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Trip Planning 101: Deciding When and Where to Go

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Cover image: Green Lake. Images courtesy Joyce Britton

I love spontaneity, but there are times when careful and deliberate planning are necessary for a successful trip. When I’m just looking to get away and am open to whatever the weekend has in store, I’ll sometimes just pack my bags on a Friday and head up to the Sierra Nevada without any plans or accommodations. I did that a few years ago and ended up climbing Mt. Whitney, my second summit of the mountain. When I want to get the most out of my experience, I plan ahead and research the area well before embarking on the journey to adventure.

Rae Lakes Painted Lady

Rae Lakes and Painted Lady.

Location, Location, Location

My favorite place to visit is the Eastern Sierra. I often refer to it as my “Happy Place.” Some of my friends call me “Sierra Princess.” After completing my first ever backpacking trip in 2014, the Rae Lakes Loop, and getting a big taste of the backcountry experience, I decided to do some research and find out if any of those hikes could be done as day hikes, out and back.


I’m constantly thinking about where I could go. This is how I start my research. Often my friends who live in Bishop, talk about their favorite trails or post gorgeous pictures of their adventures that have me salivating—especially the pics of sparkling alpine lakes because I love the water.

I note those places on my “List” and start with a general Google search to find out some preliminary logistics, such as distance, elevation gain, nearby accommodations and trip reports.

Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney.

Consult the Experts

Nothing beats a good guide book. One of my favorites is 50 Classic Day Hikes of the Eastern Sierra by Devon Fredericksen and Reed Harvey. The book contains detailed stats and descriptions of 50 hikes spanning from Mammoth Lakes to Mt. Whitney and is filled with full-color photos, maps and graphics as well as driving directions and recommendations on nearby camping options. The book, along with various Tom Harrison maps, was invaluable.


Additionally, I check the weather forecast in the days leading up to the trip and plan my gear and attire accordingly. I also take into account the seasonal weather cycle for a particular area. In late summer of 2013, I planned a day hike to Cloudripper, a 13,525-foot peak in the Eastern Sierra. I had been monitoring the weather and knew that the area had experienced monsoon type rain recently, so I planned to start early and pack rain gear. I also had a strict turnaround time.

When I started out, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but about three miles into the hike, clouds began to gather. When I was well above 13,000 feet, I noticed a thunderstorm in the distance, which prompted me to turn around and descend immediately. It was a good thing I brought my rain gear. Just before I got below the tree line, it began to rain, hail and thunder. Had I not been prepared, that could have been a bad day, but I actually enjoyed the fresh rain because I was warm and dry.

Rained on and Happy

Rained on and happy.

Plan B (and C and even D)

Sometimes, even the best laid plans fall through and it’s good to have a backup plan. What will you do if after you’ve done all the research and planning for a great adventure and all of a sudden, you wake up to a storm and discover that the road toward your destination gets washed out? It’s all part of the adventure. Research early and have a list of options. Adjust your perspective if you need to and don’t be too upset if you have to reschedule your trip due to unforeseen circumstances. It’s all part of the journey.

Joyce Britton, who is often referred to as “Sierra Princess” by her friends, hikes and leads group adventures throughout Southern California and the Eastern Sierra. She believes in taking life one step at a time. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Tales of the Trails, and also on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

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