Sierra National Forest


Sierra National Forest is in one of the world's top hiking areas. People flock to Yosemite National Park, sometimes causing bothersome congestion. And although the sights of Yosemite are not to be missed, you can bypass the crowds in both Sierra and Yosemite's other national forest neighbor, Inyo. The San Joaquin Trail System is a good place to start. It's pieced together out of public and private lands with the cooperation of environmental groups, the government and scores of volunteers.

Shadow of the Giants Trail
The Shadow of the Giants National Recreation Trail is a one-mile self-guided interpretive trail through the heart of Nelder Grove. Interpretative signs along the way discuss "The Majestic Giant Sequoia and its Forest Neighbors" as you meander along the banks of Nelder Creek. The Shadow of the Giants Trail was originally constructed in 1965, and was established as a National Recreation Trail by the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service in December of 1978.

Goat Mountain/Spring Cove Trails
Goat Mountain Trailhead is located on the back side road of the Forks Campground. Spring Cove Trailhead is located on the left side road at the Spring Cove Campground entrance. Starting at one trailhead and going up the mild grade to the lookout and then back down is an 8.5-mile loop. Give yourself plenty of time and bring water.

Willow Creek Trail
Willow Creek offers the best in hiking and picnicking for this area, but a word of warning is appropriatethe rocks along the creek are extremely slippery and the swirling pools are very dangerous. Many injuries and fatalities occur each year, so please be careful!

Willow Creek Trail is an easy to moderate 2.7-mile hike of panoramic views, quiet pools and cascades ending at McLeod Flat Road. Angel Falls is half a mile from road 274, while Devil's Slide Water Fall can be reached by a short side path that forks off the main trail about one and a half miles above Angel Falls.

Lewis Creek Trail
Follow the four-mile Lewis Creek National Recreation Trail along a historic lumber route. Sugar Pine Lumber Company used a mammoth flume, (an artificial river in a huge wooden trough) to float trees out the Madera. Beautiful flora and waterfalls please the spirit as you travel this moderate North/South trail that drops 400 feet in elevation.

San Joaquin River Trail System
The French Trail traverses the Ansel Adams Wilderness in the Sierra and Inyo National Forests. The route, which was to be the foundation for a wagon road, is one of the most unique trails in all of the Sierra Nevada.

John French started developing this established Native American trade route through the mountains in 1879. Because of the route's low elevation and exposure on the west side of the San Joaquin River canyon, it stays below the heavy snow line to within 8 miles of the Sierra Nevada crest.

Contouring the San Joaquin River, the French Trail starts at Ross Cabin near Clearwater Fire Station above North Fork and follows the natural terrain the Mono Indians used. This 57-mile trail makes up a large part of the San Joaquin River Trail system.

Fresno Weekly Expositor, 1879: A road is being constructed across the mountains from Fresno to Mono County. The road is expected to be completed early next summer. This legacy of 1879-1880 failed because of lack of interest and financial support, and the sudden shutdown by the Mammoth Mining Company.

The San Joaquin River Trail system is a combination of old trails, such as the French and Mammoth Trails, and new trails to be constructed. The trail system will run from Millerton Lake, near sea level, to join the Pacific Crest Trail in the High Sierra near Devils Postpile National Monument. Covering a distance of approximately 73 miles, it climbs Granite Stairway at over 9,000 feet in elevation.

The San Joaquin River Trail is being constructed for hiker and horse use by volunteers with the cooperation of the Sierra National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Parks and Recreation, Nature Conservancy, and private land owners.

When planning a hike, check ahead for weather conditions. Bring plenty of water. Hikers will experience an elevation gain of over 10,000 feet if following the entire trail. Plan on extreme weather changes and pack accordingly.

Overnight stays in wilderness areas will require a wilderness permit. Campfires will require a campfire permit. These are available free of charge.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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