Hidden Gems among California's 188 designated wilderness areas

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Hidden Gems among California's 188 designated wilderness areas

Post by kpeter » Sat May 09, 2020 8:40 am

As I contemplate where/if I can backpack this summer, I am struck that the vast majority of backpacking is done in relatively few wilderness areas. I wonder if there are some hidden gems that are seldom used that might be open during a longer stretch of the summer.

The larger, alpine, more commonly used areas in the Sierra (and often discussed here) would include (in descending order by acreage)
John Muir
Golden Trout
Ansel Adams

Outside the Sierra, the largest wilderness in California by far is Death Valley but that is not an alpine, summer destiantion. The Trinity Alps is one of the largest and the very largest alpine wilderness outside the Sierra, but it gets heavily used. The White Mountains, Lassen, and Siskyou get a few mentions.

But now I have just named 15 wilderness areas, and I bet those 15 areas account for 99% of the trail reports here. California has 188 wilderness areas. I was reminded of this by the post asking about Domeland--a named Sierra wilderness I had never heard of.

So who has backpacked in one of the roughly 170 remaining California wilderness areas--whether in the Sierra like Domeland or outside the Sierra--and are there destinations you would recommend?
Last edited by kpeter on Sat May 09, 2020 4:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Hidden Gems among Caifornia's 188 designated wilderness areas

Post by TurboHike » Sat May 09, 2020 9:09 am

Mount Shasta Wilderness: been there twice, both times to climb, camped on the mountain. Impossible to get lost IMO. There's a giant peak that can be used for navigation. :)

Pinnacles National Park: not a backpacking destination, but a good weekend trip, camping and day hiking are good.

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Re: Hidden Gems among Caifornia's 188 designated wilderness areas

Post by dougieb » Sat May 09, 2020 9:36 am

You might try looking into the Bigfoot Trail which strings together existing trails throughout Mendocino National Forest, Yolla Bolly Wilderness, Marble Mountains, and other wilderness areas throughout Northern California. It's 300 or 400 miles I think. Most people won't want to do the whole thing for logistical reasons but it can serve as a good backbone to plan trips around.

I've explored quite a bit in the mendo national forest. It is massive. The coastal ranges hide lots of special places. What I've found is that you can't go wrong with any wild areas and that more often than not, pictures don't do a place justice and they're all worth a visit. Is it nature? Is it uncrowded? Count me in!

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Re: Hidden Gems among Caifornia's 188 designated wilderness areas

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sat May 09, 2020 9:40 am

Well, it depends where you live and how far you want to drive! Likely one of the least used wilderness areas is the Warner Wilderness, up in the far northeast corner of California. It is one area I have been in to climb two county high points. It is similar to the Lassen area - volcanic rock. It is small but has a few trails that although not well maintained, were in fair shape about 10 years ago.

Marble Mountain and Trinity wilderness areas are really nice, coast range in character, reminds me of the Pacific NW. There are a few very popular routes in each that can be crowded, but many less used trails. It is not an area to do much off-trail travel, because the brush is hideous! Lots of pretty little lakes, very woodsy.

Sinkyone Wilderness on the Lost Coast- combined with the BLM lands form the total Lost Coast Trail, about 65 miles. One of my favorite hikes, although it has become so popular that permits now are on a quota system. Sinkyone is the part from Shelter Cove south to Usel beach. A good summer hike, cool but can be quite foggy.

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Re: Hidden Gems among Caifornia's 188 designated wilderness areas

Post by dave54 » Sat May 09, 2020 9:43 am

Ishi Wilderness gets too hot in summer. 100+. Springtime is best, fall is second best.

Caribou Wilderness adjacent to Lassen Volcanic is a solid cloud of mosquitoes in the early summer. Tapers as summer wears on. Best in the fall after a couple good hard frosts kill off the majority.
Thousand Lakes is small, and similar to Caribou terrain wise. Mosquitoes are not as bad as Caribou but still bothersome. Both have numerous small lakes for fishing.
Lassen Volcanic has fewer mosquitoes than Caribou, even though they are contiguous. Lassen Volcanic NP (Lavo) is good for off-trail, as the terrain is more gentle rolling with not much understory. You can make some nice loops through Lavo and Caribou. Ishi, Caribou, and Thousand Lakes require no permit and have no quotas. Bear canisters recommended but not required. Lavo permit is available on line, no quotas. Canisters required now.
Warner Wilderness way up in the northeast corner of the state is almost unknown. I have hiked the main trails on three day weekends and not seen another soul.
Bucks Lake Wilderness likewise is small and receives little use, mostly locals. It is the northernmost Wilderness in the Sierra range proper. Next stop north is the Cascade Range and the white granite gives way to gray and red basalt.
Depending on how long a trip you want, you are not restricted to designated Wilderness Areas. I have several local areas good for 1-2 nights that are not Wilderness. Still general multiple use lands though have never seen a chainsaw or ATV.
Trinity Alps is popular also. I have not hiked there much, and not for many years.
You can always look at the Lost Coast, although its popularity is increasing. Its advantage is it is on the ocean, so always cooler no matter how hot the rest of the state (sometimes quite chilly even though Sierra and central valley is baking). Lost Coast is unique as it is a Wilderness on the beach. Several of the headlands can only be navigated at low tide, so besides a map you need to carry a set of tide tables.
On the same theme -- Channel Islands. Or hike the Trans-Catalina trail.

Not a large hiking area, good for a base camp/day hiking. Ahjumawi State Park is accessible only by boat. Paddle across the lake (good fishing) and set up base in one of the campgrounds. Good for a few days while up in that corner of the state.
Another paddle/hike option is in Lavo. Paddle the length of Butte Lake in the NE corner of the Park and make a base camp at the south end. Day hike to Snag Lake and other nearby sights. Snag Lake is the largest lake in California completely inside a Wilderness and no road access.
Log off and get outdoors!

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Re: Hidden Gems among Caifornia's 188 designated wilderness areas

Post by LMBSGV » Sat May 09, 2020 10:16 am

No one has mentioned it yet since the Phillip Burton Wilderness in Point Reyes is hardly a "hidden gem." It may receive more visitors than almost any other wilderness area in California since the park receives over 2.25 million visitors per year. For comparison, SEKI receives about 1.25 million.

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Re: Hidden Gems among Caifornia's 188 designated wilderness areas

Post by sekihiker » Sat May 09, 2020 10:52 am

Dare I mention the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness. Forget I said anything. The roads there are horrible and there are too many people. And fishing is lousy in some of the lakes, too. Wildflowers are abundant for a only a few months of the year. Off trail areas are hardly ever visited. And there are only ten or so lakes in the area.

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Re: Hidden Gems among Caifornia's 188 designated wilderness areas

Post by paula53 » Sat May 09, 2020 3:05 pm

Dave54, the Ahjumawi State Park looks interesting. I have never heard of it. Now I want to spend some time there to check it out with a canoe or kayak. Thanks for mentioning it in your post.

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Re: Hidden Gems among California's 188 designated wilderness areas

Post by c9h13no3 » Sun May 10, 2020 1:24 pm

The main reasons these are hidden gems, is the scenery is not world class. Getting on a plane to visit the Snow Mountain wilderness is probably not worth it. But as a local-ish person looking for a spot to spend the weekend, it totally deserves attention.

This forum has always had 2 groups: Californians who live here, and people who travel fairly far once or twice a year to come here. How we do trips and our destination choices are quite different. But I do believe that locals often fall into the trap of going to the few world class spots, when for a short low hassle trip, many less heralded spots would be a better choice.
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Re: Hidden Gems among California's 188 designated wilderness areas

Post by SSSdave » Sun May 10, 2020 6:58 pm

The majority of our wildernesses are in areas without year round lakes much less streams, especially BLM desert wildernesses created in 1994. Many have no trails and just some disintegrating old 4wd paths. Wilderness areas of the Sierra are older and established. Plenty of obscure trails there and good reasons why with the top reason, they are trails without lakes or all year streams. Golden Trout W has many. Backpackers have a hopeless attractions to lakes to the extent even recreation dot gov only lists lake destinations.

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