Day 1, Day 2
Permit - A permit is required for all overnight stays in Emigrant Wilderness. Permits can be obtained in person at the Summit Ranger Station at 1 Pinecrest Road in Pinecrest off Highway 108. There are currently no trailhead quotas or fees for the permit.
Mileage/Terrain - Day 1 was Kennedy Meadows Trailhead to Relief Reservoir, approximately 4.25 miles (your mileage will vary based on site selection). There is a net elevation gain of approximately 1,100'. Terrain varies from nice tree cover to exposed dusty sections. The trail has some steep sections with steps. Day 2 was a 5.75 mile day hike to Grouse Creek and Summit Creek. See map/profiles below.
Camps/Water - There is a bathroom, trash cans, water at Kennedy Meadows Trailhead. The first part of the hike takes you past the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station (has store and restaurant).
Hazards - Black Bears, creek crossings, snow, mice/squirrels, and mosquitoes. Nearest Ranger # 209-965-3434 (always check with ranger ahead of time for current water/trail conditions - this season it is simply a must because of the long wet winter and massive spring runoff).
Tyler and I ended up deciding on this two night backpacking adventure on the north side of Emigrant Wilderness. We would start at the Kennedy Meadows Trailhead off Highway 108 east of Strawberry (and west of Sonora Pass) and head to Relief Reservoir to find a nice site above the reservoir. This winter had lots of snow and much of it is still hanging around. The creeks/rivers are all running very high. When we were planning this trip I called up a ranger to check on current conditions and they had only recently opened up this trailhead. After checking in with the ranger in person at Summit Ranger Station we were warned of dangerous high water conditions and lots of snow still at the higher elevations. The trail to Relief Reservoir was clear though, so we decided to continue with our original plan. Conditions were forecast to be hot with a chance of afternoon thunderstorms. This shot is at the campsite we picked with Relief Reservoir below us. Here is the map and profile of the trip in and the day hike the next day.
The trailhead is pictured below with Tyler walking out the way you come into the lot. If you are headed eastbound on highway 108 you will make a right onto Kennedy Meadows Road and quickly drive past Baker Campground. You will see the trailhead parking on the left side of the road. There is a large lot with some spaces designated for horse trailers. The sign at the trailhead says there is a two night maximum on trailhead camping (that can be paid to the iron ranger). Trailhead has pit toilet, trash cans, some picnic tables and water.
Here are the facilities at
the trailhead. Usage was light for us midweek, but the lot was filling
up when we left on the Friday. I imagine this is a popular destination
on the weekends..
Once you are ready to hit
the trail you can either walk out the way you drove in, or head to the
end of the parking lot and hike down the path to the road you came in
on (either way is equally fine). Here is where you would leave the parking
lot to head down to the to use the trail. The trail (pasty big rock
and then right between bushes) winds you down to the next picture. There
are no signs to tell you that this is the trail down to the road.
The road follows the Middle
Fork of the Stanislaus River on the way in. You can see in this shot
that the water is CRAZY. I mean the water is loud and whipping through
this section. Continue to carefully follow the road over the bridge
and past the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.
There are some more campsites
that you pass along the way, and then some cabins, and then you come
to the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station on the left side of this picture.
There is a store and restaurant here. Yes, the store has cold adult
beverages for sale. Since it was a little bit too early for a cold adult
beverage, I continued to hike past the pack station and to the gate
that is on the other side of the backhoe/garbage truck (the backhoe
was picking up trash from cabins using its front bucket, so we labeled
it the garbage truck).
Here is the road/trail. It
is mostly open with great views of the surrounding mountains. While
the white stuff in the distance is surely melting fast, it is still
liable to hang around for a month or more at the higher elevations.
The road/trail heads up to the water tank and then slightly down through
an exposed dusty section. Most of this section is a little dusty due
to the vehicle and horse traffic.
This shot shows how the trailhead
got its name. Be sure
to look right for a waterfall in the distance on the other side of the
river. On the way out we saw some people fishing the few slower spots
of the river. I am sure there were some tired fish hanging out in those
OK, finally made it to the
actual trail section now. No more vehicles but still be ready to encounter
horses. The ones we had pass were all friendly and eager to give us
directions (well the riders of the horses of course, not the horses).
This sign has to be brand new - it was perfect.
Here is the nice calm stream
below the bridge...
The trail continues now on
the opposite side of the river. You make a left after crossing the bridge
and follow the river through the canyon beyond. The trail starts up
now and gets more rocky. Here is Tyler on the trail.
The trail can be seen in
this shot with the river to the left. The echoes of the rushing water
off the face of the rock was pretty cool.
I took this shot on the way
out (better light), and it shows the amount of water that is pouring
into the river. The water on the top is Kennedy Creek going into the
river. The trail continues its uphill trajectory to the next footbridge.
The trail remains exposed and rocky through this section.
This footbridge is high above
the water and this bridge is much longer than the first.
Continue up the trail as
shown in the image below. I am amazed that the horses are able to make
it up these steep rocky sections so easily (well there is one section
that the horses take a right and hikers can take a left to go up more
After an ascent you are
rewarded with a breathtaking view of the water coming out of the reservoir.
After the trail levels off
for a bit you will come to the junction with Kennedy Lake. A pair of
backpackers we chatted with in the parking lot briefly were headed that
way. On the map it appears there is another footbridge along that trail.
Stay right for Relief Reservoir.