I meet with my travel buddy Ryan in California. The original plan is to get to the awe-inspiring landscapes of Yosemite National Park, but something else lands on our radar. After some research, we find some incredible images of the lesser known Kennedy Meadows and Relief Reservoir about four hours north. This leads us to alter our plans and head on a quick overnight backpacking trip into the northern California wilderness. It’s my first time backpacking in California, and I can only imagine what this hike has in store for us.


The trailhead area is popular for horseback riders, and we pass camps with horses tied to trees and the scent of barbecue filling the air. After passing through a gleaming meadow, the trail winds through a dense forest and across a river.


Clocking in around 7.5 miles out and back, and about 1660 feet of elevation gain, the trail is packed with natural wonders. Every turn brings a surprise, from unexpected rock formations to powerful waterfalls.


After some time we notice the vibrant glow of wildflowers popping up along our way. The small details are as beautiful as the massive landscape before us.


Our path intertwines with several tributaries and pools, leading us to unlace, de-sock, and hobble through the icy streams. We welcome a break from the confinement of our boots. Here I close my eyes and listen to the rushing water around me.


We make camp near the reservoir and watch as the last light of day dips slowly below the horizon. It’s quiet tonight, minus the occasional note of laughter from campers nearby, and we watch silently as one by one, stars illuminate the darkness.


We wake up to blue skies and blue water. Leaving our packs under a tree near the camp in favor of our lighter daypacks, we head out for the day to explore the area. For the first time, we get a panoramic view of Relief Reservoirs’ turquoise waters.


Bear bags swing from branches as we hike along the reservoir. The area is known for bear activity, so it’s important to research camping restrictions and take the necessary precautions, like bear canisters.


Keeping in mind we must make the return trip today, we decide to hike along the reservoir to some nearby waterfalls. The temperature rises as early morning turns to afternoon, and we recognize why the reservoir has obtained its name. It doesn’t take long until we start to become attracted to the idea of an icy dip.


We find a safe spot to take our plunge and jump. The cold causes me to lose my breath and I flail to the nearest rock to escape the reservoir depths. A butterfly flutters by as the camera captures my chilly jump.


Trees tower above us filtering the early afternoon light. We lazily wander back to camp and gaze at the giants around us in awe. This is quite the place to make you and your problems feel small.


The trail carries us along a well-defined path as we make our way back. It’s no wonder the area is so popular, as incredible flora and fauna are made incredibly accessible in this remote wilderness.


We pack up camp, hoist packs onto our backs, and begin the journey back. Offering new light and angles, we see the landscape with fresh eyes as we pass fellow hikers and the occasional group of horseback riders. Although we were originally here for Yosemite, we were lucky to stumble upon such a hidden gem in the heart of California.