City Guide: The High Sierras
Boketto City Guides are odes to our favorite places. This is a weekly micro-series by Team Boketto. This week we road trip in the High Sierras with Boketto Founder, Jelena Nikolajevic. Jel shares her love of the outdoors via the best places to climb, soak, and bath in nature. (That’s her in the photo above ^)
I’m pretty simple when it comes to travel, all I need is the van, my partner Peter, our two dogs Ollie and Finn, and the mountains. For the past few years, we always find ourselves camping, recharging, and rock climbing in the majestic mountain range of the High Sierras in California. Drawn to the epic granite rock, enormous sequoia, crystal clear glacier water and natural hot springs, the high Sierras is truly an outdoor playground.
Our journey begins in our Ford Transit van and driving 2,267 miles cross-country to Reno, Nevada. Once we hit Reno— the last major city before we cross into South Lake Tahoe in California— our trip finally begins. This route is one of the most scenic routes I’ve traveled because you go from high desert red sandstone to crisp tall sequoias and granite domes. There are a few ways to drive from Reno into South Lake Tahoe but my ultimate favorite is taking Highway 80 and stopping in Truckee, a beautiful mountain town nestled in Tahoe National Forest. We pause in Truckee to fill-up with gas and take in the last charms of civilization. While we cook/eat in the van, there are lots of charming cafes to choose from if you’re hungry.
The journey is the destination
Just south of Truckee is our first campsite, Lovers Leap, a perfect destination for anyone who enjoys living outdoors, hiking and climbing. Lover’s leap has always been our first stop in our climbing adventure, but has been deteriorating under a dramatic increase in climber traffic. Being a responsible steward of the land is very important to us, we choose practices that lessen our impact, and encourage everyone to learn how to do the same.
Continuing down route 395, we drive to Lee Vining where Mono Lake and the east entrance to Yosemite National Park reside. Here, you can stop and get information about Yosemite, at the Visitors Center. Also! The best fish tacos are found at the Mobil gas station, located just before you enter the park.
Yosemite National Park, or not
I highly recommend the opportunity to visit Yosemite National Park when in the High Sierras. Its majesty never ceases to take my breath away. If you’re a hiker there is certainly no shortage of epic trails that lead to spectacular views. Again, due to high volume of tourism, going has its frustrations. I recommend visiting during the low season, or on the weekdays— and for sure getting in early before the weekend crowds. If you choose to skip, rest assured there are many other gems along Route 395 that are remote and equally as beautiful.
Pit Stop: Continuing down route 395 from Lee Vining, you’ll hit June Lake, another sweet mountain town that’s a good place to grab a beer and some food at the infamous June Lake Brewery. The food truck at the brewery is worth the stop alone.
Further south on 395 you’ll hit one of my favorite places to climb and camp, Pine Creek. This is a gem of a place when you want to get away from the Mammoth and June Lake scene and be in the deep forest surrounded by lakes, rivers and of course, beautiful granite. There are multiple campgrounds when you enter Pine Creek and most of them are free.
Without fail: It’s about at this point in the trip I feel the grip of the dry air. I welcome it, and rely on a good salve to keep my skin resilient to the elements. Living Libations Rose Glow Creme moisturizes deeply.
Soak in Natural Hot Springs
After a day of climbing and hiking, what better way to replenish than dipping into natural hot springs. Keough and Bishop Hot Springs are popular choices, but located along 395 before you arrive in the town of Bishop, look for the green church. That’s your cue to take a left and head down dusty roads into cattle land. After the 3rd cattle crossing, you turn right and hit the Crab Cooker. This is a small, private spring with a clothing-optional etiquette. Note: There are no bathrooms, trash cans, or facilities of any kind located near the springs. Camping is forbidden at the spring, but is fine on nearby public land not far west of the spring.
Note: There’s a bunch of hot spring guide books specifically for the High Sierras, and I highly recommend getting a copy. You’ll be amazed on how many little natural hot springs are around. A lot of them requires a bit of driving into what seems like the middle of no where.... My advice? Pay attention to your road markers and enjoy the scenery because it’s beautiful!
The icing on the cake
Bishop is a small, former-pioneer town that’s now chock-full of hip cafes, an amazing farmers market, and some of the best Mexican restaurants the high desert has to offer. We thoroughly enjoy Bishop. Especially after days of camping. It serves as a great base for our last camping/climbing location: The Buttermilks. Now I know I’m biased to climbing, but aside from the granite obsession, The Buttermilks have great hiking and exploring. A short ways outside of Bishop, The Buttermilks allow you to camp for free, which is how enjoying nature should be, right?
PS. Sun protection is key, always. I like Keys Solar RX SPF because it works, and does double duty acting as a moisturizer. When you need to pack light, or want to keep your routine more simple, multi-purpose products are a must.
All photos courtesy of the author.