How is your calendar filling up? Why not get out and enjoy the fantastic California outdoors? Here are some suggestions, one per month. While the times proposed here might be ideal for enjoyable weather and activities, this is, of course, flexible – and many destinations can even be combined in one great road trip. I have discussed some of the destinations in greater detail in further posts, learn more about Death Valley, Mount Shasta, A Beach Vacation with Bears and Utah’s Labyrinth Canyon.
California Outdoors – Suggested Calendar
A great way to start exploring the California outdoors is to ski or snowshoe around Lake Tahoe/ Carson Pass. Resorts like Kirkwood (my favorite) and Heavenly offer downhill skiing, but you can also venture cross country into the valleys and lakes around Carson Pass. To save some money, you can rent your gear in the Bay Area and even sleep in your car for $5 on the SNO-Parks at Carson Pass.
Sequoia National Park offers a spectacular wide landscape of canyons, mountains and the largest Sequoia trees on earth. While it is great to visit year-round, winters offers some easy back country skiing or snowboarding with a view. If you want to sleep in the Pear Lake Ski Hut, apply for the lottery many months in advance. **
Hiking in Death Valley is as outlandish an idea as it is exciting. If you are prepared to carry 4 liters (a gallon) of water per person per day, you can leave the hordes of tourists behind you and head into the wild for some real adventures and romantic star gazing. You will be surprised how much life there is in “Death” Valley. *** (Read a more detailed article here >> )
You can see Mount Shasta a hundred miles before you actually reach it. At 14,179 feet (4,322 meters) it dwarfs all the surrounding volcanoes and keeps its snow until spring. April is the ideal time for alpinism and skiing: while there is still sufficient snow for an ascent, the hut at the bottom is already open and offers access to water and a toilet. In summer Mount Shasta becomes a huge pile of rubble which is not fun to climb. On a clear day you can climb steep ice and snow to the summit, ideally with a base camp in between, and ski or glissade down again. Experience, planning, avalanche skills, crampons, sun protection and good weather are crucial. *** (Read a more detailed article here >> )
Yosemite has become our second home in California – and maybe yours too. It’s so close and so famous, there is not much to say. What a fantastic place for climbing and hiking alike! *
The road builders of the Wild West steered clear of the Lost Coast, steep and rugged as it is. If you want to swim and tan during your beach vacation, you should maybe steer clear as well – but if you prefer Alaska to Malibu Beach this is for you. You won’t meet any prominent people during your hike along this black coast and back across the adjacent hills, but herds of sea lions, black bears and marijuana farmers. */ ** (with hills) (Read a more detailed article here >> )
When Yosemite becomes too hot in summer, climbers and hikers head to nearby Tuolumne Meadows located on a plateau 1,000 meters above the valley. It has beautiful granite domes, fragrant fir forests and meadows just as Yosemite. Without its dramatic steep walls, Tuolumne has a more open geography and can feel less intimidating to start trad climbing. Out of season (June – September) the road is closed. *
Located in a moonscape of rubble in the high sierra, Bear Creek Spire (North Arête) offers a stunning ten-pitch trad climb to the 13,713 feet (4,180 meters) peak. The view into the valley on your way down as well as the lovely hike in and out reward you for a slippery approach and pendulum potential for both leaders and followers. ***
The Bishop area in the Eastern Sierra offers some great bouldering and mostly single-pitch sport climbs – no surprise so many climbers live there. High mountains are just an hour away. On your way you can visit the Manzanar War Relocation Center where the US government detained more than 100,000 Japanese civilians during World War II; the museum offers good context. *
Even closer than Yosemite, Lover’s Leap offers the best place to start trad climbing in the area. The granite is crisscrossed by vertical dikes which make many routes beginner-friendly. *
The 24-miles hike to the Sykes Hot Springs through the hills and forests of Big Sur is wildly popular in high season, but if you hit the trail later you will be nearly on your own. Camping is permitted on designated campsites and you can use a cooking stove if you carry a campfire permit. The “test” required for your permit is as easy to pass as the California drivers license. *
For desert lovers and climbers the California outdoors has much to offer, Joshua Tree National Park is the place to go, especially if you want to escape the cold in winter. With its Joshua trees, yucca and boulders spread all over the landscape is surreal, but not wild due to a network of roads and campsites. Apart from beautiful boulders and one-pitches, you can discover corridors and caves inside piles of boulders that look as if nobody has ever been there before. *
* easy (can be difficult depending on your plans, but does not have to)
** moderate, requires some planning
*** strenuous, requires experience and planning
There are of course many more destinations to visit in the California outdoors – this was simply our pick for my first year in the States. Temple Crack/Mount Whitney for example are supposed to be great for alpinism as is Lassen Volcanic National Park for hiking. If you have been there or want to share other ideas to spend the weekends, we are happy to hear your comments below.
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