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DL BLISS STATE PARK - Hiking the Rubicon Trail
This peaceful trail is located about 10 miles north of South Lake Tahoe, California. The trailhead begins in the DL Bliss State Park on one end and at the Vikingsholm Castle on the other end. It is approximately 4.5 miles each way.
If you have ever visited the Lake Tahoe area, you already know that the commercial views of Lake Tahoe are cramped, noisy, well-lit and dotted with casinos (Nevada side). This trail is not far from the night life in miles, but light years away in attitude and natural beauty.
Usually rated a beginner or moderate trail, I would have to give the trail at least an advanced beginner rating. This is mostly due to the fact that the trail alternates between long periods of walking downhill and long, long periods of walking uphill. You should be very acquainted with walking long distances before you try to take the entire round-trip trail. The trail itself is well marked, mostly wide and flat. There are several places where you will need to climb a small pile of rocks, or duck under a rocky overhang. Quite a bit of the trail meanders through a woodland area - birds, butterflies and wildflowers are a real pleasure here. Of course, the absolute best parts of the trail are the many, many varied views of the captivatingly blue Lake Tahoe and the lakes surrounding mountains. Much of the trail runs along the shore of Lake Tahoe, either a hundred or more feet above and looking down a rocky side, or dipping down to the coves along the lake, where you can actually swim. wade or picnic in relative privacy.
At the end of the trail, Vikingsholm Castle is a real treat to visit and offers a chance to rest up a bit before returning to the trailhead. Modeled after a Scandinavian castle, it was built in 1929 by Mrs. Lora Josephine Moore Knight. It is built almost exclusively of stone and other materials from the Lake Tahoe area. It is filled with antiques and replicas of antiques that Mrs. Knight had commissioned. A fascinating attraction is the estates tea house that was built on Fanette Island. Mrs. Knight had a boatman that took her and her guests out to the island for their tea.
Also at the Vikingsholm Castle area are picnic tables and a beach for an even more refreshing break before your return hike. During high summer season, we have found the beach to be a bit crowded, as is the Vikingsholm Castle area in general. Also during the high summer season, late morning parking is almost impossible to find in the Vikingsholm parking lot
In the mornings and during the off season of late spring and early fall, this trail is fairly private. During high season, you will usually encounter a dozen or so other hikers. We took our six year old and our nine year old boys on the trail with us. They loved the trail, the rocks, and the small coves for swimming. I had to make a few requests that they not climb out so far on some of the rocky cliffs, but found the trail fairly safe for them in most respects. I would not be comfortable on the trail with an infant or with a child who is not yet sure-footed. We did not take our four-year-old on the trail for this reason.
Be sure to take a light jacket or long sleeved shirt if you are hiking in the early morning. Always be sure to take a bottle of drinking water. Since the trail is in a mountainous area, you can expect some temperature changes, especially from early morning to early afternoon. In the summer, the trail really heats up during the afternoon
The trail (and Vikingsholm) will be closed during the winter snows. And since the trail is mountainous, always be sure to ask the park ranger at the parks entrance if there are any special precautions for the trail. Sometimes an area is soggy from recent rain or snow melting, or there is a bit of rerouting due to bird nesting or other natural occurrences.
Specific directions: Take Highway 89 north 10 miles from South Lake Tahoe (California side) to D.L. Bliss State Park. There is a day use fee to pay at the gate ($5.00 per vehicle, if memory serves me correctly). Ask the ranger for a map of the trail and also for any precautions for the trail. Drive all the way to the northeast end of the park and park along the beach area for the trailhead. Vikingsholm also has a tour fee: $2.00 for adults, $1.00 for children aged 6-17.
Contact: D.L. Bliss State Park Hwy 89 West Shore Lake Tahoe, Tahoma, CA 96142 (916) 525-7277
Potato Creek State Park is located in North Liberty, Indiana
We included this state park in our review because it has a rare, hidden jewel: a simply exquisite bike trail. The trail is short - about 3.2 miles each way - but such a pleasure that my family bikes the trail several times during our camping trips at Potato Creek. The trail does have a couple of slightly steep hills with sharp curves at the bottom. The entire trail is paved and in mostly good condition. Use caution (and insist on bike helmets) for the younger kids. Our four year old did bike the trail with training wheels, but he did wipe out once and he did greatly accelerate my heart rate several other times.
The trail starts near the beach house at Worster Lake. From there it meanders through wooded areas, past wetland areas, crosses Potato Creek and fizzles out on one of the park's inner roads. But what a ride! Even when the park is at full capacity, the trail is not overused. The wetlands are some of the most peaceful and pretty that I have seen. There are a couple of dramatic stretches alongside the lake. We even stopped once to watch a deer alongside the trail.
The camp grounds at Potato Creek are nicely maintained, but mostly just large, flat grasslands (some have concrete slips) with little or no privacy. The park does fill up frequently, which leads to a feeling of tent-and-camper sardines. There are a few more private camping lots, so you may want to drive around the park and choose a spot before having your lot assigned.
For more information: Potato Creek State Park 25601 SR #4 North Liberty IN 46554 (219) 656-8186
National Parks and Conservation website - Click here to visit
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