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Christmas trip to Gold Country: Q on distances & day trip to Lake Tahoe

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Dec 16th, 2012, 03:10 PM
  #1
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Christmas trip to Gold Country: Q on distances & day trip to Lake Tahoe

I'm trying to plan a trip with my elderly (but mobile) father from 23-26 December in the Gold Country. We will be driving out from SF. I could use some advice on what's realistic and advisable as far as covering distances and handling weather conditions in a rental car.

I am thinking of staying somewhere like Folsom (just east of Sacramento) or Auburn. That's because we prefer something more like a full-service hotel than a B&B, and because if the weather is bad I'd like to preserve the option of us going easily to the movies.

If we stay in Auburn, is it realistic to:
- spend a day driving down Route 49 to Columbia and back (question is about distance)?
- spend a day driving over to Lake Tahoe on Route 50, and either take the drive around it or just go someplace pretty on the shore (question is about distance and weather and crowding over Christmas holidays)?

I've checked http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov/ , California's online guide to road conditions. Nothing there shows chains required or bad weather on any of the roads in question -- now. But I don't have a sense of whether that's more likely than not to persist.

Any recommendations welcome.
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Dec 16th, 2012, 03:46 PM
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Folsom is on the Gold Country side of Sacto - close to Placerville - as well as next to hiway 50 - which the way to South Shore Tahoe, Heaveny Valley Ski Area, the casinos, etc.

Auburn is on 80 - on the way to North Shore, Squaw Valley Ski area - and a couple casinos at Stateline.

Folsom has a very cuteVictorian era downtown area - as does Auburn. From Auburn over to Folsom - going the "back" way - is probably 20 plus minutes.

From Folsom to the start of Gold Country - is probably 30? minutes? And to South Shore - assuming the roads are clear - an hour and a half to two hours, depending on how you drive, etc, about the same driving time as going from Auburn to the North Shore. (Assuming you aren't caught in traffic heading to Tahoe - Friday afternoons, etc - and ask the locals about that).
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Dec 16th, 2012, 03:49 PM
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As far as chain controls - if it snows - they slap on the controls pretty quickly - on the way to Tahoe anyway. Gold country is lower altitude - and probably doesn't get as much snow?/chain controls - but haven't really driven there in the winter.

The only way around that sometimes is to rent a 4 wheel drive - which is more expensive.

You will just have to check the weather conditions when you arrive.
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Dec 16th, 2012, 05:40 PM
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Driving from Auburn to Columbia and back for a day trip would be doable, but a very looooong day and not enjoyable. If you base in Auburn, it would make more sense to take in Navada City and Grass Valley. If you base in Folsom, you could get to Placerville or down to Sutter Creek easily. I would just see what the weather does before heading to Tahoe. If it snows, chain control will be in effect on both 50 and I 80. Not sure if chains are allowed on rental cars. You would need to check this before heading out.

Since most people will take Monday off, traffic should not be too bad on Sunday, 12/23.
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Dec 16th, 2012, 07:08 PM
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Thanks. I've booked us in at the Holiday Inn in Auburn. Any comparisons of scenery and interest in heading north (up toward Nevada City) versus south (down toward Sutter Creek)?

I'm not going to try to deal with driving anywhere that would require chains (and I think many rental car contracts disallow chains anyhow), so if roads are snowy, we'll just avoid them. Assuming no snow, what would make a nice Tahoe day trip from Auburn? 50 or I-80 (which one?) over to the lake, and then a circuit, or is that too ambitious?
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Dec 16th, 2012, 07:29 PM
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"Assuming no snow, what would make a nice Tahoe day trip from Auburn? 50 or I-80 (which one?) over to the lake, and then a circuit, or is that too ambitious?"

You could VERY easily drive up 80 to Truckee or (via I-80 and 89) Tahoe City, around the west side of the Lake and back on hwy 50 in one day. But ONLY if the pavement is dry and there are no hints of rain or snow. Conditions can change in a flash. Back in October I drove up to Northshore/Incline Village - when I left Sacramento it was 64F at lake level - that night it snowed and I-80 was closed - total white out conditions. I was 'stuck' at Tahoe for 4 days. There are worse places to be stuck for 4 days but probably not what you have in mind.

And the reason I said - only if the pavement is dry - black ice can be a problem even if it isn't snowing.

(BTW -there is no place called 'Stateline' at North Shore)
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Dec 16th, 2012, 07:54 PM
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It will be very, very crowded at Tahoe at Christmas. The road around the lake is only two lanes, and very winding, so the traffic will be very slow. Going all the way south to highway 50 would take too long. I would confine my trip to the North Shore, with a nice meal, perhaps in Tahoe City at Wolfdale's (expensive but delicious, a comfortable dining room). You could also drive into Squaw Valley on the way from 80 just for a look around. This trip would be subject to the weather, of course.

Grass Valley and Nevada City are nice small towns nestled in hilly country, both Gold Rush towns. The Empire Mine is there, although it might be closed that weekend ( check first).
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Dec 17th, 2012, 12:48 AM
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Driving into Squaw Valley is very pretty, and you could even have lunch there looking up the mountain.

But as noted - if it looks like it might snow - they will slap chain controls on very quickly - especially at the higher passes.
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Dec 17th, 2012, 04:22 AM
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Is there a resource you trust for on-the-go weather forecasts of snow, etc.? I'm thinking radio station, website, something that I can check before we set out for Tahoe and while we're en route.

Tomsd, do they put on chain controls even when it just looks like it might snow out there (i.e., before there's snow on the ground)?
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Dec 17th, 2012, 06:41 AM
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There are some radio stations in the area that have up to date weather/forecasts - which other members can provide.

Just checked the WeatherChannel.com - and their 10 day forecast had snow possible through the 24th - but it might be clear for a few days after that? Just a "prediction" though.

You never know really for sure - until you get there - and from my experience - they do not put the chain controls on ahead of time, but if the snow starts sticking - they go on pretty fast after that. Hey - the "chain monkeys" have to make their Christmas spending money, eh?

If it was clear - you could drive up - and then while driving around the North Shore - carefully monitor the radio stations to see if anything is blowing in.

If it looked like it was going to stay clear - you could consider driving around the beautiful lake and back down 50 from South Shore, depending on traffic, etc.
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Dec 17th, 2012, 08:21 AM
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You could check Cal Trans or KFBK 1530 websites.
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Dec 17th, 2012, 11:47 AM
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tahl: "Tomsd, do they put on chain controls even when it just looks like it might snow out there (i.e., before there's snow on the ground)?"

I'm not tom but since I actually I live in the area . . . Chain controls are only implemented when dangerous road conditions have been reached. What they do sometimes do before chains are required, is stop vehicles (mainly big rigs but occasionally others) and screen them to make sure they are carrying chains.

Since down here in the valley they are predicting rain off and on for the next week, the chance of snow is pretty high.

As MichelleY says (She actually lives in the area too) KFBK 1530 will have the most frequent road condition reports.

And CalTrans hwy info number that is continuously updated is 1-800-427-7623

Right now chains are required on both 80 and 50

(BTW - re the suggestion that a 4wd would solve the problem - When there are chain controls the requirement is that 4wd vehicles must have snow tires - and one rented in the valley won't)
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Dec 17th, 2012, 12:02 PM
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Let's see if I understand this: If it's clear - they are still going to check autos for chains?
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Dec 17th, 2012, 12:06 PM
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BTW - the weather report - 10 day - predicted clearing starting about the 24th (10% chance of snow/precip) and 0% on the 25th and 26th, yet you will only know for sure when those days arrive.
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Dec 19th, 2012, 04:32 PM
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Just checked the 10 day weather report for Lake Tahoe - and the 24th looks clear, but again, you have to check the day you might want to try and drive up from the Sacto area.

http://www.weather.com/weather/tenda...oe+CA+USCA0584
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Dec 19th, 2012, 04:34 PM
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Actually - think it was clear on the 25th/Christmas Day - but again - that's just a prediction and you have to check to see what - if any - clear day there may be while you are visiting.
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Dec 20th, 2012, 05:28 AM
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I will definitely check the weather actually on the day if we're thinking of a road trip toward Tahoe. Don't want to be caught unawares!
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Dec 20th, 2012, 07:29 AM
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If you hear that there are chain restrictions on I-80, you can take the Amtrak CA Zephyr from either Sacramento or Emeryville to Colfax CA. The Zephyr leaves SAC shortly after 11AM.
The trip over the Sierras is fantastic. You could also take the train all the way to Reno and rent a car there.
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Dec 20th, 2012, 08:28 AM
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Actually - I would check the weather daily - and if you have a clear day - go for it while you can.

The train could also be fun - and maybe in Reno - they have 4 wheel drives with snowtires - if needed.
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Dec 20th, 2012, 09:35 AM
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I recently purchased new tires for my 4 WD and told the tire guy that I needed Mud & Snow rated tires. He says only the very lamest (not his words) would not be rated for Mud & Snow since nearly all tires now are. So most of you will see on the wall of your tire M&S.


Since your focus seems to be Columbia/Gold Country and Tahoe via 50 you should re-think staying in Folsom. There are so many places that are nice just off Scott Road which would give you really quick freeway access to drive up to Tahoe or to catch 49 south. Assume you would not drive 49 between Auburn & Placerville as that road can be snowy around Foresthill and higher.

My mom lives in Auburn s I am familiar with the Holiday Inn you mention. Good news - it's right next to In & Out burger. Anyway it's easy on and off the freeway, close to the old town area but Auburn can be congested at times. Ughnot that Folsom isn't don't get me wrong.
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