Hiking and camping is a word-of-mouth game. Spots aren’t just popular because one book or website pushed it, they’re popular because their friends go there; they’re popular because some movie or show shot there; they’re popular because they’re close or easy to get to. That might be how you found Joshua Tree, or Malibu Creek State Park. That’s certainly how I came across the Alabama Hills in central California. Two friends told me to go there and I watched two movies shot there. But unless our friends make the outdoors a profession, we’re selecting from quite the small pool of choices.
So when my friends ask me where to go for good camping and hiking, I often start them off with this–admittedly semi-jerky–list of recommendations. “Check out Redbox Canyon in the Angeles!” just feels like a lazy answer.
- John G. Robinson has two books of trails about the Angeles and San Bernardino Mountains. The trails range from easy, flat, short hikes–Mt. Disappointment!–to all day, or multi-day slogs–San Gorgonio! The descriptions are solid, easy to follow, and with enough range and quantity to fill your weekends for the next five hiking seasons. (I’m not even close to checking off even half of all these hikes.)
- Tom Steinestra: California Camping. The Robinson books with a jolt of HGH. This book covers just about any camping spot available in the entire state. He updates the book every few years to accommodate for the (yearly?) fires we get here in California. His rankings are on point (with an admitted preference given to lakes that offer boating and fishing), and he even includes easy and hard to reach backcountry spots. His 5% tag (less than 5% of campers come to these areas) details choice spots for people who want to steer clear of crowds.
- The Complete Walker IV by Colin Fletcher and Chip Rawlins. You should check out Colin Fletcher’s books about his trips through the Grand Canyon and the Southern California deserts, but for the novice and veteran adventurer there’s no better resource. Gear addiction troubles outdoor sports as much as any other. If you bought half of what you see in most magazines you’d be down 5 thousand bucks easy. In fact, much of the gear makes it seem like hiking or camping is a rich person’s game. Far from it. Fletcher appeals to the nature lover. His advice, always pragmatic, is rooted in an almost romantic view of walking and being under the sun. You don’t need fancy equipment. Water to keep you hydrated, good footwear that won’t fall apart after a season of use, and an hour or two of time to spare. It’s a simple life.
- Maps! You should have maps to make sure you don’t get lost. You should have maps to help you get home if you do get lost. These are clear. But you should also have maps to help you consider what’s out there, to restore your imagination. Half the fun of looking at a map is pointing to a spot and asking, “How come there are no trails to this spot in Kings Canyon? What’s there?” (The answer?) A map is essential. It brings you in touch with the kid-joy of going into the outdoors, which boils down to exploration and wonder. I like the Tom Harrison maps. They’re detailed, waterproof, and easy to read. The trails really pop too.
- The final tip is just my old-man advice. It’s not a book or anything you can buy. It’s something I’m as guilty of as anybody. It’s this: leave your camera. If you think about what you’re doing out there in the first place, taking good pictures probably isn’t that high. Photos usually are a bonus, some little reward you give yourself and your friends for getting out there in the first place. It’s easy, though, to turn that reward into a job. The simple goal of just getting out there and relaxing instead becomes a quest to take the perfect photo. Colin Fletcher talks about an experience during one of his long trips when his camera broke down and he was forced to spend a week not photographing anything. He eased into the rhythm of the walk. He eased into the rhythm of just being outside. He took it all in and left the rest to memory.
© 2014 Christopher Dart