Hiking (9)

A Day Hike Deep Into Desolation Wilderness

Desolation Wilderness is a land of spectacular beauty.  Soaring peaks of granite, honeycombed with scores of lakes, it towers over the southwest corner of Lake 10474476285?profile=originalTahoe.  This High Sierra Nevada, 7 mile round-trip hike takes you to Lake Aloha and the heart of Desolation Wilderness.

Leave Hwy. 50 at Echo summit and take a short drive through pine forest to Echo Lake.  Echo Chalet (www.echochalet.com, 530-659-7207) provides a boat taxi across Lower and Upper Echo Lakes.  The 15 minute boat trip costs $14 per person each way, but it cuts off 2.5 miles of hiking coming and going.  You can buy a topo map 10474476485?profile=originaland load up with snacks for the trail at the Chalet’s store.


Sierra Spring

It was early spring in the high country, mid-June, when Heidi and I set out.  A stiff westerly wind blew down Lower Echo Lake, and the water taxi was grounded.  It was beautiful day, and the extra 5 miles felt like a bonus.  We were in no hurry.  It would stay light until after 9pm.10474477089?profile=original

Leaving the chalet on the Pacific Crest Trail, cross a spillway and hike above the north shore of Lower and Upper Echo Lakes at 7,539’.  The flat, soft gravel trail is ideal for striding out.  After Upper Echo Lake, the PCT gradually ascends through open country.  The surface turns to loose rock, and you need to be more mindful of your footing.

Look back to beautiful views of Echo Lakes, deep blue and shimmering, nestled in 10474476886?profile=originala long valley, surrounded by snowy forested peaks.  Ancient, stately junipers with deep red bark cling to cracks in granite cliffs. 

Once again, I salute the founders of the PCT for finding the most beautiful route.

A mile after leaving Upper Echo Lake, the trail passes by Tamarack Lake at the base of Ralston Peak.  Seasonal rivers of snowmelt raged across the trail, and sometimes the trail became a stream.10474476658?profile=original

Entering a forest of white fir and lodgepole pine, we hiked over patches of snow.  Early Sierra wildflowers were starting to bloom, but the most stunning was the snow plant.  It emerges from ground freshly cleared of snow, bright red with an intricate spiraling architecture. The Latin name Sarcodes Sanguinea means “bright flesh-like thing.”  It has no chlorophyll and is nourished by fungi in the soil.

Reaching 8,300’, we ran into serious snow.  When I had called Echo Chalet, they had said, yes the water taxi was running, and yes 10474477486?profile=originalpeople were hiking into Lake Aloha.  They hadn’t mentioned the snow. 

For the last mile to Lake Aloha, we hiked over snow that was at times 12’ deep.  It was firm with a soft top layer, and nice hiking surface.  The boot prints of earlier hikers guided us.  We passed a small lake still half frozen.  This year, the snow should be melted from the trial in early July.

After a short descent, we reached Lake Aloha at 8,120’. It sits in a glacial basin surrounded by raw granite peaks – Mt. Price 9,975’, Mt. Agassiz 9,967’, and Pyramid Peak 9,983’.  Mother Nature has outdone herself, an immense canvas painted with a glacial brush.

  Rivers of snowmelt poured into Lake Aloha.  It is a vast lake when it fills, 10474477264?profile=originalpeppered with hundreds of granite islands.  Now, early in the season, it is a labyrinth of ponds and channels winding through fissures in the rock.  We explored for a few hours, following seasonal rivers, venturing into the lake on rocky peninsulas before heading back.


Sierra Fall

Late last August, my friend Scott and I hiked to Lake Aloha.  The water taxi was running, an exhilarating ride that saved us 2.5 miles each way.

10474477861?profile=originalThe trail was dry and there was a feel of early autumn in the air.  Lake Aloha was weeks past its full stage.  Snowmelt had drained into Pyramid Creek, over Horsetail Falls, and joined the South Fork of the American River. 

We swam in deep pools, explored tiny islands, and dried off on smooth, sunbaked granite.  Then we headed back to catch the last call for the water taxi at 5:00.10474476685?profile=original



Echo Lake is approximately 10 miles west of So. Lake Tahoe off of Hwy 50.  It is a 3-4 hour drive from the Bay Area depending on traffic.  Detailed directions.


Walkabout California – connecting with the natural world through travel, outdoor adventure, and hiking inn-to-inn.  Savor the journey and the destination. Click here for California inn-to-inn hiking guides.


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Bryce Canyon – a Winter Wonderland

Add Bryce Canyon National Park to your bucket list for spectacular winter beauty, hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing. We visited in late December.  A blanket of snow brought a peacefulness that10474470899?profile=original was a contrast to the busy summer season.  The crowds had thinned, the air was clear, and views stretched for 100 miles.



Ancient rivers eroded the edge of Southern Utah’s Table Cliff Plateau forming pinnacles, spires and fins called hoodoos.  They are the “Legend People” of Piute lore, turned to stone by Coyote.  Walk the Rim Trail or drive the park’s road, stopping at overlooks.  The 10474472082?profile=originalviews are breathtaking and ever-changing, a photographers dream.



Winter hiking on steep trails can be dangerous, but attaching traction devices to your boots gives you a firm grip on snow or ice.  You can buy them at sporting goods stores or at the park’s visitor 10474467101?profile=originalcenter.  We use ICEtrekkers.  Some other brands are Yaktrax, Kahtoola, or STABILicers.   

On a bright, sunny day we descended into Bryce Amphitheater from Sunset Point on popular Navajo Loop Trail.  Reaching the canyon floor, we took the 3.7 mile Peekaboo Loop.  The snow was deep, but others had broken trail.  Hiking through forests of pinyon pines, fancifully shaped hoodoos towered around us.  We only saw only two other hikers on Peekaboo.10474471668?profile=original

We returned to the rim on Queens Garden Trail.  This section has some of the most fantastic and whimsical formations.  We hiked through tunnels carved in the soft rock and assigned names to the hoodoos. “That one looks like a woman on a horse.” “There’s Abraham Lincoln!” A short side trail leads to a spot where if you use your imagination, you can see Queen Victoria overlooking her court.  Many of the courtiers wore tall white hats of snow.

10474472492?profile=originalReaching the rim at Sunrise Point, we strolled the half mile back to our car.  The sun was dipping low in the west, casting long shadows from the hoodoos, such an eerie and beautiful sight, a great way to end our six-mile hike.


Winter Sports

Within the park, there are many cross-country ski routes above the rim.  Just outside the park, Ruby’s Inn offers 30km of groomed trails and ski rentals.

 Ruby’s also rents snowshoes for inside or outside the park.  Day time ranger-led snowshoe hikes start from the visitor center, and full-moon hikes are offered from November to March.  Snowshoes and poles are provided free of charge.  Call the visitor Center, 435-834-4747 for information and reservations.10474472675?profile=original

Ruby’s also has a skating rink and rentals.


Where to Stay

Lodge at Bryce Canyon is the only lodging within the park.  It was built in 1925, but 2015-16 is the first time it will stay open all winter.  Rooms start at $121.

Ruby’s Inn is just outside the park.  Bryce View Lodge is across the street from Ruby’s.  Rooms for both start at $70.

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Marin Coast Walkabout - A Trail Change

The Marin Coast Walkabout is a 4-day hike from Marin Headlands to Point Reyes National Seashore.  There has been a major trail change on Day Three – from Stinson Beach to Bolinas.  The route starts out unchanged, leaving Stinson, climbing to Bolinas Ridge and hiking the Coastal Trail to Bolinas-Fairfax Road.  Bourne Trail is now neglected and overgrown.  Here are two alternative routes.


First Alternative:  Cross Bolinas-Fairfax Road and hike Bolinas Ridge Trail.  It starts in serene redwoods, emerges into an open manzanita and oak forest, then back to redwoods.  Continuing along the rolling ridgeline, the forests alternate for 3.5 miles until McCurdy Trail.  Descend McCurdy for 1.7 miles to Highway 1.  This is not a well maintained trail, but it is popular with mountain bikers who keep it from becoming overgrown.  Initially it is steep, but it soon enters the forest and becomes more gradual.  Leaving the forest, hike the final mile through beautiful, rolling grasslands, descending into the wooded Olema Valley.  You are walking down to the San Andreas Fault.

Turn left on Highway 1 for a brief walk on the shoulder.  Turn right on Horseshoe Hill Road, a quiet forested country lane passing by small homesteads.  Turn right on Olema Bolinas Road, and hike the walking path along the road into Bolinas.


Second Alternative:  Descend from the ridge on Bolinas-Fairfax Road.  We try to avoid walking on roads, but this one is very pretty with little traffic.  It winds through the forest with periodic windows that open to Bolinas Lagoon and the Pacific.  Hike the road for 4.3 miles to Highway 1.  Cross the highway and walk the path along Olema Bolinas Road into Bolinas.

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San Clemente to Oceanside

This one day, 23.8 mile “bridge hike” connects two multi-day walkabouts. There are no inns or restaurants, but the inn-to-inn hiker is rewarded with the longest stretch of accessible uninterrupted, undeveloped shoreline for over 200 miles. Hike miles of plateau between coastal mountains and the sea. Walk through Camp Pendleton where you will experience an active Marine Corps base at two miles an hour. This is a challenging hike. Be sure to bring your driver’s license. They will check it as you enter Camp Pendleton. Visit the Walkabout Shop page to purchase a guide to hiking from San Clemente to Oceanside.



“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
- Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg

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This easy three day, 23.5 mile walkabout starts on the beautiful island of Santa Catalina. Enjoy the slow pace of island life. Explore Catalina’s shoreline by kayak, and hike its rugged mountains. Then take the ferry to Long Beach and hike three days to Newport Beach, strolling on classic Southern California surfing and swimming beaches. Along the way, sample the delights of interesting seaside towns – good food, fun bars, live
music, and unique inns. Click here to purchase the Santa Catalina to Newport Beach inn to inn vacation guide.


“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on
- Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching

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Guided Hikes to Truly Experience Yosemite

10474468095?profile=originalThere’s nothing better than exploring the gorgeous Yosemite area than by hiking through it to get closer to nature and the spectacular surroundings. With guided Wawona hiking tours from the Redwoods in Yosemite, you’ll be able to learn about area wildlife, history, riparian meadows and natural habitats.

These guide tours are easy to moderate in difficulty with moderate elevation gains, allowing them to be enjoyed by any hiker in good physical shape. They average in length between two and four hours. These hikes include:

Wawona Meadow Loop. Moderate in difficulty, this hike covers 3-1/2 miles in about 2 ½ hours. The meeting point for this hike will be at the trailhead, adjacent to the Wawona Hotel.

Wawona Historic Swinging Bridge. This is a moderate two-mile hike that will last about two hours. The meeting point for this hike is the Redwoods in Yosemite registration meeting and events center.

You can also take in a combined tour that will include both the Meadow Loop and Swinging Bridge. Contact the Redwoods for more information about these guided hikes.

Other Guided Hikes

There are also many other guide hikes throughout Yosemite that you can enjoy, including those conducted by National Park Service rangers. These are multi-day hikes that will take you through areas such as Merced Lake, May Lake, Sunrise, and Vogelsang. During your hiking adventure, you’ll be provided with meals and lodging, as well as guide service.

The Guided Half Dome hike is very popular; so popular in fact that the NPS uses a permit system for getting to the Half Dome. You can apply for a permit directly through the NPS, or many guide services can provide assistance.

Backpacking Adventures for Beginners

There’s even backpacking trips for the novices. There are two-day guided trips that will introduce you to the basics of backpacking and wilderness use. These trips include all the equipment you’ll need including tent, sleeping bag, and backpack. You’ll also enjoy meals in the great outdoors.

Whether you are an experienced hiker or just a beginner, you’ll find many hikes and trails that will let you experience all the natural beauty offered by Yosemite National Park. Of course, don’t forget to bring the camera to record all the beautiful sites that you’ll be experiencing.

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This moderate three-day, 38 mile adventure hikes a Pacific shoreline that varies from wide Southern California swimming beaches, to paths along coastal bluffs, to boulder hopping under steep cliffs where few hikers venture. It passes through sections of deep urban development as well as untouched wilderness where your only company will be sea mammals and shore birds. Along the way you’ll visit delightful beach towns, a luxurious resort, and the beautiful island of Santa Catalina. Click here to purchase the Santa Monica to Santa Catalina guide.


“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the
mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and
teach some of us more than we can ever learn from
- John Lubbock, The Use of Life

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Walkabout Point Reyes National Seashore

With 71,000 acres of coastal hills, dense forests, pristine beaches, and 140 miles of hiking trails, Pt. Reyes National Seashore is a walkabout paradise. It is only an hour 10474467055?profile=originaland a half north of San Francisco by car or bus. This walkabout explores the central portion of the park. You’ll stay at lovely inns in Olema and Pt. Reyes Station and a hostel set deep in the park where you can commune with deer, bobcat, and other residents of this enchanted wilderness.

This is an easy 24.8 mile walkabout over three hiking days. Stay an extra day or two and explore the esteros and miles of beautiful beaches. Enjoy hiking from inn-to-inn on the wild coast of California.



Visit the Walkabout store to purchase this guide, Walkabout Northern California - the book, or other inn to inn hiking vacation guides.


“Find joy in the sky, in the trees, in the flowers,
There are flowers everywhere, For those who want to see them.”

- Henri Matisse

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Cosumnes River Preserve – A Birding Paradise

It is dusk, and the pale December sun dips toward Mt. Diablo.  A guttural, trumpeting call comes from a group of sandhill cranes.  They glide in V-formation, long necks extended, legs stretched behind.  Descending to the harvested cornfield, they slow and break formation.  An abrupt turn, wings flapping to slow down, feet hit the ground with two awkward steps, wings fold, and they join hundreds of compatriots for the night.

10474464071?profile=originalThis scene is repeated, one group after another, on Staten Island in Cosumnes River Preserve.  They join thousands of other birds to settle in for the night.  We feel like we’ve stepped back in time to when humans were a minor species, and the skies of California’s Central Valley were darkened with flocks of migrating birds.

Just north of Stockton, the preserve is a short drive from most of the Bay Area or Sacramento, and it’s a nice place to take a break when you’re driving Highway 5.  Outdoor writer, Tom Stienstra, reports that an average of five million ducks and 1.5 million shorebirds migrate through or over-winter on California's Pacific Flyway. The ponds, marshes, river, and fields of Cosumnes are a major stopping point.

But sandhill cranes are the stars.  They stand five feet tall on legs that bend backward at the knee. Their plumage is gray with a red crown of featherless skin that turns bright when they are excited.  With long, stately necks and a seven foot wingspan, they have a dignified, ancient appearance.  Their roots are prehistoric, with fossil records dating back 2.5 million years.10474464457?profile=original

A mated pair begins a courting ritual – circling, leaping with wings spread, calling in a complex duet.  They stretch their necks, toss heads back, and fling sticks and grass in the air – a joyous bonding dance.

Exploring the Cosumnes River Preserve


Bird watching is not the only fun activity in the preserve.  Stop by the Visitor Center for a trail map.  You can stretch your legs and hike three miles on the River Walk Trail as it snakes through oak forests, open fields, on levees, and along the Cosumnes River.  Meander on the one-mile Lost Slough Wetlands walking through marshlands and ponds.  The ½ mile Boardwalk Trail winds deep into ponds for an up-close look at ducks, geese, herons, egrets, and dozens of other species.



Cosumnes River is the last undammed river flowing out of the Western Sierra.  It joins Mokelumne River in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, just downstream from the preserve.

 10474464889?profile=original           We put in on Middle Slough, near the Visitor Center, and paddled our inflatable double kayak through riparian forests.  Red-tailed hawks circled overhead.  A great egret with flowing white plumage waded near the shore.  She stopped, leaning forward.  Then lightning-quick, she pierced the shallows with her long beak and snatched a wriggling fish. Gulp.  After gliding a ½ mile of still water on the slough, we came to the river and explored the main channel and backwaters for a few hours.


Bring the Kids

Families with young children and toddlers in strollers were enjoying the preserve on the day of our visit.  The kids delighted in spotting rabbits and ground squirrels.  They shared in the excitement of watching hundreds of birds get spooked, suddenly take off, and circle overhead, or of seeing a skein of Canada geese glide in for a splashy landing on a pond.


Best Times to Visit

Millions of birds migrate on the pacific Flyway from fall through spring.  When winter storms hit Northern California, waterfowl head for the Central Valley and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  The greater sandhill cranes arrive in 10474465097?profile=originalOctober and over-winter on the preserve.  Lesser sandhill cranes pass through on their way to Mexico from their breeding grounds in Siberia, Alaska and Canada.  The best time to see cranes is around dawn and dusk.  Drive Staten Island Rd., pullover, get out, and watch a spectacular show as hundreds fly out of the fields in the morning and return late in the day.


Getting There

The Visitor Center, 13501 Franklin Blvd., Galt, CA.  is approximately 25 miles north of Stockton. 

Driving north on Highway 5: Take exit 493, and drive north on Thorton Rd. to Franklin Blvd.  Continue on Franklin.  Look for the Visitor Center sign

Driving south on Highway 5: Take exit 498, turn left (east) on Twin Cities Rd, right on Franklin Blvd.  Look for the Visitor Center sign.

The Visitor Center will provide you with directions to great viewing sites including Staten Island Rd and Woodbridge Ecological Reserve.

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