Slate Mountain is along the Great Western Divide in Sequoia National Forest and is a prominent landmark as viewed from the community of Camp Nelson. It is noteworthy as it's part of the Slate Mountain Botanical Area. An unusually large variety of very rare wild plants are concentrated on the rocky outcrops and crevices along the 9000 foot high ridge of Slate Mountain. Most of the plants shown here are found only in a few high alpine meadows in Tulare County. Typically these plants appear briefly after the snow melts flowering for a couple of months in the Spring or Summer.
The easiest route to the top of Slate Mountain is from Quaking Aspen Campground on the Summit National Recreation Trail (31E34). You can also hike to the top from the Bear Creek Trail (31E31) which starts near Coy Flat or on the Summit NRT from Forest Road 21S94 at Windy Gap.
Climbers may be interested in persuing Yokut Spire, a tooth of volcanic schist about 1 1/2 miles from the summit of Slate Mountain. Yokut Spire is just north of Peak 8776 and overlooks the Tule Canyon.
To get to Quaking Aspen Campground take Hwy 190 east from Porterville. It is only about 43 miles from Porterville but will take you at least an hour-and-a-half as Hwy 190 is a very winding road once you're above Springville. There are limited services above Springville so it is recommended that you fill up your gas tank and buy any food or supplies that you need before you leave Springville. Quaking Aspen Campground is on the right hand side of the highway just before the community of Ponderosa.
Link to Sequoia National Forest Map based on USGS Sentinel Peak Quad
Buy a Sequoia National Forest Map
During the busy summer months ask the Quaking Aspen campground host where an appropriate place to park would be. You can park across from the campground entrance off to the side of a dirt road if you cannot park inside the campground. Make sure you do not block traffic wherever you park.
No permits are required to climb Slate Mountain as a day hike or an overnighter. You will need a campfire permit if you plan on having a campfire. There are black bears that are active in the area so you will need to take precautions to protect your food or other scented items. Please practice Leave No Trace
When To Climb & Trail Description
Most people climb Slate Mountain in the summer and fall (June through October, weather depending). I recently met two people who cross-country skied up Slate Mountain in April 2006 and camped there for a couple of nights.
The Summit Trail is an old one, before there were roads Forest Service rangers road over it by horseback to reach places like Quaking Aspen. Now it is a National Recreation Trail. It's not a heavily used trail, however, and in parts it looked like the overgrown bitter cherry and mountain whitethorn are going to take back the trail.
The hike up Slate Mountain is about 5 miles one-way or 10 miles round-trip. There is 2,000 feet of elevation gain; it starts at about 7,000 feet and ends at 9,000 feet. The trailhead is near site 23 in Quaking Aspen Campground where you will see signs for Trail 31E14 (as of September 05 this sign is missing). Ask the campground host about parking or park on the road across from the campground entrance making sure not to block traffic. Remember, motorized bikes or ATVs are not allowed on trails in Giant Sequoia National Monument.
At about ¼ mile the trail intersects a paved road and you must turn right and walk about 300 yards along the road. You will then see the trail marker on the left and can resume walking on the trail.
The trail climbs gradually at first and there are several meadows in its lower section. During July these meadows are covered with all sorts of flowers including corn lilies, sneezeweed, columbine, rein orchids, leopard lilies, and geraniums. You then pass through a couple of pine plantations whose trees are about 30 years old. The trail then begins to switchback up and you can see great views of the Needles and the Kern River Canyon and the McNally Fire area. In about 2 miles you reach a saddle with a few downed logs that make a great spot to rest. Here you are at the border of the Botanical Area.
After the saddle the trail contours up the south-facing ridge. Soon it becomes quite rocky and here is where several of the rare flowers described above can be found. You’ll notice the rocks are quite colorful up here. There is indeed a lot of slate on Slate Mountain as well as other types of metamorphic rock. You might recall that most of the High Sierra is composed of granitic rock. Slate Mountain is unique and the metamorphic rocks and their associated minerals create unique soil types. That is the main reason why we find these rare plants here.
After the rocky ridge the trail becomes quite steep for a short period of time and soon you find yourself in a dense red fir and western white pine forest. After about ½ mile the forest clears a bit and you find yourself at another saddle. Here is the junction of this trail with the Bear Creek Trail, 31E31.
Here you can continue on the Bear Creek Trail which heads downhill for about 8 miles finally ending at Coy Flat. If one has the forethought to do a car shuttle, leaving one car at Coy Flat and driving the other up to Quaking Aspen, this would make a great all-day hike. You can also head due east and scramble the last 1/4 mile or so to the summit of Slate Mountain, but this is not an easy task and should not be attempted if you are not comfortable hiking off trail or if there are thunderstorms in the area. You can also continue south to Freezout Meadow and eventually cross Forest Service Road 21S94 at Windy Gap. But keep in mind it will probably take you about 2-3 hours to get back to Quaking Aspen so most people will simply retrace their steps back.
Camping & Accomodations
Quaking Aspen Campground is popular in the summer months. The cost to stay here is $15 and $16-17 on holiday weekends. Reservations are highly recommended, call (877) 444-6777 or make reservations online at ReserveUSA
. The fee is $9 to make a reservation. There are group campsites available at QA as well.
My favorite campsites at Quaking Aspen are #19 and #21.
Dispersed camping is also allowed in most areas of the surrounding Sequoia National Forest. Nearby on the Needles Road (Forest Service Road 21S05) about 1/4 mile south of Quaking Aspen) are some areas where you can disperse camp; bring your own water, don't drive off road, pack out what you pack in, and you'll need a campfire permit if you plan on having a campfire or charcoal barbeque.
If you don't feel like roughing it, there is a cabin at Quaking Aspen. Click here
for more information. Accomodations are also available at the nearby Ponderosa Lodge (559) 542-2579, Mountain Top Bed and Breakfast (559) 542-2639, or Pierpoint Springs Resort (559) 542-2423.
Call the Springville Ranger Station (559) 539-2607 for info. and stop by there for a campfire permit, 32588 Hwy 190, Springville, CA, 93265
A good weather forecast for the Tulare County Mountains
This local website
has some good info as well, including a link to real-time weather conditions at Ponderosa.
Leashed pets are allowed on the trails and in Quaking Aspen Campground.
There are many nearby giant sequoia groves. The Bear Creek Trail (31E31) passes through portions of the Belknap Grove. About 1/2 mile north of Quaking Aspen off of the North Road (21S50) is the trailhead for the Freeman Creek Trail (32E20) which goes through the heart of the Freeman Creek Grove. West of Quaking Aspen Campground about 1/2 mile is the trailhead for the Nelson Trail (31E30) which goes through the Wheel Meadow and McIntyre Groves.
Sequoia National Forest & Giant Sequoia National Monument Website
The Ponderosa Lodge is in the process of being sold so it may or may not be open. There is a general store, lodging, and a restaurant here when it's open. Their phone number is (559) 542-2579.
Rare plants found on Slate Mountain
For those that are interested in such things :)
Unexpected Larkspur, Delphinium inopinum
, Light blue or lavender flowers on 2 to 3 foot high stalks blossoming in June and July. Found in rocky habitats above 8000 feet in Kern and Tulare Counties.
Purple Mountain Parsley, Oreonana purpurascens
, Greenish gray hairy plant with purple stems and anthers. 4 1/2" to 7" diameter plants blossoming May-June. Found on rocky ridge tops at 8000 to 9000 feet. Found only in Tulare County.
Fawn Lily, Erythronium pusaterii
, Flowers with bright yellow centers and white tips on 4" to 14" stalks with 4" to 12" wavy green leaves. Blossoming in June. Found on rocky crevices at 8000 to 9000 feet. Found only in Tulare County.
Twisselmann's Buckwheat, Eriogonum twisselmannii
, Prostrate shrub 7" high 16" diameter. With small pale yellow hairy flowers. Flowers in July and August. Found at 8000 to 9000 feet. Found only at Needles and Slate Mountain.
Pinewoods Missionbells, Fritillaria pinetorum
, Purplish and mottled greenish yellow flowers on 2" to 6" stalks blossom May through July. Found on shaded granite slopes from 7000 to 12000 feet.