Where: Emigrant Wilderness from Kennedy Meadows, Stanislaus National Forest California Permits: Required from the surrounding Ranger Stations, FREE. Fires are allowed in certain areas and below 9,000 feet in most places, check with the ranger station for current restrictions.
When: Memorial Weekend 2016 Who: Ben, Sarah, Jen, & Paula
Day 1: Hike in from Kennedy Meadows 6320ft to Summit Creek crossing 7700ft : Approx 5 MilesWe decided to take a chance in this lower snow year to hike into Emigrant Wilderness from Kennedy Meadows TH during Memorial weekend. We debated hitting up the wilderness from Crabtree TH but decided to switch it up and see some new sights on this side of the mountains.
We dropped our cars at the free trailhead parking lot just down the road from the resort and started our hike in. We chugged uphill past roaring waterfalls and over a beautiful bridge. Before we knew it we hit Relief Reservoir around mile 2.5, where we could see some great campsites situated on a jut of rock down below us with a few brightly colored tents in between the trees. Snacks were enjoyed with the view and even though this is a pretty spot, it was looked a bit crowded.
We had heard from the Summit Ranger Station, when we picked up our permits, that there was still a lot of snow above 8,000 feet and that Summit Creek was not safe to cross this early in the season from snowmelt. So we made a plan to head to an area right before the creek where I had seen on an alternate map that there were possibly some campsites. This way we could hopefully avoid the more crowded area at Relief Reservoir and the creek crossing. So after a nice break at the reservoir we hiked on to Summit a Creek and found a great site tucked in a corner. I’m so glad this gamble paid off!
Our campsite is lovely and no one else was around. The creek is definitely not safe to cross so we spent the rest of the afternoon lazing around in our cozy spot. We decided to head up to Sheep Camp the next morning and camp there, depending on the snow levels. We spoke briefly to a solo hiker coming out from Sheep Camp earlier in the day who said there is some snow up there but it was manageable until Lunch Meadow. We settled into camp and set up the small tarp I brought for the forecasted afternoon thunderstorms. I sure am glad I carried that extra pound as the afternoon storms poured a lot of rain on us and we had some long, rolling thunder too. We stayed dry under the tarp, playing cards, and cooked our dinners around a small fire before an early bedtime.
Day 2: from the Summit Creek campsite, across some snow fields, then up to Sheep Camp, (approx 3.4 miles) Sheep Camp back to Summit Creek Campsite (round trip 6.8)
We woke early to the sounds of the creek and a couple of American Robins singing to us who had a nest in a smaller tree right at the edge of camp. We watched them feeding their newly hatched chicks too! The morning is chilly and we enjoyed our hot coffee immensely before packing up. We headed out of camp early to cross the snow fields and any streams before the sun started the melt.
This was a newer experience for all us as we had not done much snow crossing while backpacking at all, it was fun and at some times a little scary. Especially when walking over a patch with a long slide down hill if you made a misstep. We also encountered some very visible bear tracks on the trail that we got excited/nervous about but we never saw any more tracks, scat, or bears materialize.
We made our way slowly and carefully up to Sheep Camp which is completely surrounded in snow, except in a small area already occupied by 4 tents. We looked around for other potential spots to avoid having to cross the snow fields again in the early afternoon but any other camping options were closed for site restoration. Whomp, whomp!
So even though we were not excited about it, we had to hike all the way back down to our Summit creek campsite from last night. We just hoped no one else had discovered our great spot. Luckily the scenery here is wicked beautiful, especially with the snow patches, and when we got back to Summit Creek no one was at the site, whew! We set up our tents quickly before the afternoon thunder storms rolled back in again and listened to the rain pattering our tent walls until the storm rolled on by. We ate dinner and all were asleep with the sun.
Day 3: Hike out from Summit Creek to Kennedy Meadows, Approx 5 miles
Since we did not have any options to cross the creek or head past Sheep Camp without serious snow gear, we decided to hike out on day 3. We cruised downhill past the reservoir again and saw some really cool old machinery used to make the dam back in 1890.
We passed a few other groups headed out and a few headed in. It’s hot today and dusty but it’s all downhill and the miles flew by. Suddenly we were at the resort and digging out dollars to buy treats. We drank delicious cold sodas and had ice creams at the Kennedy Meadows store and then hopped back in our cars for home.
What a great short trip, I cannot wait to go back to this area again and hopefully go later in the season to get deeper into this wonderful wilderness. It’s pretty awesome and not a lot of people visit it, maybe opting to go to near by Yosemite instead? I highly recommend it for the beautiful mountain views and big trees, minus the immense crowds!