Smoke Escape: Where To Go For Better Air Quality


Disclaimer: All information is accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of writing (8/27/2021). Given the variable nature of land closures and smoke patterns, please make sure to check your resources before committing to a trip! For Truckee area updates check out Visit Truckee and click here for California National Forest updates. Don’t forget to check on COVID-19 restrictions in the area you plan on visiting as well.

As wildfire smoke from both the Dixie Fire and the Caldor Fire continues to envelop the Lake Tahoe area, a lot of folks have been wondering where to go to escape the smoke. Here are a few destinations within a day’s drive where you can go that have, thus far, been relatively smoke-free and better suited for outdoor activities! 

Yosemite National Park

Smoke Escape Yosemite

Yes, you read that right. Yosemite is a great place to escape to currently. Higher elevations have been relatively smoke-free, and there is spectacular scenery and hiking to be had in the Tuolumne Meadows area.

If you want to hike to a beautiful alpine lake, check out the hike to Cathedral Lake. The trail climbs 1500 feet over the course of 9 miles (total roundtrip distance). Make sure to leave time to visit both Upper and Lower Cathedral Lake and pack a picnic lunch to enjoy while soaking in the views of Cathedral Peak!

For a gentler riverside ramble, try hiking the John Muir trail into Lyell Canyon. Hike as far as you wish, and then find yourself a small pool to relax next to and enjoy your trail snack!

There are multiple campgrounds at the bottom of Tioga Pass Road, including the first-come-first-serve Aspen Campground (arrive early to snag a site!).

Do remember that Yosemite does require reservations through the end of September this year! Head to www.reservations.gov to book a reservation. One reservation is good for 3 days. Currently, if you are able to make it early in the week, there is still availability, though weekends have been booked up.

Find current Yosemite Conditions/Restrictions here.

Bridgeport, CA

Smoke Escape Virginia Lakes Trail

The Bridgeport area tends to be just a gas and snack stop for Tahoe skiers en-route to Mammoth Lakes, but the area around Bridgeport boasts fantastic hiking, excellent lakes, and the opportunity to grab some food in town at the end of the day!

If you’re looking for a big day of adventure, a fantastic hike to check out is climbing Matterhorn Peak out of Twin Lakes. From Bridgeport, the Sawtooth Ridge dominates the western skyline, and Matterhorn Peak crowns this area. To climb all the way to the summit involves over 12 miles round-trip, over 5000 feet of elevation gain, and some scrambling towards the top! As this trail is less frequently used, make sure to bring a map and be comfortable navigating.

For the less adventurous who still want to get into the higher Sierra, few options beat Virginia Lakes. The Virginia Lakes trail winds through stands of forests, cruises past meadows, and makes frequent stops at the variety of lakes in this basin. Frog Lake is about 1.5 miles from the parking lot with only 500 feet of elevation gain, making this a great spot to stop and relax. Beyond this point, the trail begins to climb to the Sierra Crest and beyond. The best part? The trailhead is already at 9800 feet, giving you that high alpine feel without having to climb all the way by yourself.

Camping opportunities abound in the area. Trumbull Lake Campground is located directly in the Virginia Lakes basin and has first-come-first-serve availability.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Smoke Escape Tomales Point Trail

When the mountains are smokey, there’s no better escape than going to the beach! Not only has the coast been less smokey than inland, but it’s also a completely different landscape.

One of my favorite hikes in the area is Tomales Point Trail, which is approximately 10 miles out and back at the northern end of Point Reyes. Enjoy the rolling trail, which is more of a double-track for most of the length, and take in vast views of the ocean and Tomales Bay. Make sure to stop on your drive (I like Petaluma Market in Petaluma) to bring along some fine local cheeses (maybe even a bottle of wine?) to sample while taking in the salty air!

Camping is less prevalent in the area, though I’ve had good luck booking sites at Lawson’s Landing in Dillon Beach, a cute seaside town at the mouth of Tomales Bay. Though the sites aren’t secluded, camping by the ocean is always a fantastic treat!

Regardless of where you go, make sure to check the air quality before you head out. Two great resources are the EPA Fire and Smoke Map, as well as GOES Satellite Imagery.

And remember, before you head out, stop by Tahoe Mountain Sports to grab any last-minute gear you might need! Our Summer Sale is going now through September 13th, 2021. We still have plenty of summer gear available, including rentals!

Leave a Comment