Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon

Over the 4th of July weekend, my Dad and I backpacked from Leavitt Meadows near Sonora Pass to the mouth of Buckeye Canyon near Bridgeport. We did the 27 mile hike over 3 days, stopping to camp in beautiful locations. This trip had a lot of allure to me. I was looking forward to revisiting some of the country along the Walker River from our second family backpacking trip back in 2011, and also seeing what lay beyond: Piute Meadows, Tower Peak, The Roughs. All just far off points on the map up until this hike. I have also wanted to see what Buckeye Canyon looks like, and add another Eastern Sierra Canyon to my list of hiked. I didn’t find a lot in the way of trip reports for this hike, so there would be a lot to explore and discover for myself.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Leaving the campground

As we were doing this hike as a point to point, we first drove to Bridgeport and dropped a vehicle off at the Buckeye Canyon Trailhead. There is a trailhead parking area just before the gate at the end of the road. All the area campgrounds were at capacity this busy weekend, and there was activity all around. I was glad we were hiking into the wilderness and away from the craziness.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
The new bridge

After dropping off the first vehicle, we drove to the Leavitt Meadows backpackers trailhead, just past the campground on CA SR 108 (Sonora Pass road). There is a self-registration box here for Hoover Wilderness overnight permits (not needed for day hikes), a restroom, running water, and parking. The trail heads back to the campground where you must follow the campground road down to the bridge crossing the West Walker River. There are currently two bridges. We took the first one, and it looks like the newer bridge is the one further north. I suppose they will remove the older one soon, but both bridges go to the same spot, so take your pick.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Hiking along the West Walker River

The trail heads south and follows along the West Walker River above Leavitt Meadows for some fairly easy hiking. At the south end of the meadows, the trail climbs up into the Hoover Wilderness towards Roosevelt and Lane Lakes. We passed through this area fairly quickly, and it made me think back to our family trip here five years ago. It had seemed so much harder back then! As we hiked by Roosevelt and Lane Lakes, the scale seemed smaller than I remember it. There weren’t too many people by the lakes, mostly just day hikers passing through.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Entering the Hoover Wilderness

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Roosevelt Lake

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Lane Lake

South of Lane Lake, we soon passed the furthest point we had explored before. Everything I would see would be brand new. With all the extra driving, setting up a point to point hike can seem like a pain. But with that work behind me now, I was excited that we were hiking to a destination still two days away. With the final destination just being another trailhead, it was all about the journey.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Looking down on the West Walker River

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Gaining elevation

Although old and sometimes hard to read, there are trail signs at the intersections along the West Walker River trail. Occasionally the trail will split, routing hikers and stock along different paths. The hikers stay to the east of the Walker River, while the stock trail sometimes crosses the river. Hikers only need to cross small streams unless headed off to the lakes on the west side of the West Walker. If this is the case, hikers will need to ford the river.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Old but helpful signs

The trail sometimes follows closely along the river. There are a few really dramatic spots where the river is forced through steep narrow slots of granite. These were my favorite sections to hike, and the miles went by quicker. Other times the trail goes through the woods where the thickest of the mosquitoes lurked. And occasionally the hiker trail climbs up and around the areas where they couldn’t put a trail next to the river.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Hiking along the West Walker River

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Hiking along the West Walker River

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Up and around

Other than one couple headed up to Tower Lake, we didn’t see any other hikers that afternoon after Lane Lake. We did see a horse pack train, though, on its way back to Leavitt Meadows Pack Station after dropping off campers at Fremont Lake.

In the early evening we arrived at Lower Piute Meadows. We veered off the trail just to look at the slow moving river in this area, but then realized it would make a pretty nice place to camp for the night. There was a frequently used campsite here, and it was easy to setup camp without further disturbance of the landscape. A fire ring made a good spot to cook dinner away from the tents. The mosquitoes seemed to subside as the sun went down, but it wasn’t long before we were in the tents anyway, wanting to get a good night’s sleep for the big hike the next day.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Camp in Lower Piute Meadows

The next morning, the coyotes decided it was time for me to getup at 06:00. My dad had already been up for a while, and had already made the coffee. It made crawling out of the tent a lot easier. I could’ve slept a little longer, but with the longer mileage planned for the day, I knew it was time to get going. The best thing about getting up early is that the mosquitoes weren’t awake yet. We got at least an hour of relaxation before they arrived with the sunshine.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Morning on the West Walker River

The day’s hiking started off with a lot of mosquitoes. I was covered up and had a good dose of repellent on. I didn’t get bit (that much), but that doesn’t mean they weren’t swarming at times. I once even had to spit one out that got in my mouth while I was trying to get one out of my eye. Near Upper Piute Meadows we met a couple coming down from Tower Lake, the only other people we’d see on the trail all day. They had a report of a lot of mosquitoes up at the lake. It’s that time of year…

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Upper Piute Meadows – Hawksbeak Peak 11,134 ft (left), and Ehrnbeck Peak 11,240 ft (right)

We hadn’t been hiking too long when we arrived at Upper Piute Meadows. The trail to Tower Lake takes off here and fords the West Walker River. Piute Cabin is also in this area, but is on the west side of the river. We weren’t able to see it from where we were. We continued down to a nice bend in the river to get hydrated before the big climb coming up. We probably stayed longer than we should’ve, but it was too scenic to pass up.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Rock cairn marking the meadow trail

After the turnoff to Tower Lake, our trail to Kirkwood Creek became more vague. It’s obvious not as many people come this way. Sometimes we had to watch for rock cairns leading across a meadow. Other times the trail would disappear altogether. The terrain features kept us hiking in the right direction, though, and it wasn’t long before we’d pick up the trail again.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Tree Pollen on my boots

Tree Pollen was thick in the air as we hiked around the meadows through the trees. It reminded me of the mist and fog you see at the ocean. Soon my boots had turned yellow from all the pollen caught in the grass. I have never seen so much! Our final hike across the upper meadows brought us close to Tower Peak. It had looked so far away when we started our hike the day before.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Looking back on Piute Meadows

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Passing close to Tower Peak

Eventually the trail leaves the meadows and begins its climb along Kirkwood Creek. The climb never really seems to letup as it makes its way to the 9,940 foot pass above. We stopped along the cool waters of the creek to rest at times. I hadn’t been using my GPS up until this point, but we decided to take peek and see how much further it was to the top. I was afraid to look and see that we still had a long ways to go, but we weren’t too far from the top. That gave us the incentive we needed.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Climbing along Kirkwood Creek

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
View of Hawksbeak Peak from the trail

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Falls along Kirkwood Creek

The steep climb never let up, but eventually we made it. It was great to get to the top, because it was also the high point of our hike and it’d all be downhill from here. We took a break and enjoyed the views. I climbed to the top of the nearby rocks to catch a view of the nearby unnamed pond. There were still large patches of snow on the north side of the pass. I walked around a bit to see where the trail might go, and got a little nervous that we may have some difficulty getting down the other side. After consulting the map, I was able to pick up the trail again just past the snow bank.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
The top!

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Looking down towards Buckeye Forks

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Nearby pond at the top

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Looking back at Tower Peak and the way we came up

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
The way forward

We made our way down the steep mountainside, doing our best to be careful on the snow. The sun cups made nice steps at times. I only post-holed once, and luckily it was a few feet away from the creek. I was relieved not to feel the sudden rush of cold water in my boot. The trail was also the path of the draining water, so it wasn’t too hard to follow. It wasn’t too long that we dropped enough elevation, and the snow ended. From the lack of tracks in the snow and mud, I believe we were the first to cross the pass this year.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
North Fork of Buckeye Creek

The trail was still steep coming down the other side, but now gravity was in our favor. We made good time as we quickly lost elevation along the north fork of Buckeye Creek. Creek crossings were tricky, but we still managed not to get our boots wet. Near Buckeye Forks we encountered the stone foundation of an old building. It was our first break in mosquitoes in a while, so it made a nice stop. Just a little further down the trail was Buckeye Forks (where the two forks of the creek come together) and a little cabin. Heading south at the forks takes the hiker up into Yosemite. We continued east into Buckeye Canyon into an area named “The Roughs”.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Hanna Mountain above

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Break time at an old stone foundation

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Old Cabin at Buckeye Forks

The Roughs are a rocky and narrow section leading down into Buckeye Canyon. We found a beautiful campsite along the creek early on, but it was too soon to make camp. Only 6:00 PM, we still had plenty of daylight left to get some more miles in. Soon after the camp, the trail got rugged as the canyon narrowed further and the water raged. At one point, there is a short climb as the trail makes its way up and over an impassable creek section.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Mountains high above The Roughs

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Hiking along Buckeye Creek in The Roughs

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Buckeye Creek in The Roughs

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Starting a short climb up and around a steep river section

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Wasn’t real excited about climbing this after all the downhill

We reached a clearing with an open view down the canyon. It looked like easy hiking, and just maybe there would be some camping down below soon. Just around the corner, though, was a creek crossing with no way to get across without getting wet. We had to stop our good pace and take our boots off. It did take some time, but it was actually pretty refreshing after sweating all day long. Evening was setting in now, with the last light on the mountain tops. I was ready to camp.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Open view down the canyon

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Creek Crossing

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Evening setting in

There would be no camping anytime soon. The brush was tall and thick and we could barely see the trail. We hiked more by feel, following the the path of least resistance. I made some noise to alert any nearby bears, and checked my pants for ticks often. I saw and old Hoover Wilderness boundary sign, long knocked over and laying in the bushes.  It’s obvious this is one of the lesser traveled canyons in the Eastern Sierra.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
There’s a trail in there somewhere I think

Eventually the brush gave way to tall grass, but there was still no place to camp. We examined a few possible places, but just kept moving. Any pine trees that may have created a clearing were on the other side of the creek. Finally, as darkness was setting in, we found a patch of grass by the river short enough to put a tent. We setup the tents under headlamps. Too tired to cook, dinner for me consisted of a handful of salami and crackers. After stowing the remaining food in the bear vault, I was off to bed, pretty much done after 12 hours on the trail!

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Fading light. Still no place to camp

I was a little grumpy going to bed the night before, but knew that I would wake up and appreciate the extra miles we hiked. We now had a short day of hiking ahead of us. It also happened that we camped in quite a beautiful spot. The canyon and mountains were beautiful! As we made breakfast, we could hear the cattle down the canyon. Knowing this may be our last chance for unpolluted water, we loaded up our bottles from the creek.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Morning in Buckeye Canyon

We picked up the trail just above our camp, but it quickly fizzled out. The direction to go was obvious, though, down. Just a short ways into our hike, we crossed the fence that keeps the cattle in the lower part of the canyon, and soon we saw the source of all the mooing. I’m glad we stopped and camped where we did the previous night, because we found exactly what you’d expect to find in well used pasture land. Lots of fresh poop and mud.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Headed down the canyon

We followed a lightly used access road for a while, but then followed what we thought may have been the trail. It lead us into one of the herds, and soon a few other trails. It soon became apparent these were just cattle trails, and then we found ourselves caught between the main creek and a smaller slow moving creek on the north side of us. We had to hack our way through tall grass and willows, until we finally lucked out and found a beaver dam that allowed a shallow water crossing.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Lightly used access road on the north side of the canyon

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Cattle

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Saved by a beaver dam

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
I think we’re off the trail – be careful of the electric fence!

After getting out of the water predicament, we hiked across a meadow in a direction that would get us back on the access road. Once we got to some shade, I checked our GPS coordinates and found our position on the map. Apparently we had passed a creek fording quite a ways back, but I don’t recall seeing any indication we should’ve gone that way. The easiest thing to do now that we were back on the access road was to just keep following it and see where it took us out. We were down to just a couple miles now.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
A well fertilized meadow

It was easy hiking from here on out. We eventually encountered some more unlocked gates that we had to pass through, and then finally came to what we had hoped for, a bridge leading back to the trailhead. We saw some signs at the bottom that somewhat discouraged the route we had come down, but nothing so harsh that had made me felt like we had trespassed. Back at the trailhead, it was clear that they want you to hike up the canyon on the south side of the creek, but there wasn’t any guidance coming down the way we did. My guess is there aren’t enough visitors to the canyon to make a big enough impact for better trail signage higher up.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Easy hiking from here on out

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
About to descend back to Buckeye Creek

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Almost out

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Final creek crossing on a bridge

Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
The route

This ended up being a great hike. It was challenging and we saw some beautiful country. Other than doing a better job at navigating Buckeye Canyon, I wouldn’t change a thing. Having said that, I probably won’t do this route again. With lack of good camping spots and all the cattle, I think Buckeye Canyon is best passed through, and preferably downhill. The lack of marked trails and thick brush higher up seemed to work better in this direction. Although both trailheads are similar elevation, I believe hiking it north to south as we did is the easier choice. I will definitely go back to Leavitt Meadows, though, and further explore all the lakes on the west side of the river that we didn’t get to see. It will probably be pretty nice later in the year when the mosquitoes die out and the creeks and rivers are easier to cross.

More Resources:

BioLite CampStove Review – Backpacking

Having enjoyed using the BioLite CampStove on a recent car camping trip (see my initial impressions here), I was eager to see how the CampStove performed while out backpacking. Now that the snow is melting in the Sierras, I recently got the BioLite CampStove out for a few days in mountains.

Backpacking to Kinney Lakes

The first trip out with the CampStove was an easy overnighter with my family. The shared gear was spread out among the group, and my son ended up carrying the CampStove. Nobody had to carry any fuel, which was nice.

Backpacking to Kinney Lakes
Getting the fire going on a chilly morning

Dinner was easy, a pot of water to boil for some prepackaged meals and hot drinks. Fuel was readily available from all the downed pine branches in the area. A handful of sticks was all that was needed to make the family dinner! I was really surprised at how little fuel it took to get the job done. I screwed up once and poured boiling water too close to the stove, and spilled a little water onto the battery unit and into the fire. The cap on the battery unit did a good job at directing the water away from any vents or vital parts.

Backpacking to Kinney Lakes
Oatmeal, coffee, campfire, and phone charge with the CampStove

The next morning was chilly, and we had some time before the sun made it over the trees to warm up camp. After making coffee and oatmeal, we kept the fire going for at least an hour, enjoying a little extra warmth and campfire ambiance while my son slept in. A gas stove would’ve been turned off immediately after cooking was done. I also tried charging my phone during the campfire time to test the performance. It charged fairly slow, taking the whole time to add 5%. It’s not a bad way to top off your charge if you don’t use your phone a lot, but someone who uses a lot of battery may have better luck bringing along a USB battery charger or two, as they charge really quickly and don’t take up much room. Regardless of how you use your phone, though, the CampStove is definitely a good way to get a little power for emergency use. I’ve heard quite a few stories of people calling for help with only minutes left on their batteries.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Existing fire rings make a good spot to setup the CampStove

Next, I took the stove on a three day, 27 mile trek. I scrutinized the weight of most everything I packed as I would be carrying everything I needed by myself. I was willing to carry a little extra weight when considering the CampStove, though, and there was still plenty of room in my pack with the rest of my solo gear. My Dad brought along his small JetBoil, and it made a good comparison.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon

The first night there was an existing fire ring in our camp, and an old fallen tree had left small pieces of wood all over the ground. It was the perfect setup for the CampStove. As expected, my Dad’s JetBoil boiled a pot of water in no time at all. The CampStove wasn’t far behind, though. As before, I kept the CampStove going for quite a while after dinner, enjoying the small campfire and sound of the river flowing by. I also imagined that the fire was helping to keep the mosquitoes away!

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Sagebrush fuel. Used aluminum foil as a heat shield with no durable surfaces available

I didn’t get to use the CampStove on the second night of our hike. After hiking for 12 hours, we finally settled on the first suitable campsite we had seen in hours. Now dark, I just grabbed a handful of cheese and crackers and went to bed. The next morning, though, I awoke to a beautiful mountain meadow view next to the creek. A nearby stand of sagebrush provided enough deadwood on the ground to make the morning coffee. Having no durable surface to set the stove on, I laid down some aluminum foil as a heat shield, and it worked good on the damp short grass. At one point, I got distracted and let the flame go out. When I added some fresh wood to the coals, it got to smoking pretty bad. The same fan that keeps the fire going great also can produce a lot of smoke fast! The fire caught again, though, and I watched my small smoke cloud drift down the canyon. I didn’t think about it at the time, but this would be a good way to create a very visible signal fire if one was in need.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon

Something weird to report: Periodically throughout my hike, I could hear a faint whining noise. It sounded out of place, and I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. The trees? The mosquitoes? The creek? It wasn’t until I got home when my wife was helping me unpack and she said, “Hey, your stove is running!”. Sure enough the fan was on. It all made sense now. Even though the battery unit was stored in the stove as designed, it appeared that bouncing it around was enough to hit the ON button. The fan turns itself off after a short time when the stove is cool, and luckily I never had problems starting the stove over the three days. I’m going to have to study the problem a bit more, but perhaps a thin sheet of packing foam around the battery unit will be enough to remove the bounce while it’s packed away. I plan to take the CampStove on a bikepacking trip soon, and this solution will be put to the test on the bumpy ride.

Backpacking Leavitt Meadows to Buckeye Canyon
Water is boiling – Time for coffee!

My backpacking experience with the BioLite CampStove was great! It was nice to be free from the worries of available fuel, and I really enjoyed having a small campfire. Even though traditional campfires were allowed where I was, I was glad to use the low impact CampStove. I didn’t leave any marks on the land, used very little fuel, and only had to dispose of a few tablespoons of white ash, buried in a small cat hole. It was nice to know that I had the capability to charge an electronic device, but mostly I just enjoyed having an electric powered wood stove that creates its own power. That’s pretty awesome. The only thing I’ll change next time is to bring a little bag for my cook pot, as the bottom gets a little sooty and can rub off on other gear when packed.

Unfortunately, summer fire restrictions are starting to be enforced around the area. While I don’t see the CampStove as any more of a fire hazard than a gas stove, you still have to follow the rules. I do, however, plan to continue bringing the CampStove along backpacking whenever possible and regulations allow.

Read more details and specifications on the BioLite CampStove here in my Initial Impressions.

Buy Now!

Purchase the BioLite CampStove now and save $10 at the BioLite website by CLICKING HERE (or on the banner above), and help support this website.

Disclaimer: This product was given to me at no charge for test and review. I was not paid to do this review, and provided honest and personal views throughout the entire process. As a BioLite affiliate, I receive a small percentage of sales initiated from my website.

Smith Creek Valley Hot Springs

On the way back from a weekend camping trip in central Nevada, we strayed off the main route to try to find the hot springs in Smith Creek Valley east of Carroll Summit on SR 722. On a previous trip through the valley, we had made an attempt to find the hot springs by memory of a map I had looked at months before. We had come close, within a mile, before we gave up, afraid of wasting too much gas or getting stuck. This time, though, I had GPS coordinates written down, and a very recent study of the map!

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
Dry lake bed in Smith Creek Valley

We followed the Campbell Creek Ranch road north for a few miles along the west side of the dry lake bed, and then turned onto a lesser used doubletrack road leading out to the lake bed and hot springs. Near the edge of dry lake bed is an area of much geothermal activity. Soon we found the first tub, a cattle watering tub filled by a pipe from a nearby spring. Hopping out of the vehicle, the first thing we noticed was a dead cow on its side just a stone’s throw away from the tub. Secondly, the water was pretty green with floating algae. It wasn’t exactly the postcard photo of relaxation. We continued along the road further to see what else we could find.

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
First tub

A little ways further down the silty road, we found a second tub. Still a few algae floaters, but no deceased bovines. We would check it out. The water coming out of the ground here is very hot, so it must be mixed with the standing water in the tub to get the right temperature. Seeing that the water was just about perfect when we got there means that someone had been there in the last few hours. A fire ring was nearby with a small stack of wood. I didn’t see any “private property” or “no camping” signs like I’ve seen at other hot springs in the area. Still, I think it’s more courteous not to hoard a tub when you’re not using it.

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
Water source for second tub

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
Don’t fall in!

Spending the weekend out in dusty central Nevada made the slightly green hot water more inviting. Any reluctance to get in the tub soon passed as the soothing hot water took hold. Bricks on the bottom of the tub helped elevate the seating position and kept us off the slippery bottom.

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada

After a quick soak, we were back on the road, eager to get home after a long weekend. Making the drive through Smith Creek Valley even more enjoyable was the blooming of the desert globemallow, which was all over alongside the road. We had seen amazing desert flowers all Memorial Day weekend, thanks to a wet Spring.

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
Blooming desert globemallow

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada

I walked to the end of the road to see if there were anymore tubs, but I didn’t see any. Had it not been for the dead cow, the first tub would’ve probably been on par with the second tub. It was nice that they were far enough apart for privacy as well. Although I’ve definitely been to better hot springs, especially one in particular nearby with cooler water that can be totally refilled upon arrival, the visit to Smith Creek Valley was very enjoyable. The solitude and expansive views of the barren lake bed and rugged mountains made it easy to overlook a little murky water. It’s definitely worth a stop when passing through!

If you go, the hot springs are pretty easy to find on a topo map. Special places like this are often maintained by the people that visit them, so make sure to leave the place as good or better than how you found it.

BioLite CampStove Review – Initial Impressions

“CampStove – Turn fire into electricity using wood. The BioLite CampStove generates usable electricity for charging LED lights, mobile phones, and other personal devices. Burning only wood, the CampStove creates a smokeless campfire that can cook meals and boil water in minutes.”

BioLite CampStove
BioLite CampStove

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I got my new BioLite CampStove out to central Nevada for some true off-the-grid testing. I had given the CampStove a trial run at home before heading out, and was excited to use the stove in a real camping scenario. The setting was in a lightly maintained Forest Service campground an hour drive from the nearest paved road. In some places, gathering wood in a campground may be frowned upon, but this particular campground is overgrown. Half of the sites have gone back to nature, only distinguishable by a picnic table barely visible in the middle of the bushes. Downed limbs, branches, and twigs are in abundance in the remaining opening sites, so collecting the wood actually helped clean the place up. In other words, it was perfect for a BioLite stove.

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
Off the grid in Central Nevada

Getting Started

Before first use, or after the stove hasn’t been used for several months, you must charge it up with the supplied USB cable. Once it’s fully charged, the stove will recharge itself with regular use. Assembling the stove is easy. Slide the battery/control module into the stove and extend the support legs. When not in use, the battery/control module drops into the center of the stove for more compact storage.

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
Prep work

Lighting the Stove

Like any campfire, collecting most of your fuel beforehand is the best first step. This was an easy task with the BioLite CampStove, since it doesn’t consume much wood to get the job done. I broke down a few sticks into sections shorter than the stove, separating the smaller pieces for kindling, and the larger pieces for my fuel wood. To get the fire started for morning coffee and tea, I filled up the stove with the smaller kindling twigs. I used one of the supplied starter sticks, a combination of sawdust and wax. I simply lit one end of the starter stick and placed it in the stove. Later for dinner, I tried starting the stove with homemade tinder, a cotton ball with a little bit of petroleum jelly in it. It worked equally as well. In absence of prepared fire starter, any natural tinder should work. It just needs to start easy, and burn long enough to get the kindling ignited. Using the long starter sticks or tinder on the end of a twig makes it easy to light the fire without burning your fingers.

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
Loaded with kindling

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
Tinder / Fire Starter added

I turned the fan on low once the kindling started to catch fire, about ten seconds after lighting. Once the fan was turned on, the swirling fire spread quickly. I added larger fuel wood after the kindling was going good. The fire smokes at first as the wood heats up and ignites, but then quickly goes smokeless. At this point, there’s not much you have to do other than add fuel to keep things going. Easy. The wood burns pretty quickly, so selecting larger fuel wood will decrease your fire maintenance time. Since the heat of the fire also charges the battery, available fuel is the only thing that limits burn time.

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
Fan on low, flames swirling

Using the Stove

Once the fire is going, you can start cooking. The pot supports also serve as heat shields for the battery and pot handle. For best flame protection, turn the battery and pot handle into the wind. The CampStove fan also has a HI setting to boost the flames and heat. This also burns the fuel faster, so use accordingly. It’s best to use once you’ve added your largest pieces of fuel, or have a larger pot of water to boil. Fan noise increases from a whisper to a light whine on HI mode, but is not what I’d call annoying. While it’s nice to have both settings, LO seemed very effective all on its own.

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
Boiling water / USB port ready to charge

Soon after the fire is going, the green light comes on that signals power is available to the USB port. The heat from fire charges the battery that runs the fan. Once the fan’s power needs are met, excess power is available to charge your electronic devices. I wasn’t real interested in charging my phone (or even looking at it!), since one of the reasons for this trip was to disconnect for a few days. I did, however, plan to charge my USB rechargeable headlamp. Unfortunately, I brought the wrong cable, so this test was not done. The CampStove comes with a bright 100 lumen FlexLight. Simply plug it into the USB port, and tap the back of the light to turn it on. With nearly 15 hours of daylight this time of year, I was ready for bed by the time the sun went down, but I can see the FlexLight being very handy for those times you arrive late to camp and dinner preparation goes past sundown. It’s a great addition to the CampStove package.

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
100 lumen FlexLight accessory

We also tried roasting a few marshmallows over the flames, and that worked great as well. My son kept the stove stoked as he made us all dessert. It’s a mini campfire. BioLite also makes a Portable Grill attachment for the CampStove that allows you to cook things over the stove that you don’t want to put on a skewer.

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
Marshmallow Roasting

When you’re done with the stove, you simply let it burn out. The fan keeps everything burning down to white ash, and then stops automatically when the stove has cooled. I was surprised at how efficiently the wood was burned up, and that there was very little ash to dispose of. Nice to have a fire that doesn’t scorch the earth and doesn’t leave much waste behind!

Memorial Day Weekend in Central Nevada
Small amount of white ash dumped into the fire ring

Some weight comparisons

The BioLite CampStove is plenty light and compact for car camping, but how does it measure up to backpacking specific stoves? The CampStove is noticeably heavier than other stoves I own, so I decided to weigh them, as carrying too much weight in my pack is definitely a concern.

  • MSR Pocket Rocket with 8 oz fuel canister: 1 lb, 1.3 oz
  • MSR WhisperLite with 11 oz fuel bottle: 1 lb 12.6 oz
  • BioLite CampStove (stove and battery module): 2 lb, 0.6 oz

The CampStove was definitely the heaviest. But when focusing on stove weights and sizes, I think we tend to forget about the weight and volume of the fuel. With one fuel bottle, the WhisperLite and CampStove are pretty close in weight. Add another fuel bottle for extended days or cooking for larger groups, and then the CampStove starts to become the lighter option (your fuel weight would decrease over time with gas, but not the storage volume). BioLite also makes a simpler CookStove that is 1.6 lbs, saving weight by instead using a smaller 30 hr run time rechargeable battery (with no USB charging port).

Here’s a quick video of the CampStove in action. Note: The nearby creek masks the fan noise until the closeup shot at the end.

Summary

When I first opened the box and looked at the instructions, I was concerned that the CampStove looked complicated, but I was surprised at how well and how easy the CampStove worked. Campfires can be finicky, but the CampStove technology keeps the fire burning good from start to finish. Thanks to the circulating air from the fan, the fire starts within seconds after lighting, and then you only need to periodically add fuel to keep it going. It’s simple. I was also impressed with how little wood it took to boil a liter of water. Thanks to using small pieces of fuel, the stove goes out pretty quickly when you’re done using it. Accomplishing the same task with a regular campfire would use a lot more wood and create considerably more waste. Not having to calculate and worry about liquid fuel needs in the middle of nowhere is a big plus. I had a seemingly endless supply of fuel all around me.

The biggest concern for the CampStove in my area will be seasonal fire restrictions and wilderness regulations. At some point, only gas stoves with shut-off valves will be allowed into some areas. This means the CampStove (and even ultra-light alcohol stoves) will not be allowed. Some wilderness areas prohibit wood gathering above a certain elevation at any time of the year. Thankfully, there will still be many opportunities to use my CampStove in other areas without restrictions throughout the year.

One of my favorite things about camping is the cooking ritual. It’s the perfect task for a morning warm up, and great way to relax in the evening. The campfire feel of the CampStove enhances the experience. It’s fun! People that are in a hurry or eager to get on the trail may prefer the simplicity and speed of the latest gas stoves, but I’m definitely more leisurely in my activities. The few minutes of extra time gathering and adding fuel isn’t much of a concern to me. The fact that the stove charges its own battery for perpetual use is pretty incredible. Cleanup is also easy. I dumped my ash in the nearby fire ring since I was in a campsite, but burying the small amount of ash in a cat hole would be a good way to keep the environment clean in an undeveloped area. Since the stove doesn’t produce a lot of smoke and soot, a quick wipe down was all that was needed before putting the stove back in the storage bag.

Future Tests

The USB charging capability of this stove is probably one of the first things that make people stop and notice the BioLite CampStove. I definitely plan to test this feature more extensively for future reviews with my phone and headlamp. I’m also looking forward to taking the CampStove out for some bikepacking and backpacking. Stay tuned for some followup reports!

UPDATE: CLICK HERE to see how the CampStove performed on a three day backpacking trip!

Buy Now!

Purchase the BioLite CampStove now and save $10 at the BioLite website by CLICKING HERE (or on the banner above), and help support this website.

Disclaimer: This product was given to me at no charge for test and review. I was not paid to do this review, and provided honest and personal views throughout the entire process. As a BioLite affiliate, I receive a small percentage of sales initiated from my website.

Hiking Lundy Canyon in Spring

Lundy Canyon on the eastern edge of the Hoover Wilderness is known for its rushing waterfalls in the Spring and extraordinary colors in the Fall. The trailhead is just six miles from Highway 395 near the northwest end of Mono Lake, and the entire canyon can be hiked out and back in about 4.5 miles. This makes it perfect for a leisurely day trip in Spring, Summer, or Fall.

Lundy Canyon

We ended up in Lundy Canyon unexpectedly on May 16th, after finding the road to Leavitt Meadows near Sonora Pass still closed for the season. We stopped at the Bridgeport Ranger Station to inquire about alternate areas to hike in, and when I asked the ranger what she thought about hiking Lundy Canyon, she replied, “Oh yeah!”. I was surprised at her answer, considering it’s been a productive winter and the trailhead is at 8,140 feet elevation. This was exciting. Not only would it be hikeable, but there would be a lot of water flowing down the canyon. Additionally, we were taking some friends from back east hiking, and this would be a great hike to introduce them to the beauty of the Eastern Sierra.

Lundy Canyon

When we got to Lundy Lake, we could see the trail to Oneida Lake climbing steeply up the canyon to the south. This trail still looked snowy at the time, but will make another great day hike to do later in the year. At the west end of Lundy Lake is the site of Lundy (aka Mill Creek), a former lumber and mining camp from the gold rush days. Today this area serves as a fishing resort, and there is even a county run campground below the lake.

Lundy Canyon

The road turns to dirt at the west end of the lake, and continues up the canyon to a trailhead parking loop. We were the only ones there when we arrived, a big contrast to last October when nearly every nook and cranny had a vehicle in it. Being mostly on the south facing slope and bottom of the canyon, the trail was snow free. A few wildflowers were present, and the aspens were just starting to wake up, their budding branches still leaned over from the heavy winter snow.

Lundy Canyon

We heard the sound of rushing water as we hiked through the trees, and in just a 1/4 of a mile, reached the shoreline of a big beaver pond with large waterfalls cascading down the far side. The trail continues around the pond for a nice overlook of the falls.

Lundy Canyon
Falls Overlook

The trail enters the Hoover Wilderness as it climbs above the falls, and crosses a small stream coming in from an unseen Burro Lake high above. There are few creek crossings on this hike, but we managed to keep our feet dry on all, even with the high water levels. Some crossings are easy, while others took some examination to choose the best way across.

Lundy Canyon

Lundy Canyon

Lundy Canyon

Lundy Canyon
Creek crossing above the falls

Lundy Canyon
Pools above the falls

Lundy Canyon
Stream from Burro Lake high above

Lundy Canyon
One of the easier stream crossings

Lundy Canyon
An old cabin along the trail

The trail slowly makes its way over to the south side of the canyon where all the snow had not yet melted. The snow was mostly easy to traverse, although there were a couple sections where footholds had to be placed securely. A slip would’ve meant an icy dip in the nearby creek.

Lundy Canyon

Eventually the snow completely covered the trail, and we had to climb up a steep snowy slope to reach the upper falls. We stayed high up from the creek where it wasn’t as steep. The creek was really moving below and passed under the snow at times. It would be a very dangerous place to fall in! We headed over to a clearing in the snow and sat on a log overlooking the falls. We called this point the top of our hike, and it made the perfect place for a scenic lunch.

Lundy Canyon

The hike out was much quicker, now having practiced all the snow and creek crossings once. It was no less enjoyable, though, with all new views down the long canyon. An incoming storm was creeping in behind us, and we made it back to the trailhead just as the first drops started arriving.

Lundy Canyon

Lundy Canyon

Lundy Canyon

Lundy Canyon

Lundy Canyon

Lundy Canyon
A few last photos

Lundy Canyon

With its towering peaks, rushing water, and rugged scenery, Lundy Canyon delivers a fantastic backcountry wilderness experience without a lot of effort. Early Spring appears to be a good time to hike it, as we saw very few people on our trip. Fall may be the peak usage time with all the photographers chasing the seasonal colors. The short driving and hiking distance make this a good day trip from Carson City, or even a side trip while on the way to somewhere else. Twenty Lakes Basin is accessible via a “trail” at the top of Lundy Canyon, but it’s really steep (requiring the use of your hands at times) and full of loose talus. It’s far easier to get to the Twenty Lakes Basin via Tioga Pass and Saddlebag Lake.

Exploring the San Rafael Swell – Goblin Valley State Park

Have you ever dreamed of visiting another planet? Goblin Valley, located in the San Rafael Swell area of central Utah, may be the closest thing you can get without leaving the comfort of our own atmosphere. In fact, Goblin Valley State Park served as the set for a scene in the Sci-Fi comedy Galaxy Quest, chosen for its other-worldly look. The valley is known for its “goblins”, which are mushroom-shaped rock formations. Like the other hoodoos you’ll find in Utah, the distinct shape of these rocks comes from an erosion-resistant layer of rock atop softer sandstone.

Goblin Valley State Park

After hiking Crack Canyon in the morning, we made the short drive to Goblin Valley State Park. We had a beautiful blue sky, but the wind was blowing hard when we arrived. There are actual hiking trails around the park, but knowing that we may tire of the wind before too long, we opted to explore the valley closest to the trailhead parking area. Due to the size of the valley and randomness of route possibilities, it didn’t take long to leave the crowds behind.

Goblin Valley State Park

Being able to wander around the rock formations is a real treat. It’s also great if you like to take photos, since there are infinite possibilities for unique shots. The blue sky of our mid-day visit provided nice contrast, but it would be fun to come here during low light times of the day as well. We continued to explore until we decided it was time to find cover from the wind.

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

The campground at Goblin Valley looked pretty nice when we drove through it on the way out. The only problem is that it’s fairly small, and sites can be reserved well in advance. Thankfully, there is legal dispersed camping on nearby public lands outside the park. The town of Green River is also nearby for those looking to get out of the weather or are looking for services.

Goblin Valley State Park

If you’re traveling through San Rafael Swell area, you should definitely visit the state park. You’ll see rock formations that you probably won’t see anywhere else in Utah. The park has recently added mountain bike trails as well. And with so may other things to do in the Swell area, it can serve as a destination, rather than just a stop along the way to the more well known National Parks. Goblin Valley is also a safer place to visit if bad weather is threatening, since the roads are paved and you’d be mostly clear of flash flood danger when compared to the nearby slot canyons.

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Exploring the San Rafael Swell – Crack Canyon

Located in south-central Utah about 30 miles west of the town of Green River is the San Rafael Swell. The swell covers an area approximately 75 by 40 miles, and consists of a giant dome-shaped anticline of sandstone, shale, and limestone that was pushed up 60-40 million years ago. Over time, powerful flash floods have eroded the sedimentary rocks into numerous valleys, canyons, gorges, mesas and buttes. Although there are some officially managed areas in the Swell like Goblin Valley State Park, much of the area is wide open for self-guided exploration. We decided to use a few days of our Spring Break back in April to go check the place out.

Temple Mountain
Temple Mountain from behind the reef

After a night spent in Ely, NV, we continued east into Utah. We headed south into the Swell on Route 24 just west of the town of Green River. We took the turnoff to Goblin Valley State Park, but didn’t plan to camp there, since most of the campsites in the park are reserved well in advance. Instead, cutting through the reef, we took Temple Mountain Road in search of a place to setup a tent on public lands.

Crack Canyon, UT
Camp at Crack Canyon

Big RVs full of OHVs were camped all along Temple Mountain Road, filling every available spot. We headed west behind the reef until we got to an area that was too rugged to bring a big trailer. The challenge now was to find a place that was flat enough for a tent, somewhat out of the wind, and not in the path of a potential flash flood. We finally decided on a small patch of ground just north of the entrance to Crack Canyon.

Crack Canyon, UT
Starting the hike

Getting out of the wind was not an easy task, and I don’t think our chosen spot made much of a difference. We did our best to use our vehicle as a windbreak, setting up our gear downwind. Even still, cooking was difficult, and our chairs kept falling over. We spent a noisy night in the tent, the rain fly flapping in the breeze the whole time.

Crack Canyon, UT

We packed up camp quickly the next morning and drove just a little further down into the canyon. It was nice to be so close to the trailhead and ready to go! Navigating into the canyon was easy, as all washes funneled their way down to the canyon bottom. We made sure to note our route in, though, as finding our way back to the vehicle on the return trip would be more difficult with the maze of incoming washes.

Crack Canyon, UT

Once down in the canyon, the narrow walls towered above us. It was an amazing sight to see, and gave me the reassurance that driving two days to go for a hike was all worth it. The terrain and rock formations were always changing with so many interesting things to look at and contemplate. Many rocks warranted climbing for further exploration.

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

Crack Canyon, UT

We went as far as the first dry fall. My son climbed down to check out the narrows, but didn’t go too far without us. We decided not to bring the whole family and dogs down the climb, just in case we couldn’t climb back up. We weren’t equipped for a long walk back around the reef! Those looking for a bigger hike can walk the whole canyon to the south end of the reef. It’s even possible to take a neighboring canyon back for a loop hike. We just retraced our route back to the trailhead, and with plenty of more time in the day, made our way back to Goblin Valley State Park for some more hiking.

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