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Snow Camping in the Southern Sierra (or anywhere for that matter).
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jeff clapp
(malterwitty) - F

Locale: southern CA
Snow Camping in the Southern Sierra (or anywhere for that matter). on 01/12/2011 15:47:05 MST Print View

Like many others in the fora, I've been gearing up to try the fourth season. My wife and I have bought thermals and gaiters and jackets and mittens. Etcetera.

The plan is to rent some snowshoes, go in just a couple of miles, and see what winter is like. I'd like to try to build a snow shelter of one type or another, but I'm carrying a 4 season tent anyway. It's a first go and the safety margins are going to be FAT.

Question: where can I do this? Everybody I've talked to at every ranger district in the Sierra is responding to my queries like they've never heard of any such thing. The roads are all closed, the trailheads are all inaccessible......I can snowshoe at a "snowplay area" ....

Yet somebody is doing this. Where?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Snow Camping in the Southern Sierra (or anywhere for that matter). on 01/12/2011 16:00:06 MST Print View

Don't take offense at what I write here. Typical rangers will not want to encourage anybody for snow camping if they start asking questions as if they don't know anything. If you do act like you know what you are doing, then the rangers will often answer quite directly. It is almost as if they don't want to take responsibility for any trouble that you might get into.

One smart way to get into this is to sign up for a winter snow camping class. I don't know where you are, but I know that in Northern California, there are commercial and non-commercial groups who lead these trips. I know, because I have led my share.

We would always pick a trailhead where parking was available. California has Sno-Park places for permit holders. In some cases, these were snowmobile launch spots. For a beginner trip, you don't want to go too far, so something like two miles on an unplowed jeep road is OK. Then you want to pick a spot where the snowmobiles will not be speeding through your campsite. If you have a tent, you want to use it someplace moderately flat and near trees where there won't be any avalanche danger. If you are digging a snow cave, then you want it on the side of a hill where there won't be any avalanche danger.

I assume that you will need to melt snow for drinking water. It takes a good stove and a lot of fuel to melt snow. If you can find open water and boil that, it is a lot easier.

Rule #1 for snow camping. Keep yourself 100% dry, and then you can stay warm.


jeff clapp
(malterwitty) - F

Locale: southern CA
Yes, but on 01/12/2011 16:15:21 MST Print View


Thanks for your advice. I have made it my business to know the things you mention, although, as I made clear, I am also after a novice experience.

My question remains unanswered: WHERE is it possible to do such a trip? I need a trailhead, a road, a campground....

The Sno-Parks site quite clearly prohibits camping or overnighting of any kind.


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Yes, but on 01/12/2011 16:36:43 MST Print View

"The Sno-Parks site quite clearly prohibits camping or overnighting of any kind."

You are reading too much into that. They don't want you camping _right_there_.

You ask about Southern California. You might want to define that. Maybe as far north as Kings Canyon? Sequoia has all kinds of places.

Why do you need a campground? I can't imagine what I would do with a campground.

If you need a road and a trailhead, then maybe this isn't for you, and you might want to check out the organized trips that I mentioned earlier. Some REI stores even organize these trips. I've even gone on winter trips organized at state parks, but you'll probably have to pay a park entrance fee.

This may be a little too far north for you, but Yosemite has the Badger Pass Ski Area with a large parking lot for skiers. If you want to park overnight, you go to the ranger station there and tell them that you want to camp out at Dewey Point. The rangers will issue you an overnight parking pass, write your name into a register, and then you are on your way. Some people get about 1.5 mile in that direction, find a place, and spend the night. Some people go 4 miles in that direction, to the point, and spend the night. If one of the parks closer to where you are have a situation like that, it's good.


Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
A few possibilities on 01/12/2011 18:05:45 MST Print View

1) Hetchy Hetchy- hike out of the valley and up toward Vernon lake. You can make as long of trip as you want. I did a 45 mile out to tilden and back and it was awesome.
2) Later in the season you could hike out of Roads End in Kings Canyon. Last year I did a trip in May and ended up with doing the Rae Lakes Loop. A much easier trip would be to head toward Vidette Meadow and back.
3) On the east side you can hike out of the Onion Valley Trailhead up toward Kearsarge Pass. I would only do this if the Road is open to the trailhead. I did a loop last April out of there and the Road was open. Earlier in the season, January, the road was closed forcing an extra 7 mile 3000' gain hike into the trailhead. Also in that area is the Shepherds Pass Trailhead. It is also off Onion Valley Road. Depending on conditions you could hit snow almost immediately or have to hike in a couple of miles. I camped near there last weekend and there is a bunch of snow so you would propably hit snow immediately.
4)If you head east from Bakersfield area on Rt 155 you will pass some great snow on the pass before Isabelle Lake. That would be pretty much park and snowshoe.
5) The easiest would be to snowshoe up the closed Tioga Road. You can park at the road closure, go as far as you want and snow camp. There are a bunch of cross country ski routes all over that area.

Also, everyone is a novice until they do it. The 45 mile Tilden Lake trip was my first snowshoe trip. You have to start somewhere. I would spend the time to learn about avalanches. Sounds like you are willing to learn small.

Have fun!

Edited by gg-man on 01/12/2011 18:10:38 MST.

jeff clapp
(malterwitty) - F

Locale: southern CA
SNO on 01/12/2011 18:10:17 MST Print View


You're quite right; I was misreading the SNO-PARK site. I'll look into the SNO-PARKS near the 168, out of Fresno. Seems like the ideal situation.

My request for road, trailhead, or campgrounds were for identifying locations where one might begin. Naturally the campgrounds are closed.


Buck Stolberg
(bstolberg) - MLife

Locale: Harlem
Kings Canyon National Park on 01/12/2011 18:10:20 MST Print View

I was up in Kings Canyon National Park about three weeks ago. They had the road to Cedar Grove plowed to the turn-off for Hume Lake. There was another road going up and left of the road (facing North) at about that same juncture. Looking on the map it seems to go out, connect with another road, and return a mile or so to the South. For the sake of planning though, I think you could just do an out and back. There was about two feet of snow on the ground at that point, enough to cover everything but keep that road flat (it was never plowed). There is also a place to park cleared on the side of the road. I would have gone snow camping out there if I had the time.

Other options in that area would be any cross country ski trail. There was one at the pass about 2 miles South of where I am describing, toward the entrance of the park (or about 8 miles North of the entrance) with good parking and some people milling around. I want to say it was Cherry ??? Ski trail.

I can't say how conditions are now, or even if the road is still plowed that far. Try to get a hold of the visitor center (I never got connected to a live person) and ask about cross country ski trails in Sequoia as well. They are usually fairly flat, are on or pass through flat terrain (good for camping), and have parking. They may even be groomed, which you want if it has become deep sierra snow.

The website has no useful information for Kings Canyon. So you'll need to speak to someone. Even the road that was gated and I skied on was plowed while I skied back, and it was still gated. You really won't need to go far out there. A couple hundred yards out and there won't be anybody else, especially in the winter.

Good luck, and bring a shovel.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Kings Canyon National Park on 01/12/2011 18:32:45 MST Print View

Bob Gross is correct about the Sno Parks. You purchase a pass for a few dollars and that enables you to leave your car there and you are off and hiking. If you don't have the pass (which you can buy at outdoor supply shops. These are listed online too) your car will be towed. There are many fantastic places to go. One that is real fun is Round Valley of Hwy 80. You start at the Boreal Ski Resort parking lot and head North on a jeep road. A very fun hike!

jeff clapp
(malterwitty) - F

Locale: southern CA
Thx on 01/12/2011 18:50:02 MST Print View

Greg: I've been to Vidette Meadows and to Rae Lakes--eventually I'll get higher up into those mountains, if all goes well. But this trip is even smaller in scale than that. To see if I want this 4th season at all.

Since I'm in LA, the 155 near Isabelle Lake is the closest thing anybody's come up with yet. I'll probably call and see if the 155 is might be nice NOT to do this trip on a groomed jeep trail.

Buck: That little detour off the Cedar Grove road is indeed intriguing. And I do want to make sure that I go far enough 1) north 2) up for there to be plenty of snow that's not going to get mucky on me over the weekend. The forecast for Hume is nearly 50 during the day.

Thanks to you both for your help.


Theron Rohr
(theronr) - F

Locale: Los Angeles, California
Re: Thx on 01/12/2011 19:14:26 MST Print View

How about Mt San Jacinto up the cable car? I haven't been yet but I know people go up there for snow shoeing/skiing.

David W.
(Davidpcvsamoa) - MLife

Locale: East Bay, CA
Snowshoe is S. Sierra on 01/12/2011 19:42:17 MST Print View

Snowshoe Trips

Here are some ideas for easy hikes you can turn into an overnight trip.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: A few possibilities - Shepherd Pass on 01/12/2011 20:17:14 MST Print View

"Also in that area is the Shepherds Pass Trailhead. It is also off Onion Valley Road. Depending on conditions you could hit snow almost immediately or have to hike in a couple of miles. I camped near there last weekend and there is a bunch of snow so you would propably hit snow immediately."

Keep in mind that if there is a lot of unconsolidated snow, the Shepherd Pass Trail is a good place to get buried. Exercise caution, and check with the Whitney RS or the folks at the White Mtn RS in Bishop.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"Snow Camping in the Southern Sierra (or anywhere for that matter)." on 01/12/2011 21:42:08 MST Print View

If you haven't read it already, pick up "Allen and MIke's excellent backcountry ski book".

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: "Snow Camping in the Southern Sierra (or anywhere for that matter)." on 01/12/2011 21:50:32 MST Print View

For a first trip, you might want to keep to an unplowed jeep road. That makes navigation easy, and also it has room for cross country skiers to be on one half and snowshoers to be on the other half. Later, you can go on just about any hiking trail with snowshoes. Later still, you make your own trails.


Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Thx on 01/13/2011 00:55:29 MST Print View

You live in LA. Easiest is San Jacinto. No worry about parking, there is no snow in the Tramway parking lot. In 30 minutes you will be at 8,500 feet. Two mile hike to Round Valley and 500 feet elevation gain. There is lots of snow up there right now.

For more information on current conditions (888) 515-TRAM.

jeff clapp
(malterwitty) - F

Locale: southern CA
Round Valley on 01/13/2011 10:47:35 MST Print View

Theron, Nick

I'm going to take that advice. Thanks!


Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
LA area snow on 01/13/2011 11:59:25 MST Print View

Jeff, if your near LA then Baldy is closest. I plan on trying my snowiness as well soon, let me know if you want join. Ice house canyon, sleep at Spruce Grove or Kellys camp. 4 miles, 7-8000ft elevation.

Peter Burke
(Fishmonger) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Snow Camping in the Southern Sierra (or anywhere for that matter). on 01/13/2011 12:48:20 MST Print View

I can't help much with west side parking - I always visit the Sierra from Owens Valley where winter access to trailheads is pretty much determined by the snow level. The lower trailheads may need 4WD or you just park lower down. Expect snow to come down lower than it is when you start (there was just an epic thread about digging out a Subaru at Whitney Portal Road - took them three weekends to get the car back down...)

what to expect - here's some stuff to look at that I collected over recent months while doing some research for my winter ski trip - just pictures, but it gives you an idea what others are doing with a west side entry

Dinky Lakes Wilderness April 2010 on telemark ski (it wont' let me use html to link that page...)

Snowshoing with Yosemite Chick.on

Another of Yosemite Chick.on's adventures

On snow shoes, 10 miles is a big day (which is why my trip will be on ski). 4 Season tent is one thing - keeping dry another.

Edited by Fishmonger on 01/13/2011 12:51:11 MST.

jeff clapp
(malterwitty) - F

Locale: southern CA
Icehouse on 01/13/2011 14:55:02 MST Print View


Icehouse is wonderful and that was actually my first idea for a location. But the rangers say the canyon is FROZEN, and that you'll need crampons and an iceaxe, for sure, to get to the saddle.

I'm not going there. Yet.


Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Icehouse on 01/13/2011 16:23:27 MST Print View

I went to Icehouse Saddle with nothing but Microspikes last weekend...the snow was soft, but I was there after 11am. Crampons and axe (or at least an axe and microspikes) would be prudent early in the morning, it does melt by day and freeze solid by night up there; there's one section of trail where a loss of footing would send you 50 meters down a 70 degree slope.
But if the sun's been out, it's not an issue.

I wouldn't be too concerned with the warnings from what I saw.

I'd be game for an overnighter up there soon.