Day 1, Day 2

Permit - A permit is required for all overnight stays in Emigrant Wilderness. Permits can be obtained in person at the Summit Ranger Station at 1 Pinecrest Road in Pinecrest off Highway 108. There are currently no trailhead quotas or fees for the permit.

Mileage/Terrain - Day 1 was Kennedy Meadows Trailhead to Relief Reservoir, approximately 4.25 miles (your mileage will vary based on site selection). There is a net elevation gain of approximately 1,100'. Terrain varies from nice tree cover to exposed dusty sections. The trail has some steep sections with steps. Day 2 was a 5.75 mile day hike to Grouse Creek and Summit Creek. See map/profiles below.

Camps/Water - There is a bathroom, trash cans, water at Kennedy Meadows Trailhead. The first part of the hike takes you past the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station (has store and restaurant).

Hazards - Black Bears, creek crossings, snow, mice/squirrels, and mosquitoes. Nearest Ranger # 209-965-3434 (always check with ranger ahead of time for current water/trail conditions - this season it is simply a must because of the long wet winter and massive spring runoff).



Tyler and I ended up deciding on this two night backpacking adventure on the north side of Emigrant Wilderness. We would start at the Kennedy Meadows Trailhead off Highway 108 east of Strawberry (and west of Sonora Pass) and head to Relief Reservoir to find a nice site above the reservoir. This winter had lots of snow and much of it is still hanging around. The creeks/rivers are all running very high. When we were planning this trip I called up a ranger to check on current conditions and they had only recently opened up this trailhead. After checking in with the ranger in person at Summit Ranger Station we were warned of dangerous high water conditions and lots of snow still at the higher elevations. The trail to Relief Reservoir was clear though, so we decided to continue with our original plan. Conditions were forecast to be hot with a chance of afternoon thunderstorms. This shot is at the campsite we picked with Relief Reservoir below us. Here is the map and profile of the trip in and the day hike the next day.



The trailhead is pictured below with Tyler walking out the way you come into the lot. If you are headed eastbound on highway 108 you will make a right onto Kennedy Meadows Road and quickly drive past Baker Campground. You will see the trailhead parking on the left side of the road. There is a large lot with some spaces designated for horse trailers. The sign at the trailhead says there is a two night maximum on trailhead camping (that can be paid to the iron ranger). Trailhead has pit toilet, trash cans, some picnic tables and water.



Here are the facilities at the trailhead. Usage was light for us midweek, but the lot was filling up when we left on the Friday. I imagine this is a popular destination on the weekends..



Once you are ready to hit the trail you can either walk out the way you drove in, or head to the end of the parking lot and hike down the path to the road you came in on (either way is equally fine). Here is where you would leave the parking lot to head down to the to use the trail. The trail (pasty big rock and then right between bushes) winds you down to the next picture. There are no signs to tell you that this is the trail down to the road.



You can see Tyler with his pack on the trail and the parking lot above and to the right. The trail is not the most direct route but it does make it feel like you are starting a backpacking trip/hike. You get to walk on (or near) the roadway for a while. While it is ~1.5 miles to the official Emigrant Wilderness boundary, you aren't dodging vehicles the whole way. Continue to follow the road south.



The road follows the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River on the way in. You can see in this shot that the water is CRAZY. I mean the water is loud and whipping through this section. Continue to carefully follow the road over the bridge and past the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.



There are some more campsites that you pass along the way, and then some cabins, and then you come to the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station on the left side of this picture. There is a store and restaurant here. Yes, the store has cold adult beverages for sale. Since it was a little bit too early for a cold adult beverage, I continued to hike past the pack station and to the gate that is on the other side of the backhoe/garbage truck (the backhoe was picking up trash from cabins using its front bucket, so we labeled it the garbage truck).



Here is the gate to the start of the more trail like section. The trail is still a road though, and it is used by the ranger and others that have access. On the Friday we left we saw 6 or 7 vehicles utilizing this roadway, so keep an eye/ear out for vehicles until you get to the wilderness boundary. The trail/road follows the river and with the noise of the river you may not hear an approaching vehicle. You also will encounter horses along this road/trail. The name of the place you just past means there are horses that travel down the trail.



Here is the road/trail. It is mostly open with great views of the surrounding mountains. While the white stuff in the distance is surely melting fast, it is still liable to hang around for a month or more at the higher elevations. The road/trail heads up to the water tank and then slightly down through an exposed dusty section. Most of this section is a little dusty due to the vehicle and horse traffic.



This shot shows how the trailhead got its name. Be sure to look right for a waterfall in the distance on the other side of the river. On the way out we saw some people fishing the few slower spots of the river. I am sure there were some tired fish hanging out in those spots.



The river broadens through here but still is moving fast. Here is Tyler getting a pesky rock out of his boot at the water's edge.



OK, finally made it to the actual trail section now. No more vehicles but still be ready to encounter horses. The ones we had pass were all friendly and eager to give us directions (well the riders of the horses of course, not the horses). This sign has to be brand new - it was perfect.



You cross the river now on a footbridge (thank goodness as you would not be able to cross it any other way). Here is Tyler on the bridge. The water was creating a nice air-conditioning effect with the slight breeze off of it. It was nice to stand on the bridge for a bit and cool down.


Here is the nice calm stream below the bridge...


The trail continues now on the opposite side of the river. You make a left after crossing the bridge and follow the river through the canyon beyond. The trail starts up now and gets more rocky. Here is Tyler on the trail.



The trail can be seen in this shot with the river to the left. The echoes of the rushing water off the face of the rock was pretty cool.



I took this shot on the way out (better light), and it shows the amount of water that is pouring into the river. The water on the top is Kennedy Creek going into the river. The trail continues its uphill trajectory to the next footbridge. The trail remains exposed and rocky through this section.



This footbridge is high above the water and this bridge is much longer than the first.



Continue up the trail as shown in the image below. I am amazed that the horses are able to make it up these steep rocky sections so easily (well there is one section that the horses take a right and hikers can take a left to go up more directly)..



After an ascent you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the water coming out of the reservoir.



There are two places on this trail where there is some old equipment slowly rusting away. I am not sure if this is old mining equipment or something used in the construction of the dam for the reservoir? I am guessing the latter but really not sure.



After the trail levels off for a bit you will come to the junction with Kennedy Lake. A pair of backpackers we chatted with in the parking lot briefly were headed that way. On the map it appears there is another footbridge along that trail. Stay right for Relief Reservoir.



As we were climbing the trail with brief views of the reservoir we saw that the weather appeared to be turning. We decided that it would be best to get off the trail and find a good place to setup the tent in case we needed to get out of the weather. It started to sprinkle some, but it luckily didn't get any worse. We setup the tent and stayed low while the thunderstorms traveled through. We picked an established site that had evidence of a campfire in the not so distant past. Here is a shot of the reservoir and dam in the distance. You can also see the dark clouds in the distance.



We took our time and went down to the reservoir. There was no real easy way to get down there from our site. We tried to pick the least steep path. Here is Tyler at the water's edge.



Here is the view looking south. There was a nice breeze moving the clouds along. It was almost a little muggy with the moisture the thunderstorms brought in. It was much cooler by the water so we stayed down here a bit.



We finished setting up camp and filtered some water out of the nearest creek. Our site was between two nice creeks with fast flowing cold water. We were tired from our hike in but tried to stay up for a while to give our tent a chance to cool down. Here is the last pictures of the day at sunset.




Continue to Page 2 by clicking here. Scroll down for map and elevation profile.


Red line shows the section we hiked with packs.
Blue line is day hike on day 2 to Grouse Creek and Summit Creek (and return trip).
Elevation profiles below map.

Click on map or profile for larger version.

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