Recommendations Please - Excellent Beginner Locations

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Re: Recommendations Please - Excellent Beginner Locations

Post by Flamingo » Mon Dec 04, 2017 4:01 pm

Hi David,
I want to +1 everyone's love for Little Lakes Valley and 20 Lakes Basin. Both of these places are great for beginning backpackers, and the scenery is outstanding. Unfortunately, they can be crowded in summer and they both involve (very) long drives from the Bay Area.

As an alternative, may I suggest the Gianelli Trailhead near Pinecrest, CA? Consider its virtues: (1) It has no trailhead quota and requires no permits, other than campfire permits. (2) it's a relatively short drive from the Bay Area -- arguably shorter than most of the suggestions listed in this thread. (3) It's relatively easy hiking, save for a gentle 400' climb at the beginning. [correction: more like 500-1000' feet of climbing, which is still not terrible]. (4) The trail immediately leads to big vistas, and within a couple miles you arrive at lakeside campsites, great swimming opportunities, and fire pits. Overall, I think Gianelli is a perfect spot for beginning backpackers.
Last edited by Flamingo on Mon Dec 11, 2017 2:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Recommendations Please - Excellent Beginner Locations

Post by papercup » Mon Dec 04, 2017 4:34 pm

I also think that Thousand Island might be a good destination if you have a group with decent fitness and that's interested in three or four days rather than two. It's a classic Ansel Adams lake, which gives it a bit of allure as a destination. It's also beautiful lake, there are plenty of other backpackers around to ease any concerns about getting lost, it's in close proximity to other beautiful lakes, and you can make a loop hike out of it. You can also acclimate in or around Mammoth the night before. Appropriateness would depend on the group, but could be a good two-days-out-one-day-back option.

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Re: Recommendations Please - Excellent Beginner Locations

Post by rlown » Mon Dec 04, 2017 5:26 pm

I think beginners means little or no experience up there. Shouldn't over-stress them with distance or climbs. Leave that for subsequent trips.
I like either the Carson pass or gianelli TH as well. After Burst rock, she kind of flattens out. Would also still pick Saddlebag and 20 lakes basin. Take the Eastside road trail for beginners. Basically a road.

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Re: Recommendations Please - Excellent Beginner Locations

Post by balzaccom » Mon Dec 04, 2017 11:15 pm

Actually, the trails east from Gianelli go over a series of 500-1000 foot climbs every mile or so. But it's still a good location for start hikes, is that there are quite a few destinations within the first few miles: Powell Lake, Y Meadow Lake, Chewing Gum Lake, etc.

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Re: Recommendations Please - Excellent Beginner Locations

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Dec 05, 2017 2:35 pm

In addition to location, here are some other factors that I consider no-no's for beginners:
1. mosquitoes - best wait until August - Sept
2. soggy wet trails- wait until well after snowmelt, different dates at different altitudes. For example, Ginelli is horrible when snow is melting. Full of mosquitoes too. Same for Kibby Lake- trail is horrible early season
3. lightning- be careful of mountain passes and choose campsites carefully -remember the boy scout group that got hit by lightning near Crabtree
4. restricted daylight- things get dark early and shadows cool things off fast in the afternoon, after end of September.
5. high water- just a safety hazard- more people drown in the Sierra than die of falls. For example, this summer water did not recede until mid to late August. I always choose routes for beginners that have good sturdy bridges on nearly every crossing.
6. smoke from forest fires - a little bit of haze probably will not make a bad trip, but thick smoke is miserable and will leave a bad impression
7. High altitude (>9-10,000 feet) trailheads. First day altitude sickness will not make any beginner ever want to backpack again.
8. Group size- beginners need some supervision- I would keep ratio of experienced/beginner 1/4 or less.
9. I really like full-moon nights for beginners. Some really are scared of the dark! On the other hand if your group has expressed interest in star gazing, new moon is the best.

Scenery is so subjective. I would avoid both intensely timbered (makes some claustrophobic) and rocky alpine (looks really bleak and barren to some). Alpine terrain when green and with flowers and meadows is OK but avoid large expanses of talus and rock with little greenery.

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Re: Recommendations Please - Excellent Beginner Locations

Post by Troutdog 59 » Tue Dec 05, 2017 5:05 pm

I agree with those recommending Little Lakes Valley, but the permits can be hard to come by if you don't get them in advance. You mentioned the west side David, so I'll add the Kaiser Wilderness out of Huntington Lake. Short hikes to pretty lakes with good road access. Another nice beginners option in the area is the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness. Many lakes within short distances, but the access road to the main trail head is a bit much for a passenger car. A 4x4 is not needed, but some clearance is. Another easy in and out is to take the Florence Lake ferry across the lake to the back side and hike to the Hot Springs at the back of Blaney Meadows, Its about 5 miles, but very little elevation gain. One could stop short on day one at the west end of Blaney Meadows (~ 3 miles) and continue on day 2. My son and I did that trip when he was six. It was magical. The rivers full of fish and the meadows are gorgeous. I will point out that many do not like the Kaiser Pass road you must take to get there. It's a single lane for the last 17 miles. Living nearby, I drive it about 5 to 6 times a year and love it, but many do not. Just go slow and its not an issue. Regardless of your choice, I applaud your taking some folks out for their first trip. Hats off to you..
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Re: Recommendations Please - Excellent Beginner Locations

Post by fishwrong » Wed Dec 06, 2017 2:14 pm

"What are your thoughts on Lake of the Woods in Desolation Wilderness for a beginner?"

Great place if you can manage the permit situation (Some areas fill fast, others not so much). Easy access from Bay area, relatively easy hike (more so if the Echo Lakes shuttle is running) and a lot of area to explore. Solitude is something you will not likely have. You'll have company on the trail and any lakes in the area, so just be prepared if that's important for your group.

Other than those issues, it's a great place and fits the bill for beautiful scenery, lots of places to explore, and a relatively easy place to get into, and out of. I highly recommend it.

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Re: Recommendations Please - Excellent Beginner Locations

Post by hjldennis » Mon Dec 11, 2017 2:00 am

Looks like little lakes valley meets most of your criteria, but I want to throw another option just to complicate things for you:)

If you are pitching this to a general population who may or may not necessarily want backpacking experience, something more popular might have more merit. Perhaps happy isles to little yosemite valley (or passthru beyond jmt junction) and do halfdome (and clouds rest) as day trips. Or from toulumne to the valley. Of course the permit will be challenging. If the winners want more solitude instead, there are plenty for that anytime.
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Re: Recommendations Please - Excellent Beginner Locations

Post by Hobbes » Mon Dec 11, 2017 10:46 am

Lots of good advice already offered, so I'll just agree with what's already been said.

As some other posters have already noted, a big part of the planning process is determining the drive itself. Second, you will want to start from the highest elevation possible so that you're basically hiking on flat terrain. Third, you'll probably end up skipping a hiking day (or two) and just hang out, base camp and explore. (This observation is made with a nod to 'real' group dynamics, not paper hike plans.) Fourth, and I'm admittedly biased here, but the objective should be classic 'high Sierra' scenery; there are tons of places where you can just hike/camp in trees.

So, with that being said, here's the process of elimination:

1. Easiest drive(s) from the Bay area: Donner, Sonora, Tioga. (Carson is even easier, but the elevation is relatively low & forested, so you won't get much of an 'ah ha' moment)

2. Highest elevation trail-heads: Saddlebag, Little lakes, Horseshoe meadow. Horseshoe (Lone Pine) is another 2 hours south of Tioga/Lee Vining. Little Lakes is maybe 30-45 minutes. Saddlebag is only 2 miles off the Tioga road. Both HM & LLV take 30-45 min to reach the end of the road to their respective THs.

3. Most lakes, easy to base camp, easy to keep people entertained with day hikes, fishing, etc: Saddlebag (20 lakes), Little lakes valley, and Horseshoe meadows all have excellent lake basins. I don't think any of the three has any particular advantage over the others, so call it a toss-up.

4. All three are beautiful areas. LLV is in a rugged valley, but doesn't have any notable marque peaks. Horseshoe has Langley (the southernmost 14er), while 20 lakes has Conness:

Langley from SF Cottonwood lake

Mt Conness*/20 lakes


I'd go with Saddlebag/20 lakes. (You can see I take my own advice - that photo was taken 10 years ago when my son was 9.) It's going to be the closest, it's going to be the easiest, and it's going to have the most beauty in terms of lakes basin, peaks, day hiking & fishing. It's also only 2 miles from the main road. PS If the boat shuttle isn't working, walk around the east shore, not the west. The west looks closer, but it's rough talus all the way. The east shore has a fire road - I've jogged on it before (boat terminal to boat terminal and back).

*Technically, N Peak - Conness is just to the left

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