AN ELLIPTIC JOURNEY THROUGH EMIGRANT WILDERNESS
TRIP · 3 day backpacking trip
FOR · Beginner & intermediate backpackers
VIBE · Mostly chill with points of moderate (but worthwhile!) strain
COST · $
DRIVE · 4 hours from SF
IDEAL DATES · June - September
PETS · Allowed, must be kept “on a leash or under voice control at all times”
WHY EMIGRANT WILDERNESS?
Nestled within the nearly 900,000 acre Stanislaus National Forest, Emigrant Wilderness offers its open-eyed wanderers a direct experience with many of the Sierra’s most impressive & memorable features. Its trails move between families of friendly granite giants, whom give way to awe, perspective and welcomed shade to those beneath them. Its pristine meadows & lakes ask only for your naked attention and immersion, and, in return, refresh, invigorate, and imbue those who give it that unique kind of Sierra serenity and joy.
In the mid-1800s, emigrant groups started venturing West, often traversing the wilderness of present-day Emigration Wilderness, hence its name.
NEED TO KNOW
🌲A Wilderness Permit is required for all overnight trips. Before you go, self-register for a permit here. There’s no quota but they ask that you reserve between 5 - 15 days before your trip. If you’re planning a last minute trip in the next 5 days, try calling. They’re accommodating and are known to make exceptions :).
⛺There’s a one night camping limit per trip at the following lakes: Bear, Camp, Grouse, Powell, and Waterhouse. Remember to camp at least 100 feet away from water, trails and “no camping” signs.
🐻 Bear Canisters aren’t required but review this When Visiting Bear Country information guide for best practices around bears - and bringing a canister or IGBC Certified bag is never a bad idea :)
⛰️ Read over, internalize and follow Leave No Trace principles. Nature and your fellow hikers, present and future, will thank you!
Dam Controversy: to preserve or to let pass? 18 small dams that were constructed in the mid-70s by anglers have been the source of much political debate.
BETWEEN 7 AM - NOON(ISH)
- Wake up, grab your permit, do one last gear check, and chart a path to Crabtree trailhead. It’s a 3.5 hour drive so turn up the music (Feeling Alive?) and enjoy the ride.
HUNGRY? CARB UP EN ROUTE AT OAKDALE CHEESE & SPECIALTIES
- Home of the best darn grilled cheeses in the land. While you’re there, text a loved one your route and let them know you’ll text when you’re back on the grid. They’ll appreciate it :).
ARRIVE AT CRABTREE TRAILHEAD
- Do one last gear check and then head south on Crabtree trail. Regarding parking, I’ve been twice and haven’t had issues finding spots. But if you’re visiting on a holiday weekend you might want to call the park ranger for guidance & backup options.
HIKE 3.5 MILES TO BEAR LAKE
- One of the fundamental laws of backpacking is that the busyness of a place is directly proportional to its distance from the trailhead. So Bear Lake can get “busy” on weekends -- as in, more than 5 groups -- so if you don’t find a lakeside spot right away, try continuing to the NE side of the lake.
- Let loose and go for a swim. There’s a great jumping rock in this lake. What’s your spirit animal? Channel it. Run and jump high. Fly as high as you can!
CAR TO CAMP: 3.5 miles | 535 ft. of elevation gain | 3 hours
WAKE UP AT 6 AM BEFORE THE SUN RISES
- Throw on your layers, pick a granite giant, hike to its top, and say good morning to another beautiful Sierran day. Or, sleep in. But, hey, it’s your last day in the mountains.
BREAK CAMP & GO FOR A FINAL SWIM IN GEM LAKE
- Breath big, dive deep, emerge anew.
RETURN TO CRABTREE TRAILHEAD
- With a lightened pack, hike 10 miles back to the Crabtree trailhead. (Pro-tip: leave a gallon of water in your car so you can take a post-hike shower.)
HIT THE ROAD & JAM OUT
- Play your fav angsty teenage tunes on your ride back (Chasing Cars, anyone?). Before you cross the bridge and re-enter society, perhaps, set and intention and commit to your next trip. These mountains are calling. Always calling :)
CAMP TO CAR: 8.7 miles | 200 ft. of elevation gain | 5 hours
WAKE UP WITH A MORNING SWIM
- It might be chilly. But invigorating! And your body will thank you!
- Hike ~9 miles to Gem Lake
MAKE CAMP & THEN, OBVIOUSLY, GO FOR ANOTHER SWIM :)
- Legend has it there are diamonds, emeralds and sapphires to be found, buried deep within the lake’s bed.
- A word of caution: you’ll be at 8,200 feet. Which, while not terribly high, can take its toll on sea-level living folks. So maybe avoid racing your friend across the lake unless you’re in iron wo(man) shape. It didn’t work out well for us ;-)
REST, RELAX & HIKE TO THE TOP OF QUARTZ MOUNTAIN
- Catch a sunset so beautiful and sublime that it’ll quake even the deepest convictions of the staunchest atheists, if only for a moment.
CAMP TO CAMP: 9 miles | 642 ft. of elevation gain | 5 - 6 hours
🔥 BE FIRE AWARE 🔥
2021 is another critically dry year in California, and many public lands, including Emigrant Wilderness, have implemented campfire restrictions in preparation for wildfire season. Learn more.
DAY ONE, TWO & THREE
Same meals, each day, makes the backpacking aches go away! Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication 🙃?
- Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Almond Butter is also a hella good option
STARBUCKS VIA, BLONDE ROAST
- I’ve tried all of the instant coffees, from Folgers to Ritual, and, love to hate it, Starbucks comes out on top for me. (And, seriously Ritual, $4 for a single cup of instant coffee?! Sigh. Everything in SF is a bubble.
THE S'MORES PRO BAR
- I play around with all sorts of trail mixes & bars. My loyalty lies nowhere, and I’m too easily persuaded by whatever brand has won placement in REI’s checkout aisle. The S’mores Pro Bar stole my attention & dollars away last time. I don’t regret it. And dark chocolate. Essential. Also a big fan of Nuun sport tablets.
- I usually snack through lunches. Sometimes, I’ll get fancy & pre-pack a salted almond butter, honey, and banana chip sandwich.
- Annie’s White Cheddar Mac & Cheese topped with Patagonia Provisions Wild Pink Salmon & Yellowbird hot sauce. Pack some greens for your first night for an added nutritional boost. H/T my dear friend JoJo who’s perfected the mountain mac & cheese recipe 😋
LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL
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LAST UPDATED: June 4, 2021
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