Our typical top destination during the summers is Lake Tahoe, but given the pandemic we've been dealing with this summer, it hasn't felt like a good idea to fight the crowds at the greatest lake in the world. The last time we went to Tahoe was in early March before the country shut down, and trying to be as responsible as possible while still enjoying the outdoors, we took a three-day, two-night trip last month to Graeagle, Calif., which is an hour drive away with a population under 1,000. It's a great little town where many Renoites escape to every now and then. Here is a list of six things you must do on a trip to the Graeagle area.
1. Stay at Nakoma Resort
Nakoma is actually in Clio, Calif., but that's only three miles away from Graeagle. It's an awesome resort that includes a challenging golf course (The Dragon), a high-end rec center called Altitude that includes a huge pool, great fitness center, rock climbing wall, indoor basketball hoop, bar, game room and miniature movie theater setup with more than 200 DVDs free to watch (we picked Finding Nemo). There's also a day spa and the Wigwam Room restaurant, which has insane views from its outside seating plus great food in one of the coolest buildings you'll ever visit (it's a Frank Lloyd Wright design). Yes, the room stay can get pricey (you're looking at $250-plus a night on the weekends), but it's worth it, especially if you get a golf or spa package (you can get unlimited golf starting at $299 a night).
2. The Brewing Lair
I touched on this in a standalone Exploring Our Backyard feature, but The Brewing Lair is a brewery in the middle of the forest that was founded in 2011. Technically, it's in Blairsden, which is 1.5 miles away from Graeagle. But it's an outside 15-barrel brewery that makes five beers (I recommend the $10 flight, which comes with three ounces of all five beers). The brewery is located on a 15-acre plot and includes two ping pong tables, cornhole, a slack line, hula hoops and a 9-hole disc golf course, among other things. There's plenty of seating plus a grassy area to hang out on. The Brewing Lair doesn't serve food (other than kettle corn), but you can bring meat and charcoal to cook on their barbecue pits if you want to eat there. There are a couple of bathrooms and a swag shack, too, but it's worth driving up and having a beer or two while relaxing in the forest.
3. Graeagle Mountain Frostee
Graeagle's most famous eatery might be Graeagle Mountain Frostee, which serves great dessert items but also burgers, chicken strips, BLTs, brisket sandwiches and even seafood. Given the line that formed when we ate there, it has to be a favorite of the locals, but there are plenty of picnic tables to space out on. I recommend the Hawaiian blizzard, which had pineapple, bananas and coconut and was delicious. Graeagle Mountain Frostee is located right next to a driving range (it's not the best driving range I've ever seen) as well as a miniature golf course, so you can get a blizzard and whack some balls if you bring your clubs (the 50-yard marker was designated by a cutout cow). I'll give the chicken strips two thumbs up, too. They were legit.
4. Frazier Falls
Like many on this list, Frazier Falls is not technically in Graeagle. It's closer to Clio, but it's a short drive to a nice view. On Highway 89, you'll turn onto Gold Lake Highway and then to Frazier Falls Road. It's then a 4-mile drive on a one-way road that serves two-way traffic (just take it slow and you'll be fine). That takes you directly to the Frazier Falls trailhead, which is honestly more of a walk than a hike. The whole path is flat and paved and is less than a mile to get to the end where you'll find Frazier Falls, which sits above 6,000 feet and has a waterfall height of 176 feet. The waterfall has glacial origins and trickles out of Frazier Creek down a granite landscape of rocks. The day we went, the creek was pretty dried out, but it was still forming a waterfall. This thing isn't as majestic as Burney Falls, but it was a nice little hike with a solid, although not spectacular on our day, payoff. But if the river is running high, it's a cool view. Frazier Falls is two miles from Gold Lake, so you could make that a two-for-one trip.
5. Mill Pond
On Sunday morning, we wanted to get some breakfast before driving home, so we stopped at the "Graeagle Outpost & Yacht Club" because it said it had outside seating. This is not your typical "Yacht Club." It's basically a shed that serves as a coffee stand, although they serve a decent sized menu that includes great smoothies. The "Yacht Club" aspect is because they rent paddleboards, paddleboats and canoes. With the Yatch Club sitting next to Mill Pond, we rented a paddleboat for 30 minutes and paddled around the "lake." Instead of going home, we put on our swim suits and played in the water for a couple of hours. The beach is pretty rocky, but there's a big grassy area where you can picnic, and the water was refreshing. After I fact, I read Mill Pond is known for having a leech issue, but we were in the water for more than an hour and didn't get sucked on. There was lots of free parking, and we even got lunch from the Yacht Club, which wasn't the kind restaurant we expected but ended up being even better given its location on the water.
6. Lakes Basin Trail
So I've never actually done this one, but the Lakes Basin Trail has been suggested to me by a couple of people, and NSN's Shannon Kelly did an Exploring Our Backyard on it a couple of weeks ago and gave it good reviews. The Lakes Basin Trail hits Long Lake, Big Bear Lake, Little Bear Lake and Cub Lake, so there's plenty of water on the trail. The entire hike is only a 2.3-mile loop, so it's not too long and is relatively mild in terms of elevation change. There's also a horseback riding option on the trail. If you want something a little more strenuous than Frazier Falls that gives you the ability to get in the water, you should opt for the Lakes Basin Trail.
There are a few options for you to pursue on a trip to Graeagle, but I'd stress hitting Nakoma, The Brewing Lair, Graeagle Mountain Frostee and going on at least one hike while on your trip. Yes, it's a small town (or rather a collection of small towns), but there's plenty to do and it's surprisingly close to Reno. Plus, there's nowhere near the same amount of foot traffic as Lake Tahoe.