Dick Hagerty: Hiking in Sierra is easy, cheap and fun recreation

columns@modbee.comAugust 9, 2013 

It is not too late in the summer season to take a short drive up to the mountains and enjoy a day hiking through the woods and the wilderness. We just did the Panorama Trail in Yosemite this week, and despite the very strenuous ups and downs it was one of the all time greatest view treks I have ever experienced.

Day hikes in the Sierra are one of the pure joys that those of us living in the Stanislaus area can enjoy with little expense and time involved.

These outings are easily accessible and require a minimum of special equipment. Actually all that is required is a comfortable pair of hiking shoes or boots and a bottle of water.

Day hikes do not require reservations or permits and they are as varied as the energy levels of each individual hiker.

My favorites are in the Emigrant Wilderness area, easily reached by car from Highway 108, and stretch from Cold Springs past Pinecrest and on up Sonora Pass.

My personal favorite is Bear Lake, an 8-mile round trip that by Sierra standards is mostly level with only one little short stretch of steep climb. The trail starts from Crabtree Meadow, a 10-mile drive on Crabtree Road, past the horse-packing camp and beginning from a paved parking lot with "facilities" available. About 3 miles of this road are not paved, but well graded and easily accessed by any passenger vehicle.

This was also the favorite hike for my late pal Mali, the yellow Lab. She liked it because there are several stream crossings and two sparkling lakes for swimming and cooling off.

Taking your dog along on these hikes is one of the real benefits, both for you and the dog. My dog loved hiking almost as much as dinner and treats. Dogs are not allowed on hikes in national parks, so take Yosemite off that list. (Although last month I did encounter a couple of enthusiastic dogs on the short Merced Grove hike in the park.)

Another wonderful hike close to Bear Lake is from the Gianelli Cabin trailhead, just up beyond the Crabtree Meadow starting point. That route takes you up a long pair of switchbacks to Burst Rock, and then over another mile to Powell Lake. Burst Rock was the where some of the early pioneer wagon trains crossed the Sierra. To take this hike and view the old wagon road is to stand in awe of the energy and daring of those early settlers.

The easiest accessed hike of all is the 4-mile walk around Pinecrest Lake. Not only is there abundant parking right at the start of the trail, but it is level, has lots of interesting cabins to view and some great water views, especially at the far end where the Stanislaus River comes into the lake. And yes, your dog will love you forever after making this hike — especially if your dog is a water-loving Lab. An addition of a couple miles past the upper end of the lake takes you along the Stanislaus River, up a granite cliff scramble to Cleo's Baths, a real gem of a close destination with inviting granite basins filled with swirling waters.

All the way across Sonora Pass there are numerous varied and scenic hikes. Online or with a trail map you can discover many great outings, from easy to very strenuous. And, of course, Yosemite is the crown jewel for all hikers, both in terms of short and lengthy.

I do recommend, in addition to your water bottle that you take some basic survival supplies, which can easily fit into a light day pack or my favorite, the fanny pack. Be sure to include matches, flashlight, batteries, bug spray, ibuprofen, snacks, a small camera and plenty of water.

And do not be tempted to drink from those sparkling streams and crystal blue lakes. Our mountain waters carry a very nasty parasite called giardia, which does bad things to the liver and digestive system.

Email or contact me for lots of ideas for winter and off-season trails as well. Enjoy our great mountain trails.

Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in community nonprofits. Send comments or questions to columns@modbee.com.

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