Scenic hikes

You are currently browsing articles tagged Scenic hikes.

As a native Californian, I had been to Yosemite as a little girl. I was far too young to remember any of it, and I’m sure that whatever I had seen or visited were the typical tourist traps where you park your car, get out and take some photos. But Closet Granola, the true outdoorsman, had not yet visited California’s most prized outdoor wonderland, so this trip was a highly anticipated weekend excursion.

We arrived in Yosemite on Friday (I with only 1 hour of sleep due to a crazy deadline for work) to dreary weather. It was raining and cold and foggy and gray. But I’ll save the Friday happenings for a different blog post. Suffice it to say that Saturday had to more than compensate for Friday in order to salvage this vacation. Therefore, I let Closet Granola choose the hike for Saturday…and he chose a killer, the Upper Yosemite Falls Hike, a 7.4 mile out-and-back hike with 2,700 feet in elevation gain. That’s pretty much like climbing the Empire State Building TWICE…and then a little bit more tossed in for good measure. We even tossed in a little more mileage by parking at the Day Use lot near Yosemite Village and walking past the Lower Yosemite Falls before getting to the trailhead for the Upper Yosemite Falls.

The climb up occurs in three stages - a series of switchbacks through partly shaded but mostly exposed area, followed by a straighter path with views of the waterfall and a cooling/drenching mist, ending with yet another series of switchbacks that seem to go on forever. On the first set of switchbacks, there’s a nice outlook of the valley and Half Dome. We also saw deer there and a very annoying man from LA who fed the deers (against park rules) and very blatantly tried to pick up two girls who looked half his age. It’s a hike, not a feeding zoo and not a meat market.

Anyway, I digress…On the second part of the hike, there are few flat or downhill sections. Whenever I go downhill on a hike like this, I get sad because I know that not only do I still have to climb the thousand feet or so left, but now I have to compensate for this downhill. Argh! On this section, though, you get a good view of the waterfall and the valley below. We could see faint traces of a rainbow over the valley underneath Half Dome…pretty much perfection. Closet Granola says that I’ve been spoiled and that I only think a hike is worth it if there are “rainbows and unicorns”. Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled, but there weren’t any unicorns on this hike and it was the prettiest hike I’ve ever been on. It blows Cataract Falls, Alamere Falls, and Point Lobos away.

On the final ascent, the switchbacks were daunting after all the progress that we had made, but thinking it was the final stage really helped. Closet Granola kept threatening to turn around since he was worried that I would turn this into yet another night hike with a new moon (see Eagle Lake hike), but his fears were unfounded as we made it off the trail without our head lamps. At the top, you’ve basically climbed out of the valley and you’re standing at the top of the ridge where the waterfalls flows over the side. There’s a small trail that goes to the Falls Overlook. It’s quite steep and feels like you could fall off if there was a strong gust of wind, but we were undaunted in our quest to take photos and got ourselves out there. The views aren’t as stunning on the top as on the way up, but knowing that you’ve accomplished 2700 feet in elevation gain makes it worthwhile.

Once you’re on the top, there’s only one thing left to do. What goes up, must come down…and so we did. I thought the hike up was painful, but it was nothing compared to the hike down. The rocks were very slippery due to the mist coming from the waterfall and it was just a lot of downhill on a rocky terrain. My knees started hurting (as did Closet Granola’s) really quickly and then after that, it was a very, very long hike back. And I was so looking forward to the downhill!

This was possibly the hardest hike I’ve ever been on, even more than Big Basin despite the shorter distance. I was very proud of myself for making it to the top and back to the bottom. We passed a dozen people on our way back down, so they were still on the trail after dark. We also saw a lot of people without water and without the proper equipment, so I am very lucky that Closet Granola always ensures that we’re all good in that department. Although I probably look like a PSR, I am glad to not be able to claim that title just yet. That’s the new term I learned while in Yosemite…PSR = Potential Search and Rescue.

Overall Rating: Hiking Boots

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 have trekking poles, bring them. The trail going downhill is vicious on your knees. I just went to the doctor today and she says I’ll be out of commission for a while.

Tip #2: A rain jacket is a must on this hike unless you like the feel of wet clothes sticking to you and you like to flirt with the idea of pneumonia. I bought the Marmot Precip Rain Jacket from REI for this trip and was so glad I had it, although I don’t recommend buying it in white like I did. It looks good, but it really did dirty very easily. It’s also on sale during REI’s Anniversary Sale.

Tip #3: Don’t be a PSR.

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.

About two weeks before Labor Day weekend, we started the process of discussing where to go for the holiday. First on the list was Yosemite, but being just 2 weeks before Labor Day, all hotels were booked up, except for the $350+ nightly rate rooms. So I suggested camping as Craigslist had a few campsite for sale. Here’s how the conversation went:

City Girl: Maybe we should just camp. Otherwise, it’ll cost $1,000 to see dirt, trees, and dried up waterfalls.

Closet Granola (after a few seconds of speechlessness): Camping? I thought you said you would never go camping. I don’t know about this…

City Girl: Oh, it’ll be fine. I’d rather camp than pay that much money. Maybe it’ll be romantic.

Closet Granola: Ummmm, okay. Let me do some research.

City Girl: But I have a few questions first.

Closet Granola: Oh boy.

City Girl: Where do people take showers or baths? Do I have to share a bathroom?

Closet Granola: Maybe but people don’t usually take showers.

City Girl: What?! But you get all sweaty and dirty on the hikes, how can there be no showers?

Closet Granola: <<silence>>

City Girl: Well, how about food? How far are the restaurants? Within driving distance?

Closet Granola: There are no restaurants. You have to bring the food to the campsite and cook it there.

City Girl: What? No restaurants? What kind of food can you cook at a campsite? Can we bring a large cooler to plug into the car and keep food fresh? We can bring cheese and wine, some cold cuts, fruits, meat. We could bring some pots and pans and cooking utensils and a coffee maker or French press and a table stove…

Closet Granola: We’re not going camping.

And that’s how we ended up in Lake Tahoe, staying at a not-so-nice hotel but with running water and restaurants within walking distance. We ended up hiking all three days, despite the promise of easy days floating on a raft down Truckee River which was never realized.

Our first hike was in Emerald Bay on the southwest side of Lake Tahoe. It is, in my opinion, the best and prettiest of the hikes that we went on with postcard picture opportunities. Unfortunately, it’s not a well-kept secret and there are plenty of tourists at both the D.L. Bliss entrance and the Vikingsholm entrance. As you can imagine, the parking is a nightmare. After being turned away at D.L. Bliss due to a full parking lot, we drove further down to the Vikingsholm entrance. Due to some great parking karma, we found a spot immediately.

Although some guidebooks recommend doing the hike from Vikingsholm to D.L. Bliss, I think the views are prettier and the elevation gain easier coming the other way. So if you’re going to do this hike one-way and then take the free Emerald Bay shuttle back to your starting point, then I would highly recommend D.L. Bliss to Vikingsholm. Of course, taking a shuttle back is cheating in Closet Granola’s eyes and therefore we had to do the hike out-and-bike. Luckily for him, the hike was pretty enough that I didn’t mind. At almost 10 miles roundtrip and only 500 ft in elevation gain, it’s definitely doable if you have the time.

The hike alternates between being high above the lake and beach level so there are many different angles to take photos from. The water in the lake alternates between a sapphire blue and emerald green, which is just stunning…what girl doesn’t like sparkly sapphire and emeralds?

Vikingsholm is named for the house at the bottom of the trail originally owned by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight. It is apparently one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the West. I think it’s rather cute. Mrs. Knight also owned the only island in all of Lake Tahoe, Fannette Island. From the Rubicon Trail, we could see where she hosted her tea parties at “The Teahouse.” Oh, to be rich and eccentric…

Other than Vikingsholm and Fannette Island, the only “thing to see” on this hike is Emerald Bay itself. But despite the fact that you’re looking at the same thing for 10 miles, it’s still stunning with the mountains behind it, with dogs swimming or riding kayaks, with people lunching on the rocks or drinking cocktails on their boat.

I cannot recommend this hike enough for Lake Tahoe, although I don’t really want more people on this hike. The funniest part of the hike was when we saw a girl walking up from Vikingsholm with heels on! They were kitten heels, but heels nonetheless. Closet Granola and I just looked at each other, rolled our eyes and snickered. I wish I had gotten a picture of that! Perhaps I’m becoming a bit of a hiking snob.

Overall rating: Flip-flops (not even kitten heels)

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: Staying in Truckee? Grab coffee and a lox bagel to go from Wild Cherries. We stopped by there every morning!

Steep Ravine Trail

The ever-popular Steep Ravine-Dipsea-Matt Davis loop in Marin County’s Mt. Tam took my breath away…in more ways than one. This stunningly beautiful hike is perfect during the wildflower season, when the trails look like they have been dusted in glitter or fairy dust.

Wild About Wildflowers

There are two ways to do this hike. The more-sane people opt to start at Stinson Beach and hike up the Dipsea Trail and Steep Ravine Trail and walk back down the Matt Davis trail. My hard-core Closet Granola though prefers to start at Pantoll Ranger station and go the opposite direction. The route we took is ideal for a midway break at Stinson Beach for a picnic lunch, but the hike up Matt Davis afterward may make that lunch your last meal.

Make a Wish

The Steep Ravine Trail requires that you climb down a ladder, which is the least of your problems once you realize that what goes down must come up. The trails are well kept and the vegetation is lush. There are so many flowers of different colors that a photographer should leave ample time for photographic distractions.

Garden of Paradise

On the way back up from Stinson Beach, we passed a house with a garden that made us wish there was a hidden trust fund somewhere with our names on it. Once we passed this house, though, we couldn’t catch our breath for the next couple hours. The elevation gain was enough to knock a girl off her feet, but luckily the switchbacks helped a little.

Ocean Views

On the climb up, we stopped many times to admire the view of the ocean over the wildflowers, or at least I pretended to as I have huffed and puffed and tried not to see stars in the middle of the day.

Carpet of Flowers

Caveat: This was one of my earliest hikes and I may have been seriously out of shape. Perhaps this wouldn’t seem like such a big deal after the Big Basin hike. However, when I returned home, my roommate did say that I’ve never looked so bad in my life.

Overall rating: Hiking boots (in the moment), Trailblazers (in hindsight)

Fairy Dusted Path

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.

« Older entries

Backcountry.com Gift Guide