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One Day in Death Valley National Park

Finding a balance between my love for my job and my love for exploring the outdoors is tricky. Paid time off in my industry is precious, so it usually comes down to packing three days worth of adventure into one day - which can be intense, but I’ve found I’m starting to get the hang of it and our most recent trip to Death Valley National Park was proof. Without feeling rushed, in one day, we managed to see some of DVNP’s heaviest hitting attractions and I’m excited to share our successful itinerary with some of you other weekend warriors.

Where to Stay

Before jumping into the attractions, let’s talk lodging. Death Valley has numerous campsites and hotel options. For this itinerary, I recommend either staying in Stovepipe Wells or Furnace Creek.

Stovepipe Wells

Stovepipe Wells Village is home to the Stovepipe Wells Hotel. Here you will also find The General Store and gas station as well as the Badwater Saloon, Toll Road restaurant, a gift shop and a ranger station. There is also first come first serve campsites in this area (190 sites) or if you’re traveling by RV you can make a reservation through the hotel.

Furnace Creek

Furnace Creek also offers full service hotels and camp sites. At this location you can either stay at The Ranch at Death Valley or The Inn at Death Valley - both affiliated under The Oasis at Death Valley. The Ranch is your more family-friendly option, while the Inn is more of an adult crowd and offers more elevated amenities. The Oasis has a couple of restaurants, pools (accessible only by guests), horse back riding, gift shops and more.

There are also a number of camp sites in the area. Furnace Creek campground accepts reservations (but make sure you book far in advance - this site books up fairly quick) while Sunset camp ground and Texas Spring camp ground are both first come first serve.

We chose to stay at the Ranch - it was the most affordable (other than camping) and reliable option - plus it was the perfect home base for all of our excursions.

One Day Itinerary for Death Valley National Park

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point (6:15 am)

I had read all about how beautiful the sunrise is at Zabriskie Point, so on Saturday morning, we woke up around 5:30am, pulled ourselves together and drove the 10 minutes up the 190 hwy to the Zabriskie Point overlook. It was an amazing way to start the day, and while we certainly were not alone, it was one of the most peaceful, serene moments of our trip. There must have been at least 30 other people standing beside us, cameras at the ready, on the overlook, but there seemed to be an unspoken understanding - no one spoke above a whisper and everyone respected each other’s space.


The view from Zabriskie Point is unimaginable. Below you are the winding golden canyons of the badlands, beyond that, the pure white salty surface of the salt basin and then furthest in the distance the Panamint range seems to jut up out of nowhere showing off Telescope Peak’s snowy top.

Watching the sun rise from this location is magical, although I’m sure catching a sunset here is pretty surreal as well.

Badlands Loop (6:45am)

After taking in the scenery at Zabriskie Point, we decided to get squeeze in a small hike while we still had the cooler temperatures of the morning. We wanted to explore the surrounding terrain a bit more so we chose to hike the Badlands Loop trail that begin at the bottom of the paved road leading up to Zabriskie Point.


The 2.5 mile loop trail winds your through the badlands where you’ll have views of Manly Beacon and Red Cathedral as well as pass by some of the areas old Borax mines.


Breakfast at The Ranch at Death Valley (8:30am)

After we concluded our morning excursion we decided to head back to the Ranch to grab some breakfast from the buffet and change into clothes better suited for what we knew would be a hot afternoon. The buffet was definitely worth the $15 per person charge. We loaded our plates up full of yogurt, fruit, biscuits and eggs, knowing we’d have a long day ahead of us.

Badwater Basin (10am)

After breakfast we headed out to Badwater Basin. Knowing there would be zero shade at this particular attraction we planned on hitting this area as early as we could - by 10am it was already 85º, but believe me, it felt hotter!


Badwater Basin was such a surreal experience. At 282 feet below sea level Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. This particular area gets very little rainfall (less than two inches every year) water gets trapped inside the basin, then evaporates and leaves behind mineral deposits that cover the basin looking like fresh snow. In order to reach the snow white, hexagonal shaped, salt flats you have to hike about 1/2 mile. The walk out to the flats feels so close, but still so far (a reoccurring theme in this particular desert). The vast white basin juxtaposed against the massive Panamint mountain range is such a sight and you really can’t take a bad picture here.


Natural Bridge Trail (11:30am)

As the sun moved higher in the sky the basin began to heat up even more, so it was a good time to head out to the Natural Bridge Trail for a light, semi-shaded hike. As we made our way back towards Furnace Creek the turn off for Natural Bridge Trail is just 10 minutes from Badwater a the end of about a mile long unpaved road.


Natural Bridge Trail lead you to… you guessed it… a natural bridge! Throughout the years differential erosion created the impressive 50ft conglomerate rock bridge. It doesn’t look like much in photos, but seeing it in person you really get a sense for it’s massive size, spanning from one side of the canyon to the other. The trail is well marked, and while I would say just about anyone can accomplish this hike, even so, hiking up hill through the gravel-like sediment is a bit of a slog. Luckily, it’s a fairly short jaunt (maybe 15 minutes) to reach the bridge and it’s a beautiful spot to seek refuge in the shade before continuing on, or heading back to the your car.

Artist’s Drive / Artist’s Palette (12:15pm)

From the Natural Bridge turnoff, about 4 miles North along Badwater Road you’ll find Artist’s Drive. Artist’s Drive is a one-way road that travels south to north so it is an ideal adventure if you’re heading back to Furnace Creek like we were.

Artist’s Drive meanders through the mountainside above the basin and is composed of super vibrant soil colored by rich metals from volcanic activity throughout the years. The scenic drive also passes by a popular attraction called Artist’s Palette. Here, the bright patches of soil along the mountainside are so bright and scattered - reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock piece - it’s really a sight to be seen and so hard to capture in a photograph.


Lunch at The Last Kind Words Saloon (1:30pm)

After spending the entire morning in the Death Valley heat, we decided to finally head back to Furnace Creek to cool off and eat lunch. We posted up at The Last Kind Words Saloon and filled up on BBQ Pulled Pork and Potato Skins - a heavier lunch than we wanted, but gave us plenty of fuel for the rest of the day ahead.

Salt Creek (4pm)

Salt Creek was a surprise favorite on our itinerary. After fueling back up during lunch, we decided to head toward Stovepipe Wells. Initially, we were just going to post up at the dunes, but along the way we decided to take the road toward Salt Creek - a quick, and fulfilling detour.


This seasonal stream of salty water is the only home of the rare Salt Creek Pupfish who we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of! While the Salt Creek Pupfish’s ancestors long ago swam in freshwater, this subspecies had to adapt to live in saline water and every March and April you can catch them squirming around in the shallow waters defending their territory and attempting to mate.

The boardwalk loop around Salt Creek is a quick 1-mile lollipop loop, and though it may not seem like much for a creek anywhere else, it sure feels like an extraordinary oasis in the dry depths of Death Valley.


Sunset at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes (5pm)

Our last stop of the day was out to Stovepipe Wells to catch sunset at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. This was definitely the highlight of my trip. Mesquite Flat Dunes are the most easily accessible dunes in Death Valley and rise over 100ft from the ground. I had never seen dunes like this before - it’s hard to imagine that there are other dunes in the area, like Eureka and Kelso, that are nearly 6x higher than them!


This was the perfect spot for sunset. If it’s not too windy, you could settle in with a blanket and watch the sunset turn the surrounding hills from pink to purple. Or, if you’re feeling super ambitious, stick around after sunset and do some amazing star gazing.


There is no official trail to follow, but if you’re looking to get away from the hundreds of foot prints and find some more pristine sand, you’ll need to hike about a half mile out towards the highest sands. The sand can be a bit tiring to tread through and there is very little shade, so make sure you bring plenty of water on this excursion.


Summing it Up

Considering this was our inaugural trip to Death Valley, I’m pretty happy with the amount of hiking and sight-seeing we got to do in just 12 hours. That said, there is still a LOT left to explore in the park and surrounding area. If you’re lucky enough to have more than a day, be sure to check out some of the park’s other popular hikes and attractions.

Other Popular Attractions:
Dante’s View
Uhebebe Crate
Scotty’s Castle (closed till 2020)
The Racetrack
Devil’s Golf Course

Other Popular Hikes:
Mosaic Canyon Trail
Sidewinder Canyon
Red Cathedral Trail
Golden Canyon Trail

Summiting Mt. Whitney

I was home for the Holidays in the winter of 2017 when my brother and I solidified our deal to summit Mt. Whitney together in the summer of 2018. Even though we made a verbal agreement - it still seemed a far off dream and the odds of getting a decent permit for the dates we wanted seemed slim.

That following April, while I was on my usual workday lunch-break-walk to Whole Foods, I got a text from my brother; we had miraculously secured overnight permits for the trail from June 30th - July 1st. Upon reading those words, I stopped dead in my tracks. This was really happening. 

The Preface

Since 2014, and the inception of Hikeology, my hiking skills have slowly, but steadily progressed. Back then I mostly stuck to exploring the local LA trails - my goal was to simply explore the immediate city trails and offer insight for other weekend warriors. But soon I found a desire to explore deeper and go farther into the backcountry. In the fall of 2015, during a camping trip to Sequoia National Park, I remember standing atop Moro Rock looking out over the Great Western Divide overhearing a father telling his son that "just past those peaks is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States". He continued on, telling his kid about how he had once summited that peak and was, for a moment, the tallest thing in the lower 48. This brief moment of eaves dropping blew my mind. First of all, in my 4 years of living in California I had never heard about Mt. Whitney and secondly, there was a mountain, THAT special, THAT close to home that I could attempt?! 

When I arrived home from that trip I immediately started Googling all I could about Mt. Whitney. I read countless blogs and probably watched every time-lapse video that existed on YouTube. I was fascinated. But it still seemed beyond my reach. If there was one thing I learned through all my research, this wasn't a fun little jaunt up the "hard side" of Runyon, this was the real deal and  I was a day-hiker, not a backpacker. 

So, I pushed that desire to the back of my mind, and continued to pursue the local LA trails. But soon, I was seeking trails farther away, and I seemed to be regularly ending up in the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests, bagging peaks, and doing light-backpacking excursions, still longing for more. 

Cut to 2017, as I'm mindlessly scrolling Facebook, as one does at 9:30pm in bed on a Sunday night, and I'm stopped short when I see that my older brother, who lives in Chicago, has uploaded a photo of himself holding a wooden summit sign for Mt. Elbert, one of Colorado's many 14'ers. I was shocked, because, quite honestly, I never knew my brother had any interest in hiking. But also because when I saw that picture of him with that huge smile on his face, it immediately reminded me of the deep dive I had done in 2015 on all things Whitney and that feeling of accomplishment I, too, wanted. I texted to congratulate him, and also cheekily added "If you ever want to do the OG 14er, you should come to California". I was only half serious. 

10 months later we were standing on top of Mt. Whitney.

The Prep

Just getting the privilege to climb Mt. Whitney is an uphill battle. This hike is extremely popular. In 2016, there was something like 65,000 people that wanted to hike or backpack to the summit from Whitney Portal during between June-September (prime hiking season). Because of that, a quota system has been enforced that allows only 100 day hikers and 60 backpackers at a time to hike from Whitney Portal between May 1st and November 1st. You can gain one of these quota-controlled spots by entering the lottery. Securing a spot is not an easy task, and you will have to attempt to get your permit a couple months in advance.


To get into the nitty-gritty of how to obtain your permits I HIGHLY recommend you check out the post on Mt. Whitney. He offers loads of details, that simply put, I cannot, because my brother did all the leg work for this portion of our adventure. We would have been lost without Chris, aka The Hiking Guy, and his wealth of knowledge - so a HUGE thanks to him!

Initially,  my brother forgot to enter us into the lottery (I only found this out after the fact) but when they reopened the lottery in April for cancellations, we miraculously locked down overnight permits for the last weekend of June, during a nearly full moon and our conditions were absolutely perfect. 

Now let's talk details. Mt. Whitney tops out at 14,508 feet, making it the tallest peak in California AND in the Contiguous United States. The Mt. Whitney Trail is a round trip total of about 22 miles, and while in the summer-time it requires little to no mountaineering skills, it is still a long, grueling hike and the extreme altitude and sporadic weather is nothing to mess around with. 

As soon as my brother gave me the news that we had secured spots for the end of June I realized, I only had 2.5 months to prepare. Let's. Be. Real. I'm an Art Director at an branding agency. Sometimes I work till midnight, with my butt sat in a chair staring at a screen for hours on end. Not to mention, since my wedding in October, I had given myself a reeeeally nice long break from regularly exercising (I deserved it, quite honestly). So physically, I was not in the right kind of shape to be climbing the tallest mountain in the lower 48. 

So to begin my preparation, I forced myself to prioritize my exercise again. I made sure to schedule time to get to the Baldwin Hills stairs as much as possible, and when it was too dark for that, I'd hit the gym and go back and forth between the treadmill and the stair-climber. I also made sure to work some yoga and HIIT into my schedule. I honestly believe half the struggle of the climb is mental stamina, so I felt the yoga and HIIT helped prepare and train my mind to be centered and focused on my goal. 

At the time of obtaining our permits I had also only hiked and camped around 8,000 feet in elevation. On top of that, I live in LA, therefor I basically spend all my time at Sea Level, so Altitude Sickness was a real concern of mine. 

I read a lot about AMS in preparation for this hike. Probably too much. I discovered that a lot of people take Diamox (I did not) which is a prescription drug said to help with the side effects of Altitude Sickness. I also read that hydrating far in advance, taking ibuprofen before and during your hike, and some elevation acclamation a day or two beforehand were key. Did I follow all these tips? Not exactly. But I did what I could. The week before our trip I drank a gallon of water every day - whether this helped or not, I can't really tell you, but I will say my skin was absolutely *glooowing* and I felt really good, so either way - I recommend it. I also made sure to pop a Tylenol before heading out on the trail. While I had some moments of exhaustion up there, I never experienced any nausea, stomach issues, confusion or headache (I'm extremely prone to migraines so this was a big deal for me), so it seems something was working in my favor.

Another great way to prep for this adventure is to get some high-elevation and longer distance hikes under your belt. Because of my schedule, I unfortunately didn't get to train much above 9k but I did make sure to solo-hike Mt. Baden Powell about 4 weeks out from our trip. This felt like a good mental training hike - this trail has LOTS of monotonous switchbacks, some decent mileage for a day hike, and half the trail is above 8k.  

Knowing that the first leg of our trek would be about 6 miles, I also made sure to log some local lower elevation 6+ mile hikes in leading up to the trip. There are loads of those throughout Southern California - AllTrails is definitely your friend when planning your training hikes!

If you're in Southern California, here are some other great training hikes: 

  • Mt Baden Powel (8.5 miles, 2600 ft. gain)

  • Mt Baldy via the Devil’s Backbone (11 miles, 3800 ft.gain)

  • Mt Wilson from Chantry Flat (14 miles, 4100 ft. gain)

  • San Bernardino Peak Hike (16 miles, 4600 ft. gain)

  • San Gorgonio Hike (18.5 miles, 5400 ft. gain)

  • San Jacinto from Idyllwild (19 miles, 5000 ft. gain)

You can also prep by joining Socal Hiker's 6 Pack of Peaks challenge (it has includes most of the above peaks). I haven't attempted it yet - but it's an awesome pursuit either way!

Aside from hiking and exercising I did a lot of research. My husband can vouch for that. I drove him a little nuts every night before bed scrolling through the Whitney Forums looking at the trail conditions or checking posts on the Mt. Whitney Facebook Group. I was obsessed, because I quickly realized, that while we had a fairly dry winter here, the weather just wasn't warming up enough on the mountain. The snow and ice that had accumulated along the most dangerous portion of the 99 switchbacks wasn't melting, which meant the usual trail from Trail Camp to Trail Crest would be closed. If that trail didn't open, it meant the only way up was up the via the snow Chute -  a 1,200 vertical ft. snow field that requires crampons, an ice-axe and a bit more technical mountaineering skills. My brother and I are pretty confident hikers, but this was unknown territory for me. I had no prior glissading or self arrest training and I was terrified it was going to bring our dream of summiting to a halt. 

That said, if you are heading up there before July and after September and you don't have any kind of winter mountaineering experience you should definitely invest some time in learning. REI offers classes during specific times of the year and I also found some other outfitters in the Mammoth area that offer day-long classes. The conditions up there are always changing and weather is never consistent season to season so it's a great skill to have to be safe.

The Climb

Before I knew it, my brother was landing at LAX and we were huddled in my living room sorting out gear between our two packs. That evening we made sure fill up on plenty of carbs at my favorite Hollywood dining spot, Jones, and then came home early to get a proper night's sleep before heading to Lone Pine the following morning. 

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We got a later start than we intended, hitting the road around 8am, and we arrived in Lone Pine to pick up our permits about 11am. After waiting about a half hour to get checked in and receive our passes, we were finally free to head up the windy road to Whitney Portal. When we arrived at the portal it reminded me, that while we're heading into the wilderness, we're still just a short distance from LA - the parking situation reflected that. It was no easy feat to find legitimate parking spot, and part of me began to panic that we'd be circling for hours losing precious day light. Luckily, the circling didn't last long and we managed to find a spot in the overflow parking area. Here, we made sure to clear out any scented items from our car. There are a lot of Black Bears in the area, and if they sniff out anything in your car, you just might return from your long adventure to find a bear behind the wheel. Pretty sure that's the last thing you want to find after hiking 22 miles. 

At the portal there is a general store with basic gear, snacks and a menu of what we heard were some super tasty burgers. We picked up a couple last minute essentials from the store and quickly headed right for the trail. As you approach the trailhead there is a station to weigh your pack. Mine clocked in just under 30 lbs. and my brother's was around 35 lbs. - I was pretty proud of us, considering we had never done this intense of a backpacking trip together, but I definitely learned some new packing lessons (that I'll elaborate on later) and I'm fairly certain I could shed another 5-10 lbs. on my next trip.

The first half mile of the trail feels like your average Angeles National Forest trail. To be honest, this was the worst part for me. While the views here were beautiful, I just wanted to get to the "good stuff". You know, the massive waterfalls, the lush meadows, the alpine lakes - my impatience seemed to make my pack feel a lot heavier.


Around that half mile marker we reached our first of many stream crossings and the views began to open up.  0.3 miles later we found ourselves at the crossing of the North Fork of the Lone Pine Creek. This section is made famous for the downed logs that act as a bridge. 

Eventually you will reach a junction with the Lone Pine Lake Trail around 2.8 miles in. I had heard about how beautiful Lone Pine Lake was, and while we were a little behind on our timing, my brother and I agreed to take the 0.1 miles trip down to it's shores. I only wish we had ditched our packs at the junction, the hike back up from the lake was no walk in the park, and forced us to dip into some of our energy reserves. Otherwise, this quiet detour off the main trail was definitely worth it. I've never seen a lake so glossy and blue in my life. 


When we finished soaking in the views at Lone Pine Lake we retraced our steps back to the Whitney trail and continued on our way. This next section of the trail contained a lot of switchbacks - and during this stretch we broke 10,000 feet and officially entered the Whitney Zone! I felt a pang of emotion as we crossed over 10k. I had never been that high in elevation and while my pack was starting to get the best of me, I otherwise felt great. 


Suddenly we began to descend and we were greeted by Bighorn Park, a super lush meadow nestled right between these humongous granite monolith formations. This part of the trail is simply awe inspiring. We took a moment here to just stare. Looking back on footage of my go-pro through this section I'm caught whispering to myself: "I am in my happy place." It was seriously a magical sight.


Here we found ourselves crossing more low streams and having to get our feet a bit wet. Eventually we came upon Outpost Camp which is around the 3.8 mile marker and 10,360 feet in elevation. 

Outpost Camp is the first of the two main camps on the Mount Whitney Trail. It's a beautiful spot to camp, but we made the decision to continue on up to Trail Camp to make our morning ascent a bit easier. However, if you're breaking your overnight trip up into multiple nights, I would highly recommend posting up here. The scenery is absolutely stunning.


As we passed through Outpost Camp the ground began to change from softer dirt to full on granite and your feet and knees really start to feel it! We continued to gain elevation along the hard granite trail and as we continued upward we found ourselves looking down over beautiful Mirror Lake. At this point Trail Camp begins to feel SO close, but still so far. 

My brother and I are very different hikers. He is fast and wants to get to where he is going without any dilly-dallying. Now, I'm not "slow" per-se, but I'm definitely more of a leisurely hiker. I love to take pictures, and gawk at the grandness of it all. You'll see in most of our photos and video he's always about 100 feet ahead of me waiting. But somehow we made it work without too much bickering. My brother started a system that helped motivate me to keep climbing - every 500 ft. of elevation we gained I was allowed to take a break where I could take my back pack off, give my shoulders a rest and nosh a little. 


During one of our breaks above Mirror Lake we decided to rest in the shade of a giant boulder and fuel up on snacks. Just as we were hoisting our packs back on to head back up the trail we heard a huge CRACK! I stopped dead in my tracks and called back to my brother, "Did you hear that?! Was that a gun?!" Then as I turned the corner around the boulder, I saw it: a massive rock slide was barreling down the side of the mountain just in front of us. 

Scale in the mountains is really hard to judge. We stood watching these massive boulders come tumbling down the face, taking out everything in it's path and then suddenly we were panicked... How far away was it really? Could it reach us? It was hard to tell, so to play it safe we jumped back behind our giant boulder and waited until the sound of tumbling rocks subsided. I don't think we were ever in any kind of real danger, but it was certainly a humbling moment and a reminder that we were in fact at the mercy of this magnificent mountain.

After this little scare, we quickly got back on the trail. We knew there wasn't much farther to go, and we were anxious to set up camp. 

Around the 5.3 mile marker the trail begins to rise up the the side of Lone Pine Creek at Trailside Meadow where you will find the tiniest most beautiful little alpine meadow. This section also marked our last big push up to Trail Camp and as we ascended over this last steep section we caught our first glimpse of Consultation Lake. The site of the lake fueled our anticipation and gave me a little extra pep in my step knowing Trail Camp was just hundreds of feet away. 

Finally at 6.3 miles, we were entering into Trail Camp at 12,039 feet of elevation. It’s a fairly large backcountry camp and feels like you're basically on the Moon. There is little to no vegetation, so if you find yourself up there on a windy day, it's great to pick a spot behind a boulder to help shelter you from the cold and wind. It was around 6pm when we arrived. We still had plenty of light left in the day and there wasn't much wind, but we made sure to quickly find a vacant spot and set up camp. We were hungry, tired and as soon as the sun set behind the needles towering above us we could feel the temperature drop significantly. 


After filtering water from the small camp-side lake that is so eloquently dubbed "Pooh Lake" (thanks to all the WAG bags left behind at Trail Camp) we put on some extra layers and waited for the stars to come out. As the sky turned a deep, dark blue color we could start to make out little headlamps winding their way down the 99 switchbacks. After such a tiring afternoon, it was tough to keep our eyes open, but let me tell you, when the stars come out up there, they shine extra bright. 


I tossed and turned for most of the night. The mixture of excitement and elevation was overwhelming, but by some miracle, when my alarm rang out at 5:00 am I was up and ready to get back on the trail. 

We began ascending the infamous 99 switchbacks around 5:30am. Why are they infamous? Well, for one thing there are 99 of them (or 97 - it's a heated debate - that we tried to count but were over it by the time we reached 40-something) and they stretch on for 2.2 miles rising just over 1,700 feet before hitting Trail Crest. Most people find them excruciatingly monotonous - but looking back, as I commiserate on our trip, this actually felt like one of the most enjoyable parts of the trail. It may have just been the luck of our timing, but every turn I found more exciting than the next. In some areas you could hear the rush of the spring beneath the rock, there were beautiful little purple wild flowers sprouting seemingly out of no where and watching the sun rising was simply incredible! It also might have been my lack of sleep causing some delusion - if I recall correctly, this is also where I did A LOT of singing and talking to myself as my brother powered on ahead of me. 

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About 1.4 miles of the way up the switchbacks you'll find "The Cables", a short section of the trail that has a cable like railing along the side. Before our trip, this had been a point of serious anxiety for me. We had heard stories just days before about someone trying to climb over the mass of snow still covering the trail, nearly slipping and falling to his death. So, that's cool. 

However, when we arrived at the cables we were pleasantly surprised to see that nearly all of the snow and ice that had been obstructing the trail had melted! Still, the section is a bit nerve wracking - there is a reason they have installed a "railing" system here after all. Just be mindful of your footing here and you'll be fine. 

As we trudged along we eventually ran into a group coming down from the summit who excitedly exclaimed "This is your last switchback!" We were so excited - until we quickly realized, it's the longest, steepest switchback of them all, but it makes your arrival to Trail Crest that much more rewarding. 

We made it to Trail Crest around 8am and I suddenly found myself getting a little emotional - the same damn way I'm finding myself getting emotional writing this right now. At that moment, I just knew we were going to succeed. Everything before that seemed uncertain, but at Trail Crest, I could feel it. 

At this point we only had 2.5 miles and about 845 feet of elevation gain to reach the summit. This was by far the longest 2.5 miles of my life. Knowing how close you are is somehow both invigorating and demoralizing at the same time. But you can't beat the views throughout this part of the trail - that's for sure. 

After crossing through Trail Crest we found the trail began to descend. At first this is an exciting break for your legs, but then you remember the summit is still 1,500 ft. above  you - which can be a bit demoralizing too. About a half a mile after Trail Crest the trail intersects with the John Muir Trail. Here we ran into a lot of fellow hikers taking a break, or making their way up to Whitney from the JMT. This is a spot a lot of the JMT hikers leave their big packs and continue on with their day packs (we left our big packs back at our campsite). Because so many packs get left behind here, you'll ALSO find this is a popular spot for Marmots! Keep your eyes peeled for these little buggers snooping around looking for any kind of treats they can get their paws on. 


As we made our way past the JMT junction the trail becomes primarily just slabs of super hard, knee-busting, granite. My feet and knees were not happy along the last stretch of trail, but again: #sickviews. They make all the difference. 

Eventually we found ourselves coming upon a part of the trail I had read about and was very excited for: The Windows! The Windows are a section of trail that passes behind the space between the thin needle-like peaks. The windows offer extremely steep, little peeks down to the other side where Trail Camp lies. Pictures do not do the vertical drop here any kind of justice. It is steep. And if you have any kind of vertigo or fear of heights, it's probably best to just keep walking.

From the windows it's about another 1.5 miles to the summit! Unfortunately, this part of the trail was pretty daunting. After a slight descent for a good 1 mile, you'll find yourself making up for that loss of elevation and it is no fun. Luckily, from there on out we could see the Smithsonian Hut perched upon the peak and somehow knowing it was just ahead in the distance kept us going strong. 


Just before our last 500 ft. of elevation we took a short break. Words can't describe the feelings I had staring up at that last push before the summit. That's a lie, I did have some words, however most of them were expletives. 

After cursing those last 500 ft. around 10am on July 1st, 2018 we were there. My brother let me walk those last 100 feet to the top in front of him and when we reached the hut he called out to me "How do you feel?" and my response was a simple, out-of-breath whisper, "We f*cking did it."


We allowed a good 45 minutes to rest at the top. We captured our happy summit photos, high-fived some fellow hikers we had been leap-frogging with, quietly face-timed our parents (yes, there is excellent cell service on the peak - but be mindful of your volume if you phone a friend - most people are trying to enjoy the serenity of it all) and then took a moment to ourselves to simply lie under the sun and soak it all in. 

Around 10:45 am we started to notice some clouds building in the distance which was our cue to begin our descent. It was really hard to tear ourselves away from the summit, but the last thing I wanted was to ruin a perfect hike by getting stuck in a lightning storm on top of Mt. Whitney. 

As we headed back down the trail I remember feeling as though the switchbacks took much longer to descend than to climb. The lingering thought of having to pack up our campsite and don those heavy packs again was putting a damper on my thus-far pleasant mood. 

We arrived back at Trail Camp around 1pm and just as we packed up the last of our belongings we began to feel rain drops. This put a little extra pep in our step as we said goodbye to our campsite around 2pm and took off down the trail. I don't usually agree with the sentiment, but this time it felt very true: the way down is the harder than way up.

Around 6pm, after a single day of 16 miles, 22 miles total, 6,130 feet of elevation gain, 2 marmot sightings, 1 deer sighting and a miraculous 0 blisters, we threw our packs in the hatchback, collapsed into my car, and with our last tiny bit of energy left, headed back to LA. 

Any Regrets?

There are only two things I would change about this hike.

1. Pack lighter

All things considered, I felt pretty good about my pack capping out around 25-30lbs. However, my next overnight backpacking trip I'll be sure to invest in a lighter sleeping bag. I currently have the REI Trail Pod 30º bag. It's a fairly light bag at the end of the day, and before the trip I wasn't ready to invest in an ultra-light bag. Now, after the fact, I'd be more than happy to shell out some cash to shave off a pound or two. The Trail Pod also has a pretty big footprint - it takes up a lot of space in the pack. If any of you have a favorite ultra-light sleeping bags, let me know!

2. Enjoy the scenery

I wish I had "taken it in" more and brought my camera and GoPro to the summit on our second day. The morning of our summit bid, as we were preparing our day packs, I wanted to carry as little as possible - just  some snacks, 3L of water, rain gear, first aid kit, a head lamp and my poles . The thought of the extra weight of my camera around my neck was exhausting. But in hindsight, after watching and re-watching my go-pro videos and photos from our first day, I wish I had that kind of footage of our triumphant summit. When you are really "in it" it's hard to allow yourself to take in the view. I mostly had my head down, calculating my every step and focusing more on keeping the pace than really soaking in the awe-inspiring scenery that surrounded me.

My Go-to Whitney Gear:

Inspiration Point - Pacific Palisades, CA

I’m going to admit something that’s a little embarrassing not only as a local hiker but also a 6-year strong Angeleno - I had never been to Will Rogers State Historic park until I finally decided to conquer the hike to Inspiration Point. The park is rich with history plus a polo field, a ranch house, and a beautiful picnic area. Oh, and did I mention the lovely 2.5-mile loop hike to Inspiration Point? It’s a great place to spend an entire day.

I will say, the one downfall of this area is the steep price you have to pay for parking! The fee is $12, so if you are going check this area out, it’s definitely worth it to pack a picnic and spend some time there.

From the parking lot just beyond the park entrance, you’ll find the trailhead meandering up the hillside just to the left of the fenced in tennis courts. The single track here switches back and forth for a short tenth of a mile before you come to a service road, which is the Inspiration Point Loop Trail. Across the way, there is a single track that continues to wind it’s way up, while the service road gradually makes its way up the mountainside with views of the Santa Monica bay. If you choose to take the single track, it will cut your distance and time in half. Otherwise, continue along the service road.

As you make your way to the left, you’ll find two benches along the road, offering beautiful vistas of the surrounding area. One looks south over the polo field and Santa Monica. The other rests at the western end of the loop and has a great view of the Pacific Ocean.

Follow a bend in the trail to the northeast. Just past the top of the aforementioned single track, you will come to another split with a trail breaking off to the right. You’ll see arrows and signs for Inspiration Point in both directions! You have two options. You can take the road another quarter mile up Inspiration Point Loop Trail to the overlook, or you can turn down this single track, which crosses a chaparral-covered depression to reach the point after 0.4 miles. We took the single track, which was a fun little detour. Both routes lead to your destination of Inspiration Point. 


If you followed the road, you’ll get more lovely views of the taller mountains off to the north until you eventually come to a split. Take a right up along a spur trail that wraps around a short rise to reach Inspiration Point.


To the southwest, you’ll find an amazing view as the Pacific Ocean curls it’s way around Santa Monica Bay. To the north, you’ll find wonderful views as well. Looking out to the Santa Monica Mountains you’ll find the 2,126 ft. high Temescal Peak.

To close the trail loop, head back down to the trail split. A couple hundred feet to the north is a trail map. The Backbone Trail (which is roughly 65miles long and crosses the Santa Monica mountains all the way to Point Mugu) breaks off to the left, while the descent from Inspiration Point continues on to the right. Hike straight through a junction with a service road heading down to Will Rogers Ranch and continue to the eastern edge of the loop. Along the way you’ll spot mansions at the top of Sullivan Ridge to the east as you make your way to a line of eucalyptus bordering the trail.

This is one of the only shaded areas along the loop, which provides a charming canopy for the remainder of the hike. Continue another 0.4 miles down the hillside to the bottom of the trail. Here, you can take a peek around the ranch or say hello to the horses! You’ll pick the trail back up as it runs next to a large green lawn. This is the perfect place for a picnic or to enjoy a good book under the sun. Follow the trail along the top of the field and behind the Will Rogers House to complete the loop and return to the parking lot.

Note: Dogs are not allowed on the park trails, however, you may have your leashed pups on the lawn.

As mentioned before, there is a $12 fee for parking. You can also find (limited) free roadside parking outside of the main entrance. 

How to get there: Follow Sunset Boulevard to Will Rogers State Park Road, located 4.5 miles west of the 405 and 3 miles east of the PCH. At the traffic light, turn north on Will Rogers State Park Road. Go about 3/4 of a mile up the mountainside to the park entrance. Pull past the gate and park in the lot on the left.

Address: 1501 Will Rogers State Park Road, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272

Escondido Falls - Malibu, CA

This rainy weather we're experiencing in Southern California right now has inspired me to FINALLY get my post up about our hike to Escondido Falls. I can only imagine after a long weekend of steady rainfall the waterfalls will sure to be flowing!

The hike to Escondido Falls is about 4 miles of fairly easy terrain. The waterfall has three tiers. The lower tier is about 50 feet high and the easiest of the three to reach. The upper tier, which you can imagine is more difficult to reach, is around 150-feet tall. From what I hear, it's incredibly stunning when the water is flowing in full force. Unfortunately, the day we made our journey was after a few weeks of dry weather, so we didn't attempt to climb to the upper falls.

The hike begins with 0.75 miles uphill along Winding Way, a paved road, just off the PCH that is lined with incredible homes Spanish and Mid-century modern style homes. Quite honestly, this was the toughest climb (and least exciting) of the day. Don't let this small part of your trip scare you off - you'll reach the trail in no time and the waterfall, even at low-flow, is well worth it. You'll gain about 200 feet on this paved climb, then the road will begin to head downhill and drop you at a wooded public park entrance.

The dirt path just past the park sign will take you down through a field of fennel and mustard and on into the woods where a small creek flows. Cross over the creek, and make a left turn headed upstream into the canyon. From here on out the trail is fairly level as it wanders through the forest and field. Thanks to our Spring season timing, we were lucky enough to enjoy a trail lined with beautiful wildflowers along the way. You will need to cross the creek bed a few more times, which I'm sure is a bit more daunting after a good rain, but it should still be easy enough terrain for anyone to navigate. 

What I loved most about this hike were all the serene little pockets along the trail you could sneak off to grab a snack or just sit and listen to the creek flow. We popped off the trail to sit by a tiny little waterfall amidst the creek to snacked on some Three Jerk's Jerky and just take it all in.

After you've been on the dirt trail for about a mile the trail will begin to ascend about 150 feet from a low spot below the road and then you will arrive at Lower Escondido Falls! The beauty of these falls without much water is simply stunning, I can only imagine what it is like on a real flowing day. There are lots of large rocks at the base of the falls where you can set up, take it all in or enjoy a little picnic. Some people complain of a natural sulfuric smell, but that isn't something we noticed. For us, the lower tier of the falls was a far as our journey took us.

There were many other hikers setting off to explore the upper falls. There is a steep trail to the right of the falls lined with tree roots and ropes to help guide your way. If you choose to go this route, make sure you have the proper footwear and attire and hike at your own risk! 

When you're done relaxing by the falls, simply follow the trail back the way you came!

How to get there: Take the PCH to Winding Way in Malibu. Winding Way is a small street about 4.5 miles west of Malibu Canyon Road on the north side of the PCH. There is a free parking lot for the trail on the left at the bottom of Winding Way. Overflow parking can be found along the PCH.

Address: 27807 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265

Mulholland Dr. to San Vicente Mountain - Santa Monica Mountains

Hiking to San Vicente Mountain Park from Mulholland Drive is the shortest route one can take to get there. Although it is short, it still offers some stupendous views looking out over the San Fernando Valley as well as Beverly Hills and on out to the ocean. 

Atop San Vicente Mountain lies one of the, now unused, Nike missile defense sites scattered throughout the mountains of the South-western Coast. Here you will find the remains of the buildings and technology that were used to detect and intersect potential missiles directed at LA. After about 10 years, long-range technology came into play rendering the Nike missiles useless. Fortunately the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has made a point to preserve some of these sites, sprinkling info panels throughout the grounds to keep this history alive.

You will begin your hike at end of the drivable section of Mulholland Drive. You will find plenty of parking along the streets and on up towards the yellow gates. If the yellow gates are open, you can even drive your car all the way up to the top of San Vicente mountain - but where is the fun in that!? 

Hike on past the yellow gate and continue along the unpaved Mulholland Drive. In the distance up head you should be able to spoit the radio towers on San Vicente Mountain. 

As you ascend you'll find Mandeville Canyon ,Westridge, and Canyonback Ridge to the south. As the road continues on the views will begin to open up in the opposite direction, offering gorgeous views out over the Encino Reservoir and the rest of the San Fernando Valley. 

Take a moment to enjoy the views over the Encino Reservoir. We were lucky enough to be hiking on a beautifully clear day. You might notice some side trails on your right - they'll take you out over the reservoir. We had fun exploring this area and got some really amazing photos. 

After you're done taking in the views continue another .4 miles and eventually you will reach and junction. Up ahead Mulholland continues across the Santa Monica Mountains all the way to Santa Maria near Topanga, where the pavement resumes. Instead of continuing on ahead, turn left instead and head up to the mountaintop where the military base lies - you won't be able to miss it.  

Take your time exploring the old grounds and take in the gorgeous panoramic views. There are plenty of benches and picnic tables - even a few telescopes that overlook the canyons below. When you're done, simply return the way you came.

How to get there:  On the 405 freeway take the Skirball Center Drive exit. Heading west follow the signs for Mulhollad Drive. After about 2 miles, Mulhollad Drive becomes and unpaved road and makes a sharp hairpin turn to the left. Continue .25 miles until you can no longer drive. Park behind the yellow gate where you will begin your hike.

Address: 17024 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90049