Hoover Wilderness, California

Lay claim to your own California mountain valley and bask in utter solitude.
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Lay claim to your own California mountain valley and bask in utter solitude.

Little Known Fact: Around August 12, the annual Perseid Meteor Shower lights up the night sky in Bridgeport Valley in the Hoover Wilderness.

To find California's steep and narrow Hoover Wilderness, look along the eastern Sierra escarpment that plunges from the alpine heights of Yosemite's North Boundary region to the Great Basin desert. There you'll find the home of what photographer Galen Rowell says are the world's most beautiful mountains. After a day on the trail, I'd have to concur; the play of atmosphere and light swirling around the jagged spires is unsurpassed.

We pitched camp at Barney Lake, whose south end is a marshy delta that's threatening to overtake the lake with woody debris. The situation is being helped along by the logging practices of beavers, who entertained us that evening with willow-branch-pulling exercises across the water.

The next morning, after breakfast and a liberal dose of mountain coffee, we continued hiking up, alternately trading cool forest shade along the stream with baking sun on barren switchbacks. We bore right at the Crown Lake Trail junction and topped out at Peeler Lake. At some vantage points along the trail we gazed east into the mysterious hazy recesses of the Great Basin, where row after row of north-to-south mountain ranges rumple the landscape all the way across Nevada.

Peeler Lake straddles the apex of the Sierra crest. The 60-acre, deep-blue pool is ringed with a rocky shoreline, the towering hulk of Crown Point looming overhead. Trout fishing can be good for those with the finesse and patience to coax the brookies and rainbows up, but we decided to push on after a relaxing lounge and lunch.

Past Peeler, the path meanders down Rancheria Creek to the flowered grassland of Yosemite's Kerrick Meadow. The sound of falling water lured us off trail, and considering our grubby condition, no discussion was required; packs and clothes were dropped, and we splashed off for a natural shower. Just the right amount of water fell from the perfect height into a sandy pool with no rocks. Nirvana.

On down Rancheria Creek we camped at the edge of a meadow with a commanding view. The valley was ours and solitude prevailed. Come evening, the "Range of Light" did its thing, painting alpenglow on the ridges and setting the cumulus billows floating overhead on fire. A full moon spread its cold light over our valley and turned the stream into a shimmering silver ribbon.

We grunted back into the Hoover via Rock Island Pass. From our viewpoint on the saddle between summits, the Sawtooth Ridge jutting up behind Snow Lake filled the eastern horizon. With Snow Lake in the background, we zigzagged down a rocky canyon and crisscrossed a stream choked with bank-hugging, water-loving wildflowers. Past the junction to Burro Pass and Matterhorn Peak, we dropped into the Crown Lake bowl.

Crown Lake's setting and beauty border on alpine cliche. Glacier-carved granite rises from water's edge on three sides, and greenery fills the canyon corridor. We spent our afternoon huddled in camp apprehensively watching thunderheads build, then pound, the Sierra crest.

The hike home took us down through hemlock and pine clinging to glacially polished granite. The trail splits the two shallow Robinson Lakes, passes Barney Lake, travels down the riparian canyon of Robinson Creek through stands of thirsty aspen and cottonwood, and eventually ends at the western shore of Twin Lakes.

Contact Information:

Eastside entry:

Toiyabe National Forest

Bridgeport, CA 93517

(619) 932-7070

Southside entry:

Inyo National Forest

Box 10

Lee Vining, CA 93541

(619) 932-7033

Location:

Hoover is located in north central California, east of the Sierra crest from Yosemite National Park's North Boundary area. The nearest town of any size is Bridgeport (619-932-7033).

Getting There:

Most trailheads are off US 395 between Bridgeport and Mono Lake. South entry is from Saddlebag Lake off CA 120 near the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite. The trip described here leaves from and returns to the Twin Lakes trailhead at Mono Village Campground. This private resort is 13 miles west of Bridgeport at the end of Twin Lakes Road.

Seasonal Information:

The best time is from spring when the snow melts through fall when it flies. It may start snowing as early as Labor Day or as late as November. The best advice concerning the weather is to be prepared for all kinds of weather at any time. Temperatures range from -30 to the upper 90s throughout the year. Summer days frequently bring thunderstorms.

For weather and trail conditions, call (619) 932-1234.

Wildlife:

Black bears are numerous. There also are mountain lions, coyote, bobcats, mule deer, marmots, birds, and many fish. During your hike you may encounter cattle and sheep in some parts of the Hoover Wilderness.

Insects:

The mosquitoes are fierce early in the season, but thin out as the days warm and the snow melts. Carry repellent.

Plant Life:

Hemlock, pine, aspen, and cottonwood join wildflowers.

Facilities:

There is primitive camping within the wilderness and Forest Service campgrounds on the edges. Many of the seasonal (April/May through October) developed campgrounds have water and flush toilets. Reservations are suggested for most sites.

Parking:

Park at the trailhead parking lot.

Permits:

  • Free permits are required for overnight trips into the wilderness.
  • There is self-registration in front of the ranger station September 15 through the last Friday in June. At other times, permits can be obtained through mail or on a first come, first served basis.
  • By mail, permit reservations cost $3 per person. Permit requests begin to be accepted March 1 for that year and they can be requested up to three weeks in advance of the visit. Allow at least three weeks if requesting by mail.
  • On a first come, first served basis, permits are issued at the ranger station after noon on the day before the visit or on the day of the visit.
  • Daily quotas may affect the availability of permits. Quotas are in effect from the last Friday in June through September 15. Non-quota trailheads are Burt Canyon, Molybdenite Creek, Leavitt Lake, and Sonora Pass.
  • Costs for developed campgrounds outside the wilderness range from $5 to $9.

Policies:

  • Firearms, radios, and pets are recommended to be left at home.
  • Motor vehicles, bicycles, wagons, hang gliders, and chainsaws are prohibited.
  • Maximum group size is 15 people.
  • There is a one night camping limit at Barney Lake. There is no camping at Red or Blue lakes. They provide drinking water for the Virginia Lakes Resort and Trumbull Lake Campground.
  • Within the Sawtooth Zone: Maximum group size is eight. No campfires. Use camp stoves. No camping within 100 yards of established travel routes.

Hazards:

Yosemite proximity means bears, and they know you have goodies. Hang all food!

Leave No Trace:

  • Cutting switchbacks causes soil erosion and trail damage. Stay on the trails. It is safer, easier, and saves trail maintenance costs.
  • Travel and camp in small groups.
  • Choose equipment that is not brightly colored or highly visible.
  • Choose a campsite at least 100 feet from water and trails. To avoid impact, camp on a previously used legal site. A site may not be legal just because it has a fire ring.
  • Use a gas stove. If you must have a fire, keep it small. Use an existing, legally placed firering. Use dead and downed wood no more than one to three inches in diameter. Do not build new firerings. If your site has no ring, locate an area with no ground vegetation and dig a small, shallow pit. Build the fire in the pit without rocks.
  • All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps:

  • USGS topos Matterhorn Peak and Tuolumne Meadows cover the area.
  • Toiyabe National Forest Visitor Maps are also available for $3 ($5 for plastic). Prices include postage. Checks can be made to USDA-USFS. Allow two weeks for delivery. Mail to:
  • Bridgeport Ranger District
  • Mail Order
  • Box 595
  • Bridgeport, CA 93517
  • CD-ROMs and a number of books are also available.
  • The Sierra North guidebook has an updated trail map and is available at outdoor stores or from:
  • Wilderness Press
  • 2440 Bancroft Way
  • Berkeley, CA 94704
  • Toiyabe National Forest operates a computer bulletin board system (BBS) which enables people who call in from a computer with a modem to receive information on weather, hiking, fishing, skiing, camping, backpacking, horses, ranger programs, and much more. The number for the BBS is (619) 932-1234.

Other Trip Options:

  • Bodie State Historic Park (619-647-6445), home of one of the best preserved ghost towns, lies 18 miles southeast of Bridgeport.
  • Mono Lake Scenic Area (619-647-3044) lies 25 miles south.
  • Many people use the wilderness to travel into remote sections of Yosemite (209-372-0200).