It seems like every message board (including our own correspondence from readers) includes a fair number of people who have just recently become interested in backpacking and want a little advice about destinations. To make their first trip really successful, they want to know if we can recommend a good hike for them.
What they want is the perfect starter hike.
And what do they want? They want high peaks and great scenery, and beautiful lakes and forests of huge trees. They want fabulous fishing. They want short mileage and relatively little elevation change. And close to home would be nice, too, so they don't have to drive far. Oh--and it would be really nice to go somewhere that has no other people for miles.
Well, no, we don't have any ideas about hikes like that. We do have a list of great starter hikes on our destinations page, and we stand by those recommendations. You can find those listed here:
But all of them fall short, in one way or another, of being the perfect hike. Lyons Lake, above right, does include a pretty darn steep climb for the last mile or so, for example. Sorry. And we did it in September, and still ran into other people there.
So why can't we recommend the perfect hike?
Because if you ever found a hike that had high peaks, great scenery, beautiful lakes, huge trees, fabulous fishing and involved only a short hike with relatively little elevation change--it would be jam-packed with people all the time. In fact, there are a few of these hikes, like Lake Winnemucca out of Carson Pass (photo below, in October after the first snow--and no, it doesn't have great fishing or huge trees), that requires a reservation not just for the trailhead, but for a specific numbered campsite. That's crowd control.
Why? Because it is so nice and so easy that EVERYONE wants to do that one. So the permit process for this area, like the one for Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe, is complicated and restrictive. And it still has lots of people.
And just so you know--the trail does climb quite a bit to the lake. But it is totally worth it.
Of course, you could do what we do, which is to hike to these locations in the off-season, when the crowds are afraid of snow, rain, and cold. And yes, you might run into all of those. But you won't run into as many people.
Or you could understand that part of backpacking is the hiking, and that the journey is part of the destination: learn to love the hike. Relax. You have all day to get there.
That way, the destinations are just the frosting on the cake. And they are wonderful!