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Heading West
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Ultralite Hiker
(Ultralite) - F
Beginner Friendly Backpacking Out West on 03/10/2010 13:00:22 MST Print View

My wife and I have some vacation time to burn and we have been thinking of taking a week long backpacking trip out west. We have been on 7 trips since we started backpacking, all of them have been in the Smokies or areas surrounding Middle TN. The longest trip we have done is 5 days.

We have acquired some fairly decent gear to this point, there are places we could both afford to lighten up, but overall I think we have done well.

Does anyone have any suggestions for a trip somewhere out West that would be good for a pair of Novice hikers? Location does not matter, just something that has a little different atmosphere would be great. We both are in to photography, so breath-taking scenery is always a plus. We were thinking possibly Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Zion, however, we are unclear if they are "noob friendly" enough for us to take on at this stage in the game.

Any suggestions welcome.


Edited by Ultralite on 03/10/2010 13:01:56 MST.

John Brochu
(JohnnyBgood4) - F

Locale: New Hampshire
Re: Beginner Friendly Backpacking Out West on 03/10/2010 14:12:26 MST Print View

What time of year are you thinking?

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Beginner Friendly Backpacking Out West on 03/10/2010 15:35:31 MST Print View

"Any suggestions welcome."

One very beginner friendly summer/fall trip in the Sierra would be a 6-7 day out and back over Paiute Pass into Humphreys Basin. The terrain is pretty benign, lots of camping opportunities, and the scenery is great. The trail starts at 9400' after an ~18 mile drive due west from Bishop, Ca, and ascends to ~11,500' in 4.5 miles of hiking through gorgeous scenery. There are numerous lakeside camp sites before you reach Paiute Pass and the first campsites in Humphreys Basin proper can be found less than a mile beyond the pass, beginning at Muriel Lake.
There are also several car campsites at 8-9000' strung out along the drive to trailhead where you could spend a day or two to acclimatize if you felt that would be desirable. It's an ideal introduction to the Sierra.

Edited by ouzel on 03/10/2010 15:36:50 MST.

Ultralite Hiker
(Ultralite) - F
Time of Year on 03/10/2010 19:14:44 MST Print View

Time of year is negotiable. We were thinking maybe May/June or Sept/Oct timeframe. Depending on the locale, we could do summer as well. Really trying to take a trip while the weather is between 15 and 85 if possible.

Edited by Ultralite on 03/10/2010 19:15:44 MST.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Time of Year on 03/10/2010 20:36:23 MST Print View

"We were thinking maybe May/June or Sept/Oct timeframe"

If you decide to try the Sierra, September is ideal. No bugs, fewer people, generally stable weather with lots of sun and mild temps - highs in the 60's to low 70's above ~8000', lows in the low 40's down to mid 20's as a rule. It's my favorite time of year there.

Ultralite Hiker
(Ultralite) - F
This One? on 03/11/2010 16:46:17 MST Print View

Is this the trail you are referring to?

Another question, what would be the best place to fly into to get there? Also, what do most of you do on these types of excursions, rent a car and leave it at the site? Would be nice if you didnt have to pay for the car while you were backpacking for the 7 days..

Edited by Ultralite on 03/11/2010 16:50:55 MST.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: This One? on 03/11/2010 18:26:46 MST Print View

"Is this the trail you are referring to?"

That's it, but a lot of the nice places are just to the north and west of where your map ends. I'd purchase the Tom Harrison Bishop Pass Trail Map. It is a very high quality map that gives you a much better perspective on the area. They can be purchased online at The best place to fly in to, IMO, is Reno. There you can rent a car or catch a bus to Bishop.
Either way takes 4-5 hours. It is a beautiful drive down, either way, once you clear Gardnerville, NV, about 40 miles south of Reno. The downside of a rental car is leaving it unused for most of a week and paying for the privilege. The tradeoff is added convenience, although you can get a shuttle service ride to trailhead from Bishop. Money vs convenience. Dealer's choice. If you decide to do this hike, PM me or post here for others' advice as well, regarding Bishop amenities and best places to visit on your backpacking trip. Several others on this site are also quite familiar with the Paiute Pass/Humphreys Basin area and could provide valuable insights and probably a slightly different perspective than mine.

Elizabeth Tracy
(mariposa) - M

Locale: Outside
Sierras in September, or Zion in October on 03/12/2010 12:32:44 MST Print View

I'd suggest the Sierras anytime from Sept 1-25 (or so); or Zion anytime from Sept 25 to Oct 31.

In the Sierras you have almost too many choices to list. Access the area from the EAST side (Independence, Bishop, Mammoth, Lee Vining, etc.) for the most spectacular hiking. Order the "Sierra South" book for specific route ideas.

Personally, for September there is NOTHING better for newbies than a 3-4 day, take-your-time loop starting at Agnew Meadows (near the town of Mammoth) and looping to Lake Ediza, Garnet Lake, Thousand Island Lake, and back along the High Trail while the aspens are turning color. That place is very crowded in August but it clears out after Labor Day.

Every time I take a "new backpacker" to that place, I acquire a backpacker for life.

If you have more than 3-4 days then you can do a second trip. A spectacular second trip (~3 days) would be exploring the Sabrina Lakes Basin or the Palisades trail near Bishop. Both of those trips are profiled in the Sierra South book.

Order the "Hot Springs and Hot Pools of the Southwest" book. Lots of info in there about the remote hot springs very near the Highway 395 connecting Mammoth to Bishop.

Zion is definitely a friendly place for beginning backpackers. You might do a lot of climbing; but the trails are extremely well-marked.

I wouldn't be as inclined to go in May or June. The snowpack is too unpredictable. The Sierras are more interesting navigable (IMO) when you can get into the East-side trails I mentioned without worrying about snow covering up the trail. Depending on the year, it might not be melted off till late June.

And May-June in the Southwest is usually too hot for me.

Ultralite Hiker
(Ultralite) - F
2 Trips on 03/12/2010 13:16:57 MST Print View

We wouldnt be opposed to taking 2 (separate) trips. One in spring/early summer and one in the fall.

Assuming we chose the sierras in the fall, what would be a nice place (weather and beginner wise) to take a trip to in the May-ish time frame?

Randall Spratt

Locale: Minnesota
Re: Beginner Friendly Backpacking Out West on 03/16/2010 22:41:48 MDT Print View

I second the Sierras in the early Fall. I recommend the Rae Lakes Loop trail in Kings Canyon National Park. Perfect for a 5 day trip. Well marked trails, incredible scenery, and enough other hikers so you don't feel too isolated. I did this trip last spring. You can see my trip report and pictures here.
I am happy to answer any other questions you may have if you are interested in this trail!