Backpacking in California

I come from a beach family but growing up in California it seems inevitable that I would become attached to the mountains.  In 2001 I took my first backpacking trip - 7 days in Glacier National Park....yes maybe crazy but I loved it and that was it. I never took a class or a workshop I just got out there and did it and over time and of course some mishaps learned more.

I primarily backpack in California and specifically in the Sierra Nevada which takes about 4 hours to reach from the Bay Area. It's hard to pick a favorite place because it's all beautiful but I've included a summary of the areas I frequent the most, some tips and trip descriptions for many of my hikes.

I of course have a bucket list and thought I would share some of those trips:

  • SEKI - Upper Kern (Return To), 9 Lakes Basin, Mineral King, Tablelands

  • Hoover Wilderness - Matterhorn Canyon

  • Yosemite - Clark Range

Yosemite National Park

Probably the most famous of all California backpacking spots, Yosemite is spectacular.   When I first starting out I did the majority of my trips in Yosemite. However, over the years I've hiked outside of Yosemite primarily because of the crowds and the difficulty getting permits.  There are still many great options to get off the beaten path and enjoy a slide of Yosemite for yourself.


  • Permits - Get them early - You can apply for a permit 6 months in advance just visit the NPS site. If you are small group try to get a walk up permit the day before your trip.

  • Where to Hike - Anywhere out of Tuolumne Meadows - Try not to camp in very popular areas e.g. Glen Aulin



Desolation Wilderness

Desolation Wilderness is located on the west side of Lake Tahoe.  It's easy to get to and you can quickly get into some drop dead gorgeous scenery.  There are lots of wonderful lakes to go swimming in but prepared for lots of people unless you put the effort in to go further out and/or off trail.


  • Permits - Get your permit online at You can reserve permits and I'd recommend doing so in advance given how popular this area is.

  • When - Fall is very nice and the crowds are less

  • Where - It's all nice and I'd recommend the Crystal Range area.




Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP

Hands down some of the best terrain on earth to hike in.  There is a bit of everything here from high desert, huge rivers, alpine lakes, isolated basins and of course some really big mountains. It's hard to go wrong with any hike you pick here.


  • Permits - Reserve them early especially if you are heading out on the weekend

  • Route finding - This is big vast terrain if you are going off-trail know how to read a map and use a compass


Emigrant Wilderness

I absolutely love this place.  I use to think this was my secret but not anymore.  Emigrant is located just North of Yosemite has fabulous scenery - lots of granite and many great swimming holes.


  • Permits - No Quota! Just get a permit at the Ranger Station. If you arrive late at night call the day before and they will leave one out for you

  • Trailheads - Some of the trailheads are on forest roads so get ready for some bumps. A high clearance vehicle is great but just go slow if you don't have one.

  • Where to go - Off-trail! Route finding is relatively easy and the crowds disappear quickly once you leave the trail.

  • Beginners - Give Chewing Gum Lake a try



Other CA Trips

My Key Backpacking Resources


  • Tarptent - I've used Tarptents for several years now. I have the Rainbow and the Scarp 2.

  • Hyperlite - Great gear - I love my stuff sack pillow

  • Feathered Friends - Wonderful down gear - my summer sleeping back is from FF and I love my down hooded jacket from them.

  • Western Mountaineering - Based in Redwood City, CA - High quality - My winter bag is a WM.

  • ZPack - These seem to be all the rage these days. I own the Arc Blast.

  • Bearikade - I love my Weekender. They also rent and will apply the rental to purchase.

  • Ursak - I always use this when a canister is not required.


Other Resources