The 164-square-mile Mokelumne Wilderness is a crazy quilt of terrain straddling the crest of the central Sierra Nevada, midway between Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe. You'll find everything from open granite domes and tundra to deep, forested rivers, rough, weathered mountains, and a high plateau dotted with many tarns and small lakes.
The Mokelumne presents more than 100 miles of seldom-visited trails to choose from, but for utter solitude head south. There you'll find a rugged three-day hike through spectacular country that begins at the Plasse Trading Post trailhead. The route winds south along Squaw Ridge, then drops from the main plateau to the Mokelumne River. The trail then climbs up Horse Canyon and back over Squaw Ridge, to the western side of the Sierra, and home. It's a big loop featuring wilderness qualities hard to find in crowded California.
LENGTH: 24 miles, three days.
RATING: Difficult. Elevation changes of 2,000 feet are common.
WHERE: The Mokelumne Wilderness is 190 miles (4 hours) east of San Francisco. To reach Plasse Trading Post trailhead, turn right (east) off of CA 88 onto Tragedy Springs Road (17E21). Drive 6 miles to the small town of Allen, then turn right onto Squaw Ridge Road (9N82). Park in a small turnout 1 mile ahead near Plasse Trading Post.
MAP: Several USGS 7.5-minute quads cover the area: Caples Lake, Mokelumne Peak, Bear River Reservoir, and Carson Pass (Map Link, 800-962-1394; $6 each). Sierra North, by Thomas Winnett and others (1997; Wilderness Press, Berkeley, CA; 800-443-7227; $14.95), contains hike descriptions.
CONTACT: Amador District, Stanislaus National Forest, (209) 295-4251.