SHOES. One of my favorite topics. (And literature, world affairs, and politics, of course.) One of the most common questions I get from girls who hike is what hiking shoes I recommend. The world of outdoor shoes is vast, and it’s hard to tell online or after 15 minutes in a store what will be comfortable over miles and miles of trail.
But this list is pretty bulletproof. I have tested these shoes and feel very confident recommending them to you! I own two of these and my mother owns the other, which I proceed to steal from her whenever I get the chance.
I love these Merrell’s so very much. They’ve seen me through a month backpacking through Europe and a week hiking in the Canadian Rockies, and many mountain and trail adventures that followed, and I’ve never been uncomfortable in them. The sole is very sturdy and has lasted for ages.
Perfect for: longer day hikes (over 5 miles), backpacking
These are my latest favorite purchase and they come in about 99 different colors, so it was hard to choose. (But those who know me well will not be surprised to learn I ended up with purple.) They are SO comfortable, I wore them all over the eastern Sierra mountains this summer backpacking with my brother and husband. My feet couldn’t have been happier, despite the long days and rocky terrain.
As y’all may have seen here, earlier in August I went on a backpacking excursion in California with my brother and my husband, the two main men in my life other than my dog. The day before we started the hike, we happened to be camping a short drive away from Yosemite National Park and it would have been a shame if we didn’t visit.
As a Texan, whose only national park is 6+ hours away, it was strange just “stopping by Yosemite” for the afternoon, but I definitely could get used to it.
The beach and swimming hole we saw there are two must-see stops to add to your agenda for Yosemite National Park. And if you’ve never been to Yosemite, you MUST go! It’s the American thing to do.
After seeing this lake, I’m convinced that Yosemite is the perfect vacation for those who can’t decide if they’re beach people or mountain people.
It’s also perfect for couples and families who are split on this important issue.
I would never have expected to need my swimsuit in the mountains, but what do you know.
This beach has sand, so a sand castle building kit would be in order.
Note: the path leading to the beach is stroller friendly but very short.
How to Get There
This is located along Tioga Road (the main road going through Tuolomne Meadows) and the lake is visible from the road. Park at the northern end for the beach.
Ladies, there is a place on this earth called Puppy Dome. Finally, someone is naming landmarks after things that make us happy. On the other hand, there are no puppies here, so that’s lame.
This swimming hole is located at the base of Puppy Dome, on the Dana Fork of the Tuolomne River.
Sunbathing here is prime! Look at that rock. It’s begging for some sunbathing.
This was a very quiet spot when we were there. The water is crystal clear and perfect for swimming, and there are big flat slabs of granite around that are perfect for a picnic. If this were Texas, there would be swarms of people around going for a swim.
One convenient thing about this swimming hole is that it is away from the main road so it feels remote, but it’s not a long walk from the parking lot, so you can easily bring your gear with you for fishing, lounging, and picnicking.
Occasionally there will be rock climbers scaling Puppy Dome which is fun to watch.
How to Get There
To get there, drive east on Tioga road from the Tuolomne Visitors Center and park in the parking lot on the south side of Tioga Road beside the Tuolomne lodge. (After Lembert Dome it will be on the right.) Park by the lodge and follow the trail past the boulders at the base of Puppy Dome. You will go probably a quarter mile through the trees until you encounter the Dana Fork of the Tuolomne River and boom! There are the falls.
Note: this is not stroller friendly.
What to Bring
You’re going to want plenty of time to enjoy these locations, so plan accordingly. Allow an entire day and be sure to pack food.
And your mother says don’t forget your sunscreen!
Tevas or Chacos
It can be a little breezy so I would recommend bringing an extra layer just in case.
Neither locations are far from parking so hauling a cooler, baby equipment, etc. is not a problem.
I hope you save this info for your trip to Yosemite and enjoy these places as much as I did!
If you are going to go on one backpacking trip in your life, might I suggest the following trail. As I said in my post yesterday, it is one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done.
Yesterday I shared a synopsis of our adventure, which you can read here. Today’s post is the guidebook for this trail. Happy hiking ladies!
PS. See the end of this post for a convenient day hike option within this route.
First and foremost, where is the Sierra?
I’ve gotten this question a lot since coming home. West of the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada is a mountain range that runs near California’s eastern border. You may have heard of the Sierra Nevada in Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, or you may have heard of Yosemite National Park, which is in the Sierra.
By the way, the correct term is “The Sierra”, NOT “The Sierras”—as I was corrected.
Reasons We Loved This Route
It’s a loop: you never see the same scenery twice
Some of the most beautiful countryside we’ve ever seen; waterfalls, more lakes, cliffsides, vistas, you name it.
Campsites were flat and picturesque
Third day was nearly all downhill
A permit is required to stay overnight. You must get online far in advance to get a permit so if you’re interested in doing this trail, reserve as far as 6 months in advance. (Instructions later in this post.)
Where This Route is Located
In the Ansel Adams Wilderness area, inside the Inyo National Forest. Wilderness areas are designated within public lands and are differentiated by their more stringent rules against vehicles, construction, roads, or anything else that causes great disturbance.
How to Get Here from Texas
Fly into Los Angeles and connect to Mammoth Lakes, CA. Alternatively, fly directly into Reno and drive or take the shuttle to Mammoth Lakes.
I suggest flying into Reno and driving/shuttling to Mammoth. Then, after your backpacking trip, spend a few days at Lake Tahoe and fly back out of Reno. The Tahoe area is beautiful and will give you more time in the mountains. Another great option would be to stay in one of the lodges in Yosemite National Park.
My family has always enjoyed having comfortable accommodations after a strenuous backpacking trip, to give ourselves a rest and get to spend more time in the mountains before getting back to the real world.
Hop on the Reds Meadow/Devil’s Postpile shuttle that picks up there. Enjoy the most thrilling bus ride you’ve ever been on! It’s on the edge of a steep cliff and has excellent views.
Shuttle tickets are $7 per person
Get off at the Agnew Meadows Trailhead stop. From there you can access the Shadow Creek Trail and make one last bathroom stop.
Pro tip: You will be coming right back to this same place when you finish your hike, since the loop ends here. I recommend storing some special celebratory treat like Oreos or sodas in a sack in the bear proof bins here. It’s unlikely someone will take it, and you won’t have to carry it on the trail, and it will be a nice reward for when you finish!
10:00 am – Aim to get started on the trail by this time.
7 or so miles to Ediza Lake, roughly 1,000+ ft elevation gain (though my FitBit said more like 10 miles)
Camp that night in the meadow by at Ediza Lake (note camping is restricted to the far side of the lake)
Early start recommended for cool weather and plenty of time to explore the lake where you’ll be camping this night (8:30 am should be fine)
Roughly 8 miles to Thousand Island Lake
You will pass several lakes, Garnet Lake being one of the most spectacular
Camp that night beside Thousand Island Lake. Campsites are scattered around the lake, and I recommend finding one out of the wind so you can cook your dinner. There are hundreds of large boulders around the lake and plenty of flat, quiet and private campsites tucked in beside them.
Best time of day to photograph Thousand Island Lake is definitely early morning! Set your alarm and go down by the lake, and document the glass like water, pure reflection of the mountain, and rays if the sunrise dancing on Banner Peak. It’s a sight not to miss and definitely worth waking up early for.
Day 4 – Last Day!
This is the day you will hike the iconic Pacific Crest Trail. 🙂
Early start recommended (8:30 am) — the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be back to your car and on your way to a hot meal.
This is the best of all the days, because it is almost all downhill.
As you follow the trail down the alpine meadow, keep an eye out to your right. You will be able to see Shadow Lake, where you hiked the first day, on the other side of the valley from you.
There are no assigned campsites, only designated camping areas at the lakes.
How to Know Where to Pitch Your Tent
Look for the flattest, smoothest surface you can find that is out of the wind. If it looks like there’s an area people will be using to collect water, don’t camp in the way of everyone’s route there.
Purchase a map of this area before starting the trail here.
Brian at the blog CaliTrails.com let me borrow this map. He has an incredible post about this trail which you can see here. (The only difference is that we didn’t continue on past Ediza Lake, so you can ignore the red squiggly line that goes southwest from Ediza Lake.)
Roughly 24 miles
2,000+ feet elevation gain (see a topographic map for specifics)
I will confess, it was a grueling trek. I stopped to catch my breath quite a bit and I was tired at the end of each day. There were a few points when I may or may not have asked, “Are we there yet?”
That said, I did it. And I still enjoyed myself immensely.
How to Acquire a Permit
This trail is wildly popular so be ready to get online 6 months before your start date to request a permit.
Make a morning coffee date with the online reservation system.
60% of the available permits are reserved for those who book online (above), and 40% of permits are reserved for walk-ins.
The in person pickup process is so much of a circus that would be amusing, if not so stressful. Bear with me.
On the day before you’re set to hike, get to one of the ranger offices listed on this page: Inyo National Forest Permit Pickup Locations NO LATER THAN 10:00 AM. THE EARLIER YOU CAN GET HERE THE BETTER. At some unknown point before 11am, they start passing around a sheet of computer paper on which everyone wanting a permit writes their names, time of arrival, permit requested, and number of people. You want to be as high up on this list as possible because this is the order in which they distribute the remaining walk-in permits.
They begin issuing walk-in permits at 11am, and you must be standing within earshot to hear your name being called. There is no microphone and if you’re in the bathroom, you will miss it.
When they call your name, you go up to the ranger desk and tell the ranger which trail you want, and he sees if there are any permits left.
The ranger is pulling your permit from the same database the other ranger offices are using, so you just have to pray that Joe Blow at the other ranger office doesn’t get it before you.
NOTE: You can NOT have a permit to two trails at once. This means that if you have pulled a permit for a “Plan B” trail, but attempt to get a walk in permit to this trail (your Plan A), the ranger will have to cancel your Plan B permit before issuing your Plan A permit–during which time beads of sweat will form on your upper lip as you hope no one at another ranger office is taking your permit while he does this. (Can you tell I don’t do well with last minute plans?) That said, I definitely would have a Plan B because you’ve come all this way and what are you going to do?
If you haven’t already noticed, I find this to be a nerve-wracking option. And I speak from personal experience–this is what we did. HOWEVER, I am really glad we did at least try because we got the permit, dang it, and I was able to go on the hike of a lifetime. 🙂
Typically 70’s during the day, 30’s and 40’s at night.
As a Texan, you will notice the chill at night, so bring a down jacket and a warm vest. I also recommend a hat, long underwear, and gloves.
Bring a camera with a big SD card. You will be taking pictures right and left, the scenery is so breathtaking.
When allowing people to pass you on the trail, be cautious that you don’t get pushed off the side of the hill. This may sound silly or obvious, but I nearly got knocked over by a group of haughty college guys.
Take your time, take breaks when you need to, and catch your breath. Starting early in the morning will give you plenty of time to go the distance while still taking plenty of breathers.
Stretch each night
Enjoy and explore the land around your camp site!
Do not pour soap or waste into the lakes
Book to Read in Preparation
Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild is about her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, which you will cover on this route. It’s also a movie with Reese Withserspoon. (Read my review of Wild here.)
*Day Hike Option*
Camp at Lake Mary and take a day hike up to Shadow Lake. Stop and have lunch before returning home. This would be a spectacular and full day!
I hope you all make it here some time in your life and get to experience the adventure we loved so much. This trail opened up a new love of the Sierra mountains in me and I hope to go again sometime soon.
The most beautiful and awe-inspiring places are, without fail, the hardest to write about on this blog. Nothing I say can do them justice. I end up sputtering out phrases like “it was so incredible!!” and hoping the pictures will tell you everything else.
So here goes—this week I’m sharing the “epic” “stunning” “gorgeous” and “incredible” trail I recently hiked in the Sierra Nevada, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Today’s post is about the adventure, and tomorrow’s post is all about guidance for your own hike there.
I’m blessed with a brother that loves the outdoors even more than me. He hikes, rock climbs, ice climbs, and scrambles over precipices from here to the Western seaboard, and is gone so much he’s hard to keep up with. He owns at least 3 of everything a person needs to go backpacking, and stuffed away in his noggin between baseball stats and economics data lies a decent knowledge of the Sierra Nevada.
So, when I told him Brandon and I wanted to go backpacking, he not only acquiesced but took up the chore of researching trails and coming up with a game plan. He was essentially our mail order guide, though slightly peskier.
(Justin and my previous backpacking trip together, over 15 years ago, bordered on complete failure. We hiked into the remote reaches of Rocky Mountain National Park with our mother and a bunch of rented equipment from REI, only to find that it was going to rain for three days straight and the tent would leak. Our mother laid awake every night listening for bears, since due to weather we were forced to eat summer sausage in the tent. Good times.)
This was Brandon’s first backpacking excursion ever, and with no idea how he would react, I was crossing my fingers for perfect conditions—weather wise, elevation-wise, and distance-wise. I wanted him to have fun, of course, but I also hoped that at very least he wouldn’t be completely miserable. I made sure we had new hiking shoes, some new gear (I may have used this as an excuse to get a few new things, no big deal), and helped us get as prepared as possible. All summer, Brandon would load my pack up with physics textbooks and carry it on our walks around the neighborhood. We were a sight to behold.
The trail we hiked started in Mammoth Lakes, California, a cute mountain town. One of the great decisions we made was to get there a day early and stay at one of the many drive-up campsites around Lake Mary and Lake George.
This allowed us time to get organized, sight see in nearby Yosemite National Park, and say our final goodbyes to flushing toilets. (Tear.)
I would recommend these campsites if you’re with young kids or not up for a big backpacking excursion! The scenery rocks and the campsites are tidy (thanks in part to the chipmunk cleanup crew), and there are dozens of gorgeous trails in the area. See tomorrow’s post for a day hike suggestion.
Our trail was 21 miles long in total, with about 1,000 feet elevation gain each day (with the exception of the third day). We planned to hike about 6-7 miles each day, with the final day leading us back to the car. The trail was a loop, as opposed to out and back, so we never hiked the same part of the trail twice.
The morning of our hike, a funny thing happened. Each of us emerged from our tents wearing orange! It looked completely planned, though it was not.
Go Team Orange!
Given that the trail we were hiking was located in a wilderness named after the most famous landscape photographer of all time, Ansel Adams, I had expected great things. I also knew that the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the more famous trails in America, would be part of our hike and that our particular route was so popular that we couldn’t get advance reservations.
But despite all of that, I was so unprepared for the beauty that lay before us.
Within the first half a mile: this view.
Within the next two miles: this view.
Over the next few miles, constant views of a gushing waterfall as we approached Shadow Lake.
The reward at the end of the next steep incline: the beautiful Shadow Lake.
One amazing sight after another–and so it went for three days.
So many trails in this world require you hike for miles and miles through the woods just to enjoy one or two beautiful sights. On this trail, we barely had to go a mile before we were treated to something new.
The first night, we camped beside Ediza Lake, a glacial lake surrounded by peaks called The Minarets.
I had a lot of fun that night leading the guys in a yoga session (I NEVER thought they would go for that…but they did), inventing a story for them about how Ediza Lake got it’s name, and singing old camp songs. I’m sure if I hadn’t been there they may have enjoyed the peace and quiet of the wilderness a little more.
Just after the sun set, Justin and I climbed up a nearby rock for a view of the lake at twilight.
(One of his pieces of backpacking advice is to explore the area around your campsite.)
Brandon did not join us. We had climbed over 1,000 feet in elevation that day, and he was out like a light. In our relationship, he’s typically the responsible one, but this time we had a little bit of a role reversal as I set up the tent and took care of unpacking our things.
The following day was as gorgeous as the day before. It was this day we were treated to one of the most beautiful parts of our hike—a downhill traverse with panoramic views of Garnet Lake.
It was all I could do not to fall flat on my face while trying to hike and enjoy the view at the same time.
That night, we camped by Thousand Island Lake. It was even grander than Ediza Lake, and I felt like I was walking through an Ansel Adams photograph.
Named for the rock outcroppings which dot its surface, Thousand Island is framed by two huge peaks—Banner Peak and Ritter Peak—and rimmed with massive boulders smoothed by ages of wind, snow, and rain.
We camped on a flat rock outcropping with a view of Banner Peak. I look at this picture and still can’t believe this was our campsite!
Our third and final day on the trail was perhaps my favorite—it was downhill (amen) through a flowered meadow, with panoramic views of the Sierra mountains all around. We could see Shadow Lake in the distance.
We could feel the pizza and hamburgers we’d been fantasizing about getting closer and closer with every step.
On the trail you have ample time to think, and often your thoughts circulate around what you would eat if you were back in civilization. We all agreed there was only one thing we needed:
Not to just eat pizza, but to eat pizza while sitting in a hot tub.
(On your next backpacking trip, tell me if that’s not what you dream about too.)
As we were coming down off of the trail, we passed a surprising number of women and couples heading on up the trail the other way. I loved seeing all those women taking on the trail!
My brother, who has seen lots of countryside in his day and climbed more peaks in the lower 48 than I can count, said that this trail was the most beautiful one he had ever seen. A lot more subtle and soft spoken than I am, my brother is not one for hyperboles so I take his statement to heart.
Even Brandon, who by the end of each day was face down in a pillow, said this trail will be hard to top.
I’ve decided that with hiking, there’s a ratio of effort to beauty, and that ratio determines if you’ll enjoy it in the end. This trail was high on the effort side of the scale, but the beauty far outweighed the effort.
Oh and by the way, we did make it to that hot tub.
A huge shout out to my brother for planning the trip, equipping us, putting up with my jokes, and stretching his hamstrings during yoga. He even hiked a portion of the trail the week before we arrived to make sure it was good enough. Justin officially receives a Whit’s Wilderness Gold Star for Service to the Blog.
Tomorrow: guidance on how to hike this very route!
I’m excited that this week I will finally be sharing my recent backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains here on this blog. Per suggestion of my husband, who was new to backpacking before innocently following me into the wild on this grueling trip, suggested I start at ground zero and explain what backpacking is and how it differs from day hiking.
Give both a shot and let me know which you like better!
When day hiking, you leave your equipment at a campsite or at home and go out for the day. You carry only a day pack, with basic necessities such as water, snacks, and sunscreen.
Depending on your campsite (or if you’re staying at home,) you can take a shower each night, sleep on an air mattress and down pillow, and can pack more changes of clothes.
You may miss out on spectacular sunrises and sunsets if you’re having to stay in a busy camp ground or drive to and from home
More people around, typically (though not always)
Can’t go to as remote places, since you’re limited to the miles you cover in one day
Backpacking refers to an overnight excursion where you carry your belongings on your back and hike to a campsite.
When backpacking, you pack the tent, food, stove, water, and everything you need for your trip in a pack. (Don’t fret too much, backpacking equipment is extra lightweight.)
When backpacking, you can hike to more remote locations. Fewer people, more scenery, more peace and quiet.
Though not a hard and fast rule, it’s often true that when you’re backpacking you get to see better scenery because it’s farther from heavily trafficked areas and the trail goes deeper into the wilderness.
When backpacking, you get water from the stream or lake nearby and purify it. (There’s equipment for that.)
Back Country Camping
This is rare in Texas, but some people like backpacking to a campsite, and then doing day hikes out from there each day. This can be a great option.
This varies from person to person, but here’s what my family does:
Morning coffee: Starbucks Via
Oatmeal for breakfast
Bars, trail mix, summer sausage, cheese for snacks
Freeze dried food for dinner (sold at outdoor supply stores)
Advantages to Backpacking
Incredible sense of being immersed in nature, which may not be something you originally thought you needed, but you’ll find it is rejuvenating. It is an awe-inspiring experience to have backpacked for two days into the heart of a wild area and be the only person in such a stunning landscape. It’s like being completely spoiled, as if the entire place is yours.
Easier to disconnect. Of all the types of travel I’ve done–cruises, beach getaways, etc, this is the most disconnected I’ve been mentally. Even if my phone had been working, I don’t think I would have been interested in checking it.
Incredible exercise. A day hike is a good work out but a backpacking trip is a GREAT one. You’re covering several miles a day plus carrying 25-35 lbs on your back, and you burn through calories like there’s no tomorrow.
More quality time with friends and family. I’ve known my brother my entire life and I treasure memories of our backpacking trips more than almost any other time we’ve spent together (with the exception of a few pranks we’ve pulled on mom, that is.) It was also really sweet to share the recent trip with my husband, who had never been backpacking before.
Great excuse to get a massage!
Food tastes better when you get back to civilization. You’ve never truly appreciated a hamburger until you have one after a long backpacking trip!
Gets you (and your teenage daughter) away from looking in a mirror. On our recent trip, I realized I hadn’t looked in a mirror in three days. In town, I look at my reflection every time I see it in a car window, bathroom mirror, or selfie, and there is always a moment where I judge myself according to what I see. The freedom of being away from my reflection and seeing only the beauty that surrounded me was freeing and reminded me how unnecessary looking in a mirror all the time is.
Pack gets heavy after a while
More tiring than hiking
Harder with young kids (under 10)
Harder with dogs
Food continues to not be the hamburger you’re dreaming about
No cream or milk for your morning coffee
Requires special equipment
Surprising Truth about Backpacking
Backpacking is strenuous, but without fail I feel more relaxed after a backpacking trip than after a day hike.
I couldn’t say that about skiing, or beach lounging, or anything else–but I can definitely say that about backpacking.
Backpacking in Texas
As a Texan, opportunities to go on a backpacking excursion are available, though sparse. Big Bend National Park is one area. Some state parks have what they call “Primitive Hike-In Campsites” where you will “backpack” into a campsite, though the hike is usually not very long–about 1.5 to 3 miles.
I am mostly a day hiker when in Texas. If you want a good backpacking excursion and have exhausted what Texas has to offer, check out the trail I’ll be telling you about this week in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Or head to the Rockies.