A Cascades & Sierra Nevada Road Trip

Kyle at Thousand Island Lake

One summer at Cold River Camp, another guest presented on backpacking the Muir Trail and through the Ansel Adams Wilderness. This presentation inspired our summer 2016 backpacking trip from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley. The image that most stayed in my mind, though, was a sunset photo at Thousand Island Lake.

Kyle & I finally visited in July 2021, stopping at Newberry National Volcanic Monument and Crater Lake National Park on the way there, and Lassen Volcanic National Park on the way back. This made for a one-week road trip with three days of backpacking in the middle.

Compared to the photo that inspired our trip, the sunset over Thousand Island Lake sunset was muted, but it was still excellent.

Planning the Trip

Kyle and I first planned this trip for September 2020. We intended this as a long weekend: fly to California, pick up backpacking supplies and do a day hike, spend three days in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, and then fly home.

That summer, COVID cancelled much of our other travel and made us reluctant to fly. So, we decided to drive to and from California, and we planned stops along the way: to visit Kyle’s brother in Bend, at Crater Lake National Park, and at Lassen Volcanic National Park on the return. However, as September approached, COVID cases were rising on the west coast, and wildfires were spreading in California. Between the two, we thought the trip would be stressful, even if we could complete it safely. So, we reluctantly cancelled.

We replanned the trip for July 2021. By mid-July, the trails in the Ansel Adams Wilderness are largely snow-free. More wildflowers would likely be in bloom than in September. We also hoped to be well ahead of fire season. As cons, we expected worse mosquitoes–freshly-hatched after the snow melt. We also anticipated a greater chance of afternoon storms.

All of these tradeoffs proved true, except one. In the Pacific Northwest and Sierra Nevada, the 2021 wildfire season started early and ferociously. We were lucky with our specific travel plans. We passed through recently and soon-to-be devastated towns, but roads were open. The smoke did not even affect visibility on the trails in Ansel Adams that much. Our thoughts often turned more to the firefighters and affected communities than to relaxation.

Where we stayed

  • Bend, Oregon: Cascade Lodge (Hotels.com | Booking.com). Basic but comfortable room at a good price, convenient location for visiting Kyle’s brother, but a bit further out from downtown.
  • Crater Lake National Park: Cabins at Mazama Village. It was great to stay in the park, even if the location is 20 minutes or so below the crater rim–these are more budget-friendly option. These are really duplexes, but the one next to us was empty so I can’t speak to sound transmission. Our room was recently remodeled and comfortable, though the shower head was at an awkwardly low height.
  • Lee Vining, California: Yosemite Gateway Motel (Booking.com | Hotels.com). Convenient to town, views back to the lake, basic rooms. This worked well for us, but I anticipate rooms might get hot in the summer.
  • Ansel Adams Wilderness: campsites at Ediza and Thousand Island Lakes
  • Chester, California: Best Western Rose Quartz Inn (Hotels.com | Booking.com). Our stay here was hard to evaluate because it was dominated by smoke from the Dixie Fire. The room was comfortable, the staff friendly (despite a bleak situation). The grab-and-go breakfast was fine, but you really should visit Koninkrijk Koffiehuis for coffee and pastries if you stay here. The location is convenient for Lassen Volcanic National Park.
  • Redding, California: Hilton Garden Inn (Booking.com | Hotels.com). This was a comfortable hotel with easy parking and a better-than-average breakfast, which they still included for elites rather than doing Hilton’s current dining credit. The main downside was that it was driving distance from pretty much anything in Redding.

Our 2021 Trip

I’ve divided up our trip into three posts:

Read on to the start of of our trip.

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