Motorcycle Camping In The High Sierras

Guest Blogger, Travel -


Motorcycle Camping In The High Sierras

Memorial Day weekend, Los Angeles, Saturday morning. Under a dull grey sky, our fully loaded BMW GSs charged up the on-ramp and merged onto I-5 North. The weekend warriors were just starting to filter onto the road with their roof-racked station wagons and pop-trailers, but it’d still be a few hours before the happy-go-lucky glampers were out. This left us plenty of time to blitz up the big empty slab of concrete that lay between us and the Sierras.

While any well-trained sales reps will attempt to convince you otherwise, the fact is that any motorcycle can be used for camping. Whether you’re riding a Honda Rebel or a brand new GS Adventure, the only thing the type of motorcycle determines is the style of camping you’re able to enjoy. The smaller the bike, the more you’ll need to embrace the minimalist backpacking method. The bigger the bike, the closer you can get to that everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style of pseudo-car-camping. Which is more or less the approach we took. Both my 1150 GS, and my friend’s 1200 GS, were loaded to the hilt with stuffed panniers and stuffed duffle bags on top of those panniers.

Motorcycle Camping In The High Sierras
This may or may not have been due to the fact we were both riding two-up with our respective girlfriends. If couple camping is a delicate art, than double date couple camping has got to be some next-level shit. So, to smooth out any potential bumps, we decided to bring as many creature comforts as we could carry. Full size pillows? Sure. Mexican blanket doormat for the tent? Why not? Both a french press and a stove-top percolator? Let’s not take any chances with the coffee… Ultimately though, when it comes to camping, the most important thing is to have the right attitude, which thankfully everyone had in spades.
Motorcycle Camping In The High Sierras
Traveling on Route 99, there isn’t much between Los Angeles and Fresno worth mentioning, other than that the space of land exists. It’s entirely flat, it’s always hot, and invariably smells like cow manure. However, after picking up Route 168 out of Fresno, the topography starts to perk up, the temperature cools down, and the crisp smell of pine replaces the methane-laden dung fumes that hang in the valley below. All in all, it was a much welcomed change.
Motorcycle Camping In The High Sierras
We made our way up the winding mountain road towards Shaver and Huntington Lake, where we bore witness to the withering effect of California’s drought. Entire marinas, with hundreds of empty boat slips, now sat firmly on dry land, while pontoon party boats wallowed about in the remaining muddy waters like indifferent hippos at a watering hole. We reached our camp site just after 3pm.

Motorcycle Camping In The High Sierras
After many long hours of sitting on a motorcycle, it’s amazing how refreshing it can be to sit on another surface that isn’t a motorcycle. A picnic bench, for instance, or the top of a pannier, or even the ground, as dirty and rough as it is, seem to hold a new and completely satisfying comfort that was previously overlooked before.

After our posteriors had adequately recovered, we set about putting up camp. Tents were erected, fire wood was procured, and a one-pot dinner was prepared under the resolute glow of a butane burner. Things were really coming together, although it wasn’t until the third or fourth campfire-grade cocktail that the “vacation” part of the vacation really started to kick in.

Motorcycle Camping In The High Sierras
The next morning we had big plans: Mono Creek Hot Springs were just on the other side of Kaiser Pass and we intended to check it out. According to the Butler Maps I had brought, the Kaiser Pass Road was supposed to be gold, and gold it was. This scraggily single-lane road effortlessly weaves its way through the Ponderosa and Jeffery pines, opening up at times to offer sweeping vistas of the Sierras before ducking back into a twisty ravine of monolith granite. The road conditions are a little rough for a dedicated street bike, with crumbling asphalt and occasional sand washes in some places, but for anyone with a dual sport bike or just a questionable sense of judgment, the road was 20 miles of alpine heaven.

Motorcycle Camping In The High Sierras
Mono Creek Hot Spring didn’t disappoint either. We took a nice long soak in one of the twelve open air springs located in the area. Many of the springs have been developed with man-made concrete tubs, but a few of the more remote ones remain untouched. With a water temperature of only 100 degrees, our particular spring was technically only a “warm” spring, but the water felt just fine to us.

Once our bodies warmed up enough to start affecting our hubris, we decided it would be a capital idea to take a swim in the nearby, and perennially frigid, San Joaquin River. Jumping into a mountain river (the water of which was probably melting snow not 45 minutes ago) has got to be the closest thing to taking an adrenaline shot to the heart. Both of which probably have an equal chance of inducing cardiac arrest. However, for those who take the plunge, there awaits a feeling of total rejuvenation, bordering on rebirth, which is reserved for both the very brave and the very foolish alike.

With our skin tingling and our lips still blue, we swapped out our wet bathing suits for the warm, dry comfort of our motorcycle pants and jackets. Rarely does such heavy gear feel so good on a warm afternoon.

Motorcycle Camping In The High Sierras
The sun was hanging low in the sky and the shadows were growing long, and all agreed it was time to start heading back. It had been a long, full day. As the shivery excitement of the river left our bones, a new excitement took its place. We still had Kaiser Pass Road to look forwards to on the ride back, this time in reverse, and that was really something to be excited about.

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Gear Above
[in order from top left to bottom right]

Schuberth GmbH C3Aether Welded Duffle, Excursion Day Pack by PolerBell Bullet Helmet,
Deus Gripping Gloves, Thermarest ProLite PlusMontBell Down HuggerBig Agnes Air CoreSierra Design Elenor
Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit Bulleit WhiskeyColeman LanternMSR WhisperliteOverland Journal Tool Roll


Motorcycle Camping In The High Sierras

Motorcycle Camping In The High Sierras

Motorcycle Camping In The High Sierras
Aether Apparel
 gear featured in this story:

Skyline Motorcycle JacketCanyon Motorcycle JacketCompass Motorcycle PantsL/S Henley SlubAltaWelded DuffleMerino Neck Gaiter

All photos by: Megan McDuffie

  • William Connor

    Wicked awesome. Paper maps, fire pit, beer, all equal one very cool camping trip. Love the comments about packing for two x two. You just have to keep the SO (significant other) happy and that usually means more stuff than you really need!

  • Scott Otte

    Sounds like a great trip!

  • JOE

    Great article, thank you!!!!! Sounds like a nice trip.I really appreciate the gear list, as it was interesting to see what was squeezed into those panniers. Also, I wouldn’t mind hearing more about the GSs involved. For example, how much of a difference between the 1150 and the 1200? What’s an all day ride 2 up like? Are they really suitable for city commuting as well? Can it be a city dweller’s only bike? I really have a soft spot for the 1150, and always toy with the idea of looking for one.
    BTW… This is the first article I enjoyed reading on Ride Apart in a long time. Real stories about real riders on their own bikes. Cool concept. I can get the Moto GP updates on ESPN. Get it together guys, you’re slipping!

    • Nolan Zandi

      We love these kind of pieces too, always have and we hate not having more of them recently. We love going on trips ourselves, but never can enough. We are DEFINITELY looking for more people who want to write about their adventures.

    • Michael

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the story. I’ll give a couple of short answers to your questions (and maybe I’ll get the chance to elaborate in a future post)
      1.) The 1150 is like the curvier, less-peppy sister of the 1200 but makes up for it with a great personality. 2.) Imagine your girlfriend or wife giving you a hug for 4-6 hours straight. 3.) There’s no bike I’d rather ride across the pothole-strewn streets of Los Angeles than a GS.

      • JOE

        Thanks, Michael. I’d love to hear more about the bikes. How comfortable is the GS with a passenger? My lady hates riding on the back of my SV1000, so I’m looking for something with better accommodations.

  • Mr. White

    You guys were in California and you were drinking Goose Island? Strange…

    Kidding aside, great article. More like this, please.

    • Michael

      The types of beer backcountry general stores keep in stock is a mystery to us as well. I believe the choice was between Goose, Caguama, Boddingtons, and maybe Miller? Completely baffling selection.

      Glad you enjoyed the story. Looking forward to sharing more in the future.

      • Justin McClintock

        You went camping, coulda had Boddingtons, and didn’t?!! I feel like I don’t even know you! Oh wait…I don’t! :-P

      • Mr. White

        Ironic there was no Sierra Nevada…in the Sierras.

  • James

    Great article. Where did you get the ice for the brewskis?

  • Nemosufu Namecheck

    This article felt like thinly veiled advertising with just enough red meat to be passable.

    • Nolan Zandi

      We actually did sell a piece of “branded content” to Honda that will be running in a couple of days. It’s great for us because it helps us afford to send people outside to create more creative and in depth pieces but I promise than any piece that we were paid to run will be clearly labeled as advertising.

      • Nemosufu Namecheck

        That’s good – I’d rather know up front. You can see where I’m coming from though; Every picture is staged to show a specific piece of kit.

  • Todd

    great trip! Any more info on where you camped and visited, stops you recommend or don’t recommend would be great.

    • Michael

      We stayed at the wonderfully named Kinnikinnick Campground near Huntington Lake. I’m pretty sure we got the last reservable spot in all of California, so we were very happy with it. But if we were to do it again, we would try to stay at the campsites directly at Mono Hot Springs.

  • Jimmy Cloak

    Wait…HOW much is that Montbell down sleeping bag?! Nice trip though.

    • Michael

      Stupid expensive, completely overkill for a summer camping trip, but it’s what I had in the garage.

      • ThruTheDunes

        I went up around those lakes once around the 4th of July, and there were still remnants of snowbanks, while it was 100 or more in the valley below. I sure would be taking something more than a 40 degree bag for Memorial Day.

  • Tristan Meyer

    I just was out there with my family a few days ago – we were there from May 30th – June 2nd on the tail end of a 2 week road trip. If you thought Kaiser pass was bad on the R1200GS, I did it on my SV650S… I’m pretty sure I compressed my spine a little bit. My dad on his F800GS was the only one prepared, my mom (F800GT) and sister (CBR500R) had it a little better than me, but not by much. It’s really worth it though, the views are fantastic, the hot springs are refreshing, and the campground is amazing.

    If anyone ends up going, make sure to make the ~1 hike out to Doris lake, its a great deal warmer than the river and has a bunch of fantastic cliffs for jumping. The restaurant (open on weekends) also has some killer buffalo based foods if you’re in the mood for something not cooked over a tiny stove.

  • Joseph

    This article reads like the J. Peterman catalog. “The sun was hanging low in the sky and the shadows were growing long,” As he reached into his charcoal welded duffle he tightly grasped the answer to his chilly dilemma. Luckily he had his Aether Merino Wool Neck Gaiter, a steal at $49.95. He brisk fully tucked it under his Skyline Moto Jacket and pulled his Deus gripping gloves tight.

    The sun set peacefully over his lightly caressed mustache, and he knew everything was gonna be fine.

  • Justin McClintock

    Great article. A tip though. Don’t set the cooler full of beer RIGHT NEXT to the fire. Not unless you really didn’t want that beer to stay cool anyway.

    That said, color me jealous. I’d love to get my wife to go moto-camping with me. Not gonna happen, at least not anytime soon.

  • HunteR

    You sir, have pretty awesome family trips.

  • RobG

    That reminds me… think I’ll load up my camping gear and go camping next weekend up in the mountains somewhere near Mount Hood. Now which bike to bring… V-Strom or DR650?