Trip 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:

Note: This map will be updated throughout the season. With some details, we’re waiting to hear back; with others, we have not gotten to them yet.

Trailhead briefing

If you are driving to the meet-up location on the first day, please be within at least three hours so that you’re not already tired when you get there.

At the “Briefing,” we will:

  • Make introductions;
  • Update you on conditions;
  • Distribute breakfast & dinner rations, demo gear, and paper maps;
  • Check over your gear, and weigh your full pack.

The guides normally arrive at the briefing location an hour early to set up. If you have been instructed otherwise or if feel that you need a lot of help in checking your gear, you can arrive early as well, but please by no more than 30 minutes.

Take care of yourself before and during the briefing:

  • Have breakfast
  • Get hydrated
  • Protect yourself from the elements, like by applying sunscreen if it’s sunny or by by wearing warm clothing if it’s cold.

Food and water is not provided at the trailhead — please pack in what you will need. Not all trailheads have potable water available.

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

The California and Colorado trips are at high altitudes, and non-acclimatized clients may experience acute mountain sickness (e.g. headache, nausea, loss of appetite).

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

To reduce the risk of having these symptoms during your trip, when your body will be additionally taxed by the physical exertion, you are strongly encouraged to spend at least the night before the trip at altitude. If you have the time and/or if you have a history with altitude issues, make it two nights. During this acclimatization period, 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 guide: Southern 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.

Canyon Country Lodge is “excellent” but a little more expensive than other options.

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

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

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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

The groups will stay at Best Western Plus Chena River Lodge, which is closer to important services than where we have stayed in the past, the La Quinta Inn by the airport. The Best Western is nice and clean; it holds our stuff while we’re out; and it offers an airport shuttle.

You will be responsible for paying for your room. I will reserve a block of rooms at a discounted rate ($160 including taxes in 2021).

Transportation

In 2021 it was very difficult to get around Fairbanks. Rental car companies had no fleet, because they’d sold them off in 2020 (when tourism in Alaska was way down) and were unable to replace them in spring 2021 due to the chip shortage. In addition, few drivers were available on ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. Hopefully 2022 will be better.

Food & services

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”;

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.”


Travel guide: California

We operate in several locations in California, and the exact location of your trip should drive your plans.

Flights

This region is served by multiple airports:

  • Reno-Tahoe (RNO)
  • Fresno-Yosemite (FAT)
  • Sacramento (SMF)
  • Oakland (OAK)
  • San Jose (SJC)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • 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).

If your trip is in Yosemite, use RNO, FAT, or SMF.

If your trip is in Stanislaus, fly into the Central Valley or Bay Area, like FAT, SMF, or OAK.

Pubic transit

YARTS connects the east and west sides of Yosemite, including Mammoth, Lee Vining, Yosemite Valley, Groveland, Merced, and Tuolumne Meadows, from where most of our trips depart.

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.

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 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 Reservation.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. Its 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 east 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.

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”;

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

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”) and

Pinecrest: Food, Lodging, and Camping

Due to fire-related USFS closures, our 2021 trips outside of Pinecrest were relocated. So we still don’t have first-hand experience in this area. Ranger-recommended restaurants are listed below. Tuolumne County is rural and very tourist-based, and many services are closed mid-week.

  • Steam Donkey in Pincrest,
  • 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.

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.

Travel Guide: Great Sand Dunes

This 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.

In 2021 the guides stayed in the cabins at Great Sand Dunes Oasis. They were clean, quiet, private, and inexpensive; and the views from the front porch were 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.

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;

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 reportedly worth it.