Topic: California

California travel articles

Yosemite Valley in October

I have been to Yosemite National Park many times, but never during the fall. The park is much cooler in the evening but the days can be sunny and warm, but you can never predict Mother Nature around this time of the year. However, the fall brings some welcome beauty and colors to Yosemite Valley. Also, there tends to be a lot fewer visitors in the park so the trails were less crowed which for us all, is always a welcome feature.

View of Half-Dome along the Panorama TrailArriving into Yosemite Valley through HWY 41 can be a whole lot of fun if you have a good handling vehicle and are feeling bit like Mario Andretti. The highway has some of the best curves along the way encouraging an ever faster pace; I’m known to have a lead foot. Vehicle traffic during October is much lighter going into the Valley, so I’m sure I would not have been able to zip along the same way during the summer months.


Upper Pines Campground

Upper Pines campground was the only site available to reserve for the weekend we wanted to camp. Camping in Yosemite Valley can be much like tail-gate camping. Many campers use camping trailers giving the campgrounds that parking lot look and feel to the site. The individual sites are quite close together so you simply have to hope that your neighbors are quiet and friendly, and aren’t serial killers. But in October there are mostly retirees that just quietly hang-out and go to sleep early. Well, it’s not Animal House but it’s good from a naturalist point-of-view. Peace and quiet in the forest is always welcome. Enjoying the evening sounds of nature is always a great thing until your campsite neighbors decide to turn on their generators; now that’s camping! Lucky for us our neighbors were very conscientious about their generator so every night was peaceful.


Yosemite Falls and the Valley

If you are not an aggressive hiker or climber type, Yosemite Valley has many beautiful areas to visit and enjoy. Yosemite Falls is a short walk from the main valley shuttle stop, so most visitors will stop at this site. The shuttle system is handy way to get around the valley, but I found they don’t run exactly on schedule so sometimes you are waiting longer than the 15-20 minutes that the park states.

View of the Merced River in Yosemite ValleyThere are some beautiful meadows in the valley to relax in, have lunch, take a nap, and enjoy views of Yosemite Falls, Half-Dome, and the Merced River that meanders through Yosemite Valley. Since it’s very easy to get around the valley, there will be a lot more people around, but in fall the human traffic is not a problem.

When you come to Yosemite during the summer, you have full rivers and streams with hot dry days, but during the fall you have less water, cooler days, and amazing fall colors to see, so it just depends how you like it.

Yosemite Valley has some beautiful and great features to visit and see, but we always prefer the longer hikes and follow the trails to more distant attractions.


Glacier Point

Glacier Point is a great place to get views of Yosemite Valley, Half-Dome, Nevada Falls, and Vernal Falls. This is where you can start a hike on the Panorama Trail which eventually hooks up with the John Muir Trail. There is a small parking lot at Glacier Point, and there is a shuttle service out of Yosemite Lodge that can take you on a one-way or round trip ride to the point. We paid $25 for a one-way shuttle ride because we were starting our hike along the Panorama Trail and working our way back to the Upper Pines campground. Unfortunately, the first shuttle of the day does not get to Glacier Point until about 10 am, so the early risers will need to have someone drop them off at the parking lot in order to get an earlier start. Even so, the later start still gives you plenty of time complete the hike before it gets dark.

From Glacier Point you get views of the Valley, Half-Dome, Nevada Falls, and Vernal Falls. And from this point you can begin a longer hike along the Panorama Trail and hook up with the John Muir trail and make your way up into Little Yosemite Valley, and further.


Panorama Trail

As you walk the Panorama Trail you will see excellent views of the east side of the valley. Half-Dome dominates the background as you descend 1300 feet down to Illilouette Falls which continues past a small tributary and starts to ascend the 800 feet up the next ridge line that will eventually lead you to Nevada Falls and the John Muir Trail.Half-Dome along the Panorama Trail

We did the 8.3 mile hike starting at Glacier Point and looping back to the valley and the Upper Pines campground. The hike had a couple of strenuous sections, but it wasn’t too difficult, and there were plenty of retirees making the same trek, so I think most people would not have too much trouble with the hike. As usual, take plenty of water and some kind of snack or a lunch because the hike could take 5 to 6 hours. If you are staying in Yosemite Valley and are in reasonable shape, I would highly recommend doing the Panorama Trail.


Food and Showers

When camping I like cooking over the fire-pit and enjoying the campsite atmosphere. The large bear boxes allow plenty of room for food and coolers, so food storage is not a problem. However, I know some prefer not to deal with cooking and the clean-up afterwards, so there are a couple places to get prepared meals. Yosemite Lodge has a cafeteria like eating area that has decent food at a reasonable price (considering we are in a National Park). It was nice to see the park was not gouging visitors with highly inflated prices. Curry Village will have a more limited menu, and the Yosemite General Store will have groceries and some packaged sandwiches. For me, I think part of the camping experience is the enjoyment that comes from cooking around the campfire with your friends, and just being in the outdoors. Also, there is nothing like the taste of a burger or steak grilled over an open wood fire.

If you feel a bit dirty after your day in Yosemite Valley, there are some showers available in Curry Village. We found that the showers are free unless you need to rent a towel then they will charge you $8 for the towel. We could not find any specific information regarding these showers and after asking around we learned that many people were not aware of the showers, so they were not busy at all.


In the end

This was the first time I have visited Yosemite Valley in the fall. I’m glad I did visit during this time of year because the fall colors are simply beautiful, and of course, the smaller crowds make it all much more pleasant. I’m not big on campgrounds that have that “parking lot” feel, but the hikes and views around the valley are well worth it. At this time of year the weather can get a bit unpredictable, but I think we were lucky. The temperatures were in the mid 70’s during the day, and got down to the low 40’s in the evening. So I recommend if you get cold easily, than make sure you have warm clothing and sleeping bag for the night chill, and build a good fire.


Bearpaw Meadows High Sierra Camp

Do you enjoy hiking in the Sequoia Forest? Do you want to see magnificent, pristine mountain scenery? How about having all your meals cooked for you, and not have to clean up afterwards? Well, Bearpaw Meadows High Sierra Camp in the Sequoia National Park is just the place for you. It has all of those things and more.

Bearpaw Meadows Camp - Sequoia National Park
Bearpaw Meadows Camp – Sequoia National Park

Bearpaw Meadows Camp is a 11.3-mile hike one-way along the High Sierra Trail heading out of the Giant Forest area of Sequoia National Park. The trail head starts in Crescent Meadows, which is approximately 10 miles south of Wuksachi Lodge. There is a parking lot there to leave you car while you are hiking into the wilderness. Don’t forget to get a wilderness pass at the ranger station before you head out. The Lodgepole visitor center has a ranger’s office that will sell the pass.

We arrived in the Giant Forest area in the afternoon, so we arranged to stay a night in Wuksachi Lodge. We wanted to leave early the next morning to make the 11-mile hike along the High Sierra Trail to Bearpaw, so Wuksachi worked out perfect. The overnight stay helps get acclimated to the elevation before we started the long hike. We got up early the next morning, had breakfast in the lodge, and drove down to Crescent Meadows to start our hike.

The Bearpaw Meadows staff informed us the hike can take from 6 to 11 hours to complete, but most make it in about 7 hours. Of course, the more able bodied can make the hike in less time. In fact, one staff member told us he made the hike in 3 hours, which sounded amazing to us, but we had to keep in mind that they hike the trail very often and they do not need to carry any significant weight. However, you do not need to carry very much, since the camp will supply food and lodging.

Steve and Mike in our tent cabin
Steve and Mike in our tent cabin

The camp will have tent cabins with two small cots and basic linens, but an additional person can be added, sleeping on the floor for an additional fee. There were only 3 of us making the trip so we squeezed into one cabin comfortably.The third person has to bring their own sleeping bag or beddings, though the staff was very accommodating and gave us an additional sleeping bag to pad the floor a bit.

Since the hike is 11.3 miles, make sure you have plenty of water and some food for lunch or a snack. I carried several liters of water with me, but I like to drink lots of water along the way. Just keep in mind there will not be any place along the way to replenish your water supply until you get to the camp. There are a few creeks you will pass along the way which were very inviting to splash your face to cool off. If the sun is out, it will be hot, but there are some shaded areas along the way to make a rest stop. Take a good camera because the views along the trail of the Great Western Divide are spectacular.

The hike is not technically difficult, but the distance of the hike can still be very tiring. Good hiking shoes or boots are a must. The trail is well established and easy to follow and does not change in elevation much, only about a 1,000 foot overall increase ranging from 6,800 to 7,800 feet, so there aren’t very many switchbacks to contend with. However, the last mile or so there will be a steep elevation climb, saving the “best” for last, when you are nice and tired.

We arrived in the camp about an hour before dinner; so we had time clean up and rest a bit before we sat down to eat. The food was excellent here. The staff really takes pride in their cooking and you can really taste it. Three meals a day were prepared, but if you were going out hiking during the day, you could ask the cook to prepare a sack lunch for you. Not having to worry about cooking and clean up was a very nice feature. The camp will have shared shower facilities, and an outhouse. There is a sitting area attached to the kitchen where meals are eaten, with a beautiful view of River Valley and Redwood Meadow Grove in the distance below. They have a book exchange and some board games handy to help pass the time if you desire. Also, they had a few supplies such as batteries, film, suntan lotion and other small needs for sale, but I’m sure what they have available at anytime will vary so plan wisely. Everything was on the honor system and you settled your bill when your stay was over. We stayed 2 nights, but you can book as many as you wish.

Mike and I along the Hamilton Lake trail
Mike and I along the Hamilton Lake trail

Our first full day in Bearpaw, we decided to take a hike up to Hamilton Lake.The trail gains about 1,000 feet and there are some switchbacks to follow. We were able to get to the lake in about 2 hours. The area up there was gorgeous and jumping into the lake was a real treat. It is an alpine lake so the water is very cold, but after a heated hike, the water was too inviting to ignore. We spent the next couple of hours sunning ourselves on the rocks beside the lake and eating our lunch before following the trail back to the Bearpaw camp.

After breakfast the next morning, we had to do the 11-mile hike back to Crescent Meadows. This time our hike was much faster, we were able to get back to the trail head parking area in 6 hours. However, it seemed to be a more tiring hike, and my feet were really barking when we made it back to the car. I think we could have paced ourselves a little slower on our hike back, and still be able to return at a reasonable hour. On the way out, we stopped at the Lodgepole visitor center and used the showers to freshen up, and boy, did that feel good.

I would definitely like to go back to Bearpaw Meadows Camp. It was a long hike in and out, but once you are there, it’s just so amazingly beautiful. I think I would stay an extra night or two, as well. There were many other trails to explore, so one could stay there probably a week and see something new everyday. The place was so isolated and comfortable; you deserve to really enjoy it leisurely, you earned it.


Skiing Powder at Mt. Waterman

The snow gods rewarded us with some fantastic powder up on Mount Waterman. The recent storm brought about another foot of fresh powder on top of a 3-4 foot base. It seems not too many people thought to come out and enjoy it because there was no wait at the lift lines…don’t you wish it was like that way all the time? Even later in the day when there were plenty of tracks on the slopes, the snow was so soft and forgiving you could cut right through it and make your own line.

Mt. Waterman
Mt. Waterman – going up Chair 1

Mount Waterman has the same three, no-frills lifts, and still has the lowest lift ticket prices in Southern California at $45.00 for an all-day pass; half-day passes are $10.00 less and start at 12 noon. The ski area has much less acreage than most other ski areas in the San Bernardino Mountains, but the runs are far superior, the crowds are virtually non-existent, and you can’t beat the convenience to Los Angeles.

Not many people know about Mt. Waterman which is in the San Gabriel Mountains and part of the Angeles National Forest along the Angeles Crest Highway. It’s just 55 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, 34 miles north of the 210 freeway, making it a convenient ski area for Los Angeles skiers.

Lodge at Mt. Waterman
Lodge on top of Mt. Waterman

Mount Waterman does not have snow-making equipment so it relies on natural snow. When Mother Nature delivers some decent snow, this mountain can have some the best skiing in Southern California. Most of the ski runs are for intermediate and advanced skiers, but there is a beginner area in one of the bowls at the top. It is a low frills type of ski area with a small lodge at the top that will serve burgers, chili, and beer, so don’t expect the piped in music and other entertainment like other popular ski resort areas; less is better at this place. Mount Waterman comes off more as a skier’s venue where it’s all about skiing or snowboarding, without all the extra fluff and expense.