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Backpacking suggestions for Northern California

Hello. Last year went from trailer to tent.  This year we thought we would backpack for a few nights (haven’t done this since high school) then camp in a state park.  
we are ready with our gear and feel strong.  Now there are fires near and smoke everywhere.  Holding out hope that by august 12 things will improve.  Plumas Eureka state park.  Backpack to wades lake or Rock or Jamison lake.   

long story.   If the area is not clear any suggestions where to go?   Chose this for our first trip because I know it like the back of my hand.     

4 Replies

Given current conditions and reasonable estimates for the immediate future, I would not plan backpacking trips in northern California.  During August, the likelihood of wild fires increases.  Not a good time to be in the woods, with mobility limited to travel by foot.

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Thank you for your reply.  Any suggestions on where to go?


You don't have to wait for August for Northern CA wildfires any more and the "fun" doesn't stop in August either...Starts in Late May and pretty much extends through to November unless there are early storms.   Since I assume you are local and can bail or easily change plans I would still go.

Areas around Tahoe may clear of smoke soon as the Tamarack fire winds down but the Dixie fire is still raging to the north so I image Plumas NF will continue to be affected even though the Sugar/Beckworth complex fire seems to be spent. Desolation Wilderness in the South Western corner of Lake Tahoe is a place to consider if the smoke has subsided.

Currently Yosemite and Mammoth and the southern eastern Sierra are not on fire so I might look there.

However, it is tinder dry everywhere so if you go you need to keep a close eye on the situation. I'm not sure how well they work in the Sierras but I would look into carrying a NOAA weather radio since they broadcast fire alerts among other things and you can at least get an alert of anything developing before you go in. You can also check on line if you have phone service of course.

Most of these areas require wilderness permits for overnight which in normal years can usually be obtained in person the day of or the next day at the managing wilderness office if you are flexible about the trailhead you start at. Reserved permits are generally booked up to 6mths in advance and are generally booked through although it depends on the management unit. Yosemite has its own system. Due to the pandemic I understand that Yosemite now does "walk ins" via a 2 week prior request and other offices may work that way too or possibly you just have to reserve online.

I think there is a general campfire ban currently but in generally you also need a free largely educational CA fire permit if you want to have a campfire...I wouldn't this year...and certainly not outside of an organized campsite with steel fire rings.

You will also need to protect the bears from your food by storing it properly, and in a way approved for the location...either in an approved bear canister (required in Yosemite and some other areas) which I recommend, an ursack (where allowed if you must) or correctly executed bear hang (where allowed and as a last resort). Check with the appropriate management office.

Gratuitous advice but note that there are typically no developed campsites when you go backpacking in these areas so you will be filtering or otherwise treating your drinking water and pooping in a cathole. For the former a 0.1-0.2 micron filter required eg Sawyer Squeeze, Katadyn hiker etc...get familiar with how it works before you go. If the latter is new to you, and you indicated it might be, you will need to get familiar with the process and how to do it responsibly. Basic rules are >200ft from any water or campsite. You will need a trowel to dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep so you can bury stuff under 6 inches of soil. Packing out toilet paper is required in the west. A personal bidet can minimize toilet paper use. A "kula" cloth can be helpful for female hikers


Thank you so very much for your reply.  We met with Kent at the Concord REI and he got us up to speed on most of what you said except for the NOAA weather radio. I will look into that. I feel very very grateful for all the advise and guidance given.  I can feel your passion and love the excitement you all have for backpacking.  I grew up camping now at 60 want to venture out away from my car into the wilderness.  
I will play it by ear at this point.  Prayers for all the firefighters and the wildlife affected by the fires.  

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