NorCal Roadtrips

An Explorer's Guide to Northern California

Exploring the Sierra National Forest

The Sierra National Forest covers some pretty impressive territory, ranging south and east of Yosemite National Park in the north down to Kings Canyon National Park in the south. That's more than 1.3 million acres and encompasses 5 nationally designated wilderness areas: the Ansel Adams, Dinkey Lakes, John Muir, Kaiser and Monarch Wilderness areas. Elevations range from 900-13,986 feet. In addition, there are 6 nationally recognized recreation trails: Black Point, Kings River, Lewis Creek, Pacific Crest, Rancheria Falls and Shadow of the Giants National Recreation Trails. There are also 2 national scenic byways: the Sierra Vista and Sierra Heritage Scenic Byways.

Things To Do


Over 1,000 miles of trail beckon the day-hiker, backpacker and rider.

Winter Sports

Downhill skiing is limited here, with a single area located near Huntington Lake. Cross-country skiers can partake of hundreds of miles of marked trails, primarily in the Goat Meadow, Tamarack Ridge and Whiskey Falls areas. Caltrans-maintained SNO-PARK areas can be found along Hwy. 168. Day or annual passes are required.

Whitewater Rafting

The Lower Merced and Kings rivers offer guided and non-guided rafting opportunities. Permits are not required for non-guided trips.

Off-road Adventures

This is kind of a rewarding area for fans of off-road travel. For those whose vehicle of choice has 4 wheels we list a series of trails toward the end of this section. For those limited to 2 wheels try the Miami Motorcycle Area. The latter requires a "green sticker" and operation by a licensed driver.


Many lakes and reservoirs, along with rivers and streams, make this an attractive place for the angler. These opportunities will be discussed in considerable detail in this dissertation.


Hundreds of established campgrounds make it easy to find a place to sleep under the stars and (usually) fill your canteen. Being a national forest, fans of a more primitive lifestyle can camp about anywhere, subject to limitations in some areas like the wilderness areas. The latter require a wilderness permit for overnight travel and reservations are recommended from May thru November as this popular place. Contact the High Sierra Ranger Station at (559) 855-5360 for more information.


Bass Lake- A year-round destination at 3,500 feet with boating of all types plus fishing and camping. Click the Bass Lake link for more information.

Florence & Edison Lakes- neighboring reservoirs at 7,500 feet with boating with a 15 mph speed limit and fishing for native trout. Fish are not stocked here and the access road is not for large motorhomes or trailers. Click the link for more information: Edison/Florence lakes.

Huntington Lake- a 6 mile long lake with boating of all types, camping and fishing for a variety of trout species plus some kokanee salmon. Click the Huntington Lake link for more information.

Redinger & Kerckhoff Lakes- Nearby lakes with different attributes. Redinger is the larger, with boating of all types while Kerckhoff is for car-top boats and float tubes. Fishing is poor at both. Camping is limited to 5 sites at Kerckhoff and none at Redinger. Click the Redinger/Kerckhoff lakes link for more information.

Mammoth Pool Reservoir- A 1,000 surface acre lake at 3,300 feet with all types of boating, camping and fishing for stocked rainbow and native trout. Click the Mammoth Pool link for more information.

Pine Flat Reservoir- A 4,300 surface acre lake with 67 miles of shoreline and a multitude of amenities, including ample camping. Fishing is primarily for warm-water species with rainbow trout plants in the spring. Click the Pine Flat link for more information.

Shaver Lake- A 2,000 surface acre lake with 22 miles of shoreline set at 5,370 feet. This is primarily a family vacation retreat and not for those craving solitude. Click the Shaver Lake link for more information.

Courtright & Wishon Reservoirs- neighboring lakes set at 8,200 and 6,500 feet respectively with the same access road. Both offer boating with a 15 mph speed limit and fishing for stocked rainbow trout. For more information click the Courtright/Wishon lakes link.

Fresno Dome- A poor-mans half-dome. A granite dome with views.

McKinley Grove- View some giant sequoia up close-and-personal from a paved, wheelchair accessible trail.

Mile High Vista- A must-do stop on the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway.

Mono Hot Springs- several natural springs located near the Mono Hot Springs campground.

Nelder Grove- A grove of giant sequoia, a campground with displays of historic logging equipment and the 1-mile self-guided Shadow of the Giants National Recreation Trail.

Way-of-the-Mono Interpretive Trail- 3/4 miles of self-guided history lesson into the lives of the native people.

The Kings River- One of our prettier and most impressive rivers, popular with whitewater rafters. From the west it skirts the northern boundary of Giant Sequoia National Monument before entering Kings Canyon National Park.

Off-Road Adventures

We always recommend purchasing our favorite guide to these endeavors: Backcountry Adventures: Northern California by Peter Massey & Jeanne Wilson (Swagman Publishing).

Dinkey-Trimmer Road- 26.7 miles rated "1" (easy- any type of vehicle) for difficulty. From the west it starts at Pine Flat Reservoir and tracks Big Creek for a time until it ends at the Dinkey Creek Campground (see the Sierra Heritage Scenic Byway- click the link).

Sycamore Springs Trail- 9.2 miles rated "3" (moderate- high clearance vehicle) for difficulty. Connects with the Dinkey-Trimmer Road (above) with views of the Kings River Valley.

Kings River Trail- 6.7 miles one-way rated "2" (easy- high clearance vehicle) for difficulty. This is the place to be if you want to fish or raft the Kings River, as the trail tracks the river for the duration of the trip. There are numerous camping opportunities, as well as raft put-ins at Garnet Dike and Hermit Hole. Some of the rapids are rated Class IV. In the east this trail ends at the Kings River National Recreation Trail.

Sawmill Flat Road- 10.1 miles rated "1" (easy- any type of vehicle) for difficulty. Views of the Kings River Valley are the attraction.

Granite Gorge Overlook Trail- 4.4 miles rated "3" (moderate) for difficulty. It connects with the Sawmill Flat Road (above) and leads to Wishon Reservoir.

Big Creek Railroad Grade Trail- 12.8 miles rated "1" (easy- any type of vehicle) for difficulty. Follows a railroad grade abandoned in the 1930's and ends in the east near Huntington Lake Road.

Balloon Dome Overlook Trail- 23.1 miles rated "2" (easy) for difficulty. Views of Kaiser Peak and Balloon Dome, the latter quite picturesque.

Mt. Tom Fire Lookout Trail- A 2.7 mile spur to a manned fire lookout from the Balloon Dome Overlook Trail rated "3" (moderate) for difficulty.

Onion Spring OHV Route- 5.7 miles one-way rated "4" (moderate) for difficulty starting at Lake Thomas A. Edison and ending at an entrance into the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Roadtrips in the Area

Sierra Heritage Scenic Byway- Hwy. 168 Clovis to Huntington Lake & Beyond

Sierra Vista Scenic Byway- A National Forest Loop

-The End-