Solo Backpacking to Dinkey Wilderness

I have been backpacking for a few years, but last summer I decided to take a solo backpacking trip to Dinkey Wilderness with my dog, Jinx. I chose Dinkey Lakes in California. Dinkey Wilderness is located about 45 miles northeast of Fresno and it is part of the Sierra National Forest. It is basically in between Sequoia and Yosemite. There are many areas of the Sierras that can be particularly hard to obtain backpacking permits for, however, Dinkey Lakes is not as well known, and hence easier to get a permit.

The Benefits of Solo Backpacking?

  • Freedom – You can choose when & where to go.
  • Hike Your Own Hike – You can set your own pace.
  • At One With Nature – When you’re solo it’s quiet. You can really hear the birds, water, wind, etc.
  • Accomplishment – You will discover how capable, strong, and brave you are.


After deciding on Dinkey Lakes, I looked at to see what permits were available. There are 6 main trailheads to choose from and a few require 4-wheel drive. The trailhead from Courtright Reservoir is paved and one of the most popular. I chose a permit from Willow Meadows and it requires a high-clearance vehicle to get there. My permit was for 4 days and 3 nights and I picked up my permit from the High Sierra Rangers District in Prather, CA.

Packing a Backpack

I’ve always heard that you pack your fears for backpacking. Usually, I don’t over pack but this time I had a few extra items just in case. I brought the larger canister of fuel, because what if I ran out and couldn’t boil water? In addition to my water filter, I also brought water purification tablets because what if something happened to my filter? My pack was heavy. I didn’t weigh it but I’m guessing it was 50 pounds. My bear canister, hammock, and dog food were added weight.

Picking Up My Permit

High Sierra Rangers District requires you to call and confirm your permit 3 days before the start day of your hike. On the day of the hike, I went inside their office to pick up my permit. If you are not going to be able to pick up your permit during office hours you can arrange for them to leave it outside. When I picked up my permit the ranger went over how I was planning to store my food (bear canisters aren’t required in the Dinkey Wilderness they are just recommended.) He also went over LNT (leave no trace) and tips about picking an appropriate place to camp.

The Road to Willow Meadow

I read online that the trailhead to Willow Meadows is the shortest hike into Dinkey Lakes, however, the road is for 4-wheel drives and high-clearance vehicles. I can now speak from experience the road is horrible. The first 6 miles are on an old logging road that was paved once but is no longer maintained. Giant pieces of pavement are missing and there are many places to pop a tire. The next 6 miles are on a dirt road with potholes as large as a bathtub and lots of huge rocks that require some maneuvering to get around. I have a high-clearance vehicle and I’m pretty sure my car scrapped the rocks a few times.

Hiking to Swede Lake

Starting from the Willow Meadow Trailhead there is a 6.7-mile loop. Along this loop are Dinkey Lakes 1 & 2, South, Swede, and Mystery Lakes. After the first initial mile of the hike, you can go clockwise or counterclockwise. Heading clockwise is easier and heads straight to Dinkey Lake. If you choose counterclockwise it is much steeper and the first lake you will see is Mystery Lake. I headed counterclockwise because I was going to camp at Swede Lake. It was a tough hike up the steep parts with my heavy backpack.

Hiking to Swede Lake in Dinkey Wilderness

Picking My Campsite

When I got to Swede Lake I found the perfect campsite. There were a few big boulders that I could put stuff on and trees that I could use to hang up my hammock. I had an amazing view of the lake. I set up my tent and then my hammock and then went to explore the lake.

My campsite at Swede Lake.

The Nights are Long When You Solo Backpack

When I was in the Dinkey Wilderness there was a fire restriction in place so that meant no campfire for me. In the evenings after I had cleaned up dinner and filtered water I got in my tent and read. I love bringing my Nook with me because I can have multiple books loaded on it, the battery lasts for at least a week and it only weighs a few ounces.

Dinkey Wilderness has Many Lakes to Explore

I spent 4 days and 3 nights camping at Swede Lake. During the day I would pack a lunch and hike to the other lakes to explore. I was there in August so the water was warm enough to swim and I saw lots of people fishing.

Dinky Wilderness

A Great Location

I think I hit the jackpot in picking Dinkey Lakes for my first solo backpacking trip. It is beautiful scenery and the permits are far easier to get than in the Sierras. The hike in was moderate and my campsite was spectacular. I would definitely recommend Dinkey Wilderness to a solo or beginner backpacker.

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