Vacationing in the High Sierras

A view of Bear Dome peaking between trees. [Photo by Jeanine Fiser]

By Jeanine Fiser | Reporter

In the Central Valley there is a common Goldilocks-like reference to the region’s geography: not too far from the coast and not too far from the mountains, it’s just right at about two hours driving distance either way.

Clovis itself bears the nickname “Gateway to the Sierras,” a fortunate designation to have.

The High Sierras offer a wondrous, natural landscape overflowing with opportunity to escape boredom, summer heat and often times, even if just for a short while, your worries. If you live in the Central Valley, there is hardly a more accessible and enjoyable place for the ultimate family vacation than the Sierras.

All this coupled with a love for the great outdoors is why my family and our friends, the Verdegaals, have retreated up the mountains every summer for the past 10 years. It can be difficult reconciling schedules, but the four days we recently spent in the wilderness this summer reminded everyone why the trip is worth it.

One of the first things on everyone’s minds after arriving, once unloading is done and tents are set up, is food. We tend to go beyond traditional camp food – a member of the group is a welder and fabricated an oven allowing us to prepare things like stuffed pasta shells and one year a birthday cake – but a few of our go-to meals are easy to replicate and quite tasty.

Usually our trips involve a large group, this year we had 20 people, so the best meals are easy to prepare and fill a lot of stomachs. Breakfast burritos are good for satisfying the masses, and with products like the Bisquick Shake ‘n’ Pour, pancakes are a snap. No one goes too far out of the way for lunch. The standard fare is sandwiches, soup and quesadillas. On our most recent trip, someone brought chopped cabbage, grilled chicken, noodles and almonds for an easily tossed and refreshing Chinese Chicken Salad.

Dinner is usually a bigger production; it almost needs to be for refueling after a day of outdoor activities. California’s favorite, tri-tip, always seems to make it on our menu, paired perfectly with garlic bread and grilled corn. This summer we also tried carnitas tacos. To make things easier we cooked the pork ahead of time and only needed to warm it at the campsite.

There are some rather pleasing meals managed on our trips, but none can compare to dessert. Of course we engage in s’more making, but not without experimentation. A few tips from Pinterest suggested using pretzels or Keebler Fudge Stripe cookies around the toasted marshmallow. Another idea included stuffing a Rolo into the mallow before roasting. All ideas were delicious. Our other favorite dessert is fruit cobbler. Thanks to a Dutch oven (possibly the best investment ever) we enjoy cobblers almost every night of camping. All you need is the oven, fruit, cake mix, butter and some hot coals. The cobbler goes well with homemade vanilla ice cream churned out by each camper in rotating shifts.

Eating is not the only activity that comprises a well-spent camping trip. The Sierras provide a nearly endless list of things to do.

My family’s favorite place to camp is at Ward Lake, a small body of water perched along the sometime precarious, one-lane Kaiser Pass Road. At the lake, kids and adults alike can swim, dive into the water from a jumping rock, kayak, paddleboard and fish. A determined seventh grader claimed the prize for most fish caught over the weekend on our trip, reeling in a number of Trout.

When we are not in the water, our group loves relaxing around the campground. There is no cell phone service deep in the Sierras, which provides a nice break and allows for catching up on a novel, playing cards and sitting around the campfire. One of the best parts of camping comes at night when the sky is full of stars. Being away from city lights makes it easy to point out constellations and planets.

Another great way to experience the scope of the Sierra’s natural beauty is to go for a hike. Trails crisscross all over the rugged and captivating mountains and while camping it is easy to go for just a short walk taking in the sights.

Ward Lake is nearby Mono Hot Springs and Florence Lake, either can be reached on foot depending on how far one is willing to go. These nearby places are also good for day trips by car, as they also lay along Kaiser Pass Road. Florence is a larger lake good for fishing and Mono Hot Springs has camping, a spa and restaurant. At the end of a camping trip, having forgone a few showers it is nice to stop by Mono and take a dip in the natural springs.

Vacationing in the Sierras can also be a great way to meet people. The area draws a diverse group of travelers and in most cases people are friendly. On our trip we walked to Florence Lake and while there met a man named Jim who was fulfilling his life dream of hiking the John Muir Trail. He told us about his hiking experience and the troubles he had with his hiking boots being a size too small. The friendly encounter was a reminder that enjoying people can be just as wonderful as enjoying nature.

The Sierras offer so much for a vacation and there are options for everyone’s tastes. Our favorite spot at Ward might be a little rough for some. If you like to stay in RVs or where the bathrooms have running water, there are great campsites at Shaver and Huntington Lakes. Further up the mountain from Ward Lake is Jackass Meadows, perfect for those who want wide-open spaces and breathtaking vistas.

It is hard to wrong planning a trip to the Sierras. Whether you are looking for an escape from the Valley’s summer heat, some relaxation or to reconnect with nature and family, it is assured you will find it in the nearby mountain retreat.


A few helpful things to keep in mind when planning a trip to the Sierras:

-Turn off your cell phone. The mountains don’t offer much cell service anyways, and it is easier to enjoy a trip once you unplug.

-Be ready for weather. Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate. We’ve seen years when there was still snow around in late spring and other times when wildfires kept us off the mountain. Not to mention days when the Valley floor is 100 plus degrees, but there are thunderstorms and hail in higher elevations.

-Bring toilet paper. The bathrooms are usually well stocked but if for any reason that is not true, nobody wants to be left with just leaves.

-The bear boxes are not a suggestion. We have had bears sneak into camp at night. While they don’t cause too much trouble, in our worst experience a bear stole and ate our butter, it is best to take the precautions and lock up your food.

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