Warszawski: Taking a hike starts with picking right Sierra destination

Last week's article about lightweight backpacking must've whet some appetites because my email inbox is clogged with requests for suggestions on where to go.

August is traditionally the most popular month for Sierra Nevada wilderness travel, and each of these hikes requires a permit. Also keep in mind that things are drier than usual, which may mean an extra mile or so to find water.

So before September creeps any closer, here are a few ideas:


Dinkey Lakes, Dinkey Lakes Wilderness: Hard to imagine a better destination for novice backpackers. From the trailhead off Dinkey Creek Road south of Shaver Lake, you'll pass numerous lakes during a 7-mile loop. First Dinkey Lake (3.8 miles in) is the prettiest but also the most popular. There are also several spur trails between the lakes worth exploring.

Details: www.fs.fed.us/r5/sierra or (559) 855-5360.

Eagle Lake, Sequoia National Park: It's a 2,200-foot ascent over 3.5 miles from Mineral King to Eagle Lake, but the scenery and the lake's blue-green water are well worth the effort (and the winding drive). Along the way, you'll pass sink holes where Eagle Creek just disappears underground. Camping around the lake is excellent, and anglers will be tempted by brook trout darting around in the clear water.

Details: nps.gov/seki or (559) 565-3341.

George Lake, Kaiser Wilderness: Situated below a prominent ridge that contains Kaiser Peak, George Lake is a 4.5-mile hike from the Potter Pass Cutoff Trailhead, less than 5 miles above Huntington Lake on Kaiser Pass Road. You'll be tempted to stop at Upper Twin Lake but don't. The scenery just keeps getting better the farther you go.

Details: www.fs.fed.us/r5/sierra or (559) 855-5360.

Jennie Lake, Jennie Lakes Wilderness: This pretty subalpine lake is the crown jewel of a 11,000-acre wilderness area tucked in between Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks. It's about 5 1/2 miles in if you use the Fox Meadows Trailhead, 7 if you come in from Big Meadows. There is plenty of camping and good fishing. The descent from Poop-Out Pass (not as bad as it sounds) can be confusing, so be sure to carry a map and compass.

Details: www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia or (559) 338-2251

Young Lakes, Yosemite National Park: This isolated trio of lakes, set beneath Ragged Peak, are the closest destination to Tuolumne Meadows where overnight camping is permitted, which ratchets up the difficulty of obtaining a permit. It's about 6 miles in from the trailhead near Lembert Dome. Be sure to visit all three lakes; the upper lake, with views of North Peak and Mount Conness, is the most spectacular.

Details: nps.gov/yose or (209) 372-0200.


Evolution Valley, Kings Canyon National Park: If I were pressed to list my favorite backcountry destination in the Sierra, Evolution Valley would rank pretty darned high. The John Muir Trail runs right down the middle, so this isn't a place to go for isolation. But don't let that stop you from going. Allow two days to reach Evolution Valley from Florence Lake, then venture out for day hikes to Evolution Basin (also on the JMT) and Darwin Canyon. And did I mention there are hot springs along the way?

Details: nps.gov/seki or (559) 565-3341.

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, Yosemite National Park: Yes, it's Yosemite, which can often mean crowds and red tape. But every Sierra backpacker should make this trip at least once. Starting in Tuolumne Meadows, you'll follow the river as it tumbles down to Hetch Hetchy, and the canyon walls get higher and higher the farther down you go. It's 30 miles one-way to Hetch Hetchy, where you'll need a shuttle. But it's also possible to make a longer 47-mile loop by venturing through Pate Valley and Ten Lakes Basin.

Details: nps.gov/yose or (209) 372-0200.