California's Great Western Divide

Can you find solitude in Sequoia National Park? You can if you go off trail.


I know of a hiker who, after a splendid trip, returned to the Mineral King trailhead in Sequoia National Park and found her car’s fuel line gnawed through by a marmot. In an admirable fit of denial, she slammed the hood, hiked back up the trail, and eventually went cross-country along the Great Western Divide, a jagged spine of granite 12,000 feet high and riddled with glacier-gouged canyons and alpine lakes. Despite the fact that Mineral King is a busy trailhead, she camped in perfect solitude that night with only the stars for company. To this day, she still thanks that varmint.

By going off-trail, she’d solved the classic Sierra dilemma: finding solitude just hours from Los Angeles. Black Rock Pass, Sawtooth Pass, and Franklin Pass Trails will get you over the Great Western Divide in a hard day’s hike, two if you aren’t acclimated to the altitude. There, you can take off cross-country in the rugged but open terrain between the Divide and Mt. Whitney. Pack a compass and topo map, or you’ll end up lost in the quest to lose others. If off-trail travel isn’t your bag, then visit in midweek or any time other than summer for peace and quiet. Obtain a backcountry permit in advance.

Where: 255 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The trailhead is 25 miles east from the town of Three Rivers on Mineral King Road. The road to Mineral King is closed until May 30.

Maps:Recreation Map of Sequoia and Kings Canyon ($7.95, Tom Harrison Maps, 800-265-9090). Sierra South: 100 Back-Country Trips ($14.95, Wilderness Press, 800-443-7227).

Trail Info: Sequoia National Park, (209) 565-3766.