Backpacking to Green Lake

On August 10th, we set out for a backpacking trip to Green Lake in the Hoover Wilderness. We had car camped at Green Creek years ago, but had never made it further up the canyon into the wilderness. Green Creek and the lower canyon are beautiful, so we were eager to see how it was even higher up.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip

After a scenic drive from Carson City, we stopped at the Bridgeport Ranger Station at the south end of town to get our permits. The Green Lake area has a daily quota, so I wasn’t totally sure we’d be issued permits. Thankfully, the ranger said he had just a few left. He said you can typically get walk in permits if you get there early enough on any given day with exception of big camping holidays like Labor Day. It’s also worth noting that the ranger station had a great collection of topo maps available for purchase. This is good to know if you weren’t able to find a good map locally before heading out.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
On the Trail

Just south of Bridgeport is the turnoff to Green Creek, a dirt road that heads off to the south from highway 395, and then climbs into the canyon along Green Creek to the southeast. The road is signed and well graded, but washboarded pretty much the whole way. Right before the campground at the end of the road is the Trailhead Parking Lot. Here you’ll find an informational kiosk, bathroom, water, and a dumpster. We got nearly the last spot in the parking area.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip

The trail starts by staying high and going around the campground below. It then joins a service road that is easy hiking until it ends at a cabin. From the cabin, the trail turns to singletrack and soon enters the Hoover Wilderness. Along the rest of the trail to Green Lake you’ll cross little creeks, climb switchbacks, and wind through the aspens and pines along the rushing Green Creek. One hiker asked me how far it was to the lake when we got back. He thought it was about 2.5 miles according to his map. According to my GPS though, we hiked over 4 miles to get there with all the switchbacks and turns! I’m not sure he believed me.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Banded Woolly Bear Caterpillar on the trail

We finally reached an intersection just below Green Lake. To the right we could climb up to West Lake. We went left, the route to East Lake, and also to continue on to Green Lake. After a crossing of Green Creek, we could see the lake, and we started our hunt for a campsite.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Into the Hoover Wilderness

On the southeast side of Green Lake we found many side trails leading to suitable campsites along the terraced hillside. We selected a site at least a hundred feet off any trail, and the lake was barely visible through the trees. Several granite boulders provided seating and tables off the ground.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Company Halt!

Shortly after setting up camp we were visited by another camper. He wanted to warn us about a bear that had visited his camp the night before. The bear had actually slashed through his tent, just grazing him with its claws! He showed us the scratch across his face and hand, and it was amazing how lucky he was that he was able to remain up at the lake to finish his trip. Any deeper of a cut, and he might have needed assistance evacuating to the trailhead.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Creek Crossing near Green Lake

I asked the guy if he had anything in his tent that would have got the bear’s attention. He admitted that he had an apple in one of his pockets. He also mentioned that he and another nearby camper had been frying fish earlier in the evening. It’s possible his clothes smelled of it. This was a good reminder to have everyone thoroughly check their pockets, jackets, tent and packs for any food or scented items before heading into the tent for the night. We’ve been using a bear vault to store all our items away from camp at night, and it has worked well so far. It’s also much less hassle than trying to hang a bear bag properly. Additionally, many of the areas around Yosemite now require a bear vault.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Camp near Green Lake

We had a simple dinner of ramen noodles and fresh veggies that we packed. We were originally drawn to the pre-made backpacker meals for their simplicity, but have since gone to coming up with our own recipes. Although convenient, the just-add-water freeze dried backpacker meals tend to be over spiced and salted. Sometimes you just want a mellow meal after a hard day’s effort. Furthermore, the packaging can be bulky and take up too much room in your bear vault; even after you’ve eaten the contents. It’s more space efficient to repackage your food in zip-lock bags. They compress down to nearly nothing when empty, or you can reuse them for something else.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip

Also on the list of evening chores was to filter some water from the nearby creek that flows down from East Lake. On a trip like this where water was plentiful the whole trip, we decided to carry just the amount needed for hydration while hiking. At 2.5 lbs per full Nalgene bottle, the extra weight of unused water really adds up. We filtered around 6 liters of water into a MSR Dromedary Bag for use around camp, filling water bottles, cooking, and doing dishes.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Evening at Green Lake

I got a few photos down at the lake shore before it got too dark, then we went about getting the camp all clean for the night. After the bear story, we were extra thorough, double checking the tent and all pockets, and hiking the bear vault a little further away from camp than normal. The bear vault is even sort of hard to open by a person, so my son’s favorite joke when I get back to camp is, “Sorry, Dad…I found a chocolate bar in the tent…”. He’s always kidding of course, with exception of the time he really did that to me, and the basis for the joke in the first place.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Morning at Green Lake

I shortened one of my trekking poles into what I imagined would be a decent bear spear, and placed it inside the tent with me alongside my sleeping bag. I seriously doubt the lightweight aluminum pole would’ve done us much good, but it certainly made us all feel better that we had a little something to fight back with. As it turns out though, we had a very peaceful night. We all listened carefully each time we woke up, but it was always quiet. About the only sound you could really hear was the constant rush of the nearby creeks. And this is another thing I’ve noticed. The creeks always sound closer at night. Someone told me this is because the sound travels better through the denser, moister nighttime air.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Great Swimming

We awoke to a warm and sunny morning, and began to make coffee and tea. Breakfast was a simple combo of granola and powdered milk. I’ve taken this breakfast on my last 3 trips, and it seems to work well. The single serving packets of instant oatmeal are good too.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Another morning swim

The highlight of this trip was definitely the swimming. Up at 9,000 feet, I wasn’t sure how cold the water would be. Green lake also looked pretty deep. As it turned out though, the lake was fantastic. It wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t freezing either. It was crisp, cool, and clean. None of us wanted to stay in too long, but after climbing out, we couldn’t wait to jump back in! On both mornings we found some rocks on the shoreline where the water was deep enough to dive into the water.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Watching dad filter water

There was a big area of what looked to be fresh mud all around the shoreline, as if there was water there very recently. We spoke with a passing ranger, and she said that just a couple days ago, they had drained several feet of water off the lake for irrigation in the valleys below. The peninsulas we had been diving off would’ve been islands the weekend before.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
The lake was recently drained several feet down

Originally the plan was to use Green Lake as a base camp for some day hikes to the neighboring lakes. What we didn’t anticipate was the lengthy afternoon thunderstorms. We were all packed up to go to East Lake after our morning swim, when the skies began to gray rather quickly. We decided to stick around camp and explore the forest around Green Lake instead.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Evening Reflections in the lake

It wasn’t long before the rain began to sprinkle. We were glad about our decision to stick close to camp. Eventually the rain got hard enough that we decided to relax in the tent. Luckily we had brought books, cards, and other things to keep us entertained. At one point, the rain slowed, and I opened the rain fly so we could see the sky. Within seconds of me wondering out loud if the rain was beginning to clear, it began to dump the hardest it had yet. And then a few seconds later, it turned to hail!

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Happy Campers

As the rain kept falling, I noticed a flaw in my tent site selection. The wonderful flat spot that people had been using was also a basin. All the forest duff was cleared out too, so the tent sat directly on the dirt. Water began to pool under the sides of the rain fly, the place where we had stuck our boots and packs to get them out of the rain. We brought the packs inside, and then used our sandals to make little walls of dirt to slow down the water encroachment. Luckily the rain eventually slowed down, and we kept everything dry. Next time I’ll pick a better draining site for sure! Seems like there’s always something to learn.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Packed up and ready to head out

When the rain finally stopped, it was too late to go hiking to the other lakes. It was just about 5:00pm, and we were ready for dinner anyhow. We spent the remainder of the evening eating, doing camp chores, filtering more water, and finally relaxing down on the lake shore. The water was so calm it was like a glass mirror. I got several interesting photos with the mountains reflected in the lake. It was also strange to look into the lake where we had been diving. It now looked eerily shallow, even though I remember not being able to touch. I even had to double check I was standing in the right location.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Heading back down the canyon

Before dark on the second night, a large group with kids hiked in. Without even hunting around, they picked a campsite within direct sight and less than a hundred feet from us. This might be fine in a campground, but in the wilderness it really degrades from your experience. Solitude is one of the main reasons we go to the wilderness after all. Simply going around a pile of rocks or over a little hill may be enough to create a proper buffer. It’s also important to use soft voices, so you don’t disturb others. These campers got louder as the night progressed though, and even had periodic outbursts that would wake us from our sleep. They would do well to read up on their wilderness etiquette.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Looking back at where we had come from

We had another bear free night. We also saw the guy that had the bear encounter, and he had a couple of uneventful nights as well. Perhaps the bear had wandered on. Or perhaps he ditched his apple. After breakfast we once again headed down to the lake for another swim, this time finding even better rocks to jump off. The day appeared really sunny, and I was pretty sure we’d get a break from the thunderstorms. By the end of our swim though, a dark cloud appeared to the southwest. We decided we should probably get going sooner rather than later.

Green Lake Backpacking Trip
Old Backpacker

We returned to camp and finished packing up. The skies were darkening quickly, so we hastened our pace. With nearly all our food eaten, the total weight was much less in our packs. We shared the load pretty efficiently, and Kristy and I had made some adjustments to our packs that increased shoulder comfort. It was also all downhill back to the trailhead! Hiking out was a much different experience than the work we experienced hiking in. We were traveling fast and light and enjoying the scenery. The thunderstorm caught up with us near the end, and we hiked the last half mile in the rain. We didn’t mind though, knowing we were nearly back. Only the Chihuahua protested getting wet and wanted to be carried. Before returning home, the plan was to stop at the Jolly Cone in Bridgeport for burgers. We stuck to the plan, and even got a small beef patty for the dogs! They had worked hard too. We all enjoyed our food out on the patio, and watched the thunderstorm coming in over the Sierras. The perfect end to the weekend adventure.

More photos from this trip HERE on Flickr.


2 thoughts on “Backpacking to Green Lake

  1. That looks like an awesome trip. Thanks for the pics. The swimming ones are really good. Looks like paradise. What kind of bear vault do you have?

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