San Francisco/ Los Angeles Area
Can there be a downside to living in a state bristling with the likes of the Sierra Nevada, plus the Cascade and Klamath ranges? Is there a drawback to having the California coast at your boot tips? Most of the year, no. But come November, when storm clouds gather, far too many hikers head indoors.
Obstacle: Winter rain
Solution: As rock climbers have long known, Joshua Tree National Park in California is out of the loop when it comes to winter weather. The desert wilderness and its bizarre, namesake trees come complete with sunshine and starkly beautiful scenery. Squeeze through fantastic rock formations, awake to coyotes howling, and stick your nose into a funky-smelling Joshua tree bloom (usually present in March).
There are few designated trails here, so let the Joshua trees point the way. Or stay on the 21-mile California Riding and Hiking Trail, if you prefer a maintained route. (Note: A wildfire burned the Quail Mountain area in 1999, and that could mean a banner year for wildflowers this spring.)
Directions: Joshua Tree National Park is in southern California, 140 miles east of Los Angeles. The trailhead on Keys View Road is 13 miles southwest of the park’s West Entrance.
Map: Joshua Tree National Park.
Contact: Joshua Tree National Park, 74485 National Park Dr., Twenty-Nine Palms, CA 92277; (760) 367-5500.
Obstacle: High country snow
Solution: While the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) lies buried under snowpack until June, you can be pitching your tent in the Ventana Wilderness’ Santa Lucia Range right now. It’s low enough to be snow-free in winter and spring, but steep enough to make your leg muscles long for the PCT. Sweeping views of the Big Sur coastline and redwood-shrouded canyons provide ample compensation on the west side of the range.
Head to the east side, however, for solitude and dry weather. A 24-mile loop on the Lost Valley and Coast Ridge trails, with a jaunt to the top of Marble Peak (allow time to stop and stare drop-jawed at the Pacific Ocean panorama), will put you on the path less traveled. (Note: At press time, a wildfire had just burned a significant portion of the wilderness area north of this route. The trail itself was not affected.)
Directions: Ventana Wilderness is on the coast, 130 miles south of San Francisco. The Lost Valley trailhead is 50 miles west of US 101 on Arroyo Seco-Indians Road.
Map: USFS Ventana Wilderness map (see contact below).
Contact: Monterey Ranger District, 406 S. Mildred Ave., King City, CA 93930; (831) 385-5434.