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Rip & Go: Lyell Canyon, Yosemite

Escape front-country crowds on a trek to the park's idyllic interior.

Be bear aware
Plentiful berries and water make lush Lyell Canyon a paradise for Yosemite’s 300 to 500 bruins. That’s great for wildlife photo ops, but it also requires careful hiking. Here’s how to make sure your bearproofing is bomber.

Keep your distance
We all want to see a bear, but your primary goal should be to avoid startling or attracting them. Talk, sing, clap, and make noise as you hike. If you spot a bear, stay at least 50 feet away. That may mean waiting for it to leave the area.

Store your food
Yosemite’s famously crafty Yogis make hanging bear bags verboten here. Get a hard-sided bear canister with a locking top (some bears know how to pop open screw-top canisters). Garcia and Counter Assault canisters cost $70. Or rent one for $5 per week ($95 deposit required) at the wilderness center. Put all food, toiletries, and anything else with a scent inside, lock it, and keep it at least 100 yards away from your campsite (but away from cliffs, rivers, or lakes—lest a bear move it where you don’t want it). Never let food out of your sight, even on rest breaks: YouTube is rife with clips of Yosemite bears running off with unguarded meals.

Stand your ground
You did everything right, but you’re facing down an angry black bear anyway. Don’t run: Even Olympic sprinters can’t outrun a bear. Yell, throw rocks or sticks, and make yourself look like a big, tough target. Got bear spray? Fire it at the bear’s face once it reaches close range (less than 40 feet; 25 feet if it’s windy). If neither deters the bear and it attacks, fight back. Hard.

“Save a day’s worth of food—you can probably catch it,” says Miller of Lyell Canyon’s trout-filled lakes and rivers. Veteran Yosemite fly-fishing guide Tim Hutchins says the browns, rainbows, and brookies in the upper Merced River “aren’t really picky about flies, but small is always better.” Get sport fishing permits from the Tuolumne Meadows General Store. Grill your catch in firepits at Vogelsang or Merced High Sierra campgrounds (check fire restrictions), or poach on a camp stove (see below).

THE EXPERT Bay Area software engineer Dave Miller, 47, cut his backpacking teeth with the Royal Rangers youth-outing club. Now he leads the next generation on year-round trips all over California. The seven-year BACKPACKER map contributor and photographer loves shooting Vogelsang and Fletcher Peak reflections in Fletcher Lake: “The colors are very rich and dramatic. I’ve got a print on my wall.” 

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