Yosemite in 2014 or other suggestions?

6:43 p.m. on May 29, 2013 (EDT)
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My hiking buddies and I have been canoing every other year in the Boundary Waters since 1998 and have decided to try somewhere else in May of 2014. Since we routinely hike each year in the NC Mountains as well (Slick Rock/Citico) we decided to maybe fore go the canoes and look for a 6-7 day hiking trip out west. Many of us have never been to Yosemite National Park so I'm checking on that option. Looking for any suggested books on the trails there, hints on campsites or what to expect tourist/crowd wise the week before Memorial Day weekend (our normal time to go).

Though Yosemite is somewhere I would love to check out, I also know the group isn't looking for trails that seem more like a NY City street scene than wilderness trails. But maybe research will find some gorgeous trails in the park that are less traveled? Then save a few days for the Ansel Adams views... I assume you can't get both, right?

Also, open for suggestions of other hikes and special places elsewhere in the country. Stunning views or valley hikes near water but doesn't take 3 planes and 10 hours to drive to. We want to spend most of our time in the woods. (Not that we don't like to kick back a couple of pints of Moose Drool in a local watering hole after we get out. Think Ely, Mn )

For what it's worth, our group is comprised of scouters ranging in age from mid 40's to 60 years old. Not hard core young minimalists with legs like rocks, so temper the suggestions to realistic options! :-)


10:47 p.m. on May 29, 2013 (EDT)
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First I need to get a basic idea of what you like to accomplish on the trail in one day - miles, total vertical.  What is your comfort range?  Also, are you up for a little off trail?  I know in the east (where I grew up) off trail can be intimidating in an area that you do not know well, but in the sierra higher elevations it is an entirely different (and easier) beast).

For Yosemite, there aren't many areas that have few people.  It is a highly impacted back country, unless you are looking at areas like the northeast part of the park.

Perhaps you could look a little farther south to my favorite park - Sequoia/Kings Canyon.  I like it better than Yosemite.  Higher peaks, deeper canyons, more stunning vistas.  If you would consider that and give me an idea regarding daily mileage and elevation gain/loss that you find acceptable, I can suggest some great hikes off the beaten path in SEKI.  Also how many actual days on the trail do you want?  Seven days/six nights can get you into spectacular country in SEKI even with relatively short days.

Another plus with SEKI is that permits for most areas are easier to get than in Yosemite.

7:49 a.m. on May 30, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks for the quick reply, Lambertiana. Some good questions that I have emailed the group with. We literally just met to get the research started and didn't discuss the obvious elevation changes we would be tackling in the Sierras. Our hikes out here have stayed in the 2-3 thousand ft elevation changes and I bet some parking lots in the Sierras have that much! :-)

(Since I'm the 60 year old and never hiked out west, I'll say keep it fairly easy on these East Coast legs)

The Sequoia/Kings Canyon sounds interesting. I know we do our best to schedule hikes and trips to stay away from crowds so please tell me more or suggest trails when I get back to you with some specific answers.

Our group did suggest the possibility of setting up a base camp and doing day hikes if such a thing was possible.

Would SF still be the closest major airport to come into? Realistically, how long a drive? I expect we would be talking a day of travel, drive close and stay in motel nearby, then head in early morning. Reverse coming out. So say a good 5-6 days on the trail.

10:20 a.m. on May 30, 2013 (EDT)
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After some thought, let me ask you a couple of things about SEKI and the area you are talking about.

What is your idea of "relatively short days"? What kind of elevation changes are there to get to some nice vistas or scenic Valleys ?

I'll look for some topos and trail maps on this area asap which will help me understand better what you are talking about.


11:44 a.m. on May 30, 2013 (EDT)
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Lambertiana is on to something.  Compared to the East, all of the places you are talking about will seem big and open, partly because of the bigger mountains and the more arid climate.  Sequoia is definitely overlooked compared to Yosemite.  It has better trees and lots of diverse landscapes with plenty of relief.  Just make sure you sign up for a route that everyone can handle.  I would add a layover day or two after days with vertical climbs.

11:52 a.m. on May 30, 2013 (EDT)
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I think it best if we don't use my definition of relatively short days.  Think about the hikes you have done in Slick Rock/Citico that would be the upper limit of what you want to do each day in terms of distance and total elevation gain/loss.  I can use that information to recommend some possibilities.

You could always look at flying to Fresno, that is almost three hours driving time closer than SF.  It costs more, but the time saving may be important to you.  Flying in from the east coast, you would arrive in the evening, find a place to stay, and get up early the next morning to be at the permit station when they open. 

For a basecamp-type trip, the first that comes to mind is to take two days to go to East Lake from Roads End in Kings Canyon (camp at Charlotte creek on the way in).  Total distance over those two days is 15 miles, with 4400' vertical gain.  Then spend one or two days exploring (a dayhike up the use trail to Lake Reflection is an absolute must).  Turn around and come back out, taking one or two days; when I did this trip I intended to take two days to exit, but when I got to my planned campsite for the day it was still quite early so I just did the whole 15 miles in one day.  The only drawback to this route is that you start on the popular Bubbs Creek trail, so you would have to submit your permit request at 8AM Pacific Time on March 1 to ensure getting the permit.  Once you leave the Bubbs Creek trail at Junction Meadow and head up to East Lake, you will leave most people behind.  When I was there for several days in 2005, we camped at one end of the lake and there was another group camping at the oppposite end.  This trip would have to be planned according to snowpack - if the snowpack is heavy, don't go before mid-August because the crossing of Bubbs Creek at Junction Meadow can be fun in high runoff years.  East Lake is beautiful, and the fishing there is decent (better fishing is had at the spectacular Lake Reflection).

11:56 a.m. on May 30, 2013 (EDT)
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There are also a lot of options on the east side of SEKI, and you would need to fly into Vegas or LA to access them.  But, to get to the nice areas for most of them, your first day would be a hump over a high pass (think minimum of 11,700') so you would be starting high immediately.  On the west side, you start lower.  For example, Roads End in Kings Canyon is only 5000' elevation.

7:56 a.m. on May 31, 2013 (EDT)
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Unfortunately there is no instant access to the Sierras from the easten US.  Considering the impression your comments provide, I would venture to say you are not up for forced marches and such, from the airport to the trailhead, or back.  That more or less makes any trailhead two days away from your doorstep - one day to jet out here and get a room for the night; and one day to get to the trail and begin hiking.  That is a minimum.  You may wish to add an additional day, depending on the venue chosen.  The trailheads proximal to Florence Lake and Lake Edison, for example, are both accessed from west of the Sierra and have long, rough, approaches with two or more hours of mountain driving, not to mention the time it takes to get to the base of the mountains, or the time it takes to prepare the group to actually start down the trail.  Of course you can both drive to the trailhead and hike, all on the same day, but the effort implicit in such a plan may be more than you wish to endure.  Just a thought.

It is difficult to choose a hike in the Sierra justifying a trip from back east that doesn’t include significant elevation change every day of the hike.  By significant I mean 800’ to 2000’ feet from low to high point.  While 800’ may seem nominal, it is noticeably more arduous when starting from 9000’ elevation than a near sea level start.  While TS's resident senior - Bill S (OGBO) - can cover more ground on near vertical trails faster than most can travel on a level sidewalk, the typical, older, hiker, such as my in laws, find 800’ a full day’s effort in the Sierra, and cannot tolerate multi-day hikes with such daily elevation changes unless they eat their Wheaties and get some decent conditioning exercise lasting a couple of months preceding a trip.

Given these considerations I recommend opting for a base camp style adventure, no matter where you hike in the Sierras.  But I can’t really make a specific recommendation, because I don’t feel I have a good take on the group dynamics driving your decision process.  For example the eastern Sierra is far from the Los Angeles and San Francisco airports, but not so far from the Lake Tahoe/Reno airport.  Mammoth also has a small jet airport in the eastern Sierra, but I have no idea the cost or schedule of flights for the period you are considering.   Otherwise traveling from Los Angeles or San Francisco can make for a five or six hour drive to reach some of the more distant trailheads on the east or west side of the Sierra, but that is only slightly more time, in the big picture, than it takes to get to the closest Sierra trailheads near any airport, other than Mammoth.  If you were to consider the eastern Sierra, I would recommend base camping in the Cottonwood Lakes basin.  It has lodging and showers close by in the town of Lone Pine, is a manageable hike to base camp, has several worthy day hike options, once there, and offers the quintessential high Sierra experience.  Additional good venues are trailheads out of Mammoth, and some excellent choices above Bishop.  None of these options mentioned require crossing a high pass, but all include a trailhead starting at or above 7000' and arrive at a destination elevation between 8500' and 11000'.   Otherwise I suggest obtaining two books:  Sierra North, and Sierra South.  I do not know the current edition or authors, as these titles have been through many editions over the decades.  These two books give a broad survey of the hiking options available in the Sierras.

I would also recommend purchasing one or more of the following USGS area wall maps:

John Muir Wilderness Inyo Sierra national Forest topo map.  This map set consists of three large wall maps, covering a broad swath of the Sierra.  I use this set for most of my southern and central Sierra trip planning sessions. 

Yosemite National Park and Vicinity topo map.

Emigrant Wilderness topo map Emigrant Wilderness is the area north of Yosemite National Park.  This map includes Emigrant Wilderness and portions of surrounding parks, including the northern portion of Yosemite National Park.

Hoover Wilderness topo mapThis map documents the eastern Sierra from Mono Lake north to Bridgeport Reservoir, west to the eastern quarter of the Emigrant Wilderness, and includes much of the northern and eastern portions of Yosemite National Park.

NOTE TO WEB MASTER:  The embedded links do not work consistantly on my browser (exploer 8 running on Window XP home edition SP2).


8:01 a.m. on May 31, 2013 (EDT)
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Some great info. Thanks.

After some email exchanges with the our group, Fresno had already popped up as the way to go. Actually a bit cheaper for us than SF.

I need to take some time with a topo map and a good trail book on the area to do some studying up. Any suggestions on a specific book? Some of the elevation climbs have me concerned regarding a few of our group so I want to be sure we pace ourselves. But the area sounds great.

Can you not order permits by mail ahead of time? Or are they first come first serve out there? We are coming the week before Memorial Day Weekend. Still a lot of roads closed?

8:06 a.m. on May 31, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks Ed. Your post just popped up as I posted the above. Great info!!!

Lots of homework.

8:24 a.m. on May 31, 2013 (EDT)
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Sounds like you are well on your way to sketching out your 2014 trip, but here's a suggestion for 2015 since you have good canoe experience; The Northern Forest Canoe Trail (add a .org to see their site.  I don't have linking permissions it seems) You won't likely have time to do it all at once heh, but that means you could cherry pick a section.

If you want a quieter area out West you might also look into the Bighorns in Eastern Wyoming.   Much less peoplated than the Teton/Yellowstone area on the other side of the state.

9:17 a.m. on May 31, 2013 (EDT)
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If you do end up flying into Fresno, I suggest that you try to spend at least one day in Yosemite. If done correctly, you can really see a lot of the park in one day. Of course I would suggest that you stay even longer, but it is hard to see everything you want to see on big trips out west like you are going on. As much fun as I had and as awestruck as I was by the beauty of the Sierras, I was dissappointed when I left because I knew there was so much to see that I didn't get to see. There are a lot of people in Yosemite, but it is unbelievable. Here is a report that I did from a trip two years ago.


In two weeks I am going back because I loved it so much. I am also going to Mammoth Lakes and to Kings Canyon and Sequioa. You might also want to consider the Ansel Adams Wilderness or the John Muir Wilderness a Sierras destination.

11:45 a.m. on May 31, 2013 (EDT)
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You can reserve permits in advance.  For example, for SEKI, you can reserve permits beginning on March 1 (I always submit my permit request for my annual weeklong trip at 8AM on March 1).  You will receive a confirmation letter in the mail indicating that you have a permit reserved.  However, you still need to pick up the actual permit in person at the permit station.  For example, the permit station for East Lake is right at the trailhead at Roads End, and usually opens at 7 AM during the summer.  Other trailheads will have permit stations at places like one of the park visitor's centers.  For permits issued by a national forest, you usually get them at the ranger station nearest the trailhead.

Again, it would help us a lot if you could tell us what you are comfortable doing in a day.  You say that you have done some hiking in Slick Rock/Citico.  How many miles and how much vertical gain are you comfortable doing?  What would you consider to be your upper limit?

Unless you are a mountain goat, it is probably best to focus on west side trails.  As I mentioned before, you can access the high country quickly on the east side, but it usually requires a significant vertical on the way in, and you start high.  Cottonwood Lakes could make a nice base camp without the huge vertical cost, but you start at 10,000'.  But no matter how you slice it, to get to the better scenery will require some effort.  SEKI does not have a road across the crest, so you have to approach from the west and work your way up.

Another option for a base camp approach would be to go to Lake Thomas Edison above Fresno, and head up Bear Creek about eight miles.  Camp near the confluence of Bear Creek and Hilgard Creek.  From there, you can dayhike to some really nice places - Lake Italy, Rose Lake, etc.  Fishing is fantastic in that area, too.  Since it is only eight miles and not a huge vertical to the base camp from Edison, this could work out well.

7:28 p.m. on May 31, 2013 (EDT)
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All fantastic suggestions and info. Thanks all. Time to do some homework and come back with more questions.

Ashleigh, We are indeed discussing leaving a few days at the end to check out Yosemite. By using Fresno, it makes it a reasonable option. Crowds or no crowds. 

Great forum!

1:00 a.m. on June 1, 2013 (EDT)
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some Yosemite options that could be worth looking into would be that there is a bus system within Yosemite that can make a loop  hike unneccessary which may open up options. I can offer up some shorter trips that would allow for at least 2 trips in a 7-8 day trip.


The valley is a must see at least once in your lifetime......but you will want to leave the crowds pretty quickly most likely. All of the below can be done using the park bus for a shuttle.


1. From the valley (Happy Isles TH) to Tuolumne Meadows via Clouds rest is a good one. But a popular trip and will have people.


2. Happy Isles to Tuolumne Meadows via Little Yose. Valley/upperMerced and by Vogelsang. Popular but maybe less people above Little Yose Valley.


3. Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne (T. Meadow to White Wolf) - Popular area but I saw no more than 3 people per day below Glen Aulin back in '07.


I could give some routes that would take up your whole time period but they are all future routes that I have no first hand knowledge of so I wont do that.


Get a park trail map and you can figure out good routes.  Just thought I would throw that out there for some more options or maybe a reason to make the trip longer and hit both parks!

I will add that SEKI is an awesome place and if you do go there you will not be dissappointed and it is less frequented by the masses. Im an easterner as well so everyone that weighed in earlier has much better intel than me and theres no better folks to ask than the folks that call it their home mountains.


Have fun though......the sierras are beautiful and enticing.

m smith



1:16 a.m. on June 1, 2013 (EDT)
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Going to Yosemite for one day is my worst outdoor nightmare.

9:05 p.m. on June 1, 2013 (EDT)
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I have never been to Yosemite. the crowds are a big turnoff. I'm happy with our san diego mountains.

5:33 p.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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From Fresno, you could follow Ed's suggestion of a hike into a base camp then take day hikes to see the sights.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs (SEKI) have just a minor portion of their great expanse open to cars - just a touch on the western side.  The remainder of the parks are by foot or hoof.  From the west the geology slopes uphill to the east relatively gently as compared to the almost vertical access from the east.  This requires longer approaches from the west to get to timberline at around 11,000'

In Sequoia, west side, from Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw, following the start of the High Sierra Trail, is a relatively strenuous first day backpack of around 12 miles.  This can be broken into two shorter days if you camp about half way at Mehrten Creek.  The trail starts lower than almost all of the trail heads on the east Sierra and, although long and undulating,  it gains only about 1000' altitude to get to Bearpaw Meadows.


Once at Bearpaw you have a few amenities you won't find elsewhere, including a fully stocked bar (no Moose Drool, but maybe Bear Hair).  There is a B&B (of $ort$) there and you can hire horse$ to get you there a$ well.  Or $pend the night$ in their cabin$.  Reservation$ require $trategic long range planning. 


So do the necessary wilderness permits from SEKI for this trail.

From Bearpaw you have access to spectacular day hikes that include Hamilton Lake just below Valhalla (big wow!), Elizabeth Pass (for the energetic) and Tamarack Lake.  Or those that want, can simply lay around and vegetate in camp as well.


As mentioned by others, many experienced hikers from the east coast don't expect having to hike up hill all day long then down hill all the next day (repeat as necessary).

6:07 p.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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Trail Jester, its worth a trip to Yosemite and up to T Meadows.  It is spectacular and you get to test your metal driving 15mph behind a 50 foot extra wide motor home that is about to overheat and expire.

All good things come with a price.

The trail up to Vernal Falls and above to Half Dome are getting the reputation of being one of the most dangerous dozen miles in any national park.   But still worth the effort if you leave early and make it a loop coming down the other side of the river.

11:07 p.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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Speacock - That assessment of the Mist trail up to Half Dome has some truth to it.  There was a fatality there last week, a guy went swimming above Nevada Falls and the current took care of the rest.  But I think it has been two years since the last fatality on the Half Dome cables.

6:57 a.m. on June 13, 2013 (EDT)
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I am doing the Mist Trail on Tuesday, camping in Little Yosemite, then hoofing it up to Half Dome early Wednesday morning.

2:02 p.m. on June 14, 2013 (EDT)
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Ashleigh, have a grand trip.  Unfortunately that is on many 'bucket lists'.  Even with the slight bother of a lot of people in that part of the Sierra, it is still one of the more spectacular hiking events.  It ranks in there with Mt Whitney, and crowds, as well.  Beautiful hike, just sometimes have to wait in lines.

I'd rather be almost anywhere but Disneyland waiting in line.  :)

The key word is EARLY on Wednesday.  Sunrise from the top is spectacular too :)

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