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End of Summer Hikes: Recommendations from California Hikers

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It's often said that California, mostly Southern, lacks seasons. While, yes, we do indeed have temperate climes throughout much of the state year round, we still have them -- they're just more subtle where large populations live and more obvious at higher elevations (fall color and snow anyone?).

Because Labor Day and its three-day weekend marks the traditional end of summer, SoCal Wanderer asked a number of hikers from around the region for their recommendation on a good hike that's worth getting in before the colder temperatures hit.

The namesake of the Bridge to Nowhere hike. | Photo: ravitch/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The Bridge to Nowhere, San Gabriel Mountains
What's a guide of recommendations without one from Modern Hiker's Casey Schreiner, who just happened to launch an app -- Modern Hiker: L.A.'s Best Hikes -- this week? His pick is found north of Azusa, about one hour from downtown L.A.

"Although you can do this trail year round, the water can be dangerously high in the winter and spring; but it's a perfect place to cool off in the summer," he says. "The trail itself is only tricky in a few spots, but because you'll be in the sun the whole time and every river crossing is an ultra-refreshing respite from the heat.  Wear solid water shoes and a bathing suit for all the river crossings, bring lots of water, and prepare to spend more time on the trail than you'd think. After you cross the 120-foot concrete arch bridge five miles into the canyon (!!!) and scramble down to the water below, you'll want to linger -- and not just to watch the screaming bungee jumpers.  I lead a group hike here every summer and we always leave satisfied and exhausted.  The water level's a bit low this summer, but it's still worth a trip -- there's absolutely nothing else like this in Southern California."

As for parking, beware, Schreiner warns: "You'll need an Adventure Pass to park -- and you'll need to get to the trailhead early. The area near the start of the trail is very popular with river bathers and it fills up very quickly.  Parking seems arbitrarily limited along the road in, so you might have to hike an extra mile or more if you can't snag a good parking spot."

For his detailed write up, go here.

Get to Cucamonga Peak before the snow! |  Photo: Erik.Nielsen.Photos/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Cucamonga Peak, San Gabriel Mountains
Brian and Ashley are a couple who love hiking and sharing it all with everyone on their blog -- and they've built up quite the collection of trail stories. The Orange County duo says Cucamonga Peak is what to hit before fall hits.

"This is a strenuous 12-mile roundtrip hike with 3,939 feet elevation gain," they say of the hike to the 8,856-foot peak. "We chose this hike because it offers spectacular views, it is less crowded than its close neighbor Mt. Baldy, and it is a hike that allows you to say goodbye to summer on a summit high above the Los Angeles basin.  Additionally, you have the possibility of seeing big horn sheep on this hike. This is a hike that will only be accessible for a short while longer as once the seasons begin to change in Southern California it will begin to get cold and will become snowed in."

They have, of course, written all about it here.

The trail to San Jacinto Peak. | Photo: bossco/Flickr/Creative Commons License

San Jacinto Peak
Kolby Kirk, a.k.a The Hike Guy, may no longer live in California, but as someone who's hiked all around Southern California (including most of the Pacific Crest Trail in the state), this list wouldn't be complete without him. He suggests the 11-mile roundtrip hike, all above 8,000 feet elevation, to San Jacinto Peak. That mileage is due to a significant and fun way to skip the grueling first part. I'll let him explain:

"What if I told you that this hike began with a 6,000-foot vertical gain up a sheer cliff, yet you can do it without breaking a sweat? Jump on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and feel the temperature drop an average of 30 degrees during the 13-minute ascent. At the top, enjoy well-developed trails running through pine forests and around meadows. A moderate 5.5 mile hike will get you to the top of one of the tallest mountains in Southern California, San Jacinto Peak (10,834 ft. elev.) Summer ends early for this hike, though, so plan accordingly: The Tramway's annual maintenance is scheduled for September 10-23, and is hoping to to reopen on September 24, 2012. $24 for the tram ride, but priceless views from the top."

Ruby Lake seen from the Mono Pass Trail. | Photo: mlhradio/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Mono Pass Trail, Yosemite National Park
If you're on Instagram, Stephanie Joice (@stephjoi) will make you jaw-dropping jealous of her weekends. The Bakersfield resident and retail manager takes advantage of her Central Valley location to hit up the coast or Sierra Nevada Mountains as much as possible.

"One of my favorite hikes that I did last summer was the Mono Pass Trail in Yosemite National Park. The trailhead is located about a mile into the park from the Tioga Pass entrance, at an elevation base of 9700 feet," she explained. "I chose this hike as a summer to late summer hike because it's a wonderful way to enjoy the sensation of springtime in the high Sierra Nevada mountains before the rush of colder weather settles in the mountains. I love this hike because once the warmer 70-80 degree Fahrenheit temperature has settled in, and the snow that can stick around as late as July or August has melted, this trail leads you through beautiful green meadows before you reach the overwhelming Bloody Canyon and the wonderful vista overlooks of Upper/Lower Sardine Lakes, and Mono Lake." She says the 6.4 mile there-and-back hike with a 1000-foot elevation gain is a moderate level.

Abbott's Lagoon. | Photo: Alison Field/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Abbotts Lagoon at Pt. Reyes
Sandy Steinman is behind Natural History Wanderings, a must-read blog on California nature, from birding to wildflowers. He's based in Northern California and his recommendation, Abbotts Lagoon at Point Reyes National Seashore, is as such.

"It has good birds, some end-of-the-year flowers, sand dunes, and the ocean," he said of this trail, a personal favorite of his that he admits he'll do any time of the year. "It is about one and half miles to the ocean. The first mile is on trail. The last part on sand. It is relatively flat." Here are some photos he took earlier this week.

Tracie Denton on the High Sierra Trail. | Photo: Courtesy Tracie Denton
Tracie Denton on the High Sierra Trail. | Photo: Courtesy Tracie Denton

High Sierra Trail
By weekday, Tracie Denton is an Orange County resident who works at a large asset management firm; by (most) weekends, she's an unofficial Inyo County resident because, well, she just loves the Sierras that much. But for her end-of-summer suggestion, you'll have to head into the range from the other side. "Before mid-October, the High Sierra Trail out of Wolverton is a beautiful hike," she says. "Most of the tourists have left Sequoia for the season, you have the prime camp sites to choose from, and the mosquitos are gone."

She admits it's a long trail -- at least over 50 miles! -- but suggests it can be broken down into segments. Even if you just do the first segment from the Wolverton Ski Area to Bear Paw (and a little beyond), you should be able to see wild raspberries, bears, and beautiful pools and waterfalls. For specific details, check out Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks' website.

What about you, dear reader? If you have a recommendation, please leave it in the comments below.

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