Picture this: You’ve been hiking since Mexico, just over 1,000 miles; you’re craving a cheeseburger; you’re running out of water; and (shocker) all you can think about is a deep tissue massage. You’re a little less than halfway through the journey that is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, so the adrenaline and nerves of beginning have fully dried up, but the finish line isn’t exactly in your sight. You do, after all, have 1,650 miles of hiking left until landing in Manning Park. Currently, you’re traveling through the Sierra Nevada range’s iconic Sierra Buttes, and you could really use a pick-me-up.

Stepping one foot in front of another, you nearly stumble over a pile of snow filled with beer and soda, topped with a pile of fresh cherries. Looking up, you see Tibetan prayer flags lining a path toward a well established camp and a sign that says “Trail Magic,” with an arrow pointing off into the distance. Intrigued, you follow the path and are greeted by Morgan Goodwin, the mayor of Truckee.


“Your lunch will be ready shortly,” Goodwin says. “Can I offer you a cold soda or a beer?”

This is trail magic, and Goodwin and his buddies are known as trail angels.

Bring On The Magic

Hiking the PCT is no simple feat. The journey takes anywhere from three to six months and brings thru-hikers from the Mexico/California border in Campo, Calif., to the Washington/Canada border in Manning Park, British Columbia. Carrying everything they need on their backs, hikers don’t have much room for luxury items or indulgences.

Trail magic, a somewhat common trend known in the hiking community, but not as popular on the middle section of the PCT, offers some pampering to hikers.

“You can’t do the trail without depending on strangers,” Goodwin said.

In 2007 Nick Lee, a friend of Goodwin’s from college, hiked the John Muir Trail and had a friend resupply him with food along the way — he most fondly remembers the Snickers bar, a luxury item on the trail. Fast-forward to 2014, and Lee learned that a friend from college was hiking the PCT thanks to a blog he kept that included a daily location ping.

“When I saw he was within a day of I-80, I loaded up a daypack with sandwiches from Full Belly Deli, fruit, sodas, and beer, and started hiking south from Donner Pass until I ran into him along the trail,” Lee said in an email to Moonshine Ink. “He was entirely surprised to see me as we hadn’t talked since graduating college years ago.”

And so Tahoe’s version of trail magic was born.

Lee reached out to Goodwin, and the rest is history. They planned to take delivering sandwiches on the trail to the next level and the following summer they created a full-blown camp where they offered up “magic” in the form of a hot meal and cold beverages to thru-hikers, all of whom they didn’t know.

Settling on Independence Day weekend, the duo established the first camp, with the help of a few friends, up Barker Pass in Desolation Wilderness. Today the annual trail magic is referred to as Morgan’s Diner — a name that, Lee and Goodwin joke, should actually be Nick’s Diner and is situated in the Sierra Buttes.

“We cooked nice food, but it wasn’t gourmet,” Goodwin said of that first session. But most recently, the camp has morphed into a full-blown mountain oasis. This past Independence Day weekend, Morgan’s Diner offered not just three daily gourmet meals and snacks, but a spa station complete with massages, haircuts, and aromatherapy, letter writing materials, and yard games — not to mention the company of interesting, like-minded strangers.

“The point is to explicitly not be useful to these hikers,” Goodwin explained. This year, Morgan’s Diner had their first guest who took a “zero,” meaning he hiked no miles for 24 hours and simply chilled with the crew.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch, even on the trail. Morgan’s Diner charges a unique fee to stay at their camp. “Morgan explained to us that their only goal was a ‘payment in trail miles’ from us,” a thru-hiker who went by the trail name Yukon Jack wrote in his journal. “When any hiker leaves they had to write down the trail miles they did not hike during their stay.” The goal of Morgan’s Diner: To hike the entire PCT with “stolen trail miles.”

Of all the luxuries offered, you’d imagine that warm meals and cold beverages would be the highlight. The weekend’s menu is carefully designed by Lee, who works as a professional chef in Berkeley. This year, they served Louisiana-style shrimp and grits with fried egg for breakfast, offering a corn and squash succotash on cheesy grits as the vegetarian option; cheeseburger and homemade black bean burgers for lunch along with a fresh sweet corn, tomato, and basil salad. Afternoon snack was a Thai-style ground pork dip, nam prik ong, served in lettuce cups. For dinner there were tacos with chicken tinga and rajas con papas. Breakfast the following morning was egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwiches on English muffins.
Morgan’s Diner fed and pampered 12 hikers over 48 hours and two nights. Goodwin explained that in past years they’ve received three times that volume, but because the trail is much snowier than it has been, there are fewer hikers this season.

The cost for the 2017 weekend’s supplies was $800, and split among 10 people it doesn’t seem like too high of a price tag for the memories that are created, for all parties involved.

Goodwin would recommend that anyone who has the opportunity create some trail magic of their own. “Even if you just put a few sandwiches in your pack and bring them to thru-hikers, it will be rewarding.”

Read Yukon Jack’s complete journal entry about the magic of stumbling on Morgan’s Diner in text below.


Yukon Jack’s complete journal entry about the magic of stumbling on Morgan’s Diner:

July 2, Day 104

Did you ever have a difficult time distinguishing between a dream and reality? Did you ever have something so amazing happen that was so off your radar that you were dazed for some time? Before I explain I have to back up a bit, so hang on to your horses, it’s quite a ride!

The morning began with us hiking at 5:30 a.m. For two miles the going was good on dry trail, and then we hit the snow. At times the terrain was easy and we developed an efficient method of snow navigation with Kirk in the back walking with his GPS and calling out heading degrees and distance to me, while I walked in the lead, reading terrain and walking the most efficient route to achieve his directions. It was effective and we improved our 1 mph speed to 1 and 3/4 mph over the snow. We also had some steep snowy traverses that required intense concentration that were slow and methodical. After 12 miles (19.2 km), we were weary and slightly dehydrated as our water was running low. We walked on dry trail for a few more miles, began fantasizing about food, beer, and ice cold water, then…

Then, a mirage? On our high ridge directly in front of us were Tibetan prayer flags blowing in the wind. There were two open-air tent awnings and there were people. We approached the gathering. A young man (Morgan) in his early thirties approached us, smiled and said “Your lunch will be ready shortly, welcome, please enjoy our trail magic.” Completely taken aback, astonished and dazed, we took off our backpacks. “Would you like an ice cold beer, soft drink, or orange juice?” a young women asked. “A beer would be great,” I replied. “Would you like an IPA, domestic or an import, Sir?” “An IPA would be just fine,” I answered. Evelyne and Kirk each accepted ice-cold pops. We sat down in camp chairs, began snacking from a fruit tray, when a “movie star pretty” young woman (Meghan) approached us with a tray. “Would you like a warm wet towel to refresh yourselves?” “Yes please,” we replied in unison.

A young man with the demeanor of a professional waiter came forward and said, “I’m ready to take your orders now. We have four different gourmet burger options on the menu today. One is a vegetarian option. Here are your diner’s club cards.” Nick explained the burger options, took our orders, and returned to the outdoor kitchen. Nick is a professional chef who teaches healthy cooking to students at Martin Luther King School, close to where my sister Jennifer lives in Berkeley, California. Still dazed in this surreal setting, we enjoyed our cold drinks and appetizers. I then noticed a blackboard sign that read “Spa Magic,” which noted a variety of spa options including massage, haircuts, and aromatherapy.

A woman (Rachel) approached Evelyne and smiled, “You would make me so happy if I could give you a coconut oil back massage,” she stated. “Are you serious? This place is hiker heaven,” Evelyne replied. Evelyne enjoyed a long, luxurious massage and then the three of us and five other thru-hikers enjoyed our gourmet burgers with two delicious organic side salads.

We learned that Morgan was the current mayor of Truckee, CA. He is a bright, affable, and self-effacing 31-year-old. He is very progressive in his thinking. The rest of the volunteer trail magic crew are Morgan’s climbing and mountaineering ski friends. Morgan explained to us that their only goal was a “payment in trail miles” from us. When any hiker leaves, they have to write down the trail miles they did not hike during their stay. Their goal is to hike the entire PCT with “stolen trail miles.”

We enjoyed second rounds of lunch and then Kirk and I enjoyed hour-long back massages from our trail angel Rachel. It was official, we had vortexed, our first vortex on the PCT. We set up our tents to camp for the night.

I am currently laying in a hammock writing this entry, while I drink a cold brew. Rachel just walked by and asked if she could bring me some fresh fruits. “Perhaps some strawberries with chocolate?” she added. Oh my.

It all continued with a wonderful tortilla dinner with exotic fillers, salads and wine. Our young hosts were mature beyond their years and had a certain grace and classiness in their demeanor. We didn’t hear a coarse word from them during our entire stay. It was fun to watch them walk a climber’s training line (wide webbing) strung between trees. In our group, only Evelyne with her superb balance could successfully “walk the line.”  I had great fun with these genuinely nice people. They were all committed to making the world a healthier and happier place. Yet again, Californians have shown us the best of humanity.


  • Ally Gravina

    Ally Gravina is a freelance journalist and former Moonshine editor based in Graeagle. She has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in arts and culture reporting.

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