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Stories from the valley

Sierra Hikes Fantastic in Fall

Contributed by Tim Johnson

Most of us think about the fall and the Valley harvests – rice, apples, sunflowers, plumbs. Those in the know think instead of great hikes in the Sierra with mild weather, golden aspen leaves and indigo blue lakes.

Ann and I took a day after grape harvest for a hike into the Desolation Wilderness east of Wrights Lake. The effort did not disappoint. It was one of the best days hiking I can recall!

Wrights Lake is a great destination in itself. The shallow waters with the granite backdrop of the wilderness are a favored spot for kayakers and canoeists. Here was our starting point for a 10 mile round trip up into the granite,  pines and spectacular alpine lakes.

sierra-5Our destination was Tyler Lake about 5 miles and 1,500 feet climb from the trailhead parking at the end of the lake. From here there are a lot of choices – Twin Lakes and Island Lake, Grouse Lake and Smith Lake.

All will take you off the beaten path that many use to circumnavigate Wrights Lake. This time of year the bracken is bright yellow, the skunk cabbage frost burned and the aspens surging toward their spectacular fall colors.

The sky is especially blue, a perfect backdrop for an occasional cloud or to outline a raptor. It is also the perfect pallet for a lone lodgepole pine or Jeffery pine.


Along the trail you will not only find sign posts but also trail markers of another kind – ducks. Two or three rocks stacked on top of each other is an excellent indication of which way the trail goes when you might not be exactly sure and especially helpful when the trail crosses one of the many granite expanses where the trail seems to disappear!

Most of the hikes terminate at a gorgeous lake. Blue water, broken granite and abundant wildlife make it a perfect day. Our best birds of the day were two Blue Grouse (commonly called Sooty Grouse). About the size of a small chicken, the quietly snuck across the forest floor.


Often lost in the fall are these beautiful places just a couple of hours drive from Sacramento. This is one of the best seasons to take advantage of the great beauty of the Sacramento Valley and the majestic and wild mountains that crown it.

Day Hike Essentials List

While this list might seem long, for those ever turned around, caught by a thunderstorm or kept out over night, this list is right on. I pack it all in a a 40 liter pack I picked up at REI.


  • Lunch
  • Freeze dried dinner (for emergency)
  • Lots of snacks
  • Water (2 liters ea)
  • Filter


  • Polartec
  • Hat – sun
  • Hat – fleece/wool
  • Rain shell
  • Rain pants

Fire/First Aid

  • First aid
  • Fire starting
  • Emergency blanket or bivy (SOS makes great products)
  • 9×9 Painters drop cloth or plastic sheet
  • Paracord
  • Pocket knife
  • Signal mirror


  • Small gas stove
  • pot

Maps & Misc

  • Map
  • Cell phone
  • Compass
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellant
  • TP
  • Sunglasses
  • Bandana
  • Headlamp/flashlight
  • A note on where you will be and when you expect to be back. Include your vehicle type and color as well as your license plate.