At the end of April I’m headed to San Francisco where I plan on headed up the coast to Mendocino, cutting over to Lassen NF and Lake Tahoe/maybe a little into NV, down to Mono Lake/Mariposa then back. I spend a lot of time outdoors by myself but here in MA you really don’t need to worry about much. I’ve done a few solo trips up and down the east coast and once to south TX and have been to CA once but mostly was with my friend who is a local. I know the trip will be a blast but beforehand (probably more for peace of mind than anything else) I want to make sure I know everything I should be aware of in terms of safety or otherwise so I can be both aware and prepared. I know how to act/what to be conscious of when outdoors alone but am not familiar with the area so I don’t fully know what to expect.
The trip will be mostly centered around botany/wildflowers, and I plan on spending some time tidepooling/at the beach too and doing a bit of hiking. I know to expect it won’t be super warm by the coast up north, and that temps will vary depending on where I am and elevation. I plan on spending time at several areas that probably reasonably well-trafficked, but also will probably go to a few random places I find on Google Maps (that I’m sure are public land).
I guess the main thing would be to know where to expect bears and keep in mind they can (and regularly do in some places) rip doors off cars to get at food or even vaguely good smells–chapstick, empty food containers, etc.
We also have mountain lions all over the state but they’re shy and attacks on humans are rare. Key point there is never to run because they like to chase.
The Mendocino / Humboldt / Trinity region is my home turf, so I can advise as to that.
The coast areas are very safe, but if you go into the inland areas in any of that region, do NOT attempt to hike anywhere that isn’t a well-marked public trail. This area is absolutely full with marijuana growers and meth cookers, and they get very territorial and aren’t fond of strangers. You might be tempted to drive or walk down some random road just to admire the scenery, but it’s really not a good idea unless it’s somewhere tourists are expected to be regularly.
The National Forest areas can be a bit sketchy in less-travelled parts, still well worth going there, but just keep alert and be ready to leave if need be.
I assume you plan to take Hwy 1 up the coast - what route do you plan to take from the coast towards Lassen? I might be able to recommend some interesting botanical stops along the way depending.
Thanks! I had realized mountain lions and bears were around but hadn’t realized bears ripping car doors off(!). I was planning on traveling with snacks and lunch materials in the car to avoid needing to stop for lunch so I may just have to accept the risk. I plan on staying at hotels/motels so I shouldn’t be out in the wilderness during peak bear times (maybe dawn sometimes). Is that any concern when hiking? I usually hike with a pack with water/snacks/sometimes lunch.
@graysquirrel I remember you mentioning that in another topic which is part of what spawned my question as it was something that would never have come to mind. I am planning on headed up Route 1 and ending near Jughandle before cutting east. I don’t have any hard plans on a way to Lassen but was probably going to take 20 into the valley then head north from there making a stop at North Table Mountain along the way. Definitely open to any suggestions!
Please stop into Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Sonoma County. I’ll get you a free pass. @graysquirrel 's plant list for the park is approaching 800 species, and April is about the best time for wildflowers.
As everywhere else in the world, the most dangerous species in NorCal is Homo sapiens. I’ve never personally stumbled upon any active drug labs, but tweekers are pretty much everywhere once you get to Mendocino, and every cute little boutique and cafe is purported to be a front for a cannabis grower.
You should be OK carrying snacks, the bears are pretty wary of people. And they mostly only go after cars at night in campgrounds in my experience. I wouldn’t worry much about them, except you might want to bring your snacks into the hotel with you when you’re around Tahoe, Tahoe has a lot of very enterprising bears. The mountain lions are good to be aware of, but not much to worry about, they very rarely interact with people.
Your route sounds good, and avoids most of the sketchier areas I was concerned about. Jughandle is beautiful, you’ll love it there.
Are you familiar with https://www.calflora.org/ ? It’s a fantastic site, I particularly recommend looking at the “what grows here” search for sites you plan on stopping at. You can even filter it by what month the plants usually bloom in, though everything seems to be getting started a bit early this year.
On the coast, I definitely recommend a stop at one of the Pygmy Forest locations. I like the Pygmy Forest Discovery Trail: https://goo.gl/maps/ZpMrvuEfX8z9AYYW6 I think there’s one near Jughandle as well.
On your way through 20 towards the Valley, you should take a side trip up Bear Valley Road in Colusa County for some of the most spectacular wildflower displays. There’s no hiking access sadly, but you can walk along the roadsides and see plenty of great species.
The Redbud Trailhead in the Cache Creek Wilderness area is also nice and has some interesting plants like Hoover’s Lomatium.
Fire season is kind of year-round in California now, sadly. Unlikely in spring but you never know, so keep that in mind. If you use Twitter, https://twitter.com/CAFireScanner is a depressingly excellent tracker of California wildfires.
Definitely visit the pygmy forest, it’s a cool little side trip!
@dlevitis that’s very kind of you, I will try to make it over there!
@graysquirrel so much great info there, thank you! I had never heard of Calflora, checking it out now and it’s really amazing. The pygmy forests and environs sound awesome, I plan on spending a few days there to explore them and search for carnivorous plants and such. You’re more local so you probably know this, but Jughandle has an ecological staircase trail which is a series of terraces, each one about 100,000 years older geologically than the next (there’s a nice writeup in this brochure: https://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/441/files/JugHandleSNRFinalWebLayout2017.pdf ). I plan on starting there to dip my toes in to the pygmy forest then headed down to the discovery trail and around the airport.
Thanks for the tips on wildfires @tiwane and @naturegirlkh , definitely adding these to resources to keep close at hand during the trip!
I’ve visited the carnivorous plant location out by the Little River Airport many years ago, but I don’t remember where the exact location was. @asabspade probably knows and may be able to give some more details.
Aside from accidents, malicious humans really are the #1 actual outdoor hazard in the more remote parts of the north coast if you’re not on a well-known trail. However, it seems you’re planning to cut over through Lake County, so you’ll be south of most grows and don’t need to worry about this a whole lot.
Most of the other hazards won’t be especially prevalent in April, but the resources in this thread are worth checking out. Sadly, as we get into summer it has become a necessity to check fire locations and weather forecasts every morning in the drier parts of the state. A fire 50 miles away at 6 am can cut off your access route by afternoon.
All of the bigger remnants of old-growth redwood forest will likely be further north than you’re planning to go, but you might want to adjust your route to get to either Montgomery Woods (between Mendocino and Ukiah on Orr Springs Road, a little rough) or Hendy Woods (between Navarro Beach and Cloverdale on CA-128). Each is a remnant of old growth forest preserved by the state. Species diversity is actually quite low on the forest floor, but it’s still an awe-inspiring experience and spring is a great time to visit.
The ecological staircase at Jug Handle SP is great, as are all the coastal parks in Mendocino.
You mentioned Lassen National Forest, which is pretty big. Any particular part you’re planning to visit? How about Lassen Volcanic National Park? Both of these, along with the Caribou Wilderness east of Lassen NP, were hit really hard by last year’s Dixie Fire. Check which areas are open before you plan a hike. CNPS also has a page on fire safety in burn areas.
The national park has a page on visiting after the Dixie Fire. It’s definitely worth a visit if you have the time. Be aware that CA-89 through the park won’t be fully open when you visit. It’s only open across the saddle next to Lassen Peak at about 8,000 ft once the park service finishes plowing the road. That date could be as late as the end of August or as early as the end of May, but it definitely won’t be April. Even so, there should be access to trails in the west of the park at lower elevations accessible from the north and south entrances.
Cell service in the mountains on the west coast is spotty; large parts of Lassen have none at all for example. If you’re planning to hike solo in remote areas I strongly recommend adding a satellite transponder to your bag. They need a clear view of the sky, but can be effective at keeping a broken leg from turning into a fatality. I suggest trying to see if an REI near your start location will rent you one.
Just a note, please be very conscious of sea and tide conditions when tide pooling. People are killed annually up here on the Humboldt Coast by sneaker waves. I always recommend folks not doing that alone (or at least on a deserted beach), and always be careful about keeping one eye on the ocean. Your best bet is to stick to falling tides, and don’t attempt to go out if there is a large swell or any advisories related to wave conditions.
@fogartyf That’s great advice, thank you. Will definitely keep it in mind and probably stick to falling tides.
@dsacer Will definitely consider it, I spend enough time outside alone to where it may be worth the investment to pick one up.
@rupertclayton Thanks for the suggestions, I’ll add them to my map! I do plan on checking out the Volcanic NP (I’m a bit of a geology nerd too, albeit a casual one). I haven’t done my research past this yet but the lava flow and cinder cone near Butte Lake looks cool on a satellite map. Open to any suggestions though! As for Lassen NF, I will likely hit the Volcanic NP first then if there is any time left go to the NF. Admittedly, when I mentioned the NF in my first message what I meant by the reference was the Volcanic NP.
Hah! I was in Nova Scotia with my kids (20’s at the time) and two waded out to a rock to photograph seals. The tide came up really fast, and they almost got stuck. Being a Prairie guy, I was panicking a little (a lot). I always forget about tides!
@natemarchessault if you have questions about Lassen NF give me a holler. If we had a normal precip year you would be very limited on access due to snow, but will see what March and April bring. Regarding LVNP, at that time Manzanita Lake or Butte Lake, at the north end of the Park may be accessible, and if Butte Lake is accessible that will be a bad sign fire-wise for later in the summer. At the end of April you should have no worries re fires, but for checking on active fires Caltopo is a very good web site, once on the site you can click on Fire Activity on the right hand side of the page, or Fire History to see past fire footprints (last year’s fires are not as yet loaded into it last i checked.) The Dixie burned close to 300,000 acres on the Lassen last year, mostly south of LVNP.
People, bears, cats, cliffs and fire are all something to consider (and some stingy/bitey things).
This past summer’s heat wave took a toll on a bunch of things, but up here the trees took it really hard. The following windstorms resulted in some pretty precarious snags held up just below the canopy that you may want to be mindful of too.