California's Dardanelles

Wondrous lava formations in the Sierra's granite kingdom.
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Wondrous lava formations in the Sierra's granite kingdom.

A massive slide in 1997 closed the main trail into this unique terrain-an upwelling of imposing lava formations nestled among granite and forest. But it's still possible to walk in from the backside. As a bonus, you'll sample a high Sierra lake and the incredible terrain just below the Pacific Crest Trail. In spring, wildflowers blossom in the meadows, and in the fall aspen and alder paint the landscape. In short, this little-traveled wilderness is a great place to spend a weekend.

TRAILS: The recommended loop is about 20 miles long with plenty of Sierra vertical to keep your legs occupied. Start at Liahona Camp on the Arnot Creek Trail. Turn left onto the Woods Gulch Trail. At the top of the rise The Dardanelles Cone is to your left, and the route becomes Jenkins Canyon Trail. When you reach the Highland Creek, turn right and follow the trail up to Highland Lakes. Spend the night at the campground here. To complete the circuit, head out toward Wolf Creek Pass the next morning, then connect to and follow the Arnot Creek Trail back to where you started.

DIFFICULTY RATING: Moderate; elevation from 7,200 to 9,200 feet, depending upon the side trips you might take.

WHERE: Arnot Creek Trailhead is located in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness about 180 miles (4 hours) east of San Francisco, and just north of Yosemite National Park. From Sonora follow CA 108 east approximately 55 miles. Turn north onto Clark Fork Road. Take the right-hand fork and follow the road to Liahona Camp, about 4 miles from CA 108. This is a good place to spend Friday night adjusting to the altitude.

MAPS: The map available at the ranger station, Stanislaus National Forest, shows the route well enough for most hikers. USGS quadrangle: Dardanelles Cone.

CONTACT: Stanislaus National Forest, 19777 Greenley Rd., Sonora, CA 95370; (209) 532-3671. Permits available at Summit Ranger Station, 29 miles east of Sonora on CA 108.