John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, is a great writer. His passion for the out of doors and local history shows through in every one of his books. Best Hiking Trips in Northern California is no exception. The book details 60 hikes in the north (and central) parts of the Golden State, includes vivid descriptions, lists some fine hotels and restaurants near each trail head, and captures the beauty of northern California with several fine photographs. Decent sketch maps, carefully keyed to the route description round out a fine collection. I enjoyed reading the book almost as much as I have enjoyed hiking 40 of the 60 hikes in this book. (There is nothing like reading a fine hiking guide on a cold blistery Easter weekend to help prepare for the summer months.)
But if this book is so good, why does it only get 3 stars? First and foremost, it gets 3 stars for what it omits. A hiking guide to Northern California that includes both Death Valley and Sequoia National Parks is stretching the definition of northern quite a bit. But the inclusion of these parks comes at the expense of a true gem, actually in the northern part of the state, Lassen Volcanic National Park. And Lassen is not the only omission. Where are the hikes in and around Mt. Shasta? What about Lava Beds National Monument? For a hiking guide to northern California, this book leaves a lot of the state out while concentrating on regions (Monterrey, the aforementioned Death Valley, etc) that might be better placed in another guidebook.
And then there are the errors. I have never seen so many mistakes in a McKinney book. I have to wonder if the author actually reviewed these trails for the 2009 edition or if he just looked at notes from several years back. What else can one make of his description, for example, of the William Kent Memorial Tree in Muir Redwoods National Monument? McKinney dutifully gives the statistics, notes the tree is not a Redwood after all but a huge Douglas Fir, and somehow neglects to mention that it is no longer standing. It fell in 2003, quite a while before the 2009 publication of this book. Along similar lines are the description of the white (fallow) deer in Point Reyes National Seashore. Hikers may yet encounter a stray, but the Park Service was remarkably thorough in wiping out the herd, using helicopters and high powered rifles, much to the dismay of real conservationists everywhere. This slaughter also occurred well before 2009. And then there are a host of other mistakes and omissions. Mckinney confuses the location of Balancing Rock; it is not on the Rubicon Trail. He suggests hiking the Congress Trail as a mellow 2 mile hike for families in the Giant Forest portion of Sequoia National Park. But the route is now 3.2 miles with a new change in trail head. McKinny then notes that, thanks to a new Park Service policy, we no longer see buildings along this trail. Actually, we never did. The buildings the Park Service took down were a few miles south of this location. And so on.
And yet, I still like this book. Errors or not, McKinney is a fun read, and if you want to see some of the best California (if not always strictly northern California) has to offer, be sure to get this new book from Frommers. Hiking is the best way to see this state, but be sure to go soon. As gas prices continue to climb thanks to the US's new energy policy, visiting scenic wonders for the purpose of recreation will be replaced by shorter, but ever so boring trips to the gym. And McKinney's vivid prose shows just what a loss that will be.