Winter non-snow backpacking in California

1:32 p.m. on February 10, 2013 (EST)
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For those of you here who are familiar with places to backpack in California... you'd think living here I'd know this, but I seem to be striking out.

I'm itching to go backpacking, but it'll be at 4 or 5 months before conditions are suitable in the Sierra.  I'm thinking about where else I could go backpacking that (1) wouldn't involve deep snow, and (2) would be warm enough that there'd still be open water in creeks & lakes.

While the idea of backpacking in full winter gear intrigues me, the fact of the matter is I probably won't get to it.  I occasionally camp in the winter, but so far only in places where I can have a campfire in the long cold evenings, and have a vehicle to carry the firewood & big piles of clothes & gear.  Plus I don't really want to carry an 80 lbs pack so I can bring the required multiple sets of clothing to stay warm in the snow, shovel, heavy winter tent, yadda, yadda, yadda (even my "light" summer pack is in the upper 30's pounds w/food & water).

So I've thought about:

1. Trinity Alps (snow, just like the Sierra, and access roads likely closed)

2. Lost Coast (should have synthetic bag, not down like I have now, because it's so damp) ... and limited trails anyway

3. Yolla Bolly wilderness (very little written about this area but I assume there's snow, and apparently access roads would be closed)

4. Big Sur / Ventana Wilderness (everything I've read about this indicates only the main trails close to the roads are clear ... everything else is reportedly largely overgrown requiring bushwhacking thru chaparral   Articles on the ventanawild site indicate you basically need to plan on getting slathered in poison oak, so you need to figure out how to take off your hiking clothes without touching them, can't touch your shoes, need to bathe in Tecnu, etc).  Beautiful area, but backpacking there sounds more like a punishment than a pleasure.

5. Joshua Tree, Death Valley, etc (~9 hour drive from SF, plus apparently limited trails with water access, so good for day hikes only)

6. Lassen area (lotsa snow) and pushing it distance-wise for a weekend trip

7. Hetch Hetchy area (road closed due to landslide this winter)

I must be overlooking something here.  Any thoughts? :)

I'm looking for areas within reach of San Francisco for 1-3 night trips (meaning no more more than ~4 hours drive each way, tops, though I've been known to stretch that to 5-6+ hrs going to the east side in the summer when its accessible). 

6:53 p.m. on February 10, 2013 (EST)
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What about SEKI - Sequoia/Kings Canyon? I was there a couple of years ago with friends. Unfortunately, can't remember exactly when, but it wasn't summer as I recall. We stayed in the tent cabins near the park headquarters. We weren't backpacking, but there are campgrounds around there for tent camping and lots of day hikes. I think there is some fishing up there as well. Not sure of the rules and season.

http://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/weather.htm

 

7:25 p.m. on February 10, 2013 (EST)
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I have a friend with property near Joshua Tree.  His land is similar to the high part of the park.  When we camp in both of these areas we carry our water, but choose routes with minimal vertical change.  You can carry a bit over three days water supply, resulting in a pack that is only slightly more heavy than a ten day Sierra pack.  Minimize water required by using paper plates and cooking options that require minimal wash up.  The good thing is you can bring fresh food since the fluids in food count just as much toward your ration as those in the bottles.  We found carrying factory bottled one gallon water bottles the most flexible system; haven’t had a leak yet.

Other southern venues are the Anza Borrego Preserve, south of Palm Springs, and the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County.  There are many venues near Los Angeles; the lower elevations of the entire Sna Gabriel Mountains chain, and several parks between there and Ridge Crest - including Red Rock.  Up near your neck of the woods there are several very fine parks proximal to Santa Cruz.  Some are big tree preserves.  There are also a few places in Lake County that are pretty.

Ed

11:02 a.m. on February 11, 2013 (EST)
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I have been to most of those places, but they get lots of visitors.  In winter the Los Padres NF is a good spot.  So is the desert or the Coast Range.

12:10 a.m. on February 12, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks for the suggestions.  I see I have some research to do :).

3:23 p.m. on February 12, 2013 (EST)
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Death Valley has some wonderful backpacking trips in early spring.  You just have to know where your next water is coming from.  It is easy to get away from the visitos by hiking a few miles.  The flowers should be avoe average this year.

12:24 a.m. on February 13, 2013 (EST)
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I'd like to see Death Valley during the bloom.  But it's a minimum 8 hour trip each way from SF, a bit much for a weekend trip.  Same with many of the SoCal locations and Joshua Tree.    I'm having trouble envisioning carrying more than 1 days water with me anyway (I consume ~3L per day plus meals, at least in the summer).

I'm looking into the coast range and such places though I'm not clear yet on backpacking there as opposed to day hikes.  I'd like to try the Big Sur area but the reports of overgrowth & poison oak dissuade me.

2:10 p.m. on February 13, 2013 (EST)
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The overgrowth and PO in Ventana and Big Sur were deliberately grown to keep the riffraff out, thus preserving it for those truly in the know ;).

Actually, there is plenty of hiking all along the coast, with approaches from both the coast side and from inland. A number of the trailheads require driving on dirt roads to get to them.

You might also consider the trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains, many of which have trail camps (you generally have to reserve a spot, even though very few people use the trails and the campgrounds are generally empty). Skyline to the Sea trail is about 30-35 miles long, with campsites near Waterman Gap, in Big Basin (not just the ones in the central park, but one at the northern boundary of the park and one about half-way between the central park area and the coast, plus a couple others - you do not have to go through the center visitor area if you stay on the trails that circumvent that area). You do need to arrange a drop-off and pickup, since it is a point-to-point hike (or retrace your route). Another alternative is to start and end in Portola Redwoods park, taking a loop that goes out to a couple of very nice and deserted campgrounds.

The Ohlone Wilderness trail is another one, around 30 miles long. It goes between the Stanford Avenue parking lot through Mission Peak, thence through Sunol (both part of the East Bay Regional Park District), over Mt Rose, through the Ohlone Wilderness, to Del Valle park (or the reverse direction). Again point to point, though you can do it as an out and back from Sunol or Del Valle to the campsite on Mt Rose.

Another possibility is any of a half dozen trails to make loops in Henry Coe State Park.

Take a look at Point Reyes - short hikes, but some very nice campsites, two on the beach, another on Mt Wittenberg.

3:02 p.m. on February 13, 2013 (EST)
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I vote for henry coe. I was there when I was a kid and it was beautiful.

6:41 p.m. on February 13, 2013 (EST)
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Besides big basin, all campgrounds in the Santa Cruz mountains are closed during the winter. Cut backs in the state park system have been great. But the trails have recently been maintened well. point Reyes has excellent and varied landscapes! Not too far from sf. If you catch it in the next few months, Ventana will be quiet and is fine. The po foliage is not out yet. Once it starts growing, then you get boxed in. Yet there are a bunch of trails that are open enough. Botchers gap is fine right now. Be sure to secure your vehicle- thieves abound.. Just got back from Palm Springs area: the blooms in the dessert are going to be spectacular this year- but at least a month off. Henry Coe is an exceptional choice right now. Not well used and lots of land. Most of it is exposed. Rolling hills, and there is water. All beautiful choices.

5:57 p.m. on February 21, 2013 (EST)
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This is exactly my question - great resource! But I have a twist, which is that I'd like to take along my significant other, who has basically told me that this may be our last backpacking trip if I leave her freezing (which she does easily). Her happiest trip, as a reference point, was Henry Coe in April/May but I'd love to show her more of what this great state has to offer.

I'm going to speculate that I am not alone in facing this particular challenge....

So... If I'm looking at a weekend trip, max 3.5 hour drive from Bay Area, can anyone recommend either a specific trail or park, or if the cold is still going to be a factor, is there a nice not too crowded campground good as a base for day hikes but where I can roll out the big mat, down comforter and roaring fire? Better that than spend the rest of my days hiking alone.

When do most of these parks start to really warm up (coast is another matter, I know)?

7:12 a.m. on February 23, 2013 (EST)
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Mike:

The issue you probably face isn’t that it is too cold for her; rather she doesn’t dress for the weather.  My wife complains of being cold all the time, yet she refuses to purchase coats and other apparel that don’t make her look “cute.”  You will never win that battle.  But if your woman is sleeping cold, then you have to buck up and provide warmer and more comfortable sleeping gear.  Determine if you are facing problems that have solutions, or “issues” with ulterior agendas.  Attempting to drag her along when she goes without joy will make both of your regret the experience.

Ed

8:51 p.m. on February 27, 2013 (EST)
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Sorry. You asked for non-snow camping, not warm winter camping. Look for some good weather coming and try Mt. diablo or Mt. Tam. Possibly Mt. Madonna. If you are going to risk " being alone for the rest of your days". I suggest you take Ed's advice and bring suitable clothes FOR her. I have been if your shoes more than I care to say. If you want specific people to join you - do what ever it takes to help them enjoy it. Btw.. Big Basin is open all year. Fires are allowed. Beautiful redwoods. There is even a store with all the comforts. Also, there are tent cabins w wood burning stoves. They are toasty! I manage to keep even folks who wont get in a tent happy there. Good luck.

8:51 p.m. on February 27, 2013 (EST)
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Apologies. I will stop posting until I can get to a computer. This #%@$& iPad double posts everything.

8:55 p.m. on February 27, 2013 (EST)
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Sorry. You asked for non-snow camping, not warm winter camping. Look for some good weather coming and try Mt. diablo or Mt. Tam. Possibly Mt. Madonna. If you are going to risk " being alone for the rest of your days". I suggest you take Ed's advice and bring suitable clothes FOR her. I have been if your shoes more than I care to say. If you want specific people to join you - do what ever it takes to help them enjoy it. Btw.. Big Basin is open all year. Fires are allowed. Beautiful redwoods. There is even a store with all the comforts. Also, there are tent cabins w wood burning stoves. They are toasty! I manage to keep even folks who wont get in a tent happy there. Good luck.

10:12 p.m. on February 27, 2013 (EST)
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Stick to the coast, we still have snow in the mountains.  Even with the soon to be poor snow year.  Going camping in a few weeks with a friend or two headed to the valley for some warmer weather camping on our motorcycles.  This will be a break from my numerous, solo snow camping trips so far this winter.

Duane

6:28 a.m. on February 28, 2013 (EST)
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whomeworry said:

Mike:

The issue you probably face isn’t that it is too cold for her; rather she doesn’t dress for the weather.

 "Det er ingen dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær."

"There's no bad weather, only bad clothes." Oft-cited Norwegian saying.

11:43 p.m. on February 28, 2013 (EST)
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It looks like I'm not the only one longing for snow-free backpacking.  And OGBO, I pretty much figured the brush and PO was planted intentionally as you stated :D.  I guess I didn't realize the other coastal areas were legal for overnight stays.

Now I'm torn between sending my backpacking tent in for repairs or waiting and just going with it the way it is :).  (it's the Copper Spur UL 1 I used last summer, where the door zipper broke mid-trip).  Decisions, decisions :).

September 2, 2014
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