Solo Overnight Hike in Northern California

Hiking in foreign countries is always a bit intimidating. The terrain is unfamiliar, you aren’t sure if a bear or a snake or a person is going to pop out and grab your snacks, or bite you, and you aren’t used to the weather patterns. Hiking in foreign countries alone is even more intimidating. I decided to attempt this while I was in Northern California. I chose an overnight spot where I hoped I would find other people so I wouldn’t be alone at night, and I did have the backup option of calling friends who would come and rescue me. It was a really wonderful experience, some icy lake swims, a very cold night and pine trees in their rightful place. 

Pine tree forest Northern California overnight hiking trekking multiday

Watson Lake to Lake Tahoe

Map: I used to map out my route. 

Time of Year: Early October.

Management & Bookings: No need to book the camp and no permits are required for the route.

Getting there: The trail is accessible by bus from Truckee, the the bus will drop you at a ski lodge nearby, and then you finish at Tahoe lake and can get the bus back up to Truckee. All depends on where you stay.

Facilities: The campsite had two compost loos and toilet paper. There are bear lockers to safely store your food.

Cost: Free. 

Length: 2 Days.

Distance: 14km (Day 1), 12km (Day 2).

Weather: It was warm in the day and freezing at night.

Water: There was no running water. I boiled water from the lake for my dinner, and then collected water from streams on the route for drinking.

Difficulty: Easy to medium. Most of the trail was easy to traverse, there were a couple of steep sections, but otherwise really accessible. 

Notes: Dogs are allowed on this trail. 

Day One: 14km, 400m |  Brockway Summit to Watson Lake

My friend dropped me off at the trail head and walked with me and his dog for the first thirty minutes or so, Lochy (the dog) wouldn’t turn back with dad, and came bounding along the trail after me a few times. After a while I was truly on my own, in the pine wood forest of Northern California. The trail was mostly deep in the forest, with the trees towering over my head. Every now and then the trail would push out to a rocky outcrop with majestic views of Lake Tahoe. And then back into the forest and up to Lake Watson. I arrived at the campsite and it was empty, I was nervous but slowly other hikers (a couple and their three Huskies who were doing the 10 day Tahoe Rim Trail) and two sets of regular campers who joined in the evening. While setting up camp I heard an odd noise, went for a stroll towards a small meadow, and after a while a Coyote caught my eye. Such a special sighting!

Before anyone arrived I had a swim in the lake, and soaked up the last patch of sun before settling in for the night. I had seen some bear poop on the trail (dry and old), but didn’t think bears were common, but a fellow camper said he saw a bear in the came two nights before and that I should definitely store my food in the bear locker.

Overnight camping set up, tent, dehydrated meals and food for trekking. Just add water

On the menu:
Lunch: Croissant with Harissa Hummus
Dinner: Lentil Bobotie Stew

Watson Lake in Northern California. Swimming adventure hiking

Day Two: 12km | 510m Watson Lake to Lake Tahoe

It was ice cold in the morning so I got up and packed up pretty quickly. I was really excited to see what the trail had to offer and it was really beautiful. I got many more vista of the lake opportunities as I headed to the ridge and then descended into the town of Tahoe. I hiked through Burton Creek Natural Reserve, beautiful streams along the way from which I drank. There were a few sections which weren’t well maintained and I did a bit of scrambling down some steep sections. It was initially odd to be walking among Pine Trees in their natural habitat, as a South African I have an aversion to the alien species which pollutes the South African eco-system. In SA, usually there is little to nothing growing under pine trees, the earth erodes and it’s quite depressing. In Northern California it’s lush and beautiful and dense under the trees, so many plants and flowers thrive. My hike ended on the northern shore of Tahoe, I had a swim in the lake and then got the bus back up to Truckee.

Lake Tahoe in Northern California

On the menu: 

Breakfast: Too cold to eat anything so I just got on the trail and eventually ate a protein bar.
Lunch: Bananas, crisps and some Classic Hummus.

Even though I technically wasn’t alone on this hike it was a great experience to go out on my own mission and not know where I was going or who I would bump into. There aren’t many opportunities to hike and camp alone as a woman in South Africa, and I hope one day I will get to do this again. In the meantime, hiking with friends, in this beautiful country, is where I will be!

Lake Tahoe through the trees.

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