Can you read a topo map? Then you can find your way to deserted lakes, forgotten valleys, and solo summits. And you don’t need to tackle an epic bushwhack: “Even on something as busy as the John Muir Trail, if I hike a half-mile off trail I’ll see no one for days,” says Kings Canyon Backcountry Ranger Dena Paolilli. For some of the easiest cross-country travel and navigation, follow an established trail to near or above treeline, then peel off toward a high-elevation lake for (practically guaranteed) solitude with (definitely guaranteed) excellent camping.
The Sierras’ bountiful lakes and miles of alpine terrain are a perfect canvas for off-trail exploration. For a straightforward three-day, 14-mile escape, point your compass to Grouse Lake, a tarn tucked among classic Sierra granite ridges at 10,500 feet. From the Copper Creek trailhead, gain 5,000 feet in 6 miles (option: camp partway at Lower or Upper Tent Meadows) to the last switchback before the pass into Granite Basin. Ditch the trail here and hike north, following the stream draining Grouse Lake, for a mile to lakeside campsites on rocky slabs.
Season July to September Trailhead 36.796174, -118.583612, at Road’s End off CA 180 Permit Required; pick up a walk-in permit at Road’s End Permit Station ($15) Infonps.gov/seki