Camouflage-clad soldiers no longer lurk in Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, but it adds to the allure knowing the tough-as-nails U.S. Marine Corps once used the region for mountain warfare training. And for good reason: Carson-Iceberg encompasses some of the loneliest, roughest wilderness along the Sierra Crest. The good news for backpackers is that there's no quota system, which means you can leave work on Friday and stand atop 11,400-foot Sonora Peak on Saturday, without jumping through permit hoops.
Carson-Iceberg is a geologic anomaly, a rocky moonscape of dark volcanic peaks in a mountain range otherwise dominated by light-reflecting granite. You'll find fewer lakes here than elsewhere in the Sierra, but plenty of deep river canyons and a tantalizing 190 miles of trail. Two of the best trails are the Golden Canyon and Murray Canyon Trails, which form a 15-mile loop that skirts Carson Falls. You can make an 11-mile (one-way) approach hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from either Sonora Pass or Ebbets Pass, and tackle the loop for an ambitious 37-miler. Be sure to pause on the PCT to gaze at the endless sea of peaks along the Sierra Crest, and be glad you didn't have to join the Marines to enjoy it.
Where: 180 miles east of San Francisco. Trailheads for the PCT are at Sonora Pass (32 miles east of Strawberry on CA 108) and Ebbets Pass (16 miles east of Lake Alpine on CA 4).
Maps:Carson-Iceberg Wilderness ($4.30, Stanislaus National Forest, 209-532-3671).
Trail Info: Carson Ranger District, (702) 882-2766.