Forum Index » Philosophy & Technique » Wild Camping in the US - advice for an Englishman, please!


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alastair humphreys
(alastairhumphreys) - MLife

Locale: UK
Re: Re: rules on 04/10/2014 08:22:38 MDT Print View

Thank you very much!
I've only got a week spare.
Following all this information I'm considering jumping on Amtrak and heading for Big Bend...

Richard Lyon
(richardglyon) - MLife

Locale: Bridger Mountains
Texas hiking on 04/10/2014 08:23:18 MDT Print View

Another vote for Guadalupe NP, though it's closer to car camping than true backpacking because of a shortage of water. A decent overnight is Lost Maples State Park in the Hill Country. You'll need reservations to camp.

I was in Dallas last week [and I lived there for 25 years before moving here] and it's great spring weather now. Driving around in a convertible, preferably with a pretty girl, sounds appealing too.

If you plan on Big Bend or Guadalupe, be aware that it's at least an eight-hour drive from the Hill Country.

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: Tokyo, Japan
Re: Re Pollen on 04/10/2014 08:24:54 MDT Print View

Luke, rattlesnakes are May's worry when their breeding cycle kicks in. Only animals to worry about now while camping are wild hogs and javelina. Oh, and vampire bats.

Edited by rmjapan on 04/10/2014 08:27:30 MDT.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Guadalupe Mountains on 04/10/2014 08:31:38 MDT Print View

I've done almost every trail in the Guadalupe Mountains and love them. I don't consider them "car camping" they are plenty wild.

You'll have to pack all your water in because the park is dry. But the scenery is amazing. Just bring a sturdy pack that can handle a gallon of water per day. You don't need a tent though, I'd just bring a tarp. Its pretty warm now too so you can go pretty light on insulation.

If you have time I'd do a day hike up Guadalupe Peak. Then I'd do a loop in "Bowl" as its called, basically a high mountain basin that gets enough moisture to support a pine forest more like what you'd typically see in the Rocky Mountains. I'll try to post some trip reports soon. You can buy park maps online (and maybe at REI stores in Austin) but they are also available at the park office. Plan on getting there during office hours to grab a permit, map and chat with a ranger.

I don't know if there is an Amtrac to the trailhead in Big Bend. If there is I imagine driving yourself would be about as fast.

Alex H
(abhitt) - MLife

Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW
No Amtrak to Big Bend or Guadalupe. on 04/10/2014 08:52:04 MDT Print View

You can get to Alpine on Amtrak and then you will need to rent a car there and then it is a two hour drive south. Guadalupes would mean probably renting a car in El Paso then an equally long drive. I would just keep your rental car and drive the 8 hrs out to Big Bend (farther to the Guadalupes), unless of course you are then headed further west on Amtrak.

Guadalupes only allow camping in designated sites. Big Bend has designated sites in the Chisos mtns. only, the rest of the 800,000 acres is open "zone" camping as long as you are 1/2 mile away from a road. Getting hot out there now down low (below 5000') but from your desert experience that should be no problem.

Edited by abhitt on 04/10/2014 08:56:09 MDT.

Jacob Hammond
(woodpewee) - F

Locale: Central New York
Re: No Amtrak to Big Bend or Guadalupe. on 04/10/2014 09:03:26 MDT Print View

I rented a car in Austin this February and drove to Big Bend. I had about a week as well. The drive is about 8 hours in total, but there are some convenient stops on the way, like Junction and Fort Stockton. Also, you can drive through the Hill Country and stop in Johnson City and Fredericksburg (I stopped at LBJ's home in Johnson City as I'd just finished the four Caro books on him and was part of the reason why I planned the trip like I did - highly recommended to anyone, but not as highly recommended as Caro's biography of Robert Moses!).

In my weeklong trip I was able to do an extended solo Outer Mountain Loop hike, a separate hike to the mule ears, smokey creak junction and lots of other small hikes in the park. I didn't have a high clearance vehicle, so I missed out on Pine Canyon, which is one I hope to do in the future. It was all amazing!!! When not on the trail, I car camped at Paint Gap - which I really enjoyed.

Not 100% sure it will work, but here's a link to some of my pictures from the trip:

https://plus.google.com/photos/100988958387275381942/albums/5983411066188795409?authkey=CKzLueT-17eDgAE

Anyways, Guadalupe sounds great too. I hope to get out there next, but I agree that El Paso is a much better starting point for that trip. I also wanted to make the trip work with Amtrak at first, but it just seemed like too many hoops.

One side note, I went to an REI in Austin before heading out and I would suggest having a good set of printed directions or a GPS. Around Austin, stores are often set back from the road in a way that, for me, made them difficult to see. The signage is relatively small. I can see why it's a nice thing, but it makes it hard for the first time driver there.

Also: you'll see if you drive through the Hill Country, that most of the land is fenced-off rangeland - beautiful, reminded me of Central Spain, but not great for secret camping... There are some nice state parks in the area though, on the llanes and pedernales rivers.

Edited by woodpewee on 04/10/2014 09:57:34 MDT.

Daniel Pittman
(pitsy) - M

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: No Amtrak to Big Bend or Guadalupe. on 04/10/2014 09:12:59 MDT Print View

Glad you enjoyed your visit to the hill country. Next time you're in the area, check out Enchanted Rock or Pedernales Falls. Both areas have some great day hikes and unique hill country geology. X2 on Austin being hard to navigate; I still get lost every time I go into town!

Jacob Hammond
(woodpewee) - F

Locale: Central New York
Re: Re: Re: Wild Camping in the US - advice for an Englishman, please! on 04/10/2014 09:13:17 MDT Print View

nm

Edited by woodpewee on 04/10/2014 13:34:46 MDT.

HK Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Re: No Amtrak to Big Bend or Guadalupe. on 04/10/2014 09:33:37 MDT Print View

Just a note to those unfamiliar with the "smaller" Texas cities. They've grown up so make sure your travel plans avoid the morning and evening commutes. El Paso just surpassed Detroit in terms of legal population, and Interstate highway 10 backs up at 3 PM (Mountain). Also Austin's commute problems are legendary. especially Interstate 35 but other highways too.

Texas is so large, it spans 2 time zones btw (Central and Mountain) , so plan according if renting a car, catching a bus/train.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
papers on 04/10/2014 09:51:08 MDT Print View

Maybe this goes without saying, but if you do go to south Texas bring your passport and other ID papers everywhere, because you are very likely to get checked. I went to Big Bend with my then postdoctoral fellow and his family (from Poland) and we assumed that since he was employed in the US and we would be inside the US the whole time they would not be necessary. Unfortunately, if you are anywhere near the border and you don't have full ID they will detain you on the spot until they get proof. I suppose it may sound extreme to carry your passport on a backpacking trip, but highly recommended just in case.

In our case the accepeted a call to the University where we worked to verify his employment and identity. If we had gone through that checkpoint after business hours I'm sure they would have been detained overnight.

Jacob Hammond
(woodpewee) - F

Locale: Central New York
Re: Re: Re: No Amtrak to Big Bend or Guadalupe. on 04/10/2014 09:56:34 MDT Print View

Thanks, I will. I did get to Pedernales falls and it was well worth the detour. I also loved all the peach orchards and wineries - it seemed strange to me at first, in the middle of Texas, but seems like a really interesting blend of the land and the people that settled there (like the German immigrants).

Edited by woodpewee on 04/10/2014 09:58:29 MDT.

HK Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: papers on 04/10/2014 10:32:05 MDT Print View

Not sure about other parts of the US but am familiar with "the borderlands" of southern AZ, CA, NM, and far west TX.

Unless you have a US drivers license and accent, also bring your papers if traveling on Interstate 10 or US Highway 70 through El Paso or Las Cruces. Through international treaty from the Kennedy days (1963 - the Chamazal dispute and resulting treaty ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chamizal_National_Memorial), there's a ring of border patrol checkpoints on the outskirts of those two cities. Mexican citizens can shop in those US cities (and vice versa) but cannot travel any further. The stations are there to really check their passports (wealthy Mexicans can afford their own Mexican visas but not the less wealthy), ... but the checkpoint will check other nationalities too, ... plus if there's anything out of the ordinary, even questioning US citizens. If you are US they just ask you and wave you through, though there's normally a state trooper if they suspect one is breaking driving laws.

I also recall a Border Patrol checkpoint somewhere around the Big Bend's Presidio County too, but it's been several years.

Edited by hknewman on 04/10/2014 10:40:08 MDT.

HK Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Back to Texas "proper" on 04/10/2014 11:15:39 MDT Print View

Also when are you thinking of traveling? Credit to Mitch Kilby for the following from a recent thread in "General Backpacking":

"Just to comment - the name of the new trail in Austin will be the Violet Crown Trail. Supposed to be 30 miles and stretch into Hays County. The city also just developed an 8 mile paved trail on the east side called the Southern Walnut Creek Trail. It's not too bad. In downtown Austin, we also have the Barton Creek greenbelt (which the Violet Crown will connect too) which is about 16 miles round trip and longer if you add in the connecting shoal creek greenbelt and the town lake green belt. This is great if you just want to hike on a Saturday or weekday evening after work. Lots of rock climbing, mountain biking and swimming (in the springtime generally) on this trail too.

For local backpacking I always like the Goodwater Trail in Georgetown [neighbors northern Austin] which is a good one night trip. " statement in italics mine.

Maybe they will have the Violet Crown trail finished by the time of your trip? There's also a good music and bar scene in Austin to enjoy esp during the weekend.

Edited by hknewman on 04/10/2014 11:16:59 MDT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: rules on 04/10/2014 11:27:39 MDT Print View

The United States has a different concept of private property. The rules aren't really that complicated. If you step onto private property without permission from the owner you are trespassing (a crime).
I hear there are some mountains in New Mexico, could be an option if you don't mind driving.

Michael L
(mpl_35) - MLife

Locale: The Palouse
state parks on 04/10/2014 11:49:04 MDT Print View

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/nearby/all-parks

I grew up west of Austin and have been to nearly all of the places you could go. I'd hook you up on family land if I still lived in the area.

I'd suggest you check out the state parks first as an option. They are smaller and each could be done in a day. Most if not all will have camping for a small fee. Most are drive in sites, but some are walk in. Water is already in short supply.

You could couple visiting state parks with visits to San Antonio (Alamo and Riverwalk), Fredericksburg (German food and beer with a touch of Texas), and local wineries and historical sites. You could visit the highland lakes.

If you really want more backpacking and camping, then you have to head west. Forget the train. Enjoy the drive out there. Half of it is through interesting landscape (half is boring). I like Big Bend better. Getting up in the basin to avoid heat is nice.

If you have any specific questions let me know.

Ian B.
(IDBLOOM) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: papers on 04/10/2014 12:04:12 MDT Print View

Wow - all these complicated restrictions make me even more admiring of Scotland's (and Scandinavia's) Right To Roam policy.

+1000

"I suppose it may sound extreme to carry your passport on a backpacking trip, but highly recommended just in case."

Yeah that's smart weight to carry. USBP has the right to stop someone if they have reasonable suspicion to believe they're not a US Citizen regardless of proximity to the border. You'll obviously have a greater chance of encountering a Patrol Agent closer to the border but they have some stations fairly deep into the interior. Having your PP helps to keep that conversation short, sweet and from going sideways on you.

I understand there are regional differences throughout the U.S. but Amtrak is a far cry from the trains I experienced through much of Europe. Much of this has to do with the issue that most of the tracks are privately owned so Amtrak will get bumped in line if cargo needs the right of way. It's mostly an enjoyable way to travel but we've had trains arrive several hours late. No surprise in Germany, I could set my watch to the train. Our interstate system is easy to navigate on so I'd stick with the rental car if Amtrak's inability to keep on schedule would be a problem for you. It is possible that things are much different for Amtrak in Texas than in Washington State too (and I hope so).

Hopefully the responses you've received here haven't been too discouraging. I've yet to see Austin but I thought San Antonio was a wonderful town to visit and would love to go back some day. My Father in law lives in between the two so I hope to catch Austin the next time I'm in the area. I'm sure you've gathered by now that it's famous for music so I'd save some time for that if you enjoy live music. Don’t forget to bring some cholesterol medication and grab a Po’ Boy sandwich and some of their BBQ too. Both tend to be decadent.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Size matters on 04/10/2014 12:53:41 MDT Print View

Alastair, you're probably clued in enough to not need this, but every once in while I've encountered a European planning to, say, fly into LA, grab lunch in Vegas, hike in the Grand Canyon that afternoon, and spend the night in New Orleans. So for reference:Texas versus Europe

But I can't leave it that, because, as we Alaskans like to point out, "Texans are nice and all, but if they don't stop talking about how big things are in Texas, we're going to split Alaska in two and then they'll be the THIRD largest state."AK vs USA

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Size matters on 04/10/2014 13:19:16 MDT Print View

David, I was going to mention something like that - LOL. If you rent a car in Austin then it is more or less full day's drives to get to Big Bend - almost 500 miles. Prague to Paris, but without the point to point rail. More and slower if you take the "scenic route" though Del Rio. In Texas this does amount to the "local area", but I don't imagine that classification could be applied anywhere in Europe to 500 miles distance.

I lived in Austin and made the trip a few times. It is definitely worth it, just need to keep it in mind. Very hard to get to the park via public transportation, and Amtrack will be slower AND more expensive if paired with a rental car - another big difference with Europe, there is no way in this country to do point-to-point rail travel.

That said, if you have the time, and want to break things up there is a pretty good half way point with legal drive in campground nearby - Seminole Canyon. There is a very interesting archeological site with VERY early native American cliff paintings dating back almost to the time of the Lascaux cave paintings in France. This is if you take the slower scenic route and break thing up. This is not to mention the nearby Judge Roy Bean museum ("Hangingest Judge in the West"). If you have watched a lot of westerns then that might be of some interest in a campy sort of way. Ahem...but we adventurers don't go in for that sort of tourist pablum of course.

Edited by millonas on 04/10/2014 13:50:55 MDT.

Michael L
(mpl_35) - MLife

Locale: The Palouse
Re: Size matters on 04/10/2014 14:27:28 MDT Print View

"But I can't leave it that, because, as we Alaskans like to point out, "Texans are nice and all, but if they don't stop talking about how big things are in Texas, we're going to split Alaska in two and then they'll be the THIRD largest "

David,

Just wait. Once global warming starts up again and all the ice melts, Alaska will be the 2nd largest state...

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Re: Size matters on 04/10/2014 14:30:39 MDT Print View

Marko,

Amtrack presents its own issues for Europeans or even New Englanders. I had friends take the train out of Seattle at 6 o clock, arriving Oakland at 6 o clock. They figured a 12-hour trip (cause it was a long way). Nope. A 24-hour trip. To cover a tiny fraction of the lower 48.

Also, don't miss your train. There's not another one along in a hour. There's not another one along until tomorrow.

As much as I drive, I still find there is an aspect to "conditioning" for a long drive akin to "I've been hiking a mile every day" not meaning "I'm ready to hike 40 miles in a day". 10- to 16-hour days behind the wheel can be exhausting for someone not used to it - mentally more than physically. Tunes help. Getting out and walking a bit helps. But slows you down.