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Golden Trout Wilderness, Sequoia & Inyo National Forests, California

Catch rainbows -- trout, that is -- in Rockhouse Basin's rivers, where you're more likely to see a wildcat than another human.

Little Known Fact: The Golden Trout Wilderness was named for California’s state fish.

Mountains! The southern flank of the Sierra Nevada looms before you. You are separated from it by a meadow of tall grass, boulders, and an occasional pine. The south fork of the Kern River bubbles a few yards away, and you face wilderness in three directions. All this less than 3 hours away from the smog and traffic of Los Angeles.

Following the trail north from your campsite will take you into Rockhouse Basin. At 5,500 feet it’s a little brother to the High Sierra splendors of Tuolomne Meadows. Adventurous backpackers may push west along the Pacific Crest Trail along Tibbets Creek, toward the polished granite peaks of the Domeland Wilderness. The terrain rises to 7,500 feet, and both hikers and rock climbers may consider it a challenging warmup for their High Sierra treks later in the summer.

But today you seek the fish that lurk within the tumbling pools of the Kern River’s south fork. Head downstream from camp through the steep canyon toward Manter Creek. The trail stops after about half a mile, but you can see the shimmering water below. After a mile or so you leave all vestiges of civilization behind.

Your reward is a glistening, cascading stream, tumbling from one sparkling pool to the next.

By evening you’re back on the sandy beach, relaxing below the cottonwoods, grilling your trout. The Sierra night is crisp and cool, and the constellations shine with an intensity you forgot existed. You daydream about following that trail north up the main Kern, into the Golden Trout Wilderness, on to Mount Whitney, Kings Canyon, Yosemite. You court the temptation to follow the Range of Light all the way to the Washington Cascades. Now it’s the city that’s only a rumor.

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