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If you can only handle one hike at Yosemite, this is the hike for you. It’s short, it’s beautiful, and everyone has to see Vernal Falls at least once. At just 3 miles roundtrip for this out-and-back hike, it’s a lot of bang-for-your-buck. Unfortunately, everyone else seems to know this too, making this the crowded must-do hike for all tourists. During waterfall season, we saw plenty of PSR’s (Potential Search and Rescues) with their flip-flops and cotton t-shirts, we saw families with children of all ages, and we even saw those that were older and wiser walking this hike with their canes and an attitude of “it ain’t no thang”. If you’re looking for what everyone else is looking for, this hike is for you. If you’re looking for peace and serenity in the great outdoors, steer clear of this Disneyland of a hike.

The free in-park shuttle took us directly to the trailhead and we got off the shuttle with everybody else to check out what the big fuss was about. The trail is very well-maintained and wide to accommodate the crowds. We walked alongside the creek on a paved road at a gradual ascent. Every once in a while there was a steeper climb, totaling 1000 feet in elevation gain to get to the top of the falls.

After a ways of uphill climbing on the paved path, we came to a bridge. The bridge was lovely with gushing water flowing down the mountain. It is said that more people die on the Mist Trail than almost anywhere else in Yosemite. Once you see the currents flowing beneath the bridge, you’ll understand why.

Past the bridge, the path becomes muddier, rockier, and definitively more wet. Here, we pulled the rain jackets and gloves out of our packs and prepared for the worst. At the base of Vernal Falls, I tried to snap a few pictures before the camera got drenched, but it’s very tough to do during waterfall season. If you can handle the cold, hang out for a few minutes. This was one of the prettiest scenes in Yosemite - with the gushing full waterfall hitting the rocks below, sending mist everywhere, and a rainbow to prove its magical status.

After Closet Granola waited rather impatiently for me to finish taking my pictures, we climbed the rest of the way up the Falls. It’s very slippery and wet, so we took it rather slow and used the rails to ascend. On the final ascent, the path is only wide enough to handle one person, so there were times when we were plastered against the side of the mountain as we waited for someone coming the other direction to pass.

At the top of the climb, we looked down the falls into the valley below. It’s a very different perspective up there! We brought a picnic and ate up there (with the crowds). Beware of the squirrels…they’re aggressive and hungry and not afraid of you.

After lunch, we decided to call it a day and hiked back down rather than going all the way to Nevada Falls. My knee couldn’t take any more hiking after the beating it took on the Upper Yosemite Falls Hike the previous day. This may mean that we’ll never see Nevada Falls since it’s unlikely that we can deal with the Disneyland crowds on this hike again.

Overall Rating: Hiking Boots for traction on wet rocks and water proof protection against the falls, Trailblazers for difficulty

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Tip #1: A rainjacket is a must. They call this the Mist Trail, but a more apt name would be the Drenched Trail. I recommend the Marmot PreCip Rain Jacket.

Tip #2: If your knees are hurting (like mine were), the return trip can seem like an eternity in hell. Bring trekking poles. You’ll thank me later.

Coastline

Coastline

The weather this weekend was just glorious…one of those days where you’re so happy to be living in California and not somewhere in the Northeast. Notice how quickly we attribute 80 degree weather in San Francisco in the middle of November to living in California rather than global warming. Even the hippies can’t complain when the weather is this spectacular.

To take advantage of this unprecedented state of affairs on our one and only hike in the month of November, Closet Granola surprised me by suggesting a hike in Point Reyes. Normally, I am arguing for a Point Reyes hike and he is adamantly opposed, but even he believes that the weather will be nice up there. And it is!

Bear Valley Trail

Bear Valley Trail

I’ve been bugging him to go on this trail since April, but he’s always found an excuse to go somewhere else. The Bear Valley to Arch Rock Trail is also a bike-and-hike, but we weren’t certain if my cheap commuter bike with its thin road tires could handle the trail. After hiking the entire trail, we’ve decided it would have been fine. A mountain bike would be better, but my little bike could have made it.

With bikers and hikers and strollers, the trail can get very crowded. And since this is a really easy hike with only 300 feet in elevation gain, it doesn’t scare off the weaklings (like myself). This may have been the most crowded hike I’ve been on. Luckily, the trail is very wide for passing people as well as engaging your significant other in forced conversations regarding where the relationship is going. You may be in the great outdoors, Closet Granola, but there’s nowhere to run! <<insert evil laugh>>

Meadow

Meadow

But I digress…on the trail, we passed a meadow along the way, where we stopped to eat a little snack. We wanted to save the true picnic for when we reached our destination, Arch Rock. Incidentally, there are those dreaded toilets available if you need to make a little stop, but beware the horrendous odor. You’ve been warned.

The first leg of the hike is about 3.5 miles of a mostly shaded, sometimes muddy, but very well-kept trail. At the end of the bike trail, there’s a bike rack for parking your bike (so bring your lock if you plan to make this a bike-and-hike). After that, it’s less than a mile to the destination.

Coastal views

Coastal views

Arch Rock juts out into the ocean providing beautiful views of the coastline up and down from where we were. There are a few other rocks out at sea that make the views even more picturesque. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people also picnicking, but I’m pretty sure we had the best spread - bread, smoked salmon, four types of cheese, and turkey pepperoni. The scenery makes up for the lack of privacy.

At around 3:30, we decided to call it a day. Closet Granola was not going to be tricked into a night hike like Eagle Lake, so we packed up and headed back the way we came. A little over 9 miles total and four hours including picnic time, we were ready to head back to our city life.

Arch Rock

Arch Rock

On our way back to the city, we stopped for dinner at Guaymas in Tiburon.  We drank margaritas, snacked on tortillas and salsa, ate chile poblano and arroz con mariscos on the outdoor deck with a to-die-for view of the San Francisco skyline. It was the absolutely perfect ending to the perfect day.

Overall Rating: Heels for difficulty, flip-flops for length

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Tip #1: A city girl’s necessity equals a hiking diva’s luxury. I’ve learned to dread hikes where the guidebooks mention pit toilets at the trailhead. Luckily, the restrooms at Bear Valley are not only clean with functional toilets and running water, but the hand dryers are Xcelerator. Nice touch! (or actually no touch!)

Tip #2: For more serious hikers, bike out to the end of the Bear Valley Trail and hike some of the more strenuous trails rather than sitting on your butt at Arch Rock like we did. When I’m back in shape, we might have to try that.

The View

The View

Most weekends we’ll flee the city in search of better weather and greener pastures, but when the weather is finally warm in San Francisco (usually September or October), the best we can manage is a quickie in Marin to satisfy the outdoors bug before heading back and drinking sangria at an outdoor cafe.

The warm weather and lack of fog in San Francisco made it an ideal day for otherwise windy and chilly Marin Headlands. We drove out to Rodeo Beach and had a long lazy picnic with sandwiches and wine. The beach was not overly crowded and we hung out for a while chatting and digging holes in the sand.

Stairs

Stairs

We took the Coastal Trail up to Hill 88. This was by far the most scenic part of the hike and also the most challenging. It’s basically a climb from sea level to the top of the cliff, with views of the beach, the coast and ocean, and the San Francisco skyline including Twin Peaks. We could see the fog start to roll in around Coit Tower. It’s definitely better to watch it roll in than to feel it roll in.

Hill 88

Hill 88

At the top of the ridge, we passed the junction with the Wolf Ridge Trail and continued to the top to see Hill 88. It’s easy to forget that this area used to be a military site, but along the trails, you’ll see some stark reminders. At the top of the hill, we took a break at the former radar station with its eerie abandoned buildings with graffiti.

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

We then turned around and walked back to the junction with Wolf Ridge Trail. This trail then meets up with the Miwok Trail. These trails go around the backside of the ridge and is less scenic. We also came across a snake, but at least this time it was slithering away from me, not towards me (like in the Alamere Falls hike). The Miwok trail took us around the Rodeo Lagoon and back to the parking lot.

If I were to do this hike again, I would probably turn around at the top of Hill 88 and do an out-and-back hike just on the Coastal Trail. The rest of the hike wasn’t scenic enough for me.

Overall Rating: Flip-flops

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Shirley Lake

Shirley Lake

It’s always interesting to see what someone or something looks like without all the adornment - the fancy clothes, the makeup, the accessories, or in this case, snow. The naked Squaw Valley looks very different and less magical than the winter version with its beautiful white coat. Although, to be fair, Squaw looked a lot better than the other ski resorts like Homewood or Northstar.

Reflection

Reflection

After three hikes over two days and being so exhausted I could barely speak (and that’s true exhaustion for you!), Closet Granola said he would, in his words, “take it easy on me”. We would do a short hike before we headed back to the Bay Area. He chose a hike that was just 2.5 miles each way on an out-and-bike hike to Shirley Lake in Squaw Valley. On our way there, I read the description and practically hit the roof. His idea of “taking it easy” was to climb roughly 1,300 feet in elevation over 2.5 miles over rocky granite cliffs. This hike could barely be classified as a hike…it was more like rock climbing. I know I spent a good deal of time on all fours climbing over the rocks.

Shirley Lake Trail

Shirley Lake Trail

The first part of the hike was rather well-shaded, walking through a forest, climbing over fallen trees. In the spring, I would imagine that the creek would be full, but by September it was rather bare. In the winter, I would bet that this looks like one of Robert Frost’s poems about snowy woods on the way to grandmother’s house.

On our way out of the woods, we could hear a solo hiker mumbling about where the trail was. We soon learned why. The trail on the rocky section was extremely hard to find. I got my first lesson on looking for cairns (little stacks of rocks) and paint to find the trail. It was kind of fun and I was really bad at it, getting us completely off the “trail” many times. Good thing this wasn’t a night hike like Eagle Lake! While climbing up the rock, even if you’re scared of heights, don’t forget to turn around and look at the view. We could see Squaw Valley Resort at the bottom and it looked so small.

Shirley Lake

Shirley Lake

After 1300 feet in elevation, we arrived at Shirley Lake about an hour before sundown duringthe magic hour. The reflection of the granite boulders in the lake was perfect for photography. We spent about half an hour taking photos and hanging out watching the chipmunks before heading back down.

Tip #1: Labor Day weekend in Tahoe is a great time to stop at Tahoe Dave’s. They offer great discounts on demo skis from the last season. If you’re lucky, you’ll get great skis for a fraction of the price.

Tip #2: Stop by the Starbucks at Squaw Valley before heading out and you’ll have enough energy to get up the mountain and back.

I was in the prime of my hiking career, having spent the last six months or so hiking all over California (or so I thought). Since we were up in Tahoe for Labor Day weekend, I was going to make the most of my time up there and get in as much hiking as we could. Perhaps then, Closet Granola’s need to be outdoors would be satiated and we could spend the next few weekends shopping.

What a great idea, I thought, to do two hikes in one day. After all, we were staying up in Truckee and a drive down to Emerald Bay took about an hour. Always one for efficiency and ambition, we decided to do the Eagle Lake Hike in Desolation Wilderness after the Emerald Bay hike. The entrance to the Eagle Lake trail is right across the street from the Vikingsholm entrance to the Emerald Bay hike. How incredibly efficient!

When we finished the Emerald Bay hike, Closet Granola was a bit skeptical of whether we could handle another hike. Sunset was in one hour and it was a new moon (which I learned was the opposite of a full moon), but I reasoned that it was only a 2.5 mile hike and there’s usually light long after the sun sets. He reluctantly consented, but said, “I’m stupid to go along with this, and you just don’t know any better.” I just waved off his conservative attitude and said, “We’ll be fine.” So off we went, with one headlamp, the remainder of our water from the Emerald Bay hike, two cameras, and two tripods.

Shortly after the beginning of the hike, we reached the Eagle Lake Trail Vista, where we stopped to take photos. We could see the sun setting over Emerald Bay and the colors were absolutely lovely over the lake and the trees. We also set up the tripod to take photos of the two of us…great picture spot but I won’t be sharing the personal photos!

After that, we tried to race to Eagle Lake as the sun set. There’s not much elevation gain, but the trail is very rocky. By the time we made it to Eagle Lake, there was just enough light left to make out the lake. Completely serene and desolate (there was one tent on the lake), we sat for five minutes to enjoy the peacefulness of the lake before heading back. We were on a mission to get out of there before we couldn’t see anymore, but we didn’t quite make it. After many near falls and broken ankles, I decided to use the headlamp. For some reason, Closet Granola could handle the darkness much better than I could. Even with the headlamp, it was still rather scary, creepy, and lonely out there (Desolation Wilderness is a very apt name). It was not an ideal trail or hike for a night hike, but that’s what happens when a City Girl convinces a Closet Granola to throw caution to the wind. Famous last words, “We’ll be fine.”

Overall Rating: Flip-flops during the day, Trailblazers at night

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Tip #1: If you plan on doing two hikes in one day, be sure to start the first one before lunchtime.

Tip #2: Headlamps can be a girl’s best friend on a night hike. They’re inexpensive, light, small, and will help prevent you from breaking your leg and not being able to wear heels for a long, long time.

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