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.
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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.

Contact Information:

Sequoia National Forest

Cannell Meadow Ranger District

Box 6

Kernville, CA 93238

(619) 376-3781

Inyo National Forest

Mt. Whitney Ranger District

Box 8

Lone Pine, CA 93545

(619) 876-6200

Location:

The Golden Trout Wilderness is at the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada in California, 150 miles north of Los Angeles. It's 60 miles to Kernville and 75 miles to Ridgecrest. Kennedy Meadows is a little closer but only offers a restaurant and grocery store (no phone).

Getting There:

Take US 395 north from Los Angeles to about 14 miles north of Inyokern. Head northwest on County Road J41 (Nine Mile Canyon Road). Take the jeep road west, following the signs to Rockhouse Basin.

Seasonal Information:

In the late spring and summer, expect warm weather in the afternoons (mid-80s) cooling quickly when the sun sets, and chilling into the 30s in early and late seasons. The river may be low late in the season. There may be flash storms in late July and August.

The area is unreachable November through April.

Wildlife:

Deer, bears, marmots, mountain lions, squirrels, and birds of prey are common.

The pools harbor trout, rainbows and brookies mostly, with a few huge browns lurking in the shadows, spooking at the slightest hint of a false cast. The rainbows, though, aren't picky. Not having seen many people, they bite spinners or worms readily.

Insects:

No information available.

Plant Life:

Vegetation ranges from digger and pi?yon pine woodlands at lower elevations to extensive Jeffrey pine forests at mid elevations, and red fir and lodgepole and foxtail pine at higher elevations.

Meandering alongside the river through cottonwood groves and pine-dotted meadows, early-season hikers can enjoy the brilliant purples and oranges of lupine and Indian paintbrush. Farther north is Kennedy Meadows, which is more accessible and crowded. Leave that for late autumn.

Facilities:

  • Camping is primitive in the wilderness.
  • There are many developed campgrounds within Sequoia and most are free.

Parking:

No information available.

Permits:

Free wilderness permits and campfire permits are required for overnight trips into the Golden Trout Wilderness Area only. They are available from the Kernville office or from Black Rock Station.

Policies:

  • Motor vehicles and bicycles are prohibited.
  • Maximum group size is 15 people and 25 head of stock.

Hazards:

  • Stay with the stream whenever possible; the canyon is often slick, and the cliffs are filled with brambles. Long pants and sturdy shoes are suggested.

Watch out for rattlesnakes and mosquitoes.

Leave No Trace:

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps:

  • Use USGS Lamont Peak quadrangle.
  • A combination road, trail, and topo map is available from the forest service.

Other Trip Options:

Red Rock Canyon State Park is located about 20 miles southeast of Sequoia.