Fat Babe Hiking: A Personal Essay

California has always been a place that I dreamed of visiting. As someone who loves the outdoors, I was eager to explore the state's diverse landscape. However, I was also nervous about being plus size in the California wilderness. Would I be able to find trails that were appropriate for my fitness level? Would I be able to overcome obstacles like steep inclines and rocky terrain?

The short answer is yes. But the long answer is something deeply rooted in me that would take persistence to dig up, root out, and let go of.

As a plus-size woman, I am VERY aware that I don’t fit in with the typical “California image.” I’m not a model. I don’t like kale. And I don’t consider myself a “fitness freak” by any stretch of the imagination. (Yes, I realize these are stereotypes, and I am playing into my own bias, but your mind goes to strange places when it’s riddled with anxiety.) Anyway, I was determined to give it a try. I was determined to be my whole authentic self in the great outdoors of California.

Besides, it was my trip too—I was going to enjoy it at my own pace and in my own way.

First, I want to talk about why this topic is so important to me.

I consider myself to be a fat, plus-size woman living in a world that shames and stigmatizes my body for being larger than what is socially acceptable. (I know what you’re thinking, but “fat” is not a bad word. Don’t come at me.) It’s called fat activism and body liberation for a reason. I want to prove to the world that fat people and other marginalized groups CAN and SHOULD take up space in the outdoors. Hiking is for everyBODY, right?!

In fact, I have recently become an ambassador in Colorado Springs for Fat Babes in the Wild—a hiking group created by Rachael Gareri for all body types. It’s a community and a movement to celebrate fat folx in the outdoors and to take up space where fat people usually don’t exist.

It’s an empowering and safe space. I highly recommend groups like these to anyone new to hiking or who feels like an outsider. Go find your people! We are representing on the trails, and I love it.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Lake Tahoe straddles the board of California and Nevada.

It's me—the fat babe!

California may be known for its sunny climate, beautiful beaches, and bustling metropolises, but I was there for some of the country’s most diverse and breathtaking natural scenery. From the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains to the lush forests of Lake Tahoe, this state offers the best of both worlds—and that's not even including Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world! Every year, millions of people visit this grand park to see its majestic mountains, spectacular waterfalls, and giant sequoias. With so much to offer, it's no wonder that Yosemite is one of the most beloved national parks in the country.

My first stop in California was Lake Tahoe.

This was especially thrilling for me as Tahoe is a bucket list item on the long list of things I plan to see and do in my life. Let me explain why.

Lake Tahoe is a large freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, straddling the border between California and Nevada. It is renowned for its clear blue waters and stunning scenery, and is a popular destination for tourists and residents alike.

The Lake Tahoe basin is surrounded by high peaks, including several of the tallest mountains in the continental United States. The lake itself is over 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, with a maximum depth of over 1,600 feet. Lake Tahoe is one of the deepest lakes in North America, and one of the largest freshwater lakes by volume in the country.

In addition to its size and clarity, Lake Tahoe is also known for its cold waters; even in the summer months, the surface of the lake rarely gets above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. (Don’t worry, you get used to the water quickly.) Despite its popularity as a tourist destination, Lake Tahoe remains a wilderness area with much of its shoreline still untouched by development. As such, it provides a unique opportunity to experience California's natural beauty.

With all this in mind, it was time for my first hike. My first real outdoor experience on my trip. This is also where the nerves started to set in.

I was about to tackle a trail I was unfamiliar with, with friends and colleagues I had just met, in a completely new state, being the only fat person in the group—and as far as I knew, on the trail. My mind was racing with insecurities. Would I slow them down? Would I make embarrassing heavy breathing sounds? Would I stop too much?

Again, the short answer is no. My friends and colleagues are very generous and compassionate—they would never judge me in that way. But the long answer is probably yes, but not in a bad way!

I’ve learned to listen to my body and the signals it gives me when I am pushing myself a little extra. With an anxiety and panic disorder, it becomes very scary and hard to overcome when I am out of breath on the trail. So when I need a break, I take one. When I am gasping for air, I stop to catch my breath. It’s only natural, and let’s be honest, even the healthiest people would be huffing and puffing at a little under 8,000 feet elevation.

These are my friends and colleagues having fun on the trail.

The few inclines I encountered were steep.

The trail we chose was Castle Rock via the Tahoe Rim Trail. This 3.2-mile out-and-back trail is considered “easy” according to the All Trails app. (This is a great tool for any hiker, but especially beginners.) However, as a person living in a fat body, I can tell you my heart was still racing. I currently reside in Colorado, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that many “easy” trails can still be difficult for a person like me. Though I would rate this one “easy to moderate” because there were parts where I struggled and parts where I felt great.

As we proceeded downhill at the start of the trail, I was immediately reminded that I would later have to ascend back up this stretch, but I put that out of my mind and tried to enjoy being in the moment.

The perfect balance of shade from the trees and warmth from the sun, along with the sweeping morning breeze, made this journey more relaxing and doable. Stopping to take selfies and group pictures also made the trail enjoyable as I was able to catch my breath and laugh along the way. While we didn’t encounter many people, this is considered a highly trafficked trail as it’s very popular for hiking, running, and bird watching. (Don’t forget your binoculars—I made that mistake.) It’s also clearly marked, so visitors don’t have to be concerned about getting lost.

The reason I consider this trail to be more on the “moderate” side was due to the few inclines I encountered and the small rock scramble at the top. Though all the inclines were manageable, I did get pretty winded on several of them and was forced to take breaks to regain my composure. Luckily, my colleagues were incredibly understanding and waited with me so we could complete the trail together as a team.

Also, the elevation gain and steep inclines weren’t a surprise because I always consult a topographic map before hiking any new trail. This is especially important to me because the brown lines on the map break down the steepness of the terrain. For example, if the incline is steep, the lines will be closer together on the map. This information can make or break a trail experience for me.

PRO TIP: If I could offer a small amount of advice for my friends living in larger-sized bodies, bring trekking poles for the rock scramble at the top. This will help you maintain your stability and balance while tackling tricky terrain.

All Trails says Castle Rock takes an average of 1 hour and 37 minutes to complete, but don’t let that discourage you if you need to take longer. It’s all about listening to your body, going with the right people, and believing in yourself.

Bring trekking poles for the rock scramble at the top.

We made it, and the views alone make it worthwhile.

Finally, though, IT WAS ALL WORTH IT!

Even though I was desperately gasping for air and my legs were on fire, by the end of the hike, I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment. I challenged myself and overcame it. Just taking the opportunity to get out on the trail and enjoy myself felt great.

Also, the views from the top made this uphill battle totally worth it, as we got a bird’s-eye view of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area. The lush green trees, bright blue water, wildflowers, dragonflies, and everything in between made this trail an awesome adventure. I took a lot of pictures and spent about 25-30 minutes at the top before heading back down the trail, which was wayyyyy easier. Trust me.

And although I was worried about the final uphill stretch back to the trailhead, I did it huffing and puffing—and so can you!

Another "easy" trail to check out while in Yosemite.

Bring your bathing suit, I went swimming.

I'm happy to report that my California adventure was a success! While the state was incredibly intimidating at first—and took some time to find trails that weren't too challenging—I was able to conquer my anxiety and make the most of this wonderful experience. Even, eventually, falling in love with hiking in the Golden State. I didn’t let other people’s opinions of MY body on the trail, as well as my preconceived notions about the “California image,” dictate how I spent my time outdoors.

I was also undeniably grateful to have a supportive group of friends with me on the trip. They helped me to see California through new eyes and appreciate my plus-size body in a whole new way. Throughout our adventures, I learned that there is no one "right" way to experience the outdoors. Whether you're plus size or not, the most important thing is to find a trail that you enjoy and have fun!

In my head, I was hiking for fat girls everywhere, and that gave me the motivation to kick ass, take pictures, and leave only footprints.

Planning an adventurous trip to California? Plus size? Tag us on social media @naturalretreats and use the hashtag #openthedoortomore to show us your inclusive hikes and accessible trails!

Also, consider these “easy” hikes when in or around the area:

Lake Tahoe:

  • Castle Rock via the Tahoe Rim Trail (as previous mentioned)

  • Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Loop

  • Mammoth Lakes:

  • Earthquake Fault Trail

  • Devil’s Postpile Loop and National Monument

  • Rainbow Falls Trail (Not via Devil’s Postpile)

  • Yosemite National Park:

  • Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

  • Olmsted Point Nature Trail