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Major road trip to western parks - mainly Yosemite
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Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Major road trip to western parks - mainly Yosemite on 12/22/2012 20:42:16 MST Print View

Last summer, my son and I drove 5300+ miles in 20 days to Lassen Volcanic, Redwoods, Crater Lake (the main one) and Dinosaur.

This summer, he has chosen Yosemite as the main destination. Since it is so much larger and has much more to see than Crater Lake I'm having trouble deciding what we should do. Our earliest arrival would be June 19 and we need to start our return no later than July 9. It seems I need to put in for our permit on Jan 2 if we do indeed hit Yosemite first, but I am leaning toward doing it at the end of the trip for 2 reasons. 1) he'd be in better condition after whatever other stops we make and 2) our food for our entire trip would be in our trunk and don't want to leave all that in a TH bear box. I guess a third reason would be less chance of snow if we do go up high.

I also understand that if I have a wilderness permit that would route somewhat near Half Dome that we can easily get those permits as well when we pick up our permit. He is not a big hiker (12 miles is his max so far and climbing Lassen Peak was a challenge though that was our first full day) so I'd prefer most days being < 10 miles. I prefer loops unless we can easily access the shuttle to return to our car. I also like to see the cool things that 99% never see or even know about like the pumice slots canyons at Crater Lake.

So as far as Yosemite goes, what routes would you recommend?

As for other sites we may hit, these are on the list of possibilities:
Arches (this was #2 on his list so I know we'll stop here)
Grand Canyon
Hoover Dam
Death Valley
Sequoia/Kings (anything worthwhile besides Whitney you can do from the east?)
Devil's Postpile

What would be "must see" or what would you leave out?

Anything we should add that's not on the list?

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Major road trip to western parks - mainly Yosemite on 12/22/2012 22:32:04 MST Print View

Where are you starting /ending from?

Sequoia /Kings Canyon from the East is either Whitney or access to the PCT from a few high trailheads. The big trees and caves (more caves than any other CA park after Lava Beds) are accessed from the West. Also, although S/KC look close to Yosemite, there are a lot of twisty road (Hwy 49) or backtracking to Hwy 99 involved.

I'd couple Yosemite with a variety of things to the east, especially if your are approaching from that direction.

The State Historical Park and ghost town of Bodie,
Mono Lake (visitor's center in Lee Vining)
fissures in Black's Point on the north shore of Mono Lake.
Tufa formation on the south shore of Mono Lake.
Devil's Post pile
Bristlecone Pine NF on the east side of Owen's Valley with the world's oldest trees.
Natural hot springs, one developed and many other lesser developed ones east of 395.

All of the above have moderate to high altitude, so if you do those as you approach your Yosemite hike, it will help both of you acclimatize to the higher elevations.

If you are thinking of the Grand Canyon on the way, it is not a good season to go the River and back and it sounds like he hasn't proven himself as a hiker for that level of day hike. Therefore, if not going to the River, you could go to the North Rim which is far less crowded, cooler and more forested. Also, that puts you closer to Zion and Bryce. Leave the impressive, expansive views from the South Rim for another day. Maybe when he's strong enough for a RIm-River-Rim hike (but not in the summer). I did it 2 years ago when my son was 11 in late May. We got lucky and it only go to 89 in the Inner Canyon that day.

If you go to GCNP on the way to Yosemite, you WILL pass by Hoover Dam which is worth a tour. You'll be close to Death Valley, but that's not a good time of year for doing much more than looking out the window. Maybe overnight outside DV and go through in the early morning, a take a short hike shortly after first light, or even before.

I spent 8 days with my son and hiked the Grand Canyon, toured Death Valley, started on the Whitney Trail (too much snow), did some Yosemite hikes (too much snow for Half Dome), Sequoia, Kings Canyon, a few things in the Central Valley, And various LA attractions. But he's quite the hiker for his age and we both road trip together very well (and very quickly). It was a little heavy on the driving because Tioga Pass into Yosemite was closed due to heavy snow until far later than usual. (The next year, it was open quite early.)

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Re: Major road trip to western parks - mainly Yosemite on 12/23/2012 06:41:43 MST Print View

We're in Indiana so we'll likely take 70 out and 80 back, reverse of what we did last year.

My parents actually drove through DV, SEKI & Yosemite 2 months ago (no hiking, just roadside stops) so I know there's lots of driving, which I don't mind if the stop will add something significant to the trip. Sounds like Kings Canyon is a site to see perhaps but who knows. Thanks for those other suggestions, too.

If we do GC, we'd stay on the north side but the side trip to Hoover Dam may be worth it.

What would you suggest within Yosemite itself?

My youngest son is a decent hiker. This one is not athletic (flat-footed and heavy) but marching band helped him out and I plan to get him to work on the exercise bike a month beforehand. We road trip pretty well - slept in the Civic many times on that trip as cost was (and still is) a factor.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: western road trip on 12/23/2012 10:18:35 MST Print View

In that time frame I'd hit Utah first; the temps will be kinder in June (generally speaking) and give the snow in the Sierras a bit of time to melt off.

Arches first; dayhike Landscape Arch and the Primitive Loop, dayhike to Delicate Arch (crowded, but worth it), and do the ranger walk into the Fiery Furnace.

Drive through Hanksville and Capitol Reef. Do Peak-a-boo/Spooky slot loop in the Escalante. Maybe an overnight backpack out to Neon Canyon and back as well. Hot that time of year, but that makes and water and shade very nice.

North Rim of the GC is worth a stop. Sounds like a backpack into the depths might be a bit much.

Zion next. Dayhike Angels Landing, Hidden Canyon, up the Narrows if the water is low enough. Narrows might be in shape to do it top-down as an overnight, which is awesome.

Sierras next. Dayhiking Telescope Peak in Death Valley is worthwhile and quite pleasant that time of year.

Backpacking Onion Valley to the Portal with a summit of Whitney would be great if you're hitting your stride by that point in the trip. The hitch is easy to do. There will be bugs in late June.

I'd avoid the valley in Yosemite, it'll be a junk show. Tuolumne is gorgeous and has great hiking.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: re: western road trip on 12/23/2012 14:45:10 MST Print View

Thanks for those suggestions, Dave. I think my little Civic wouldn't be up for the road to Neon Canyon and it may be beyond our present skills (I really liked this comment on Avg Joe - "Highly skilled people can chimney over this pothole with big exposure and penalty points" - made me LOL). Sounds like we could also see Zebra/Tunnel and Devil's Garden in the same day.

I think getting a permit down into the GC would be a major pain anyway. My school group did that overnight 30 years ago when I was his age. I recall leaving Phantom Ranch last and being first back to the rim in something like 3 hours.

Can you get Whitney permits easily at the last minute?

I'll be doing my best to avoid the Yosemite crowds. Can't be helped at Half Dome I suppose unless you leave early in the AM.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: re: western road trip on 12/23/2012 15:04:24 MST Print View

"Sierras next. Dayhiking Telescope Peak in Death Valley is worthwhile and quite pleasant that time of year."

Unfortunately, Telescope Peak is in the Panamint Range, not the Sierra Nevada.


Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Re: re: western road trip on 12/23/2012 15:19:31 MST Print View

That's OK. I knew what he meant.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: Neon canyon on 12/23/2012 16:48:02 MST Print View

I didn't mean descend the Neon slot, just hike in and camp on the Escalante near the mouth, and hike up and see the Golden Cathedral. Hiking in the Fence Canyon route and then back to the car XC (exit the Esca via the sand dune right across from Neon) is a great loop. The one wash crossing on the Egypt road could be a problem if it flashed recently, but don't let the visitor center staff scare you too much.

I think, but should defer to an expert (BG could actually be helpful..), that going in not via Whitney Portal makes walk-in permits easy to get.

One way to avoid the parking/driving bother of the valley would be to do a 3-4 day trip from Tuolumne into the valley and back. You could reserve one of the tent cabins in Curry Village for one night and enjoy a shower and pizza dinner that night.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: re: western road trip on 12/24/2012 08:27:37 MST Print View

Would you recommend neoprene socks for Zion Narrows or would normal wool suffice to keep the feet warm enough going through all that cold water?

A shower and pizza may be a good way to end our trip. :) I think we could take a free shuttle back to the car in Tuolumne and start the drive home (perhaps seeing some of those sites at Mono Lake David mentioned).

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Re: re: western road trip on 12/24/2012 09:22:00 MST Print View

here's another vote for southern Utah, don't forget to consider Bryce Canyon while you are passing thru there.

Regarding your Sierra area portion, what length of backpacking trips are you willing to consider, both in miles and days ?

Last minute walk-up permits for Whitney are not hard to get but its hit and miss and varies day to day. you have to enter a daily mini lottery for the available permits. Anyone who is there that day enters the daily lottery for whatever is available.

The suggsestion to do Whitney via Onion Valley is a good one for getting permits but its a 48 mile point to point trip over some very high passes.

a nice Eastside trip is to hike in to the North Palisade area from Big Pine (one hour north of Whitney on 395). The hike in to 3rd lake is 5 miles and gives great views. The Palisades are the most Alpine-like area of the Sierra. Could be done as a day hike or an overnighter.

You sound like you are trying to squeeze a lot in to a 3 week period.
if so, I would skip Devils Postpile, it nice but not spectacular.
I assume this also limits the length of any overnight backpacking.

I assume you plan to visit Tuolumne, the high country part of Yosemite Park.
IF its not on your list, I'd recommend it.
Some of the domes are climbable by non climbers, 3rd class but not much harder than the Half Dome cables. Great views.

Even though Yosemite Valley is horribly over crowded in summer, if you have never been there, it is a must see, at least for a day or two, just to experience the immenseness of the cliffs and the beauty of the waterfalls.

Edited by asandh on 12/24/2012 09:47:17 MST.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: narrows on 12/24/2012 09:23:35 MST Print View

Yes, I would bring neo socks in June. Only time of year I wouldn't is late August.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Re: Re: re: western road trip on 12/24/2012 09:48:46 MST Print View

Yes, we are squeezing in a lot. We also did 2 nights on Lost Coast Trail and a night at Oregon Caves last year so it was packed as well.

I'm trying to find all the cool options worth considering and then we will pare it down to what we can fit in the allotted time and his interests. For example, I'm also considering doing JMT from Mammoth to Happy Isle with Half Dome trip. I figure that 58+ miles would be 7 days at an easy pace and Donahue Pass is just over 11K so shouldn't be an issue for him (assuming it doesn't have snow/ice). Not sure how much food you can fit in the canisters you can rent at Mammoth though.

This trip is harder for me to plan because there are just so many nice options along the route. I just started 2 days ago when I finally got him to chose which parks he wanted to see and have been in front of my PC researching ever since. :)

I'll look into picking up a set of socks for us. I recall some articles/posts here discussing better brands before so I'll try to find them. Newbie question though, can you wear them just by themselves or do you need a liner sock? I don't want to have to get new shoes also. Cost is a factor for our trip as well.

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: re: western road trip on 12/24/2012 10:05:14 MST Print View

for backpacking,
Mammoth to Tuolumne via the JMT is one of my favorite Sierra hikes. I've done that trail section 4 times.
I would not leave Reds Meadow via the JMT though as its not the most scenic. instead leave Agnew Meadow via either the River Trail connecting to JMT at Shadow Lake, or the the High Trail straight to Thousand Island Lake connecting to JMT there.
If pressed for time or your son gets tired, you could skip Tuolumne to the Valley by taking the shuttle bus. Its nice but not as nice as the section from Mammoth to Tuolumne. although, doing the entire hike gives you an easy way to see Half Dome.
also if doing this trip, may as well throw Devils Postpile back in for a quick look see.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: JMT from Mammoth on 12/24/2012 11:03:19 MST Print View

Thanks for those tips. That would save about 5 miles it seems. My intention is indeed to approach Half Dome from the east and camp just up from it's spur trail so we can beat most of the LYV campground crowd.

It appears from the map you can drive to Red's Meadow (assuming road is suitable for our Civic) and have a quick hike to DP if we really wanted.

Do most drive all the way to the TH and then hitch back up from Mammoth after taking bus back or leave car in Mammoth and hitch up to TH? I suppose 6 of one half dozen of another, but I'd prefer the latter so we could get going again quickly after getting back to Mammoth.

Edit: I see you must take a shuttle bus to the RM TH anyway so your car is down below regardless. I assume they'd drop you off at Agnew as well.

Edited by topshot on 12/24/2012 11:59:36 MST.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Mainly Yosemite on 12/24/2012 11:06:40 MST Print View

Within Yosemite itself for day hikes, everyone goes to the Valley which has the issue of only flat hikes within the Valley or pretty steep hikes up out of the Valley. It sounds like this son isn't a candidate for Half Dome as a day hike at this time. Glacier Point is a little less mileage but almost all the vertical. Potentially, you can take a shuttle one way for Glacier Point and avoid the down hike. A more leisurely hike is to the top of Vernal Falls which shares its trailhead with the JMT and HD hike. I'd suggest a very early start - what I always do for HD. The reasons are the heat and sun are far less and the crowds are vastly less. For HD, I'd leave at 5am, no later than 6 am. For top of Vernal, I'd leave at first light, 6 am or so, and you'll have the apron almost to yourself give or take a few competent HD hikers. You avoid the whole baby-stroller, plaid-pants crowd that way.

Another day hike everyone forgets to do is through the Sequoias. Yes, Yosemite had them too. There's one milder walk at the Southern Entrance (Hwy 41) that is more crowded. The one I prefer is off Hwy 120, one of the western entrances because there's some elevation, more trails and fewer people. It's clearly shown on the park maps, but it easy to drive right past it if you're not looking for it.

For a BPing trip in the summer, I'd prefer something out of Tuolumne Meadows for the extra 4-5,000 feet of elevation and therefore the temps being 15-18F cooler. You need to ready for intense sun so a little base tan is good, but even so, you need a good hat and sunscreen (I like Go-lite's Chrome Dome for hikes at 8,000-11,000 feet).

You expressed interest in HD, I think, and if you start in Tuolumne Meadows, you can descend towards the Valley and pass by the trail junction to HD. That makes it much more doable than as a day hike from the Valley and the permits are easier to get that way.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Mainly Yosemite on 12/24/2012 11:29:43 MST Print View

> You expressed interest in HD, I think, and if you start in Tuolumne Meadows, you can descend towards the Valley and pass by the trail junction to HD. That makes it much more doable than as a day hike from the Valley and the permits are easier to get that way.

That's my thinking. We always hike in long pants, long sleeves and brimmed hats. I don't even take sunscreen or bug juice, but use SPF 30 chapstick on my hands as needed. I know we'll have bugs early July so will take the Lunar Duo instead of tarps.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: neo socks on 12/24/2012 11:47:40 MST Print View

NRS is the only brand to consider, fit is a cut above (ergo no blisters). I like the 1/2 mil Hydroskins, as they aren't any more bulky than a midweight pair of wool socks. For serious hiking I always use the thinnest liner sock I have. The 2mm socks will be a fair bit warmer, but may require a larger shoe. The Hydroskins should be adequate for Zion in June unless you have especially cold feet.

Sounds an awesome trip with lots of can't-miss options. Good on you for taking your son. Most of my best memories growing up were of hiking and backpacking on big road trips.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: re: neo socks on 12/24/2012 12:11:34 MST Print View

Thanks, Dave. Thankfully we have an REI only 1.5 hours away now so we'll be able to try some on for size.

He'll be 16 in Sep so this is likely the last major trip I'll be able to do with this son. His younger brother will get spoiled.

Carl Umland
(chumland) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Crest Trail, mostly
Mamoth, Devils Postpile & Reds Meadow on 12/24/2012 12:33:44 MST Print View

You'll probably want to park in Mammoth on Minaret road (recomended) and take the shuttle bus or hike to Reds Mdw by trail or on the road. You'll need a National Parks Adventure Pass to display on your cars dash if you leave your car there. You get the shuttle bus ticket ($) at the main lift area. The place will be most likely packed with mountain bikers so parking is hard to find while the lifts are running. The Hiker site at Reds Mdw will have a lot of hikers there where you share in the payment for the night with other hikers there. The hiker site at RM is close to the Hot Springs Bath House and a short hike to the store and cafe. If you hike from there to Yosemite Valley you can take the YARTS transit bus from Yosemite Valley to Mammoth then take local Mammoth transit or hitch to Mineret Rd to your car.
I hope this link helps;
Merry Christmas

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: re: western road trip on 12/24/2012 14:45:49 MST Print View

Getting back to the Grand Canyon for a minute, the campground at the north rim is pretty nice, and you can reserve a tent site. You don't have to hike all the way down, just the 5 miles to Roaring Spring makes for an awesome all-day hike. My daughter is not a great hiker, but she enjoyed this one. Just plan to leave very early in the morning, and take your time on the way back up in the heat of the afternoon.