore of this Sierra lake will take all day. The trail head to Thunder Mountain is a short drive from here. Hike this trail, which is steep in places, for amazing views of Silver Lake and Lake Tahoe. Once you get up to the ridge, you’ll find yourself looking down on Kirkwood Mountain Ski Resort on one side and Silver Lake on the other. Also at Silver Lake, take the trail up to Hidden Lake and Granite Lake. Shealor Lake, Margaret Lake and too many hikes to list here are all within a very short distance from the lodge. Fill your days with wilderness adventures and your nights with comfort, gazing at the star canopy from the deck of your cabin. Listen to the forest settle down for the night, tucked into your comfy bed, safely away from the mosquitoes and crawly things that live outside.
Charles Ferris is a freelance writer who has lived in the Sierra, halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, for the last 37 years. In 2010 he retired from teaching after 36 years . He and his wife hike, kayak, cross country ski, snow shoe, ride mountain bikes and road bikes, year round. His work can be found at Examiner.com.