Trails and Ales in Northern California

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These five breweries have just what you’re looking for after a long hike.

California is a hikers’ and beer-lovers’ paradise with mountains and hills a’ plenty and a list of seemingly endless breweries. Especially in the state’s northern reaches, the microbrew scene has exploded in recent years, meaning that for any hike, there’s a beer flavor profile to match: hop-forward, West Coast styles, those with a crisper edge, or bold and heavy.

These NorCal parks and hikes will get you fresh air, exercise, and have you back at the bottom, with a beer in your hand, by sunset.

North Coast Brewing Company: Fort Bragg

A quaint, coastal town, located about three hours north of San Francisco, Fort Bragg is home to North Coast Brewing Company, known for their more classic styles of beer. Operating since 1988, they’ve been part of the craft beer scene for decades and have earned a handful of awards. At least 12 of the awards are for Old Rasputin, a saucy imperial stout that packs a punch. Another: The old-timey Acme Beer is a middle of the road but popular pale ale.

[Russian Gulch State Park] Russian Gulch Stat Park was named after Russian immigrants who first explored the area in 1812. One of the most classic hikes in the park? The 6.5 miles of fern-laden trail that make up the Russian Gulch Loop. You’ll spot a 36-foot-tall waterfall and lush redwoods on the trail. The first mile or so seems repetitive but as soon as you gain a bit of elevation, the forest starts to turn from fervent ferns to revered redwoods.

Russian Gulch State Park | Photo: Carlos Eliason

[MacKerricher State Park] Perfect for those after a more relaxing walk on the beach, MacKerricher State Park has sand for days. Those looking for a bigger challenge can always trek up its many sand dunes. The Haul Road Coastal Trail offers nearly seven miles of views both toward the Pacific Ocean and otherworldly dunes toward land.

Cold Water Brewery: Lake Tahoe

With icy cold, cerulean blue waters, Lake Tahoe is a natural wonder and state gem. Cold Water Brewery sits in the adjacent South Lake Tahoe and offers typical pub fare alongside a solid smattering of meatier brews, many of them strong, such at the nearly eight-percent Tahoe Cross IPA, or 6.2-percent Stillwater Stout.

[Mt. Tallac] The nearby Desolation Wilderness Area is home to a nearly infinite number of hikes. If you’re looking for some glorious altitude, the Mt. Tallac Trail leads to one of the most scenic peaks around, with heart-pounding climbs and arguably the best view of the lake. The singletrack leads you up 3,300 feet and totals out at 9.9 miles—enough to challenge even serious weekend hikers.

[Rubicon Trail] This out-and-back trek will appeal to those looking for something a little easier, right at lake level. Though not short at 12.3 miles, the hiking portion of the Rubicon Trail is a walk in the park compared to Tallac, with little elevation gain and constant sights of the lake’s crystal blue waters.

Rubicon Trail | Photo: Carlos Eliason

[TRT: Kingsbury to Big MeadowFreel Peak on the Tahoe Rim Trail offers a more rough-and-tumble hike, complete with far fewer crowds than more popular trails in the area. Because the six miles of singletrack are used less frequently, you’ll encounter loose boulders near the end, making it a good challenge for hikers with more experience.

Knee Deep Brewing Co.: Auburn

California’s Gold Country offers a year-round hiking destination. Low enough to escape the snow, but high enough to pose a friendly challenge, is Auburn, located less than an hour from the state capital. The brewmasters at a favorite local watering hole, Knee Deep Brewing Co., like to concoct the punchier stuff. High alcohol and hoppy IPAs are on the menu, including the Hoptologist Double IPA and the Midnight Hoppyness Imperial Black Rye IPA, both offered year-round.

[Hidden Falls Regional Park] Hidden Falls recently doubled the miles of riparian trails available within the park. Lined with oak and manzanita, this popular destination clears out when the temperatures drop. The Seven Pools Loop is especially remote, as well as nearly anything beyond Canyon View Bridge. Nothing at Hidden Falls will be too challenging, but because the park sprawls over 1,200 acres, you won’t run out of trails to hike.

Hidden Falls Regional Park | Photo: Carlos Eliason

[Quarry Trail Hike] The Quarry Trail, off Highway 49 in Auburn State Recreation Area, follows along the Middle Fork of the American River. It starts out easy, but once the trail opens up into an abandoned quarry (often used by rock climbers) the steeper grade caters best to intermediate hikers. Make sure to veer off the main trail near the top to strut the switchbacks that lead to a lookout over the quarry.

Napa Smith Brewery: Vallejo

Although the Napa Valley is typically known for an abundance of vineyards, Napa Smith Brewery is a refreshing and unique getaway after pounding trails. With beers that trend on the lighter side, away from the popular over-hopped fare, you’ll find pilsners, pale ales, and mellow IPAs here. As a nod to its surroundings, Napa Smith even makes an amber that’s been brewed with crushed grapes, sure to quench your thirst after a day in the backcountry.

[Skyline Wilderness Park] Skyline Wilderness Park might be a bit of a surprise for those not expecting elevation gain in the Valley. Veer immediately for the five-mile-long Skyline Trail, which ascends 1,500 feet in a hurry to sweeping views of the surrounding vineyards.

[Rockville Hills Regional Park] Head down to Rockville Hills, named for the large, boulder-heavy hills that make up this playground for hikers and mountain bikers alike. Go for the Black Oak Trail if you want distance and solitude, and opt for the Tower Trail or Rock Gardens if you’re just in it for the views.

Rockville Hills Regional Park | Photo: Carlos Eliason

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales: Capitola

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales fits right into its funky hometown, Capitola. Small-batch mentality gives way to odd and unique brews with equally fantastical flavors, mostly brewed with Belgian influences. The beers are unforgettable just by name alone: Love’s Armor, a dark Saison, and Maiden Fields, a Berliner Weisse, catch the eye, though their self-described “house microbes” add a bit of mystery to every sip.

[Land of Medicine Buddha] This moderate, roughly six-mile hike (Hiked it? Adopt it here!) starts at a Buddhist temple and resides on land belonging to a Buddhist retreat. Adorned with redwoods, occasional prayer flags, and an impromptu shrine at the end, it might take you two to three hours, depending on how often you stop. No pressure if you’re not Buddhist, but it’s a great trail on which to learn a thing or two about the religion.

This article is part of our Trails and Ales column, where we highlight the best hikes by the best breweries near you.

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