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Favorite Non-Quota'd Trailheads (pre Labor Day special)

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Favorite Non-Quota'd Trailheads (pre Labor Day special)

Postby giantbrookie » Wed Aug 13, 2008 7:07 am

As many of you know, there are wilderness permit entry point quotas on most trailheads the lead to entry into various Sierra wilderness areas and the backcountry of the National Parks. When planning trips on fairly short notice, these quotas can certainly alter plans. When relying on first-come-first served permits, I've been quota'd out of my first choice several times and have been forced to call an audible at the ranger station. When doing advance wilderness permit reservations, I've similarly had to improvise over the phone (part of the daily quota is set aside for reserved permits, part for first-come, first serve). With the most crowded weekend of the year approaching (Labor Day weekend), it may be useful to browsers of this board to have a list of the better non-quota'd trailheads. I will list my five favorites (that I'm aware of). Note that there are MANY more non-quota'd trailheads than the ones on this list, so please add your favorites to the list:
1. Rancheria and Crown Valley trailheads, east of Wishon Reservoir (Western entry): Having done my biggest trip of the year out of this area two years in a row (Hoffman Mtn., not being a trailhead, is "officially" counted as "Rancheria-Crown Valley"), how could I not list these no.1. Both of these offer great possibilities for trips of all lengths (administratively the USFS lumps them into one, but they are separated by several miles). Rancheria (or, better, Hoffman Mtn. for off trail enthusiasts) is the gateway to Blackcap Basin and the Woodchuck Country as well as somewhat nearer destinations such as Duck Lake and the Chain Lakes. Crown Valley allows trips to nearby destinations such as the Spanish Lakes, and more distant exploration to Crown Basin, Blue Canyon, and Tehipite Valley. The destinations reached by these trailheads, even the ones fairly near the trailhead, do not draw crowds (probably why these trailheads aren't quota'd). The only downside I'd assign to these entry points is that it is a fairly long haul to get to the truly rugged higher country (which starts in Blackcap Basin, Blue Canyon, etc). The gentle west slope stuff (Woodchuck Country) is still very nice and the fishing is superb, though.

2. Convict Canyon. Really? Yes. This gorgeous entry bailed me out at least twice when I got quota'd out of my first choice while in Bishop. The scenery is High Sierra at its best from the very first step. You have fairly close destinations (Mildred L., Dorothy, Cloverleaf, Genevieve, Edith, etc) and the possibility of some serious adventure (only for the very off trail savvy) going over the crest to the Ram Lakes (this was one of my quota buster trips). For medium off trail adventure there is the beautiful perched paradise of Bright Dot Lake and climbs of Mt. Morrison and Baldwin (and the amazing rockhounding spot for iceland spar on Mt. Baldwin). Drawback? This area can be fairly crowded. No doubt it IS less crowded than the popular quota'd east side entry areas (Bishop Creek, Little Lakes Valley, etc), but is vastly more crowded than no. 1 above.

3. Saddlebag Lake. Really? Yup. Based on the number of folks I've seen camping, perhaps they SHOULD institute a quota. Note, too, that there is no camping allowed in the Hall Natural Area that makes up most of the area in back of Saddlebag (maybe this is why they don't quota Saddlebag), but there are still some very nearby options to camp outside of the Hall Natural Area. This area is stunning in its beauty. As a non-quota'd base one can use this to go off trail to McCabe Lakes or the more remote Roosevelt Lake or deeper explorations into Yosemite. For the adventurous off trail hiker who wants an entry into northern Yosemite but is otherwise quota'd out, this is a way to go.

4. Lundy/Lakes Canyon. I'm trying to remember whether the standard Lundy Canyon trailhead is non-quota'd. I believe it is. I KNOW that Lakes Canyon is and that is a nice non-quota'd trail. It is beautiful, but it is also a bit limited in terms of longer trips. IF Lundy Canyon itself is non quota'd, it would open up a non-quota'd (if adventurous) option for Virginia Lakes: you can hike up to Burro Lakes (this is off trail and somewhat of a bear--steep loose talus) thence over the pass to join the upper part of the Virginia Pass trail. This is another way of getting into northern Yosemite without a quota. Lakes Canyon certainly has better destinations on it, but lacks long trip possibilities. Lundy Canyon is pretty but if you keep hiking you basically end up in Saddlebag, so it is mainly useful to provide the very difficult alternative to Virginia.

Again this is nowhere near a complete list. I encourage others to chime in.
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Re: Favorite Non-Quota'd Trailheads (pre Labor Day special)

Postby TehipiteTom » Wed Aug 13, 2008 7:45 am

Apart from Saddlebag and Lundy, all of those are now quota'd trailheads. What's more, the quotas are based on historical use--so for trailheads like Rancheria, they're very low. In practice, you're still unlikely to be quota'd out of those trailheads, because there just aren't that many people going in there, but in theory just a couple of small groups going in on the same day could ace you out of your spot.
http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/sierra/publications/pdfs/rogs/johnmuir.pdf
http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/inyo/recreation/wild/quotas.shtml
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Re: Favorite Non-Quota'd Trailheads (pre Labor Day special)

Postby giantbrookie » Wed Aug 13, 2008 8:57 am

Thanks for the update. Too bad about Convict Canyon. That place really bailed me out in the old days ('90's). Perhaps this list should be modified to "Favorite trailheads that seldom get quota'd out".

In practice there are certainly a decent sized list of those. The hardest east side trailheads (the "6000ers" in elevation gain) tend to be among them (so far 100 percent success rate with first come first serve), although I'll bet Shepherd has a busy week just before July 15, owing to folks wanting to climb Williamson, "after the thaw" but before the Bighorn sheep close out. One or more entry points in and around the Kaiser or Dinkey Lakes Wilderness may in fact fall in this category, too, but these entries are not well suited for longer trips. My "short list" for spontaneous takes offs on crowded weekends would include: (1) the genuine non-quota'd points above (Lundy, Saddlebag), (2) the west flank Wishon trailheads above (Crown, Rancheria, Statum). (3)takeoffs out of the 4WD territory flanking Dinkey Lakes Wilderness. (4)the super hard east side passes. (5)some of the less popular Mokelumne and Desolation entries. For example the NW flank of Desolation will usually take time to fill (if it does) even on popular weekends (say Van Vleck), as likely will the entry coming in from the Miller Creek jeep trail (coming in from the east but while still on the part that is stock 4wd drivable)--you can get to the Rubicon (nifty off trail back door route-a favorite of Desolation fishing ace Jerry Yesavage)or Generals Creek (and the latter back-doors you into Meeks) this way. (5) Non wilderness areas of the Sierra (no wilderness permits, so no quota): The Beyers Lake area (both sides of the ridge, including Glacier Lake and Five Lakes) and environs is especially choice and can be reached from several trailheads. Warren Lake, Paradise L. etc. are still a good bet, although lateral options are now more limited (for fishing) owing to management changes that have rendered them fishless (I'm willing to bet that there are no more giant brookies in Buzzard's Roost Lake, for example). Lakes Basin (Hwy 49) area. There are camping prohibitions in some of this area, but there are some nice hideaways, including a few trailless ones that are the equal of anywhere in the High Sierra--Young America Lake comes to mind (not much there in terms of camping spots, though). In the old days (pre 2000), The Land of the Giant Brookies (unnamed lakes btw Fordyce and Spaulding) was always a possibility for spontaneous getaways. With no more air dropping, there are no more fish there, according to multiple reports I've heard. A nice area to wander if you don't care about fishing, though.

Anyway there are quite a few possibilities for the creative backpacker to get away on a crowded weekend. I suspect we'll have other suggestions.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: Favorite Non-Quota'd Trailheads (pre Labor Day special)

Postby trav867 » Wed Aug 13, 2008 9:22 am

For holiday weekend trips, I've had a lot of fun taking trips to little-used wilderness areas, both in the Sierra, and throughout southern California (I'm in LA). Some of the most memorable hikes I've had have been in very out of the way places, for example:
the Carrizo Plain
San Rafael Wilderness
Sespe Wilderness
Greenhorn Mountains
Domeland Wilderness

I'd be interested to hear about other places like this people have been to. Despite this list, I have left from Quota'd trailheads on holiday weekends, and in 3 or 4 tries have never had a problem- arriving early seems to work.
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Re: Favorite Non-Quota'd Trailheads (pre Labor Day special)

Postby caddis » Wed Aug 13, 2008 10:50 am

Speaking of quota's. Does the forresst service list the per day quota anywhere?

We meant to hike from bear Creek diversion on Sunday just to burn off a few easy miles in the afternoon(8/3/08) and we were told the quota was filled for that day. We ended up getting a permit for Monday morning. When we reached the trailhead, there were two cars parked there and one looked like a day-user. I've been back there on 4th of July weekend and it was jammed in every possible camp. On this trip we saw one group camped before twin falls. On the out way out last Friday, there were 13 cars parked. So what gives? Does the quota vary.
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Re: Favorite Non-Quota'd Trailheads (pre Labor Day special)

Postby SSSdave » Wed Aug 13, 2008 11:15 am

GB, as Tom mentioned a number of former non-quota trails are now quota'd. And unfortunately some of the quota numbers are pitifully unrealistically low. Thus the NF sets a quota allowing 50% or 60% to be reservable, then the rest are divided up between backpackers and horse packers. If one is unlucky enough to start on a date horse packers just happen to be taking a group out to some destination, backpackers are shut out. Quite a number of recently set quotas are at numbers like 10 or 12. And some of those trailheads lead to vastly underused areas that I have to wonder what is going on? Thus just 5 or 6 slots and one can immediately guess the results when trying to get a walk up. Hence I tend to phone immediately before leaving home to find out how given trailheads quotas have been filled. Years ago after the bridge washed out (1982?), all one had to do for the Convict Creek trail was a fill out a sheet at the old trailhead kiosk just like most of the old trailheads worked.

A useful thing you might do is go to the different Sierra USDA forest service web sites and get their current quota lists. Then filter out the few non-quota trails, combine the different national forests, and post the results here.
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Re: Favorite Non-Quota'd Trailheads (pre Labor Day special)

Postby TehipiteTom » Wed Aug 13, 2008 12:13 pm

Speaking of quota's. Does the forresst service list the per day quota anywhere?

See the links I posted (scroll down for quotas). The quota doesn't vary from day to day (as far as I know), but there are other variables affecting how many people you run into at any given point. The quota for BDV is 10 per day (6 + 4); if everyone who goes in stays just one night, then you have no more than 10 people at a time. If everyone is going in for a week, then at some point you have as many as 70 people in the backcountry all coming from BDV.

The USFS also does a bit of creative accounting for larger groups, allowing them to 'borrow' quota capacity. The way it works is this: if you have a group of 15 (maximum size) and your trailhead reservation quota is six, but you're going in for multiple days, you can get them all in by using the quota for the entry date plus the quota for the second day plus half the quota for the third day. It seems a little shady to me, but while it allows for greater use on a given day it doesn't increase overall use.

Quite a number of recently set quotas are at numbers like 10 or 12. And some of those trailheads lead to vastly underused areas that I have to wonder what is going on?

Well, I can actually understand the reasoning on this. The idea is that areas with minimal use should be preserved at a minimal use level, rather than spreading the damage from overuse. Whether I agree with it or not...I'm not sure.
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Re: Favorite Non-Quota'd Trailheads (pre Labor Day special)

Postby caddis » Wed Aug 13, 2008 1:46 pm

I find it hard to believe 10 people entered that Sunday (or 8 if you consider our group was 3 looking for a permit) I wonder if some people wanted to head up Florence or Edison, were denied, and used bear diversion as an excuse to get a permit.

I also noticed they have Bear Ridge on the quota list. Is that the route packers use?
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Re: Favorite Non-Quota'd Trailheads (pre Labor Day special)

Postby TehipiteTom » Wed Aug 13, 2008 2:11 pm

caddis wrote:I find it hard to believe 10 people entered that Sunday (or 8 if you consider our group was 3 looking for a permit) I wonder if some people wanted to head up Florence or Edison, were denied, and used bear diversion as an excuse to get a permit.


Well, that could be a result of the creative accounting I was talking about. If a group of 10 hiked in on Saturday, for example, they could have reserved all of Saturday's plus 4 of Sunday's quota.

Also, the Bear Diversion quota includes both the dam trailhead itself and the cutoff (I think that's what you meant by the route packers use). On any given day there could be half going in each way, or all going in via the dam, or all going in via the cutoff.

That said, it's also quite possible that some people get it as a backup permit and wind up going where they meant to in the first place, as you were speculating.

I also noticed they have Bear Ridge on the quota list. Is that the route packers use?


Bear Ridge trail leaves from the south end of the Edison dam, and goes east up Bear Ridge to hit the JMT right at the top of the ridge. I took it last year going up to the Mono Divide, and it's not a bad trail--especially if you get an early start. Lots of climbing, sure, but it's on a northwest-facing slope, so if you start hiking early you can get some distance before the sun ever hits you. It's actually a slightly shorter route into the upper Bear Creek area, if you don't mind skipping lower Bear Creek, so it could serve as a backup if the BDV quota is full. I'm betting the Bear Ridge quota rarely fills.
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Re: Favorite Non-Quota'd Trailheads (pre Labor Day special)

Postby giantbrookie » Wed Aug 13, 2008 2:20 pm

TehipiteTom wrote:
Quite a number of recently set quotas are at numbers like 10 or 12. And some of those trailheads lead to vastly underused areas that I have to wonder what is going on?

Well, I can actually understand the reasoning on this. The idea is that areas with minimal use should be preserved at a minimal use level, rather than spreading the damage from overuse. Whether I agree with it or not...I'm not sure.


It's interesting that, from a historical standpoint, the USFS has flip flopped on this policy over the years. In the 70's they would say that the permit system helped them gauge which areas were heavily used and which were not and that they planned to route more folks to areas they considered "under used". I can certainly see the merits of either argument, although it certainly seems as if the Wishon area and, especially Bear Creek Diversion Dam quotas are set very low.

As a little update to Tehipite's checking and useful post and links above I checked other USFS sites and it appears that quota information isn't that easy to find for all of them. Dinkey Lakes and Kaiser are on the same Sierra National Forest site as per the link above (one need only go to those Wildernesses instead of John Muir). I haven't been able to chase down Ansel Adams, and Hoover, Mokelumne, and Carson-Iceberg's sites seem to be hosted on private vendor websites whose info does include the trailhead quotas. Desolation Wilderness quotas are found on the Eldorado National Forest website. They work differently than quotas elsewhere in that they are destination rather than entry point based. This tends to work in favor of those who are headed for the more remote, seldom used destinations, but against spontaneous trip plan changes during a trip.

As a little aside, many readers may wonder. How often have you've been quota'd out of your first choice? It has happened, but not too many times, considering how many trips I've taken. I did pull off that coup of getting a Bishop Pass first come first serve permit Labor Day weekend 1984 (see post in response to person planning Labor Day weekend trip) and that was an experience never to be repeated (I simply avoid Labor Day weekend nowadays). For first come, first serve permits, I've been aced out of Pine Creek twice (once took a dayhike then obtained permit the next day--went to Royces on shortened trip; other time changed to Convict Canyon and went to the Ram Lakes), out of Piute Pass another time (day hiked for a day then grabbed permit next morning; Humphreys Basin). In reserve permits I had to change a Whitney Portal (no surprise here) to Shepherd Pass shuttle trip to Cottonwood to Shepherd, but this only made it a better trip (flip side was I couldn't target Crabtree No.3 as early in the trip). More significantly, I had to change a trip (Memorial Day weekend) out of Hetch Hetchy when I got quota'd out there (reserve permits) to entry (eventual destination Edyth Lake) at Cherry Lake, leading to one of the most epic and difficult trips I've ever done. I avoided the quota problem there (Hetch Hetchy) 6 years later by going in two weeks before Memorial Day weekend. That's not too bad considering all the trips over these 40 plus years.
Last edited by giantbrookie on Wed Aug 13, 2008 5:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Favorite Non-Quota'd Trailheads (pre Labor Day special)

Postby TehipiteTom » Wed Aug 13, 2008 4:20 pm

As a little aside, many readers may wonder. How often have you been quota'd out of your first choice? It has happened, but not too many times, considering how many trips I've taken.

Only once that I can think of, and that was last year, when I wanted to reserve a permit for Bear Diversion Dam--no dice. But I got one of the first-come permits, so I get that doesn't count.

Of course, I've never even tried any of the Yosemite trailheads. I've gone out of Road's End, but always north (Monarch Divide) instead of east (Bubb's Creek) or northeast (Paradise Valley). In other words, I plan around the likelihood of quota problems so as to avoid the issue altogether.
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Re: Favorite Non-Quota'd Trailheads (pre Labor Day special)

Postby SSSdave » Wed Aug 13, 2008 5:53 pm

I just copied the following off the Sierra NF site and massaged the data slightly extracting it from html. As I related some of the available walk up quotas like BDD are pitifully low. Note tis a bit hard to read as the forum editor removes all spacing and tabs:

Trailhead Number Trailhead Name Daily Advanced Reservation Daily First come, First Served

Kaiser Wilderness

K1 Sample 22 14
K2 Potter Pass 22 14
K3 Potter Cutoff 8 4
K4 Deer Creek 8 4
K5 Billy Creek 18 12
K6 Coarsegrass 8 4
K7 Hidden 8 4
K8 Pryor 8 4

John Muir Wilderness

J51 Statum/Spanish 5 3
J52 Crown/Rancheria 6 4
J53 Woodchuck 12 8
J54 Courtright 15 10
J55 Corbet 5 3
J56 Dutch 5 3
J57 Florence 21 14
J58 Hooper 5 3
J59 Bear Div. 6 4
J60 Bear Ridge 6 4
J61 Mono Creek 18 12
J62 Devils Graveyard 12 8
J63 Margaret Lakes 5 3

Dinkey Wilderness

D1 Badger 6 4
D2 Helms Mdw 6 4
D3 Cliff 12 8
D4 Nelson 6 4
D5 Willow Mdw 18 12
D6 Coyote 6 4

Ansel Adams
A30 Onion Sprgs 6 4
A31 Mono Mdw 6 4
A32 Doris/Tule 6 4
A33 Mono Hot Sp 6 4
A34 Portal Forebay 6 4
A35 Rattlesnake 6 4
A36 Crater 6 4
A61* Frenandez Pass/Norris Crk 13 8
A58 Isberg 13 9
A63* Norris Lake/ Jackass Lake 8 2
A60 Walton 8 1
A65* Chiquito Pass/ Quartz Mtn 21 14
A56 Mammoth 15 10
A54 Cassidy Crossing 8 2
A55 Miller Crossing 8 2
A51 Hells Half Acre 8 2
A52 South Fork 8 2
A52 Piyau Dome 8 2
A50 Logan Meadow 8 2
Last edited by SSSdave on Wed Aug 13, 2008 5:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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