The 300,000+ acre Golden Trout Wilderness (GTW) was designated by Congress in 1978. Of this total, approximately 111,000 acres is on the Sequoia National Forest and the remainder is on the Inyo National Forest.
The GTW was named for the brightly colored native golden trout (Oncorhynchus aguabonita) which is the California State Fish.
Two subspecies of golden trout are recognized; South Fork Kern golden trout and the Little Kern golden trout. Both are found in this wilderness.
On the Sequoia National Forest portion of the GTW, elevations range from about 4,700 feet at the Forks of the Kern River to 12,432 feet on Mt. Florence, the highest peak on the Forest. Vegetation ranges from gray and piñon pine woodlands at lower elevations; extensive Jeffrey pine forests at mid elevations; and red fir, lodgepole and foxtail pine at higher elevations. Portions of the GTW occur above timberline and portions contain giant sequoia groves. The entire Little Kern River drainage lies within the GTW. The North and South Forks of the Kern Wild and Scenic Rivers run partially through the GTW
The GTW has Sequoia National Park on the north, the South Sierra Wilderness to the southeast, and Mountain Home State Forest to the west. Approximately 150 miles of trails are located on the Sequoia National Forest portion, for horses and hikers. These trails can be accessed from the Sequoia National Forest at Quaking Aspen Campground on Hwy 190, Lloyd Meadow, Mtn. Home State Forest, Sherman Pass Rd., Hwy. 395 via Nine Mile Rd., and Blackrock Station.
These trailheads lead to the Golden Trout from the Sequoia National Forest or Mountain Home State Forest:
Forks of the Kern
CLICKS CREEK - Leaves from trailhead on road 21S50, approx. 7 miles from Quaking Aspen. Trail travels primarily east and west following and crossing Clicks Creek several times. It offers large meadows, heavily forested areas, and open forest land. Parts of this trail are steep. Fishing is available in the Little Kern River.
FORKS OF THE KERN – Trailhead is on road 20S67 off the Lloyd Mdw road 22S82. The trail drops immediately down to the Kern River, crossing the Little Kern River. There is NO BRIDGE crossing the Little Kern, and extreme caution should be used. Crossing should not be attempted during spring snow runoff. Trail travels on the west bank of the Kern River for several miles to Kern Flat (a large meadow near the river), then crosses the Big Kern River on a bridge 1.5 miles above Kern Flat. Trail continues on to the Cannell Meadow District of the Sequoia National Forest. Campsites and fishing are available from the Little Kern Crossing to the Big Kern Bridge.
JERKEY MEADOW - Starts at Pyles Boys Camp, then leaves from Lloyd Meadow near the end of road 22S82 at the Jerkey Meadow Trailhead. Travels mostly north and south. Rises quickly out of Lloyd Meadow to Jerkey Meadow, then down to Fish Creek, to Grey Meadow Ranger Station, and on to intersect with the Clicks Creek Trail, then continues on to Mountaineer Trail. Offers scenic views, meadows, and open forest areas. Trail is 5 miles to Grey Meadow. Fishing and water are scarce on this trail.
LEWIS CAMP – This trailhead is 8 miles north of Quaking Aspen. Travels east to Trout Meadow, then north to Kern Ranger Station in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Offers scenic views of Sierra, crosses the Little Kern River on a suspension bridge, then to Trout Meadow Ranger Station, Willow Meadow, and north to the Big Kern River, up to the Little and Big Kern Lakes. Trail continues on to the Kern Ranger Station Bridge, crossing the Big Kern into the Inyo National Forest at the east end of the trail. Fishing is available in the Little and Big Kern River and the Little Kern Lake.
SUMMIT TRAIL – This trailhead is approximately 10 miles north of Quaking Aspen on road 21S50. Trail runs north and south along the Western Divide crossing Mountaineer Creek and Pecks Canyon Creek. It offers scenic views of the Sierra, meadows, alpine terrain, and lakes. Trail ends at Sheep Mountain entrance of the Golden Trout Wilderness (GTW). This is an entrance to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Approximate hiking time to the lakes is 5-6 hours. Fishing is available in Maggie and Twin Lakes.
SHAKE CAMP – Leaves from Shake Camp Trailhead in Mtn. Home State Forest. Trail travels northeasterly starting at 6,800’ and enters Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks at approximately 9,000’. Trail crosses the Tule River once, goes through Long Meadow, crosses the Tule River again, then junctions with the Touhy Gap Trail, then rises steeply on a rocky trail with many switchbacks to Summit Lake. Approximate hiking time to Summit Lake is 6-8 hours. Fishing is available along the trail.
BLACKROCK - Leaves from the Blackrock Trailhead in Sequoia National Forest northeast of Sherman Pass and northwest of Kennedy Meadows. Trail travels northerly to Casa Vieja Meadows then you can travel northwest to Jordan Hot Springs or northeast to Templeton and Tunnel Meadows.
Trails lead into the Golden Trout Wilderness, Inyo National Forest portion from Hwy 395 via Horseshoe Mdw., Sage Flat, and Haiwee Pass.
HORSESHOE MEADOW - This trailhead area is also referred to as the Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead. Several trails embark from the Horseshoe Meadow area including those going northwest to Cottonwood Lakes and New Army and Old Army Passes, those going west to Big Whitney Meadow, and those going south towards Tunnel Meadow.
SAGE FLAT - From Lone Pine, drive about 27 miles south on Highway 395 to Sage Flat Road and turn right. Drive 4.5 miles west on Sage Flat Road to the end of the road where parking places and the trailhead can be found. This is the standard approach for climbing Olancha Peak in the South Sierra Wilderness and you can tie in with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which then goes north into the GTW.
HAIWEE PASS - From Lone Pine, drive about 31 miles south on Highway 395 to Haiwee Canyon Road and turn right. Drive west on Haiwee Canyon Road for about 2.2 miles to parking and the trailhead. The trail leading from here is described as a vigorous out-and-back day hike or a quick way to connect with the PCT from the Owens Valley. It is a favorite of deer hunters in fall. Allow more time than you think you will need for this hike; the distance isn’t long, but the ground is soft and the sand is deep from the passage of countless cattle and horses. One good reason to hike this trail is to get a good look at the Wild and Scenic South Fork of the Kern River.
Link to Sequoia National Forest maps based on USGS 7.5" Quads
Wilderness Permits are required for overnight stays.
If entering the wilderness from the Sequoia National Forest, click here or contact the nearest ranger station to obtain your free permit:
Kern River Ranger District
105 Whitney Road
PO Box 9
Kernville, CA 93238
Kern River Ranger District
Lake Isabella Office
4875 Ponderosa Drive
PO Box 3810
Lake Isabella, CA 93240
Western Divide Ranger District
32588 Hwy 190
Springville, CA 93265
There are quotas for the Horseshoe Meadow/Cottonwood Pass area trailheads on the Inyo National Forest. Click here for info on Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permits
A California firewood permit is needed in order to have a campfire or charcoal barbeque outside of developed campground and picnic areas. You can obtain one at any Forest Service, CA Dept of Forestry, or BLM office. Or online!
Practice LEAVE NO TRACE! Minimize impact by camping at least 100 feet from streams, lakes, and trails. Pack out all you pack in. Body waste is to be buried 6 inches deep and 100 feet from rivers and streams. Keep fires small and leave them DEAD OUT by pouring water on it, then stirring. Do everything you can to protect water sources from contamination. Stay on trails and don’t shortcut switchbacks. Click here to find out more!
All mechanized vehicles and equipment including mountain bikes are prohibited within the Wilderness. A maximum group size of 15 people / 25 head of stock per party has been adopted.
Pets are allowed on trails in the Golden Trout Wilderness but they must be under control at all times. On a leash is best. Pets must be on a leash at trailhead areas. Please be courteous and clean up after your pet as well. Remember, pets are not allowed on trails in Sequoia National Park.
Special California Fish and Game restrictions apply in the GTW when fishing. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used; LIMITS VARY. Check current California Fish and Game regulations for specifics. Fishing season in the GTW is open the last Saturday in April through November 15. Hunting is allowed in season. Click here to find out current California Fish and Game regulations.
Hiking California's Golden Trout Wilderness by Suzanne Swedo
Exploring the Southern Sierra: West Side by J.C. Jenkins
Exploring the Southern Sierra: East Side by J.C. Jenkins
Tom Harrison Map for the Golden Trout Wilderness
USFS Golden Trout/South Sierra Map
You may encounter cattle grazing which has been a part of the local scene for a hundred years or more. Most present day trails were originally established by stockmen many years ago before areas were designated as Wilderness areas. The historical “old west” culture survives today as a vital, active and unique component of the area. It is perpetuated by present day cattlemen as they drive their stock over historic trails, use pack-stock to supply cowcamps built of native materials, and cook over woodstoves by lantern light as their ancestors did in the 1800’s with some important exceptions.
Livestock operations are now controlled by a permit system based on guidelines established in Grazing Allotment Management Plans and Forest Land and Resource Management Plans.
Sequoia National Forest Website
Inyo National Forest Website
Weather Forecast for the Tulare County Mountains
Live Web Cam Views, those from Jordan Peak, Bald Mountain, and Sherman Peak pointing north look over portions of the GTW.
More info on Little Kern River Golden Trout
A trip to Trout Meadow
A trip to Grey Meadow
A trip to Long Meadow
A trip to the Upper Tule River and beyond...