Travel Logistics

Use the chart below to help plan and schedule your travel. Below the chart, I’ve added more location-specific information.

For easier viewing, open this chart in a new window.


Meet-up points and important landmarks

Consult this map:

Air travel and public transit

If you are flying in, you will need to arrive the day before. For high-elevation locations, it’s best to arrive two days beforehand if you live at sea level.

You can fly out at the end of the last day, so long as you can make the timing work. Please don’t schedule a flight that is so early that your group is forced to exit unnaturally early on the final day. If you’re unsure if your departure time is late enough, contact Andrew.

High-elevation locations

Altitude is not a concern in our Utah, Alaska, Washington, or West Virginia locations.

The California and Yellowstone are at high elevations (10,000 to 12,000 feet), and non-acclimatized clients may experience acute mountain sickness (e.g. headache, nausea, loss of appetite). Nearly every year, we must evacuate clients with prohibitively bad symptoms; more often, clients will struggle for the first few days of their trip, hindering their enjoyment.

If you live at sea level, we strongly recommend that you spend two nights at altitude immediately before your trip. One night is required (which we won’t enforce because your body will). Your trip is a big commitment of time and money — take this extra step to set yourself up for success.

While your body is acclimatizing, take it easy — if you stress your body with a monster day-hike or run, you could set yourself back.

If you live at altitude, you are exempt from this recommendation. However, you should still try to occasionally get into the high country before your trip — the air is a lot thinner at 12k than 5k.


Travel guides

Jump to your location:


Our trips take place in the Escalante River watershed in southern Utah. The area is managed as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and we have access to both.

Travel guide: Utah

Flights

The closest major airports are:

  • Cedar City: 2 hours 20 min (regional airport)
  • Las Vegas: 4 hrs 45 min
  • Salt Lake City: 4 hrs 45 min

Thankfully, it’s a very scenic drive from these hubs.

Denver is another option, but it’s a much longer drive, at over 8 hours.

Closest towns

Our operations are based in Escalante, Utah, because it has key services and because it’s a convenient launching point for area trailheads.

The small town of Boulder, Utah, is located 40 minutes northeast of Escalante. It has a few services, including lodging and restaurants. This may be a viable option to stay overnight before the trip if you are driving in from the north or east.

Lodging

The guides prefer the Prospector Inn, a basic motel that is clean, reasonably priced, and central to town services.

Escalante Outfitters has clean inexpensive cabins with community bathrooms and a covered picnic pavilion. Many guides and clients have stayed here.

Circle D Motel is comfortable, inexpensive, and has shaded porches.

Canyon Country Lodge and Escalante Yurts are “excellent” but a little more expensive than other options.

The Ponderosa Inn (behind the Prospector) is very nice and reasonably priced.

For those who may drive an RV or truck camper, or who have a campervan like I do, use Escalante Cabins & RV Park, on the western outskirts of town. It’s reasonable ($25 per night in 2021) and the shower facilities are nice. As the name suggests, they also have cabins, which have been reviewed well and which are priced best on their website.

Free public lands camping is available on Hole-in-the-Rock Road, including one large dispersed area about 400 yards south of Highway 12. This site has no trash, bathrooms, or water.

Food

Escalante Outfitters has a cafe/restaurant, with quality coffee, beer on tap, and good pizza and other baked goods.

The West 4th Pub has good food and a good selection of beer.

Between Escalante and Boulder, near where Highway 12 crosses the Escalante River, is Kiva Coffeehouse. Check the days and hours of operation to avoid disappointment.

The Mexican food truck on the west side of town gets good marks, as does the IDK BBQ, Circle D Eatery, and Yonder food truck.

I’ve not eaten at Nemo’s, but I’ve not heard great things.

Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm in Boulder has received high marks from clients and guides.

Grocery

In downtown there is a small locally owned grocery market. Selection is poor, produce may not be fresh, and prices reflect the significant transportation costs and low volume.

For a more Whole Foods-like experience, go to the Escalante Mercantile. Selection is high quality but limited.

Showers and laundry

Escalante Cabins and RV Park has a coin-operated laundry (bring quarters) and clean private shower rooms ($10 per person).

Additional laundry facilities can be found at Kodachrome Basin State Park.

Sights

Bryce Canyon National Park is a short detour for those driving in from Las Vegas. It’s recommended over Zion, which is much more crowded and restrictive.

Kodachrome Basin State Park has been described as “too small and similar to the general area to justify the entrance fee.” But Petrified State Forest, also nearby, gets better marks.

From Boulder, drive east on Burr Road through Long Canyon, eventually dropping through switchbacks to Capital Reef National Park.

Other

Escalante Outfitters has a small outdoor store with high quality products. It’s reliable for canister gas and forgotten clothing; equipment selection is very limited.

Drive down Hole in the Rock Road for two easily accessible and non-technical slot canyons, Peekaboo and Spooky.

Entrada Escalante has destination chargers for Tesla vehicles and is a nice, convenient place to stay.

For a post-trip shower, try Escalante Outfitters ($5) or Escalante Cabins & RV Park ($7), which has nicer facilities. Both places also have laundry machines.

To learn more about the area, the BLM office and Escalante Heritage Center on the west end of town are worth a visit to learn.


Travel Guide: Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park sits at the base of the magnificent Sangre de Cristo mountains, on the eastern rim of the San Luis valley (pronounced San LOO-ees), which until 1850 was part of Mexico and, before that, the Spanish Empire.

The San Luis Valley has an agricultural-based economy and strong Mexican-American roots. For a more metro vibe, base yourself in the lower Arkansas Valley in towns like Salida and Buena Vista, which are only a few hours from Denver and Colorado Springs. For an artsy experience, check out Crestone, a quiet small town with limited services.

Flights

Best locations to fly into:

  • Denver: 3 hours 45 min
  • Colorado Springs: 2 hours 30 min
  • Alamosa (31 min) via Denver Air Connection at the San Luis Valley regional airport (ALS). Quest Car Rental is on-site and it was a convenient way to get to the destination.

Lodging

The guides stay in the cabins at Great Sand Dunes Oasis, which are clean, quiet, private, and inexpensive; and the views from the front porch are 5-star. But they’re not heated or insulated well; the beds were mediocre; and the bathrooms/showers are a short walk away.

Great Sand Dunes Lodge is located near the Oasis cabins but is a separate facility. It looks like more of a traditional motel.

For free dispersed camping, use Lake Como Road, about 20 minutes south of the park entrance. There’s no shade or water, and grazing cows may walk through your camp, but the views are excellent and the price is right.

In Alamosa, the Days Inn had a lumpy mattress and was expensive.

The Best Western and Sunset Hotel in Alamosa have received high marks.

In Monte Vista, the Monte Villa Inn is “classic but not built for people who like fancy amenities in their hotel.”

In Crestone, the Crestone Casitas are “adorable and very comfortable.”

Restaurants

In Alamosa try:

  • San Luis Brewery, which is a convenient meetup spot downtown and has decent food;
  • Square Peg Brewing, which has good beer but no food;
  • Calvillo’s;
  • Purple Pig;
  • Locavores, which specializes in locally sourced and healthy fare;
  • All Valley Cafe for breakfast;
  • Brew Works

In Salida, Amica’s has excellent pizza and salads as well as a good local beer selection. Moonlight Pizza and Brew Pub is also recommended.

Other

Salida and Alamosa both have a Wal-Mart.

For last-minute outdoor purchases, visit Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa, or one of the several stores in Salida and Buena Vista.

Zapata Falls is to the south, and is worth the short hike in.


Travel guide: Alaska

The trip schedule for Alaska is more complex and orchestrated. We will share a document that has much more specific information, such as exactly when to arrive in Fairbanks, when we will be flying to Bettles and into the bush, and when to depart home from Fairbanks.

Flights

Fly into Fairbanks (FAI). From airports in the Pacific Northwest (SEA, PDX), you’ll enjoy one of the most scenic flights in the world along the coastline. Pick a seat on the east/right side of the plane.

The groups will meet in Fairbanks. We’ll have a pre-trip briefing the evening before Day 1 at 4 pm (so “Day 0”) and then we’ll meet again about 7:20 AM on Day 1. We’ll shuttle to Wright Air, fly to Coldfoot on a 9-passenger Cessna, and then fly into the bush on 4-passenger Beavers that are equipped with special tundra tires.

On Day 7, we finish our trip by walking in Anaktuvuk Pass, a native village atop the Continental Divide in the Brooks Range. We’ll return to Fairbanks on another Wright Air flight, touching down in Fairbanks at around 1 PM.

Lodging

In 2024 our groups should stay at the Comfort Inn on Airport Way. Consult the shared spreadsheet for reservation instructions and a discount code. It’s our first year here. You will be responsible for paying for your room. I will reserve a block of rooms at a discounted rate.

Transportation

The Comfort Inn has an airport shuttle.

From the motel, you can walk to some nearby services. For services further away, call a taxi, which is still more reliable in Fairbanks than Lyft or Uber.

Food & services

In past years, we had stayed the Best Western, further west on Airport Way. We will have to learn our new area. I’m including information below from 2023:

Across the street from the Best Western is a huge Fred Meyer, where you can find almost anything you need, from fuel canisters to underwear to deli sandwiches. A block to the east is a Safeway, also huge.

Recommended restaurants:

  • Chena Pumphouse, for high quality entrees;
  • Brewsters, for burgers and pub food;
  • House of Fire, for pizza;
  • Red Fox Bar & Grill, which also has good pizza;
  • HooDoo Brewing Company;
  • Salmon Bake in Pioneer Park, which was “awesome but moderately difficult to get to”;
  • Tuffy’s tap room for a wide selection of beer

Sights

North Pole, Alaska, is 20 minutes away. One client reported being disappointed that it was not more Christmas-y and that their cookie selection was only lackluster.

Chena Hot Springs is “fine but not amazing.”

Avoid the aurora show at the ice museum, which was a “total waste of time and money.”

The local museum and BLM office in Anatuvak Pass, as well as the Museum of the North and Morris Thompson cultural center in Fairbanks, are worth a visit to learn about the area and people who live there.


Travel guide: California

We operate in four locations in the High Sierra, and the exact location of your trip should dictate your plans.

Flights

This region is served by multiple airports:

  • Reno-Tahoe (RNO)
  • Fresno-Yosemite (FAT)
  • Sacramento (SMF)
  • Bay Area: Oakland (OAK), San Jose (SJC), San Francisco (SFO)
  • SoCal: Los Angeles (LAX), Burbank (BUR), Orange County (SNA)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)

Avoid Mammoth Yosemite (MMH), which is closest to our Yosemite trailheads but which is a niche airport (serviced by few airlines, and expensive).

Pubic transit

YARTS connects the east and west sides of Yosemite, including Mammoth, Lee Vining, Yosemite Valley, Groveland, Merced, and Tuolumne Meadows.

ESTA runs a shuttle between Reno and Lone Pine, with stops in Bridgeport, Lee Vining, and Mammoth.

Greyhound and Amtrak have service in the Central Valley.

The Sequoia Shuttle connects the city of Visalia and Lodgepole, from where some of our trips depart. There is no public transit to Road’s End, another of our trailheads in Sequoia-Kings.

Tuolumne County Transit runs a summer shuttle along Highway 108, starting in Jamestown and ending in Sierra Village (with possibly a summer stop in Pinecrest).

Tuolumne Meadows: Food, Lodging, and Camping

The opening date for Tioga Road — which cuts through Tuolumne Meadows — varies with the wintertime snowpack. After dry winters (like 2012-15), it will open in May; after wet winters (like 2017 and 2019), it gets pushed back into late-June or even early-July. Facilities at Tuolumne do not open for at least several weeks after the road opens. NPS will announce opening dates in the spring, once the bulk of the snow has fallen and after plowing operations have begun.

Tuolumne Meadows does not have reliable cell service or WIFI, though there was sporadic AT&T coverage in 2021.

***Due to major construction, the Tuolumne Meadows Campground (and the associated Backpackers Campground) will be closed throughout the 2022, 2023, and 2024 seasons. This is very inconvenient, because we have based our operations here in the past.

With Tuolumne closed, try White Wolf, which has a car campground and backpackers campground. It’s a very pretty 40-minute drive to the west.

Over Tioga Pass, in Inyo National Forest, there are multiple car campgrounds ($20-ish per night). Some of these sites are first-come-first-served, and others can be reserved in advance through Recreation.gov.

Tuolumne Meadows has a small grocery store (with beer), a mediocre grill (burgers, dogs, fries), and a Post Office closet. I’m uncertain how the construction nearby will impact these operations.

Lee Vining: Food, Lodging, and Camping

This is the eastern gateway town for Yosemite, located about a half-mile north of the junction of I-395 and Highway 120 (Tioga Road). It’s a good alternative to camping in the park or on USFS lands, and it has easy access to day-hikes near June Lake, Mono Lake, and along Tioga Road (like Saddlebag Lake).

Our most recommended restaurant is the Whoa Nellie Deli, at the Mobil station at the exact intersection of I-395 and Highway 120. It’s known for its daytime entrees, but also has delicious ready-to-go breakfast burritos. Other restaurants:

  • Nicely’s Restaurant, for a “huge” breakfast;
  • Bodie Mike’s BBQ;

Inside town, we recommend or have heard good things about:

  • El Mono Hotel, a “perfect 1-stop backpacker motel” with decent rooms, great customer service, and good coffee and sandwiches;
  • Lake View Lodge, which is a “decent little motel” with tidy rooms;
  • Yosemite Gateway Motel (“very reasonable”).

Free dispersed camping is permitted on BLM land east of I-395 and south of Mono Lake. It’s out in the open, among sage brush, but it does the trick for a quick camp.

The Mono Market is a small grocery store.

Yosemite’s west side: Food, Lodging, and Camping

Tenaya Lodge is inside the park. It’s good but expensive. Evergreen Lodge is “super cool but a bit pricey.”

Double-check the elevation of potential lodging options on Yosemite’s west side, because they may not be helpful for acclimatization.

The Iron Door Saloon in Groveland is the oldest bar in California.

La Taqueria in Turlock served one client “probably the best burrito I’ve had in my life.”

Mammoth Lakes: Food, Lodging, and Camping

Summer is the off-season in Mammoth Lakes, which has a big ski area and full services. It’s a good staging area for trips in Yosemite and Inyo National Forest, especially if you are coming in from southern California.

The guides usually stay at the Motel 6 between trips. It’s basic, but clean and reasonably priced, and the showers have hot water. Mammoth Lake Village Lodge is “the bees knees.” Also try Alpenhof Lodge and Moderne Hostel.

Another option is the Mammoth Mountain RV park, which has hot showers, a hot tub, and pool; Holiday Haus, a PCT hiker hostel; or Big Springs Campground.

About ten minutes south of town off the 395 is a dispersed camping area north on Benton Crossing Road called the ‘Whitmore Hot Springs’. Even closer to Mammoth Lakes is Convict Lake campground, which is gorgeous (but has no cell service).

Between May-September you can camp in certain spots along the Mammoth Scenic Loop as long as you are 2 miles outside of town.

Halfway between Lee Vining and Mammoth is Glass Creek Campground, which has a trail to a neat obsidian dome.

For restaurants, try:

  • Mammoth Lake Brewing Co, which has good beer and 1-pound cheeseburgers, a favorite between trips for the guides;
  • Distant Brewing is Mammoth was “pretty good”;
  • Good Life Cafe, for a “great breakfast”;
  • New York Deli, with “surprisingly East Coast-like bagels and schmear”;
  • Bleu Market Kitchen;
  • Giovanni’s Pizzeria is “excellent”

Mammoth Mountaineering Supply is well stocked with gear and supplies, including canister fuel.

In Bishop, try Schatz Bakery. Find public showers at Bishop Creek Lodge (call ahead to confirm).

Bridgeport: Food, Lodging, and Camping

This cow town is 30 minutes north of Lee Vining, near the junction of I-395 and Highway 108 (Sonora Pass), which provides access to Stanislaus National Forest and Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest.

The guides have stayed at the Walker River Lodge, which was clean and conveniently located. We have also stayed at Willow Springs Cabins and RV Park, which is south of town and more relaxed. Clients recommend Big Meadow Lodge (“highly recommended”).

The Toiyabe Motel in Walker is a “lovely place” according to one client.

Bishop

Trips starting in Inyo National Forest may meet in Bishop. It’s a small and full-service town, but at 4,000 feet it won’t help much with acclimatizing.

Katie’s feedback on the restaurants:

  • La Palmas had decent Mexican food, large portions for reasonable prices
  • Indiego Cafe had good burgers and fries, and the service was great
  • Looney Bean for craft coffee, assorted high quality pastries, and to-go lunch items like wraps and chia cups, plus they had vegan and gf options

Pinecrest: Food, Lodging, and Camping

Tuolumne County is rural and very tourist-based, and some services may be closed mid-week.

The Pinecrest campground has large campsites, clean bathrooms, and a lake to swim in or hike around.

The town of Twain Harte is charming and has a local market for snacks and a variety of restaurants and lodging, including recommended spots like McCaffey Bed and Breakfast and Eperson House restaurant. The El Dorado Motel received mixed reviews (“fine”, “decent”, “gross”); Andrew stayed there once, and reported that he would have preferred to stay in his van.

Ranger-recommended restaurants are listed below.

  • Steam Donkey in Pinecrest,
  • Kennedy Meadows Resort near Sonora Pass,
  • Mia’s in Cold Springs,
  • Strawberry Inn in Strawberry,
  • Mike’s Pizza in Sonora,
  • Reich’s Outpost in Sonora, and
  • Diamondback Grill in Sonora.

Gun House Hotel, Heritage Inn, and Best Western in Sonora have been recommended by clients.

The Strawberry Inn is clean and quiet and has a restaurant onsite which mainly serves bar food. Customer service was lacking in 2023, and the rooms were expensive.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon: Food, Lodging, and Camping

The John Muir Lodge has rustic cabins for rent. They don’t have electricity and there is a common bathhouse nearby. The main lodge has WiFi, tables, and a wrap-around porch. There’s also a gift shop in nearby Grant Grove Village and a restaurant that is “surprisingly not terrible.”

Bear Mountain Pizza outside Sequoia is another dining option.

Stony Creek Lodge is an option for internet, showers, and lodging. Sunset campground in Sequoia is quiet, well-maintained, and very close to Big Stump.

Gina’s Sierra Inn is not recommended (“mediocre”, “spotty hot water”, “bugs in the room”). Wuksachi Lodge is pricey and food is “horrible”.

Sights

If you’ve never been to Yosemite Valley, you should stop on your way to or back from Tuolumne Meadows. During the day, it’s very crowded, so plan accordingly. You might also try to score a last-minute Half Dome permit, but please don’t exhaust yourself immediately before your trip.

About 20 minutes west of Tuolumne Meadows is gorgeous Tenaya Lake. It has day-use areas and a sandy beach.

North of Lee Vining is the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center, which has interpretive information about this fascinating lake.

Wild Willy’s Hot Spring is along I-395, south of Mammoth, and is “incredible at night while looking at the stars.”

For warm-up hikes, consider:

  • Saddlebag Lakes, just east of Tioga Pass;
  • June Lake;
  • USFS lands outside of Mammoth, notably Crystal Lake;
  • Trails inside Yosemite.

Olympic National Park, Washington

Maximum elevations in the Olympics are about 7,000 feet. You will feel it, but you shouldn’t need to arrive early in order to acclimatize as we recommend with other locations like the High Sierra and Colorado.

Getting there

Trips will start on either the north side of the park, outside of Port Angeles, Washington, or from Staircase Trailhead, near Hoodsport. Wilderness permits cannot be reserved until April; until then, please be patient.

Seattle-Tacoma (SEA) is the closest major airport and the largest airport in the Pacific Northwest.

From SEA, public transit is available to Port Angeles. Use Google Maps for specific details. From SEA, take the train to the Bainbridge Island Ferry, then the Strait Shot bus to Port Angeles. Public transit options also exist from SEA to Hoodsport. Use Google Maps “Transit” mode to find various options including Seattle-Bremerton Fast Ferry, Amtrak Cascades, and the bus line. From Hoodsport, carpool with other clients to the Staircase TH. 

Services

Port Angeles is full-service city, with lodging, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.

Camping is available within Olympic National Park (details and reservations) and on the adjacent lands managed by the National Forest (details).

Carpooling

Due to limited parking at the trailheads (which double as our meet-up spots), we strongly recommend that groups carpool at least from Port Angeles, if not from the greater Seattle area (e.g. SeaTac). Plus, there is a park entry fee of $30 to reach the meetup spots, so you’ll save yourself a few bucks, too.

Vehicles can be left at many locations in Port Angeles; refer to the map above for some options.

Use the ride- and room-sharing spreadsheet that was shared in Classroom to coordinate with other members of your group.

Port Angeles: Food, Lodging, and Camping

For restaurants, try:

  • Next Door Gastropub
  • Strait Slice Pizza Co. for tasty thin crust pizza and large salads at affordable prices
  • The Hook and Line Pub, highly recommended
  • Fog Coffee

For lodging, the Quality Inn Uptown has “comfortable beds”, the Red Lion Inn has great views of the straits, and the Olympic Inn is clean, affordable, centrally located and very comfortable. The Olympic Lodge is recommended for being clean, having great amenities, and good breakfast.

For camping, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge has nice sunset views at certain campsites and comfortable car camping. Deer Park campground is not recommended.

Half an hour east of Port Angeles, Sequim is a nice little town if Port Angeles is full. The Oasis is a good restaurant/bar there. Olympic View Inn is a nice place to stay.

If you have spare time, take the ferry to Victoria, BC, drive around the perimeter of the Olympic Peninsula, visit Port Townsend, or plan a trip to Mt. Rainier.

Lodging near Hoodsport

  • Moonlight resort suites and sleeps (36 min to TH)
  • Sunrise resort and motel (32 min to TH)
  • Waterfront at Potlatch (35 min to TH)

Greater Yellowstone

The 2024 season would be our first in this area. The area is very large. The trips are nine months away. And I’m still in the process of discussing options with land managers. So please wait until late-winter or early-spring for me to provide more detailed information. In the meantime, I have added some information in the spreadsheet above so that you can get a rough sense for the logistics involved.


Travel guide: West Virginia

Flights

The closest airports serve Washington DC, and are about three hours east. Use Baltimore-Washington (BWI), Dulles (IAD), or Reagan (DCA).

The town of Seneca Rocks is equidistant to Spruce Knob and Dolly Sods. It has basic services, including lodging, a deli/general store. The roads leading to Seneca are twisting narrow mountain roads, and we recommend arriving during daylight.

Lodging

Start with Yokum’s Vacationland, which has rooms on their second floor and cabins down the road. Most of the clients stay in the rooms, which include wifi; the guides always rent one of the big cabins. We have had mostly good experiences here, but occasionally not: based on a 2021 experience, stay out of Bunk House #1 (moldy) and the fisherman’s cabin (buggy).

Appalachian Cabins Motel had mixed reviews in 2019. One couple found a dirty room and had poor customer service; another had a better experience.

For camping, use Seneca Shadows.

Food

Yokum’s has a deli. The cleanliness has improved in recent years.

The Front Porch had good pizza, but it closed during Covid in 2020 and has not reopened.

The Gateway Inn, at the base of the mountain road leading to Spruce Knob just south of the hamlet of Riverton, is a nice small-town diner with outrageously low prices. Our groups usually have a post-trip meal here. Get a slice of the Peanut Butter pie.

Cheeta B’s in Petersberg gets mixed reviews. On a very busy Sunday night when they were short on help, it was mediocre. Other times, it’s been good. And it’s always relatively cheap.

Other

Seneca Rocks does not have cell service, and the Yokum’s wifi is quickly overwhelmed by visitors. Drive south for 3.5 miles to the North Fork Baptist Church, known locally as the “Church of Immaculate Reception.”

Cell service is generally spotty in this part of the state. Download maps for offline use (for driving and backpacking) before you get here.

Please plan to carpool to the trailhead, which will have limited parking. We can leave cars at a park-n-ride about 200 yards from our meet-up spot.

To learn more about the area, visit the free Seneca Rocks Visitor Center.

If you have never been to Washington DC, visit some of the museums before or after your trip.