Thursday, January 26, 2023

Coronado Living: Escape into the California Wilderness (Yosemite High Sierra Camps)

The one trouble with Coronado is that it’s so wonderful… that you might never want to leave!

My family and I have lived in California for over a year now, but we have never managed to visit any of its famous national parks. Finally, last week my husband and I decided to change that.

We had been wanting to do an outdoor adventure together without kids, and after a lot of research we finally settled on Yosemite. We discovered an amazing option to go hiking in the backcountry — but without needing a tent, sleeping bag, camping stove and dishes, or food. It’s called the Yosemite High Sierra Camps (HSC).

The five HSCs are located deep in the Yosemite high country wilderness and accessible only by foot or saddle, and all of them are located between 8-10 miles apart on a loop trail. The hiking is challenging, but none of the trails require technical climbing skills. As we researched, we loved that we’d only bring a daypack with our clothes, toiletries, and water bottles. Also, thanks to some amazing grandparents, we felt confident about leaving our kids for five days. We signed up to visit four of the camps and paid the fee to sleep in their tent cabins, eat a family-style dinner each day at 6:30pm, and enjoy a full hot breakfast each morning at 7:30am.

May Lake Camp

We left Coronado at 4am last Wednesday, drove all day, and arrived in Yosemite at 3pm with enough time to park our car, catch the free park shuttle to the trail head, and begin climbing. Our first camp was just 2.5 miles away, but the trail was steep in parts and we were adjusting to the 9,000 foot elevation change.

We arrived just before the dinner bell and were amazed by the quiet beauty of May Lake, the surrounding steep granite mountains, the play of evening light on the water, and the beauty of the stately Ponderosa pines around the white tent cabins. The dinner spread dazzled: hot soup, fresh salad, bread baked at altitude, grilled vegetables, brown rice, and salmon fillets in a delicious white sauce. Oh, and a chocolate chip cookie cake for dessert. That night we stayed up late around the fire pit with other campers, watching the moonlight and stars reflected in the water.

Hiking the trail

The next day we hiked nine miles to Sunrise HSC, and seven of those miles were uphill. That day was a big adjustment for me, and I was so glad to see the white tent cabins through the trees at the end of those nine miles. That night I woke up to a splitting headache from the altitude. Unfortunately, my Ibuprofen was across the camp in the locked metal “bear box,” safe from rodents and mountain lions and… bears. I lay there for a long time before I finally got up, put on a fleece and jacket and hat and shoes, adjusted my headlamp, and started out into the dark to find one measly tablet to make everything feel better.

That night was my turning point, though. The next day the 10 miles from Sunrise HSC to Merced Lake HSC were beautiful, with streams and meadows and birds and even deer just 15 feet away. The next day we powered up another nine miles of steep elevation gain to cross a pass at almost 11,000 feet and descend into chilly, beautiful Vogelsang HSC for a steak dinner and a cozy fire in the woodstove in our tent cabin.

That next day we walked down into Tuolumne Valley, got cell phone reception for the first time in five days, and rejoiced at the end of an amazing trek through some of the most magnificent backcountry we’d ever seen. We celebrated with a luxurious night in the famous Ahwahnee Hotel, a landmark in Yosemite National Park since the iconic 1920s. I can say personally that there is no finer way to finish a week sleeping in metal cots between borrowed blankets than to tuck into a soft white bed at the Ahwahnee!

Transitioning back to life at sea level has been slow, as the individual stresses of ever-present technology, children and home, and urban life (even Coronado life!) have reminded me that the escape is over and I’m not in the mountains anymore. In the meantime, I’ll savor the memories and the pictures, and start planning our next getaway into the wilderness — this time with our kids!

If you have any recommendations for similar escapes into the wilderness, please share in the comments. I’d love to hear about them!



“Coronado Living” is a weekly column written by one of’s staff writers, Becca Garber. She writes about choosing simplicity and practicing hospitality with her family at home in Coronado. You can read more of her writing on her blog.


Becca Garber

Staff Writer

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Becca Garber
Becca Garber
Becca is a Coronado local, military spouse, mother of three, and an ICU nurse on hiatus. In Coronado, you will find her at the playground with her kids, jogging to the beach, or searching the Coronado library for another good read.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]