Educational and Fun Family Vacations

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Travel trends point to a sharp curve toward wellness and rejuvenation vacations that lend activities that bend both mind and body. Adventures in the great outdoors are top of the list, as is taking to new forms of fitness including off-road biking to tap into a higher power.
Mendocino County in northern California is a biker’s paradise. From Ukiah to Willits the vast network of trails is nothing short of stunning. The groundwork is immense: a tapestry of 24 state and national parks, hundreds of dedicated trails and some of the sweetest turf known to both traditional and E-bike riders. If you’re packing the wheels, many trails are just outside of key destinations providing an easy day adventure, while others connect to the true outback, lending credence to the term “off-grid.” Add a dose of wildlife, relics from the logging days and a top-shelf trail maintenance team and a vacation atop two wheels just picked up speed.
For a seaside escape
Mendocino Headlands State Park – courtesy of visitmendocino.com
For a day-long dreamboat ride, take the tribe and head inland from the Pacific to Mendocino Headlands State Park, offering seven trails skirting the placid Big River. Within the Headland’s boundaries, Big River State Park steps up with a moderate day ride via the 29-mile Big River Loop. The route includes 45 trails with an elevation climb of 3,126-ft., and offers a variety of single- and doubletrack options as well as old logging roads that flow with the river. Gentle hills, an abandoned quarry and a small gulch with wood ducks and blue herons set the stage. If you turn left at the fork, take advantage of Lily’s swimming hole for a dip; the loop is approximately six hours at a moderate pace.
Where to stay: For the ultimate escape by the sea, you can pop out to the Pacific to The Stanford Inn by the Sea, a 41-room retreat set on 10-acres overlooking Mendocino Bay. Rustic and rejuvenating, this inn offers a variety of wellness programs as well as the popular plant-based Ravens Restaurant. Next door, you can rent bikes at Catch-A-Canoe with the added plus of a direct hit to the Big River Trail. For novice bikers
The Old West Inn – courtesy of visitmendocino.com
If an inland adventure is on the bucket list, along Highway 101, Willits is home to 30 dynamic trails, largely rated beginner to moderate. Novices can get a taste for the sport via a network of flat trails in the Brookline Greenbelt. The short yet sweet singletrack Jurassic or Anchorage trails can be expanded via longer connectors. Another option is the up and down, soft and flowy Swoop Logg singletrack with a slight downhill slope and optional log ride; check the Swoop Loggy Logg signage at the entrance. You can easily tie in additional routes including Miss Gnomer, a 3,274 ft., popular singletrack downhill delivering a quick five-minute thrill.
Where to stay: Pack the boots and cowboy hat and high tail it to Willits and the 22-room Old West Inn, complete with themed rooms and a Tesla charging station. You can also belly up for a bountiful $5 breakfast at the Lumberjack Restaurant, offering plenty of local color.For elevated rides
Sporting 11 trails of varying ability, Mendocino National Forest is the stop if you want to test drive capability. Go big or go home via the 167-mile Mendocino Backcountry Discovery Trail, which stretches north east of Covelo. Here, the 21,921-ft., climb is certain to max the muscles with an aggressive peak out at 6,443 elevation.
Another option if your team has a need for speed is the shred-friendly Upper Powderhouse Trail just outside of Ukiah. Here, natural hips and berms set up a nice descent down a loose and steep trail dropping 7,000-ft. Although rated very difficult/black diamond, if you take the trail slow it turns into a moderate ride with exceptional views of the Ukiah valley and resident wildlife. A network of novice trails also exist including the Deer Valley trail which runs 4-miles with a green/easy rating on a moderate track with a modest 1,341-ft., climb. For shuttle pick-up and drop-off, the singletrack 1.5-mile Rice-a-Roni trail delivers a downhill thrill with an 802-ft., descent.
Where to stay: High tail it to the Redwoods River Resort in Laytonville, with a throwback A-frame lodge, cozy cabins and tent sites. Tucked deep in the sprawling redwoods along the Eel River, this is your stop for true California, as well as pulling up a barstool at the ever-buzzing Harrison’s Pub where you can join the party for Big Foot on a nightly basis.For treks through the Redwoods
Jackson State Forest – courtesy of visitmendocino.com
Another top redwood romp lies in Jackson State Demonstration Forest, which offers 77 trails mostly carved for easy to moderate riders. This is big country, with 50,000 acres of woodland land and the majority of singletrack routes in Mendocino are found, linking some 80- and 100-miles of trails through pristine redwood, fir and pine forests. Built in the 1930s by the California Conservation Corps, the Boiler Trail is a moderate jaunt you can easily enjoy both ways, with a mild 154-ft., climb. Along the way, you’ll catch an antique boiler left behind from the logging era. The Condor, Blue Gum and Gunslinger trails are all solid start-ups leading to the only black diamond in the park – Jim’s Trail – a short fuse 700-ft., rapid descent with deep ruts, roots, steep sections and series of jagged turns requiring expert ability. Biker beware; wear a bell.
Just a few miles east of the village of Mendocino within Jackson Forest, 11 expertly carved Mendocino Woodland Trails are the region’s crown jewels. Here, you can tap into the moderate 4.2-mile Manly Gulch Trail for a two-hour stint out and back traversing tan oak, madrone, douglas fir and ancient redwood groves. The singletracks interconnect for miles, winding through breathtaking forest backdrops. A few technical sections are peppered throughout in addition to mini bridges, spurs and meandering creeks. Sidenote: No dust factor.
Where to stay: The Water Tower at the JD House offers a contemporary spin on a ship captain’s home with a fresh, sleek design and understated elegance. Set on a side street in the village of Mendocino with plenty of space for gear, the 1870s tower features an oversized bath, wood-burning fireplace, flat-screen television and iPad docking station surrounded by fragrant English gardens. For wine country wildernessLake Mendocino – courtesy of visitmendocino.com
If the great outdoors is calling you, head to where redwood forests meet wine country: Lake Mendocino. The 700-acre wilderness area boasts 15 miles of biking trails and – if alfresco lodging is on the roster – 300 campsites. Just east of Ukiah, this region features 19 designated trails including the 17-mile Mendocino Lake Loop and popular 2.9-mile singletrack Shakota Trail that runs along the northside of the lake. This is big country with wide open spaces and spectacular views, wildlife is abundant and the chances of catching a natural high – 100 percent. The popular Manzanita Trail, which runs from the south end of the dam to the Eastside Trail is a 3.2-mile rollercoaster, pumping up and down the hillside along the lake.
Where to stay: The Kyen Campground offers a variety of spots with great facilities (flush toilets, showers) and select grills, on a first come basis. Your site is surrounded by groves of oak, manzanita and pine and sits just off the lake for boating or fishing for bass and bluegill.

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