Updated: Dec 28, 2020
By Justin Kowitz
My adventure into the Sierra Nevadas last July was, hands down, the best off-roading journey I have had in my life. I thought I knew what I was getting into after watching my dad’s video of his last trip here just a few months before but I was completely blown away and I think everyone else who joined us on this adventure was as well.
We traveled from San Diego to the tallest peak in the continental United States, driving through herds of beefy (no pun intended) cattle and some of the most incredible mountain views—it was one of the most scenic experiences of my life. Traveling up California on the 395, onto the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevadas is something I would recommend to anyone looking for an epic off-roading trip!
Whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth, there’s something special about getting ready for an adventure. Making sure all you have all the necessary gear, food, and clothes packed are always some of the most important things to check off your list. Also, never forgetting to make sure that your vehicle is going to be completely capable of completing your journey is a must.
After making sure we’d done everything we needed to do for a fun and safe trip, my dad and I met up with Marco (OvrlndX) and Josh (SoCalExpedition) at a local gas station to fuel up before we hit the road. There is nothing better than wheeling with awesome people like these guys!
We started in San Diego and drove about eight hours north to Bishop, California and made our way through the Indio National Forest. The initial assent started in desert-like terrain but almost immediately, it began to change into radiant green rolling flatlands all around us. Once you really get up into the Sierras, the views become jaw-droppingly spectacular, especially when you enter through Coyote Flats.
My dad had picked the first camping spot for this trip at Funnel Lake, a small little lake with snow-capped mountains in the background fed by the melting snow. When we reached the lake and rolled down our windows the fresh mountain air was so good—it smelled like the wild rosemary, which was everywhere and, of course, Marco made sure he gathered some to cook with. It just smelled so unbelievably fresh and it’s really something you just need to experience yourself.
The lake wasn’t large and there were two other campers down the way, but we found a good spot and set up for the night. As always, Marco cooked up some amazing food! His cooking is so good that he single-handedly changed my mind about a food I’ve hated pretty much my whole life—mushrooms. Before this trip, I refused to go anywhere near them, but Marco made filet mignon with a mushroom sauce and now, I love mushrooms. I swear his cooking is magic! And, there’s just something about eating outside, surrounded by fresh air, that just makes everything taste better, especially after a long day on the trail.
That evening after dinner, Josh and I tried catching fish around Funnel Lake. We both enjoy fishing so we brought some poles and trout lures on the trip with us. Unfortunately, if there were any fish in the lake, they weren’t biting that night.
We tried again the next morning, hiking out over a hill covered in boulder’s after my dad’s drone revealed another lake in the area but again, no sign of fish. But man! The lake was pristine and untouched—it was so majestic. One of the best things about off-roading is going places that not a lot people can get to and seeing parts of the world that remain unspoiled. I really hope this place stays that way.
After a delicious breakfast of filet mignon and egg sandwiches—yes, we ate really well thanks to Marco—we headed out to find our next camp spot. The plan was to adventure around and explore until we found ourselves an awesome place to set up for the night. We went wheeling around Coyote Flats and ended up with a little more adventure than we’d bargained for. My dad blew a bead on his passenger-side rear tire.
Fortunately, my dad, Josh and Marco always come prepared for events like this. Josh quickly jacked up the Gladiator and my dad pulled out his Powertank CO2 and attempted to reset the bead. Once he quickly filled up the tire, we noticed the sidewall was punctured. This is why my dad always carries a spare tire. You never know when an accident like this will happen and if you’re prepared, it won’t ruin your trip or leave you stranded. Having used our spare, my dad and I were just that much more cautious behind the wheel as we continued our journey.
We kept on exploring and found an area next to a running creek with plenty of space for three jeeps and a fire ring so we could have a crackling camp fire. As soon as we started getting set up, Mother Nature did her thing and a thunderstorm rolled right on through. It was pretty cool because that storm brought us all together to shelter under one massive tree and we just sat down and enjoyed the rain and thunder.
After the storm passed through, Josh and I gave fishing another try even though our attempt at Funnel Lake was a failure. Finally, success! Josh and I caught a few fish in the stream by the camp. They were micro brook trout and we had to release them, but it was fun anyway.
Even though we didn’t have any trout to cook for dinner, Josh was prepared to fix dinner for the group and made some awesome salmon on the campfire. He also brought out some cookie dough and ice cream, jerry-rigged a campfire oven, and baked a giant pizookie (that’s what you call a pizza-shaped cookie). Even though the cookie may have been a little bit crispy on one side, it was gone within minutes.
Following an awesome morning waking up to the sound of water rushing through the creek, we headed into town to get a new tire for my dad’s wheel. On the way, we found the road was blocked by a herd of cattle—not something you see every day in San Diego and it was kind of cool.
Backtracking through Coyote Flats, we made our descent back into town. After getting the new tire, we drove to the nearest Denny’s to fuel up and, of course, Josh had to bring out his inner child by spending a few bucks on the claw machine to win a mini pillow for Marco. Not just any ordinary pillow but a pillow with a fat white unicorn that said “Confidence” on it. It’s always good to have a little extra belief in yourself and faith that you can overcome whatever challenges life throw’s in your path (like cows) when you embark on your next journey.
Our next destination was Kavanaugh Ridge, a couple hours up the road. We found out about this place from a San Diego couple who’d been visiting the area for the last fifty years and told us about the extraordinary views of a luscious green valley. As we headed up, the bushes and trees surrounding the trail were thick and filled with lots of mosquitos but we made our way through (see, that unicorn confidence pillow came in handy for all of us).
The further we climbed, the more snow we noticed piling up on the trail. As we crested a hill, we were greeted by a gorgeous mirror-like lake reflecting the snow-tipped mountains rising up behind it. We immediately knew that this would be our final camp site.
We filled our bellies with more delicious food that night and the next morning before we packed up and drove to the top of the ridge. I didn’t think it was possible for the views to get any better, but they did. From the ridgetop, we could see five lakes and a waterfall nestled in the mountain valley below—it was unbelievable. Wild and beautiful.
We took our time and soaked it in, just thankful to be here, because this is what adventuring is all about.
Our final destination did not disappoint at all and this trip was the best adventure I’ve had. From jaw-dropping views, life-changing meals, and wheeling around with a bunch of awesome guys, I couldn’t have asked for a better getaway.
Although rock crawling is still fun, this is what makes overlanding special. All the memories you make and the experiences you have on an overlanding trip is incomparable. I won’t ever forget this trip or the breathtaking scenery the Eastern Sierras have to offer.