Our group of 13 folks from Waco, TX climbed the Bull of the Woods trail as a nice overnight. We hiked up to La Cal Basin the first day (about 2.5-3 hours), camped, and then left at 3:15 the next morning to try to see the sunrise from the summit, which was spoiled by clouds. The hike up took 2 hours. We were back at camp 1.5 hours later, napped, then all the way down in 2 hours. Total hiking time 8-9 hours with 20-30 lb packs.
The trail was very easy, very well marked, and very beautiful. Lots of nice views. Water was available at Bull of the Woods pasture and at La Cal Basin (don't count on it at La Cal though according to the rangers).
We chose the Bull of the Woods trail because we wanted scenic hiking and an overnight. This trail is great. Camping would be nice at La Cal Basin or Bull of the Woods meadow. The other trails are shorter, but definitely not as pretty. This trail has overlooks, a beautiful basin, trees, and a wonderful hike along the ridge. Highly recommended.
You mark in the main parking lot right next to the ski resort, and the trailhead is very obvious and well marked with lots of signs. There is a pit toilet here, but we used the regular bathrooms at the resort.
The HikeDay 1:
We departed from the trail head at roughly 4 pm. We were planning to hike to Bull of the Woods meadow then either camp there or keep hiking if our large group (13) was feeling good. It took us about 1-1.5 hours to reach the meadow. We still felt strong and had been drinking a ton of water to help with the altitude, so we topped our water bottles (not knowing if there was water further up) and kept going up to La Cal Basin. We reached it about 3 hours after leaving the trailhead (1.5 more hours after leaving the cars). The trail is a little less steep from the meadow to the basin. It is very well marked, lots of trees until you get above treeline, good overlooks, and very beautiful. You go above treeline for a little while, then drop back down into the basin where there are lots of trees and a small creek was running while we were there.
We set up our tents. Lots of options. Not super flat ground but not bad.
We woke up at 2:15 am and hit the trail at 3:15. Our goal was to watch the sunrise from the summit. The first mile or so is in the trees, then you get above treeline and stay above it. This part of the hike is all very exposed. Be smart and don't do this in the afternoon with thunderstorms. There is nowhere to hide. It was windy and chilly for us, but very beautiful. Unfortunately, we hiked up into the clouds at about 12,000' and stayed in them. It was fun, but the sunrise would have been better. We reached the top in about 2 hours. You will cross 3 other small false summits, but they are fun and easy. The true summit is well marked and has a nice rock wall to hide out of some of the wind. Probably 15-20 mph up there that morning, and wind chill was below the forecast at
Our visibility was very limited so this might be more obvious if you aren't in a cloud at night. We stayed at the true summit about 30-45 minutes hoping the clouds would burn off, but they didn't so we headed back to the tents. We got back down in about 1 hour. From camp we each took 2 nalgenes full of water and 4 granola bars and this was more than sufficient. We wore long underware, pants, windproof jackets, ski caps, and gloves and were all a little cold. It was dark and windy almost our entire hike though. Do prepare for the wind during a day summit though.
Back at camp we took a nap for about 2 hours, packed up, and made the 5 mile journey back to the cars in 2 hours. We were off the mountain at 11 am. And, as always, the storms and rain came at about 1 pm.
Hints for others
If your from the flat lands like we are, it is very nice to climb up a few thousand feed and camp. This really helps acclimatization and only a few in our group of 13 got any altitude issues. All summited easily, and camping is fun!
Prepare for afternoon thunderstorms. Wind, rain, serious lightning. There is nowhere to hide above treeline. We passed about 10 hikers that started way too late in the afternoon, didn't have proper gear, and likely their fun family hike could turn not-fun very quickly. Bring windbreakers! It's windy up there.
Most people take about 25-45 minutes per mile. We averaged 30, but had a very large group. A 15 mile round trip will not take you 5 hours (Yes, I'm talking to you family with 2 little girls).
Keep well hydrated, drink as much as you can. With ample amounts of water, we were able to suppress the effects of altitude. 2 liters of water will not be enough if you aren't adjusted or if it's hot. If you want to do the entire trail and not carry water purification gear, I would carry at least 4.
This is an awesome, fun, easy hike. Turning around is not fun, so just prepare a little, leave early, carry water and the correct gear, and have a blast.
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