Do's & Don'ts for Backpacking California's Epic John Muir Wilderness
A 4th of July escape from Yosemite crowds deep in the high alpine lake lands of Sierra & Inyo National Forests
After the lottery for Washington’s world famous Enchantments didn’t go our way (surprise, surprise) we had to scramble to find another course of action. Two of us live in the Bay Area and the other in Seattle, so the Sierra became the obvious choice.
Our plan was to road trip out from Oakland to Big Pine via Tioga Pass, with various stops en route to three days of backpacking in the John Muir Wilderness, capping it off with a different set of stops on the drive home.
While I’ve lived in California and explored these mountains for seven years now, this was my childhood friend Evan’s first time in the Sierra. It was also the 4th of July weekend and I wanted to give him the full experience. So, against my better judgment, I turned off the Tioga road and descended into the splendor and chaos of Yosemite Valley on a holiday weekend. Unsurprisingly, this was a bad idea.
After catching an obligatory view of Half Dome we beat a hasty retreat and continued east, with a quick stop in Mammoth before climbing into the mountains above Big Pine. From there we hit the trail.
The next three days served up a smorgasbord of good times—from drinking lake-chilled beers and reading under glorious sunsets to scrambling out of a heat wave up to the southernmost glacier in the United States, talking late into the night and sharing whiskey as heat lightning danced above our heads.
On the drive back to Oakland, not wanting the good times to end, we crammed as many of my favorite swimming holes, breweries, Hawaiian food trucks, and rope swings in as possible. Is it asking too much to want a trip to last forever?
"Is it asking too much to want a trip to last forever?"
9 Dos & Don’ts for High Sierra Exploring
DO take advantage of the small number of walk-up permits available for popular zones.
DO get to the ranger station at least an hour before they open to stake your place in line.
DO bring Backpacker’s Pantry Granola with bananas. So rich it could double as dessert.
DO stop at June Lake Brewing. Best beer in the area—it’s not even close.
DO take a dip in the Tuolumne River on your way over Tioga Pass.
DON’T even think about going to Yosemite Valley on a holiday weekend in the summer.
DON’T leave trash at a hot spring. You carried those full beers down to it, the least you can do is carry the empties back out.
DON’T forget to throw a light layer in your summit pack.
DON’T leave that extra bottle of bug spray in the car. Seriously.