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Hiking and biking time is now

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It's time to take a hike or ride a bike. Really, it is. School starts around here in early August this year, with the week of August 11th beginning the trek to classrooms for most of the west slope schools. Tahoe schools start a little later, mostly after Labor Day.

That leaves less than a month for anyone with children to get out to the mountains and the high country lakes without having to think of homework or any of the other mass of happenings around the start of the school year.

Once school starts the trips to the mountains or river are relegated to the weekends. Unless of course there's football, soccer, cheerleading, school work or band, then all bets are off.

Take advantage of what's left of the summer break to enjoy some outside time with your family. It's really pretty easy to do in our area, from Sacramento, El Dorado, Alpine, and Placer counties.

Perhaps your little one, or not so little one, is particularly good on a mountain bike. You know that you like to ride, but could use some time to get better. Head to a ski resort. Some of them offer mountain biking over the summer months.

Kirkwood has a weekend program that has 24 trails in their valley. There are an additional 11 trails that are accessed by ski lift, and 11.5 miles of single track. Their bike park has log rides, a pump track, jumps and other goodies for the more adventuresome.

The trails are open to mountain bikers from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. It'll cost you $38 for an adult all day pass, teens are at $38, and children 5 to 12 will ride for $22. You can also rent a bike from Kirkwood.

If you can swing it, stay up there for a few days. Mountain biking isn't the only thing to do up there. Within easy reach are Kirkwood Lake, Caples, and Woods Lake. Some very gentle hikes are right there too.

Northstar has a summer mountain bike program that has an international reputation. It's open 7 days a week through August 10th, and yes, it's a bit far away, but you may find that it is worth the drive.

You and your bikes will ride a gondola up to the trail network, and from there it's just a matter of choosing something that is OK for you. If you don't want to haul your bike, rent one there. The good thing about rentals at the mountain bike parks is that they are generally very good bikes, well maintained, and with enough models that there is bound to be one that fits you.

An all day pass for adults is $50, children, 9-12, $31. You could take advantage of being up around there and stay a day or two. The Truckee area is rich with hiking and history. The town is a good place to explore too.

Homewood offers some pretty nice trails to hike or ride, with the same awesome views you get when skiing. Access to the trails is free. There aren't any lifts to take you and your bike up the mountain, so it's all muscle power here.

Squaw Valley allows mountain bikes on designated trails through the summer too. Getting to High Camp is either by you riding, or by purchasing a gondola ticket.

Important thing to remember is that you'll be riding your bike at altitude, somewhere around 8,000 feet or more at the resorts. If you've never pedaled your trusty mountain bike at that altitude, be prepared. It is massively different than gliding about on skis. It's still fun, but you will know that you're working.

There's a really nice paved bike trail up in the Crystal Basin Recreation area. It's 4.5 miles of beauty in the forest. The altitude here is between 4,860 to 5,160 feet. You'll ride through all the campgrounds on the east side of Union Valley, and just about any kind of bike will work. There is no charge to ride here. It is gorgeous.

Ice House has a dirt trail, 3.1 miles, which runs along the ridge tops around the lake. Mountain bikes are what you'll need. When you are done, the lake is very inviting for a quick cool down.

All of that is in addition to the other mountain bike trails that are all over the mountains and foothills.

Make a reservation and camp at one of the great spots up in the Crystal Basin or in the Tahoe Basin while you're at it. It's a wonderful time to ride and hike.

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