Once upon a time – as in, nearly a dozen years ago – my soon-to-be husband, Dan, and I decided to embark upon a summertime camping trip in California’s Yosemite National Park, one of the jewels of this country’s National Park System. Encompassing nearly 1,200 square miles of dramatic valleys, enormous meadows, ancient forests, impressive rockfaces, and celebrated waterfalls, Yosemite is one of the first wilderness parks established in the United States – and nowadays, it’s one of the most popular attractions in the country, among Americans and international visitors alike.
For years, Dan and I had wanted to explore this wondrous place, so in the summer of 1999, we finally attempted to fulfill our fantasy. Our plan was simple: secure a permit for the Hetch Hetchy backcountry, gather all the necessary provisions (from heavy-duty backpacks to bear-resistant canisters to a water-filtration system), then spend two days trekking up to Lake Vernon, where we would camp for several days, likely having to share it with just a handful of other backpackers.
Unfortunately, the trip didn’t go quite as, well, planned. Despite our unabashed excitement, our limited hiking experience at the time put us at a distinct disadvantage. After all, switchbacks are not easy to navigate for amateurs. Leaving at high noon on the Fourth of July didn’t help matters either, especially since one of us (okay, me) is prone to heat exhaustion. So, needless to say, we never made it to Lake Vernon. Nevertheless, we were both grateful to have seen Yosemite together, for although Yosemite Valley is where most travelers flock, Hetch Hetchy – the controversial reservoir ringed by wooded mountains – is truly a wonder to behold. In fact, I highly recommend the area to other would-be backpackers, especially those hoping to spot few other souls while camping. My only advice would be to pack the night before and set out at dawn, especially if planning to camp during the summer months.
Of course, given that it’s only spring, you might be wondering why I’m sharing this embarrassing summertime experience with you. Well, frankly, it’s never too early to start planning your summer vacation. Besides, springtime isn’t such a bad time to camp in northern California – if, that is, you don’t mind cooler temperatures and potential road closures.
No matter when you go, though, “camping,” according to Moon author Tom Stienstra, “can provide the portal to a world where all can feel right.” This, given a variety of camping experiences (and not all of them debacles), I know to be true. Tom, the author of Moon California Camping, shares many such pearls of wisdom in his online author Q&A. As with those about Dallas, Phoenix, and San Diego – which I highlighted in my last three posts – Tom’s informative interview offered plenty of food for thought, such as how to keep dry while camping and the fact that Sequoia National Park, one of my favorite places in the Golden State, is a probable spot for a bear sighting.
For more information about camping in California, consult Yosemite National Park (P.O. Box 577, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389, 209/372-0200), Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (47050 Generals Hwy., Three Rivers, CA 93271-9700, 559/565-3341 or 559/565-3766), or Tom Stienstra’s Moon California Camping guidebook. Then, I hope you have a lot more luck than Dan and I did on our first camping trip in California!
So, what’s your favorite camping destination in America?