Frequently Asked Questions with frequently given answers

How frequently does a question have to be asked in order to qualify as a Frequently Asked Question?

It depends. Perhaps only once if it’s good, though some of these have been asked a lot. Decide for yourself, and submit a question if we don’t have your answer here.

First, if you’re coming to the Muir Trail Ranch, bring a sleeping bag!

Why? We’re not a hotel, that’s why. We will provide a nice bed, though.

How long does it take to get to Florence Lake from:

San Francisco—6 hours
Los Angeles—7-8 hours
Fresno—3 hours
San Diego—9-10 hours
Huntington Lake—1 hour
Shaver Lake—1-1/2 hours
Falling out of an airplane—a minute or so

How long does it take to get to the Ranch from Florence Lake?

On a horse, about an hour and a half. Hiking, maybe two hours.

Are there places to stay overnight near Florence Lake?

Between Shaver and Huntington Lakes there is the Tamarack Lodge, (559) 893-3244. The Lakeshore Resort is at Huntington Lake (559) 893-3193.

If you want to camp, there is a campground at Jackass Meadow, about a mile by road from Florence Lake.

Quaking aspen limb
Do I need a license to fish at the Ranch?

Yes, even though some of the best fishing is on our private land. Kids under 16 can fish without a license.

Where do I get a California Fishing License?

Most sporting goods stores in California carry them. Your last chance is probably at Ken’s Market in Shaver Lake.

Can I bring my cute little doggie? Pretty please? She’s so cute!

No. Our dogs would have it as an hors d’oeuvre.

Why can’t I phone the Ranch directly?

Because we don’t have a phone. If there’s an emergency, we can call out for help. If you absolutely must have access to the Ranch by phone, call our foothill number, (209) 966-3195, and we will start the relay to get a message up there. It can take several hours, though. Sometimes it takes days. Sometimes, never.

Will my cellular phone work at the Ranch?

Only if you walk up the mountainside quite a ways to get a signal. Satellite phones work fine. We do not have a phone at the ranch.

What kinds of clothes should I bring?

Bring clothing that you can layer. A light shirt, then a heavier shirt or light jacket or sweater, then a warm jacket. This way you can adjust to the different temperatures you’ll encounter as you hike or ride to different elevations.

Rain can fall any time of the season. A poncho (kind of like a plastic serape) is cheap and light protection against rain.

If you plan to ride a horse, bring boots or shoes that have a raised heel since that provides a little more safety in the stirrup.

Kids 12 and under need a riding helmet. A bike helmet is fine.

The dress code is casual. We mean jeans, straw hat, old shoes that are very comfortable. Nobody dresses up around here, and if you manage to sneak a necktie past security, we’ll confiscate it and put it on one of our dogs to help scare bears away.

Are there snakes? I hate snakes!

We have snakes, including rattlesnakes, but they’re getting more and more rare. There has never been a guest or staff member bitten by one, since they are shy and pretty easy to spot.

Our favorite snake, the Sierra rubber boa, is a harmless charmer. They are easily calmed and can be worn as a bracelet. No kidding! Kids love them.

Most guests never see a snake in a whole week of being at the ranch.

A rubber boa wrapped around a wrist.
What kind of wildlife can I expect to see at the Ranch?

Small animals include squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, frogs and fish. Occasionally there is a rabbit or hare, golden marmot, and maybe a porcupine. Birds abound, including Stellar’s jays (the noisiest of all our birds), Clark’s nutcracker, finches, osprey, bald eagles and much more. Deer are here and there, and of course, there are black bears, which can be brown or tan in color.

Beavers are gone. The Fish and Game people realized they made a really big mistake by introducing them to the area, and gave everyone permission to make them into fine hats.

What kind of weather should I expect?

It varies, but anticipate the possibility of a rain shower on occasion, regardless of the month. Daytime temperatures range from the mid-60s F to high 70s F (18-27C). At night it gets into the 40s F, teens Celsius. By September it starts getting colder at night, and may freeze.

Which credit cards do you take?

We accept Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. We also accept cash, checks, money orders and travelers checks.

Do I have to bring soap and shampoo?

We provide soap in the cabins and hot spring baths. The baths also have shampoo. Bring a towel.

Why don’t you like hair dryers?

Since we make our own electricity, sometimes we are power-impaired, especially if there is no water in the creek and we’re forced to use the diesel backup generator. A hair dryer uses as much power as a washing machine in the spin cycle, or two toasters or 24 reading lights or 257 night lights. So if every guest turned on a hair dryer, that would use as much electricity as 5,143 night lights. And who needs 5,143 night lights in the wilderness?

I’m going to miss my music. Can I bring a boom box?

Bring something that plays through headphones instead, like an iPod.

Up here, music comes from the whisper of wind in the pines, the song of birds, the chirp of crickets, the croak of frogs, the hiss of snakes, the gnawing of mice, the gurgle of brooks, the crashing of pine cones, the thunder of lightning, and the visceral rumble of earthquakes hurling gargantuan boulders from nearby peaks.

A boom box just couldn’t compete.

Are there bears? Do they bite? A bear climbing a tree.

Yes, there are bears, and they bite their food. They are frightened of people, and the only threat they pose is their tendency to bluff and bluster. Nobody has ever been harmed by a bear in our part of the mountains. Our dogs love to chase them, which is the main reason we have dogs here.

What do you offer in the lounge/library?

There is a wide range of book titles: fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, and magazines. The magazines range from moderately recent to near-ancient. I think I remember reading one that heralded the then-recent invention of dirt.

There are board games and plenty of playing cards. And a fireplace and comfy furniture.

Can I wash clothes at the Ranch?

Yes. We have an old-fashioned wringer washer and clothesline. There’s plenty of detergent and bleach and no charge for use.

Can I drive all the way to the Ranch?

Nope. By an Act of Congress (really!) the "road" to the Ranch is legally available only to our own vehicles, and we use it as little as possible. Besides, you have to cross a lake to get to it.

Why do you limit the guest count to 20 or so?

Because it causes minimum impact on the environment. Even though the ranch encompasses 200 acres, we use only about 5 acres for our facilities. Providing for continuous hosting of more people would not be practical unless we were able to use more advanced eco-friendly technology than is currently available at a reasonable cost.

Can I bring my own saddle?


Can I bring my own horse?



Kidding aside, horses tend to be territorial and get into fights. We don’t need fights.

I’m a really heavy dude. Can I still ride one of your horses?

Only on the flat. Like around Blayney Meadow. You can’t ride to Sallie Keyes Lakes, for instance, because you’d probably cause the horse to go lame, especially when going downhill. Horses don’t have a ball-and-socket shoulder joint; the scapula (shoulder blade) is held in place by ligaments that can stretch and tear when stressed.

Can you provide day care for my young’uns so me and my significant other can boogie?

One of the most valuable things the ranch offers is the chance for families to enjoy the wilderness together. We take the strain off by providing for your needs so you can do as you wish without the mundane responsibilities of everyday life. Have fun with your kids instead of getting away from them.

End of sermon.

Are there any planned activities at the Ranch?

Yes. There is breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Other than that, it’s up to you. We offer horseback riding to various parts of the valley, and up the river to Kings Canyon National Park. Day trips to Sallie Keyes (great fishing and sight-seeing), and overnight pack trips to Evolution Valley (you’ve GOT to see McLure Meadow before you’re too feeble to get there), Goddard Canyon (one of the sources of the San Joaquin River), and other places are must-see.

When you arrive at the Ranch, cool out for a bit and get used to the elevation. Talk to the staff members and guests who’ve been here before. It won’t take long to figure out that a week is not nearly enough to fit in all the things you can do. That’s one of the reasons people return year after year.

Is it true you don’t allow food to be kept in the cabins? Why?

It’s true. Bears have an astonishing sense of smell, and can smell food all the way from Zimbabwe. We have a hot wire around the kitchen/dining room at night to keep them out. The cabins are not wired for bear proofing.

Are there any unplanned activities at the Ranch?

Sure. Running inside to escape a sudden hailstorm is a good one. Then running outside, scared witless by the bear who’s sitting on your bed munching the Snickers bar you stowed in your cabin. This is the wilderness, and anything can happen.

My kid caught a lizard. Can she take it home with her? A Golden Marmot baring his teeth.

Legally, yes. You can take an almost unlimited amount of Western Fence Lizards home. You can take limited numbers of rattlesnakes, king snakes, rubber boas, and others.

But here’s the more important question—Can she provide the quality of life that it would have in the wild? Force feeding is rather unpleasant for the feeder and the feedee (I kept snagging my fingers on my pet rattlesnake’s pointy little fangs).

My nephew took some frog eggs home when he was about 8 years old. They hatched and he had frogs to feed till he entered graduate school. They lived longer in captivity than they ever would have in the wild. But were they happy in that glass terrarium? Incidentally, he earned a Ph.D. for his interest in nature, so the frogs lived and died for a good cause (for humans anyway).

When I was a kid I caught a crab near Monterey Bay. I pestered my parents, begging to take it home till they capitulated. It got away from me in the car and hid under the seat where it promptly died and started to stink up our old 1941 Chevrolet till we had to stop and find its carcass. It got a really rude roadside burial and I learned something: Wild animals are best left in the wild.

The car stunk for days afterward as a reminder.

Remember Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoon that showed the alien kid with the jar that had young earthlings in it? His mother said something like, "Well, okay, you can keep them. But this time remember to poke holes in the lid."

Do you provide liquor?

We don’t; bring your own. We have no problem with responsible use of alcohol.

Are the Ranch grounds well lighted at night?

No. Bring a flashlight with fresh batteries.

I’m a woman with a young daughter. Is the Ranch okay for us?

Yes. You’ll both enjoy yourselves. Everyone’s well-behaved, or they don’t get to stay.
Mosquitoes and other pests—do you have them?

Yes, depending on the time of year. Bring repellent, or you can buy some in our store at the Ranch.

Mosquitoes are a problem during springtime, as they tend to be abundant where the snow is melting, usually right at the snow line. They also inhabit areas where still water stands.

Another pest is the wasp known as the yellow jacket. They nest in trees or in the ground, and can swarm out of their nest if disturbed. We usually find and eliminate the nests near us early in the season, so they’re little bother to humans. They mostly go after the horses. Their sting is fiery and sharp. Stop by a health food store and pick up a vial of Apis, a homeopathic remedy. It works very well to relieve the sting of stings.

Do you have access for the handicapped?

We require that our guests be able to get to and from the Ranch by either hiking or riding. You have to be in good physical shape for that kind of activity, since we’re at a high elevation (thin air) and often it seems that everything is uphill, no matter where you’re going.

One more thing: Regardless of where you’re staying on the Ranch, you have to walk uphill to get to the dining room. Muy importante!

Do you cater to vegetarians/vegans?

Arrange for any special diet with your chef/cook in advance. Special diet needs may not be available for Short Stays. Contact us well in advance of your arrival (like weeks).

I’m planning on doing some fly fishing. What flies should I use?

Determining what to use is part of the fun. The best way is to catch a fish, kill and clean it and check its stomach contents. If you are practicing catch and release (yay!), you’ll just have to experiment. Sometimes you can check stomach contents by showing the fish a picture of our current world leaders. That often induces vomiting.

Oh, and one last thing—Bring your sleeping bag!


Had enough? Or do you want more nonsense? If so, go to our iFAQ (inFrequently Asked Questions) page!