Looking for emerald rain forests dripping with verdure, rushing creeks, cascading waterfalls, jaw-dropping mountain vistas towering above the Quinault River Valley, and enough switchbacks to drop a Yetti?
Check out the Col. Bob Trail in Olympic National Forest.
You don’t have to be part mountain goat to navigate the steep, serpentine coils of this 4.1 mile trail (one way) to one of the most rugged, spectacular, and isolated peaks in the Olympic Mountains. But it helps. Ditto BYO bottled oxygen.
I recommend starting from Pete’s Creek. (See below for directions.)
We tackled this trail in mid-June, starting out at about 0830. The trail was wet and steamy. Pockmarked by mini-Amazon rivers, the path was choked with enough undergrowth in places that Sasquatch would have cause for pause. It was also quite muddy.
The trail is also strewn with enough tangle foot, rocks, tree roots, moisture-slicked boulders, and downed trees to warrant a warning from the Surgeon General. Wear. Waterproof. Boots. And keep a sharp eye out to avoid that pesky trip to the E.R. for a twisted ankle or worse.
The trail also includes a couple creek crossings that involve foot logs and/or rocks drenched in rain forest ‘perspiration,’ and thus slick. Watch your step.
The trail isn’t that strenuous for the first mile or so along cantering Pete’s Creek. After you hit a small clearing with a charred stone fire ring (on your left as you head out, just below the two-mile mark), the trail begins to climb sharply.
A chunk of this trail below Moonshine Flats includes a series of switchbacks through a rocky slide area. It’s steep. It’s narrow. It’s exposed to direct sun. Turn around for eye-popping vistas of the Olympic Mountains to the south while you stuff your lungs back into your chest.
Bring plenty of water. Wear a hat. Use sunscreen.
Most of the trail snakes through the Colonel Bob Wilderness and a dense forest with soaring evergreens and moss-draped conifers. It’s lush. Remote. And scenic. Wildflowers – lupine, trillium, bunch berry dogwood, rainbow hues of mountain paintbrush – can be outrageous in season.
This emerald-green region has temperate rain forest conditions, with an annual precipitation of more than 150 inches. When we hiked this trail yesterday, an anemic sun combined with overnight precipitation created clouds of humidity, making for a sticky day. We sweated buckets. Bring plenty of water. We had to turn back less than a mile from the summit due to impassable snow. (Some obstacles just aren’t worth risking life and life.)
The trek down requires concentration and focus. It’s easy to stumble over all the tangle foot and treacherous footing. (I wouldn’t even attempt this trail without a pair of good, solid trekking poles. They’ll save your knees on the downhill, big time.)
Note: Some trail guides put the total RT hiking time for the Col. Bob trail at about four hours. Sure. If you’re half jack rabbit. Or Secretariat. For the rest of us mere mortals, figure about six or to eight hours for the round trip. Factor uphill progress at a rate of roughly one mile an hour. (Jack rabbits and Secretariats may be exempt.)
The Col. Bob trail is a tough, hamstring-hollering climb with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet per mile. The summit is at just over 4,500 feet. But on a clear day, you can see forever from the top. Even if you’re a jack rabbit. Or Secretariat.
From Hoquiam, drive north for 25 miles on US 101. Turn right onto Donkey Creek Road (Forest Road 22, Wynoochee Lake). Follow the road for 8 miles then turn left onto FR 2204. Continue 11 miles to the Pete’s Creek trailhead. It’s clearly marked. The road is only paved part-way. After the second bridge on FR 2204, watch for pot holes the size of Manhattan.
A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
Hiking and camping go together like peanut butter and jelly. I’ve been doing both since just after the Ark made landfall, particularly at Mount Rainier National Park. So I’m sometimes asked which Mount Rainier campground is my favorite. That’s like asking a mom which kid is her favorite.
But I do have one. Just hang on for a minute.
First, there are three-ish campgrounds at Mount Rainier National Park: White River (NE section of park), Cougar Rock (SW part of the park), and Ohanapecosh (SE section of park). I say “three-ish” because the Mowich Lake campground is more like a wide spot at the end of the road. No campfires and no running water unless you haul in your own or filter it from the lake.
Among these campgrounds, Mowich Lake is the highest in elevation. Read: cold nights! It’s perched on the Northwest shoulder of the park at 4,929 ft. Last time we were here in mid-September, tents were crusted with overnight ice each morning.
White River is next-highest, at 4,400 ft., followed by Cougar Rock (3,180 ft.) and Ohanapecosh (1,914 ft.), respectively. All have certain attractions and charms.
In terms of number of individual campsites, Ohanapecosh has the most, with 188. Cougar Rock has 173 individual camp sites. White River has 112. Mowhich Lake has 10 “primitive” camp walk-in sites. Tents only. The annual peak season fee as of this writing is $20 a night.
Mount Rainier campgrounds are typically open from late May to late September, depending on whether. Be sure to check the park web site for up-to-date information.
If I had to choose a favorite Mount Rainier campground, however, it would be Ohanapecosh. Hands down.
The Ohanapecosh Campground is located in the SE corner of the park, on Highway 123, 4 miles north of State route 12. It’s roughly 20 minutes north of Packwood and the nearest gasoline. If you’re looking for soaring evergreens, rushing water, old-growth canopies, and enough green to convince you you’ve landed in the Emerald City, this is the place.
If you’re looking for the campground equivalent of the Waldorf-Astoria, however, keep looking. Ohanapecosh is rustic. Flush toilets. No hot water. No showers. Fire grates at each camp site. It’s often wet in this neck of the woods, so be sure to select your campsite carefully, e.g., not in a hollow where passing rainfall will turn your tent into a boat float.
But you can watch daylight fade and twilight pour over Backbone Ridge. Hear owls hoot or varied thrush trill. Watch finches flit above the water, which is a chilly 40 degrees and an impossible shade of aquamarine. On a clear night, the stars go to infinity and beyond.
Another plus: The Silver Falls Loop – one of the park’s most popular, family-friendly trails – and Grove of the Patriarchs, Tipsoo Lake and the Naches Peak Loop trail are all nearby. Sunrise is located up the road about an hour.
Also, Ohanapecosh is the only campground in the park that hosts a visitor’s center.
I would not recommend either Cougar Rock or Ohanapecosh during peak season unless you’re fond of hordes and masses. Rowdy young adults have become somewhat of a problem during peak season as well. So if you can visit in the off-season – around mid to late June or mid to late September – Ohana is the place. A family favorite since 1964.
For more information, see:
Sapphire ovals set between jade green hills and emerald foliage, Bench and Snow Lakes are a Mount Rainier “must-see” once the trails have melted out. We’ve moseyed around some mighty fine alpine lakes in our mountain-top meanderings, but perhaps none as fine as these twin gems.
The 2.6 mile round trip hike to both lakes starts on the south side of Stevens Canyon Road, 1.5 miles beyond Reflection Lakes. It features enough ups and downs to thrill any step-aerobicizer as you cross a series of low ridges in the shadow of Mount Rainier. You climb quickly from the trail head, sometimes on boardwalk. Descend the far side and the trail levels out onto “The Bench,” a broad plain hosting killer views of the Mountain.
If you can tear your eyes off Rainier for a moment, focus on the mountain meadows. They’re in a class by themselves. Blazing in autumnal garb in mid-September, every huckleberry bush, clump of bear grass, vine maple and deciduous leaf in sight looks like someone just set it on fire.
At about 0.7 miles, a short spur offers a steep, often muddy descent to Bench Lake as well as stunning images of Mount Rainier. On a calm, clear day, the reflections of Mount Rainier off Bench Lake are the stuff of legend.
Climbing back up and continuing on, the trail skirts more meadows, crosses Unicorn Creek and empties out onto the shores of Snow Lake, whose turquoise waters offer an Academy Award-winning performance of Most Perfect Mirror Image of Rainier. It’s hard to tell where water stops and sky starts.
Try this hike late in the day when the Mountain’s draped with sunset. The solitude and scenery are well worth the aerobic effort required on the return trip up “The Bench’s” back.
Getting there: From Enumclaw, drive east about 47 miles on State Route 410 to the junction with SR 123 at Cayuse Pass. Stay right (straight ahead) to merge onto SR 123-Cayuse Pass Highway. Drive south about 11.5 miles to the junction with the Stevens Canyon Road. Turn right (west) and pass through the Stevens Canyon Entrance to the park. About 16 miles from SR 123, park in the long parking area on the south side of the road.
From the south, drive US 12 about 8 miles east of Packwood to the junction with SR 123. Turn north on SR 123 and continue about 6 miles, passing Ohanapecosh Campground, to the Stevens Canyon Road. Turn left (west) and pass through the Stevens Canyon Entrance to the park and find the trailhead as described above. From the west, via Paradise, drive SR 706 through the Nisqually Entrance and continue approximately 17 miles east to the trailhead on the south side of Stevens Canyon Road.
We’re sometimes asked why we love hiking. That’s kind of like asking why we *love* breathing. But okay.
Here’s the ‘nutshell’ answer by video. About 2:25 minutes. Includes some fave hikes in Oregon, the Olympic Peninsula, and Mount Rainier National Park.
Just click on the button below. (You may even recognize a couple peeps.)
Your dog is Da Bomb. The most loyal and lovable critter to ever roam God’s green earth. Einstein in a fur coat. So why isn’t Fido allowed on most national park trails? Is this prohibition a “stupid Gestapo law” and “illegal harassment” designed to take a bite out of your personal liberties?
This rule is in play at my favorite local hiking destination, Mount Rainier National Park. (See: Where Can I Hike With My Dog?) So I went straight to the top and put the question to the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. (The National Park Service falls under DOI jurisdiction.)
Short answer: It’s Not. About. You. So don’t take it personally. Savvy?
Longer answer: It’s still not about you.
Here’s my inquiry, followed by an *official* NPS response:
Date: Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 8:13 PM
Subject: From NPS.gov: Dogs on Trails?
I understand that dogs are not allowed on any trail inside the park. Could you please provide the rationale for this rule? Is it a federal law, a local ordinance, or…? There are those who affirm that dogs should be allowed anywhere on public lands as long as they are leashed. Is there a specific reason why this does not suffice for trails at Mount Rainier? Please explain. Thank you.
About a month later I received the following response from Ms. Colleen Derber, Staff Assistant, National Park Service, Regulations, Jurisdiction, and Special Park Uses, Washington, D.C.:
From: “Derber, Colleen” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: Barbara Baxter <email@example.com>
Date: Fri, 26 May 2017 12:55:01 -0400
Subject: Reply to your Inquiry about Dogs in National Parks
Thank you for your inquiry about dogs in units administered by the National Park Service, and specifically, Mount Rainer National Park. Existing regulations that prohibit dogs on trails were developed to protect native wildlife, the environment, and your pet. Dogs are natural predators that could bother or harm wildlife, which is prohibited. Because of dogs’ primitive instinct to mark territories, they also have the potential to spread disease.
Note: I’ve lost track of how many of times I’ve encountered irresponsible pet owners on trails. They’re easy to spot. They’re the ones who don’t clean up after their dogs, leaving canine “calling cards” all over the trail for the rest of us to (hopefully) miss. Ugh! Derber continues:
In addition, because trails in national parks tend to be narrow, there is the possibility that dogs could damage vegetation near the trail. The regulations have also been designed to protect your pet from harm.
The National Park Service (NPS) general regulations pertaining to pets are codified at Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations, section 2.15. To view these regulations, use a search engine, and type in e-cfr. Once you access that website, search for title 36, then parts1-199, then part 2, section 2.15. Park-specific pet regulations, including those pertaining to Mount Rainer, may be viewed by going to our website at www.nps.gov, click on Find a Park by State, click on the State where the park unit is located, and then click on the individual park unit that will link to the unit’s webpage. On the left side of the page, click on the tab for Management, and then click on Laws and Policies. There you will find the Superintendent’s Compendium. The compendium is where park-specific regulations and designations are listed. …
Generally, pets are welcome at most areas administered by the NPS, but they are prohibited in public buildings, public transportation vehicles, swimming beaches, and other structures or areas directed by the park superintendent. Most NPS units do not allow pets on trails. Pets must also be restrained on a leash no longer than six feet or confined at all times and cannot be left unattended and tied to an object.
Thank you again for your inquiry and your interest in national parks.
Think of it this way: It’s all about choices. Like this:
Let’s say you’re a pet owner and you’re going on vacation. Will you take Fido or Fifi with you or leave them home?
If you choose the former, you have more choices. Where will you stay? Some establishments are pet friendly. Some aren’t. Are you really going to careen into “no pets” lodging and cry fowl (that’s not a typo), demanding an exception to their “Gestapo law” prohibiting pets on the premises? Or are you going to do the responsible, reasonable thing and check into accommodations that allow pets?
While we’re on the subject, how do you feel about prohibiting pets elsewhere? Would you buy top sirloin from a meat department that allows Rex or Rin Tin Tin to roam its aisles? What about in a restaurant? You may let Bowser or Garfield eat off your own plate without batting an eye. But you’re not the only one in the restaurant. Hello?
You also have a choice when it comes to most national parks. No one’s forcing you to visit a national park. But if you choose – there’s that word again – to visit a national park, your choice includes abiding by park rules. Even if you don’t agree with them personally.
If said rules include “no pets on trails,” then you have another choice: either obey park rules or risk a citation and/or a fine. Your average third grader knows better than to deliberately defy park regulations or have a meltdown over same when they’re enforced. Meanwhile, there are plenty of pet-friendly options available inside most national parks.
So lighten up.
Being a pet owner means being responsible (ask my fur baby). Like obeying park rules about trail usage. If you deem the “no pets on trails” rule egregious, then work to change it. But don’t ignore it. You’re not the only one out on the trails.
Finally, I’ve never had any serious heartburn with the “no dogs on park trails” rule at Mount Rainier National Park. We were raised to respect the law and those who enforce it. End of story.
What say you?
For more, see: Where Can I Hike With My Dog?
Located on the Mountain’s southeast flank out of Ohanapecosh, Silver Falls is one of the best-known waterfalls cobwebbing Mount Rainier National Park. An easy hike through a spectacular old growth and an emerald green conifer cathedral, it’s also a great trail for first time visitors to the park.
Access to the falls is by a family-friendly loop trail of about three miles. The are four basic trail head options:
- Pick up the trail head behind the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center and the Hot Springs Nature Trail at the far end of B Loop.
- Cross the Ohanapecosh River bridge and pick up the trail off the amphitheater as you head into the campground’s D loop (on your right at the brown kiosk).
- Access the trail off Highway 123. It begins 1.6 miles north of Ohanapecosh, with parking at the pullout on the west side of the road.
- You can also hike down from just inside the Stevens Canyon Entrance. The trail leading to the falls is on the west, across from the Grove of the Patriarchs trail head.
It’s loud at the overlook. Zillions of gallons of water crashing over massive boulders kick up a fine mist and roar like a freight train! Tip: The fine curtain of mist at the overlook is particularly refreshing on a warm summer day. Heads: Watch your step. There’s plenty of ‘tangle foot’ at the overlook. And the railing is there for a reason. Stay. Behind. It.
The Silver Falls Loop is one of the first trails to melt out in spring. It’s also one of the most popular trails in the park. It gets crowded during peak season. There’s a reason for that, too!
Getting there: From Enumclaw, drive east about 47 miles on State Route 410 to the junction with SR 123 at Cayuse Pass. Stay right (straight ahead) to merge onto SR 123-Cayuse Pass Highway. Drive south about 11.5 miles to the junction with the Stevens Canyon Road. Continue south on SR 123 past the Stevens Canyon Road to the Ohanapecosh Campground on the right in about 3 miles. Turn in to the campground and park in front of the visitor center. The trailhead is found behind the visitor center.
From the south, drive US 12 about 8 miles east of Packwood to the junction with SR 123. Turn north onto SR 123 and continue 3.5 miles to Ohanapecosh Campground. Turn left (west) into the campground and park as described above.
Getting ready to enjoy the Great Outdoors may pose a challenge if your bank account’s a little light. But don’t let that stop you. Here are seven ways to save money while gearing up for your next outdoor adventure.
Do I need it?
1) First, limit your purchases to what you need. Make a list. Avoid impulse buying. Have a plan. Be realistic. Set a budget and stick to it. For example, you probably don’t need a backpack designed for a six-week European tour if you’re heading out on a two-hour day hike. (Tip: Load your pack and carry it around the mall for a couple hours prior to your trip. Then reduce and repack.)
Likewise, don’t purchase something just because it looks or sounds cool. Those Amazon-tested, mother approved hiking boots/hip waders built to outlast Armageddon may look pretty chic on the mannequin. Ditto that designer, Alpaca-lined fleece that’d keep a penguin warm inside an igloo. But unless you’re a penguin planning on igloo lodging or outlasting Armageddon, you can probably pass up those painful price tags.
Similarly, don’t assume you can’t live without high-end gear with price tags rivaling a down payment on a tropical island. You don’t want to drop $599 on a Sidewinder SV Arc’teryx jacket and find you don’t like it. A $35 fleece from Big 5 or waterproof boots from the Cabelas bargain cave will do fine. You can always “buy up” once you know what you like and what works best for you.
Know where you can save and where you shouldn’t.
2) DO NOT scrimp on anything related to survival gear or personal safety. For example, if you’re planning on rappelling down El Capitan, you probably don’t want to get ropes or carabiners at Fast Eddy’s Slightly Used Climbing Gear.
Also, don’t scrimp on your base layer, worn next to the skin. Remember, “cotton kills.” That’s because cotton gets soaked and holds moisture next to the body, significantly increasing your risk of hypothermia. Invest in a quality base layer designed to wick moisture away from your body. I recommend Under Armour. Lightweight, durable and reasonably priced.
3) Food. Entire industries have sprung up around designer hiking/ camping/back packing eats. You can practically buy a round-trip ticket to the moon on what some of these fancy, pre-packaged items cost. So don’t. A ziploc of GORP (Good Ole Raisins and Peanuts) is just as good as that dehydrated champagne and caviar. At a fraction of the cost. For more, see The Cheapskate Guide to Trail Snacks and Camp Cooking Made Easy.
4) Hydration. Some “outdoor” beverage manufacturers promise more power than a locomotive or the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound if you drink their product. Fine. But water works fine, too. It’s also free.
5) Shop on-line. Check out sales and on-line discounts. We snagged two pairs of quality waterproof gaiters for less than $10 off eBay (regularly $75), including shipping. Also see: Where to Buy Inexpensive Hiking Gear.
6) Technology. You can drop a boatload of dough on every fancy, new-fangled trail techno doo-dad out there. But you don’t have to. Keep it simple and you’ll save money. I’ll take an old fashioned topo map and a compass over GPS any day. Need an emergency fire starter? Put a couple Vaseline-soaked cotton balls or a piece of bicycle inner tube into an empty plastic film canister + matches in a waterproof container. You’re good to go. And so on.
7) Avoid name brands if feasible (without sacrificing quality.) You can sink your children’s inheritance into North Face, Gore-Tex or Patagonia products. If you have the resources to do so, go for it. But there are plenty of less expensive options. We’ve found Coleman gear – everything from tents and sleeping bags to lanterns and cook stoves – to be reliable, durable, and affordable.
Bottom line: You can wipe out your children’s college fund getting ready for your next outdoor expedition. But you don’t have to. Unless Howard Hughes is a good friend or you’re ready to mortgage your firstborn, a little research, inspiration, motivation and elbow grease can get you well outfitted for the outdoors without breaking your bank in the process.
What would you add?
This easy, 1.3 mile walk winds along the aquamarine waters of the Ohanapecosh River, ending in a splendid loop of soaring conifers that unhinge any jaw. Think Emerald City. Times ten.
Begin at the parking area northwest of the Stevens Canyon Entrance Station. Trail signs lead hikers through an old growth forest of conifer skyscrapers. Some reach 300 feet tall and are 1,000 years old. White quad-petaled bunchberry dogwoods, yellow glacier lilies, and red huckleberries hug the forest floor. Countless cascades sparkle and splash. Purple-blue lupine mirror clear skies.
You cross the Ohanapecosh over a suspension bridge just prior to entering the grove, which is on an island. Go one at a time. If you have an aversion to crossing a rickety, swaying suspension bridge, dash across lickety-split. On second thought, belay that. Running will just make the bridge bounce more. So take deep breaths, hold tight and take your time. I’ve crossed that sucker like a zillion times. So far, so good.
The Grove of the Patriarchs is one of the easiest and most crowded trails in the entire park. Arrive early to avoid trail traffic jams, particularly on busy summer weekends. You can complete the loop in under an hour, but a hike through this “green cathedral” is worth much more. You can combine this hike with the Silver Falls hike along the Eastside Trail mentioned earlier. Follow the signs and cross Stevens Canyon Road until you hit the Grove’s parking lot.
Note: The Grove of the Patriarchs parking lot is small. It fills up early on bright, sunny weekends in summer. Plan accordingly. Or just do what we do: hit this trail on a week day, or during off-season. That leaves out late June through Labor Day.
Bathrooms, a drinking fountain and a picnic table or two are located at the parking lot, a short drive from the Steven’s Canyon entrance. Sometimes that’s good to know.
Getting there: From Packwood, drive east on HWY 12, cross the Ohanapecosh River and turn left onto SR 123. Follow the road past the Ohanapecosh Visitors Center and turn left onto Stevens Canyon Rd. Parking is available in the first area on the right, intersecting the Eastside Trail.
On the lip of Chinook Pass, the Naches Peak Loop trail is one of the most popular hikes at Mount Rainier National Park, and for good reason. This relatively easy 3.5 loop trail has it all: pristine mountain tarns, kaleidoscopic wildflower carpets in season, beautiful sub-alpine meadows, a towering peak, and oh, yeah, jaw-dropping views of that snowy colossus in the distance.
To begin, park in the lot at Tipsoo Lake, about half a mile west of Chinook Pass on SR 410. Enjoy a picnic lunch at a table near the lot or head out on the trail to your left to Chinook Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail. (Dogs are allowed on the PCT. They are prohibited on trails inside the park.)
The trail starts with a gentle climb along a hillside above the lake. Keep going. You’ll cross Chinook Pass by pedestrian bridge. You won’t know which way to look during this initial portion of the hike, which includes a steady but reasonably mild climb. To the east, the magnificent American River Valley opens to the horizon. In season, wildflowers hug the hillside on your right, splashing Renoir pastels everywhere.
You can take a breather or swig from your water bottle at about a mile or so in when the trail rounds a lovely little tarn. Continue on. You have an option of hoofing it down to Dewey Lake – a worthwhile endeavor if you don’t mind the uphill haul on the return. Or you can continue on the Peak trail.
The Mountain will canter into view in the west as you round the next bend. There are several flat rocky outcroppings near another tarn at this point, roughly three miles in. They make for a nice lunch or rest stop with killer views of the Mountain.
Have your camera ready.
You can tackle this trail hiking either clockwise or counter-clockwise. We’ve done both. Repeatedly. For the best views of the Mountain, hike clockwise. The Mountain is at your back if you hike counter-clockwise.
At an elevation of more than 5,400 feet, the Naches Peak Loop is one of the first to close when the snow flies. It’s also one of the last to melt out in the spring. We’ve been to Tipsoo Lake when snow is still hip-deep – in late June. Best season to tackle this don’t miss trail is in the fall. Our favorite time frame is mid or late September, after school starts. Summer crowds thin. The rush of visitors has slowed to a trickle. If the weather holds into early or late October, the fall finery is world class.
Don’t forget to stroll around Tipsoo Lake after you circumnavigate Naches Peak. The lake is pristine. Blue as Delft china, Tipsoo Lake is perched in a bowl below SR 410. In season it’s ringed with mountain paintbrush, lupine and beargrass. The summer blooms are incredible and sometimes linger into early fall.
In any season, the Naches Peak trail is definitely worth the wait.
A “rookie” trail:
- Offers a choice introduction to the park’s beauty and stunning scenery.
- Doesn’t require specialized gear like crampons or triathlete status, although being in decent physical shape is a definite plus when tackling any trail at Mount Rainier National Park.
- Is family-friendly, easily accessible and features exceptional landscapes like jaw-dropping vistas, thundering waterfalls, outrageous wildflower meadows, or crystal-clear lakes.
- Is at least one mile but is five miles or less round trip.
You’re chugging back to your campsite after a full day on the trails. Rustlin’ up dinner for a marauding familial horde is about as attractive as a rhino in leotards.
“There’s got to be an easier way” I opined to Hike Dude awhile back. “Planning the next manned mission to Mars is easier than feeding a ravenous marauding horde disguised as four teenage boys.”
There is. It’s called “advance planning.” No, really. That’s it.
How We Do It
A few weeks before our planned camping/hiking trip, we sit down and write out a menu. Grocery shop. And instead of cooking at the campsite, we do all our cooking at home, in advance.
After cooking each meal, we vacuum-seal each individual meal item in a separate pouch, one serving per person. Example: Breakfast: Scrambled eggs go in one pouch; bacon another, hash browns in another.
Organize pouches by meal. Keep dinner items with dinner items etc., with a large rubber band or other method, so you’re not digging through your cooler trying to find what goes with what when you’re back at your campsite, hungry as a bear.
Once your menu items are sealed, organized and labeled by meal, toss the sealed pouch in the freezer. Take it out and pack it in the cooler just before you hit the road for your next outdoor adventure. (The exception is produce, for obvious reasons.)
Quick and Easy
Because the vacuum-sealed pouches lie flat, they’re easily stackable in a cooler. And take up less room.
I pack meals chronologically. This means if the next meal is dinner, it’s on the top. Followed by tomorrow’s breakfast underneath, then lunch, then dinner, and so on. The last meal of our last day is on the bottom. (Fresh produce is packed separately and eaten first, to avoid spoilage.)
When it’s meal time, all you have to do is heat water in a Dutch oven or large pot – enough so that each pouch is submerged – to a rolling boil. Grab the next meal pouch(es) and toss them in. Heat for roughly 20 minutes. Use a pair of tongs to retrieve. Open the pouch. Place contents on a paper plate or eat directly from the pouch (be sure to pack a sharp knife or a pair of scissors to open the pouch). We pre-cook frozen vegetables and seal them in separate pouches, one serving per person.
Clean up is snap. Just toss the paper plate and plastic utensils or empty pouch in the nearest bear-proof receptacle. You’re done. No pots or pans or utensils to wash.
Plan on setting aside a full day for food prep, cooking and sealing. It’s a lot of work. But it’s worth it, saving you time and effort when you hit the campground. Plus, less time on food prep means more times on the trails. We call that a “win-win.”
Here are some sample menus and ideas to get you started. Since we’re usually fueling up for a day on the trails, breakfast is typically our biggest meal:
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese and red bell peppers, bacon, hash browns, orange slices, juice or milk.
Lunch: On the trail, meaning whatever can fit in a back pack. See The Cheapskate Guide to Terrific Trail Snacks.
Dinner: Ham and Cheese Skillet, frozen peas, spinach salad with craisins and mandarin oranges
Dessert: S’mores over a campfire
Breakfast: Biscuits & Gravy, blueberry muffins, apple slices, juice or milk
Lunch: On the trail
Dinner: Grandma Peggy’s Campfire Stew
Dessert: S’mores (replace graham crackers with peanut butter cookies)
Breakfast: Oatmeal with yogurt, frozen berry mix, orange marmalade scones, juice or milk. (Tip: Costco)
Lunch: On the trail
Dinner: Grilled steaks, frozen mixed vegetables, quartered red potatoes.
Dessert: S’mores (use chocolate chip cookies. Replace chocolate bars with Reese’s peanut butter cups.)
Did I mention s’mores?
What would you add?
Note: Tortillas and most oatmeals don’t do well in the freezer. They tend to disintegrate. Mashed potatoes are also iffy. (Don’t ask how I know that.) Steel-cut oats may do better if pre-cooked in a crock pot.