Kings Canyon and the Muir Wilderness allow at least three relatively easy ways to
cross the Sierra region (east to west or viceversa) on a one-day hike:
1. From Edison Lake to Mosquito Flat(first done in august 2006)
Group A hikes from Lake Edison to Mosquito Flat.
Directions for the western trailhead (Lake Edison, Group A). It takes about 5 hours from the Bay Area to Lake Edison. Take 101 south, 152 east (exit 356 in Gilroy), 99 south, Herndon east, 168 east to Shaver Lake, Huntington Lake, Kaiser Pass. After Kaiser Pass the road becomes narrow and goes down into a valley. After about 30 kms, one reaches Edison Lake. There is a resort and campground by the lake (vermilion Valley Resort, 559 259-4000). The resort runs the boat that crosses the lake (from the resort to the eastern shore) at 4pm, returning at 4:45pm. There are bear lockers on the eastern shore.
Directions for the eastern trailhead (Mosquito Flat, Group B). It takes about 7 hours from the Bay Area to Mosquito Flat. Drive through Yosemite on 120 east. Drive south on 395 past Mammoth Lakes and Crowley Lake and turn right to go to Tom's Place (45' from Mono Lake to Tom's Place). At the exit follow the sign "sno-park". You will pass: French camp, Holiday camp, Aspen camp, Big Meadows camp, Palisades, East Fork, Pine Grove, Rock Creek and the Pack Station. Then the road narrows. The first parking lot is the overflow parking lot. Proceed to the end of the paved road at the Mosquito Flat parking lot (15'). Ideally, park at the very end of this parking lot, which is the trailhead. There are bear lockers. After the restrooms, a bridge connects to the hikers' campground (in theory, you need a wilderness permit to camp here, even if you are going for a day hike only). Mosquito Flat is marked MOSFLT in this map
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere the two groups meet and exchange car keys. Both groups: take your wallets with you because you have to drive the other group's car and you have to pay for the boat ride.
Trail (west to east):
In 2006 the GPS gave these data at the end of the hike: Distance 30.87 km. Average moving speed: 4.3 km/h. Elevation gain: 1665 meters. Elevation loss: 885 meters.
As long as they don't miss the boat at 4:45pm (which reaches the parking lot around 5:30pm), Group B will be home before midnight.
See below for the driving distances from the Bay Area to Kaiser Pass. From the Edison-Florence fork it's about:
Hike's milestones, west to east (and 2006 times):
2. From Roads End to Onion Valley(first done in 2004)
The trail from Roads End parallels Bubbs Creek until it intersects the Pacific Crest trail (22kms). It is flat for the first hour, then, after the four bridges, it winds up steeply towards the Sphinx Trail junction. Continue east (towards Vidette Meadow). The trail is then mostly flat through lush vegetation (lots of mosquitoes). A new section of steep switchbacks take to the junction with the John Muir trail. Turn left (north) for 2kms. Then turn right towards the Kearsarge Lakes (4kms). Do not take the north direction towards Charlotte Lake even if the sign says "Kearsarge Pass" (it's longer and you would miss the lakes). The trail becomes flat again and borders Bullfrog Lakes and the Kearsarge Lakes (3322m). Then it climbs to the Pass (the pass is the V-shaped hole above the last of the lakes). This is probably the steepest stretch of the hike, but not very long. From Kearsarge Pass (3584m) there are amazing views on both sides. From Kearsarge Pass to the parking lot of Onion Valley is very steep downhill. There are more lakes going down (at least four). The grand total is 36kms.
West to east is mostly downhill, so even faster.
Directions for the eastern trailhead for the Bay Area.
Take 101 south, 152 east lo Los Banos (about 1 hr 30') to 99 (about 2hr),
99 south to Fresno (about 300 kms, 2h 30').
In Fresno, take 180 east and follow it (the freeway is not completed yet,
it will go through town and then turn left into Kings Canyon Ave)
to the Big Stump park entrance (85 kms, 1h 15')
to the fork with Sequoia Park (5') to Grant Grove village (3kms, visitor center,
restaurant, water, restrooms, market)
to Cedar Grove (50 winding kms, 50', via Kings Canyon Lodge 20', Boyden Cavern 30', Kings Canyon border 40') and then (10 kms) Roads End.
Directions for the western trailhead. Drive through Yosemite on 120 east. Drive south on 395 to Independence. Turn right towards Onion Valley and drive to the end of the road, which is the campground.
Camping at Onion Valley is difficult. The caretaker of the local concentration camp (in 2010) does not let people camp in the parking lot (the environmentally friendliest way of camping). Unlawfully, you can head for campsites 7-8. Look for the sign "trailhead". Hike 50 meters and you should find flat spots to camp. The unfriendly caretaker is not paid to patrol the trail so he won't bother you. If you want to be 100% legal, get a (free) permit for overnight camping on the Robinson Lake trail and you can camp anywhere along that trail (e.g., 50 meters from the campground).
Campgrounds: Canyon View ($18 in 2004), Moraine (ditto), Sentinel (ditto) are all in the Cedar Grove area. They are all at 1400m of altitude. The National Forest (free camping) is just before Cedar Grove.
3. From Lake Florence to North Lake(first done in 2007)
Group A hikes from Lake Florence to North Lake.
Directions for the western trailhead (Lake Florence, Group A). It takes at least 5 hours from the Bay Area to Lake Florence. Take 101 south, 152 east, 99 south. Before Fresno, take the Herndon exit and find Herndon East (not terribly obvious, turn left at the traffic light over the railway tracks). Keep driving east (many traffic lights). Eventually you will see a sign for 168 east. Continue on 168 east (uphill) passing Shaver Lake and bypassing Huntington Lake. The road summits at Kaiser Pass. After Kaiser Pass the road becomes narrow and goes down into a valley. After about 18 kms from Kaiser Pass one passes the Bolsillo campground and Forest Office and after 2kms one reaches a fork: Florence Lake to the right, Lake Edison to the left. The branch that goes to Florence Lake is about 9 kms (Ward Lake is half way between this fork and Florence Lake). There is a store and a campground by the lake. The store runs the ferry that crosses the lake (from the store to the eastern shore) five times a day, from 9am till 5pm. Group A can start hiking very early only if it takes the ferry the day before at 4:30pm, and camps on the eastern side of the lake. Before starting the hike, Group A can pack tent/sleepingbags and leave them at the landing.
Directions for the eastern trailhead (North Lake, Group B).. North Lake is located off 168 west of Bishop, about 1.5hours driving time south of Mono Lake, i.e. 6/7 hours from the Bay Area. From Bishop, take 168 west, aka West Line St, almost to the end. The road passes Aspendell after 20'. Slow down and turn right into the dirt road that goes to North Lake (if you get to Lake Sabrina you went too far on 168). When you turn right for North Lake, follow the road with the 15MPH sign (the other one is usually closed). The road is narrow and unpaved for a few kms. The (very small) campground and the trailhead are located past the lake: the moment you pass the lake to your right, you get to a fork for either the campground and trailhead (left) or hikers' parking (right). Only campers are allowed to camp at the trailhead. If you are not camping, then you should use the hikers' parking lot and walk an extra km to the trailhead. There are two trailheads at the North Lake campground: take the one for Piute Pass. (Note: the only way to legally park a car at the trailhead the whole day is to pay a campsite for two nights, and it is expensive at $19 in 2008).
Group B: don't forget that you need to take your wallet (driver license and all) with at least $10 (in 2007) with you to pay for the ferry. Group B: make sure you reach Lake Florence by 5pm (last ferry). If group B is large enough, they can call the ferry even after 5pm and the ferry will most likely come. Group B: make sure you pick up Group A's tent/sleepingbags before boarding the ferry.
Trail (west to east):
The most scenic section is between the John Muir Trail and Piute Pass.
If hiking east to west, and arriving after dark, it might be tricky to follow the last km of trail to the exact location of the landing (N37.24962 W118.94091).
The western driving route is by far the most complex, so here are driving times to Florence Lake:
Hiking time (2007):
4. From Mammoth trailhead to the Mammoth Lakes areaIt is possible to hike from the "Mammoth" trailhead northeast of Oakhurst to the Devil's Postpile area south of Mono Lake. This is a relatively short (24 kms) and relaxing (lush vegetation) version of the trans-sierra. Altitude is not an issue.
Driving directions from the Bay Area: take 580 east and then highway 99 south to Merced and then take 140 to Mariposa/Yosemite and then in Mariposa take 49 east to Oakhurst (a Yosemite visitor center, across the highway from the Shilo Inn). You can also take 145 from Madera to Oakhurst, but a lot of people get lost trying that.
From Oakhurst take 41 north. Five kms north of Oakhurst turn right into Bass Lake Rd and 5 kms later turn left on 274 and then left again on Beasore Road and continue straight for about 80 kms until the Clover Meadow Ranger Station. From the ranger station to the dead end is about 10kms of unpaved road. The road from Bass Lake is good for about 45 minutes, then it gets bad (although still paved) for about 45 minutes, then it gets seriously bad for the last 30 minutes. There are plenty of signs except for a couple of spots towards the end.
100 meters before the end of the road there is a parking lot. There is no water, there are no bear boxes, no restrooms. Camp anywhere in the parking lot.
Park and return to the road and continue straight up. There are two "trails" (one heading west and one heading east) on the way. Ignore them. Yours is the only one that is really a hiking trail and heads northeast.
The trail dives steeply towards the San Joaquin River (at 1800m the lowest point of the hike). Then crosses the bridge and starts going up consistently, passing a series of meadows each of which affords a bit of rest during the uphill climb. The names on the maps (Snake Meadow, Corral Meadow, Cargyle Meadow) are pointless because the few signs along the trail do not have them. Even if you wanted to, it's hard to make mistakes at the junctions because only one is clearly visible. The other trails that join yours are really difficult to spot. Most of the way is in the forest.
The first meadow is Snake Meadow: it has a sign pointing to Hemlock Crossing and to 77 Corral. You want to continue straight to the latter. After about 30 minutes of meadows, there is a creek crossing, then 25 minutes of uphill, then 5 minutes to a clearing and finally the first views of the mountains to the north. After another junction with a trail that heads to Hemlock Crossing whose sign is nailed to the ground. The trail continues east flat. In 100 meters there is a junction with the trail coming from Iron Lake just before a shallow creek crossing (to the right you should notice living-room furniture made with chainsaws). This is probably Corral Meadow (2400m).
Ten minutes later there is another creek crossing. Next is Cargyle Meadow (a meadow at the foot of a mountain), announced by some wooden plank that help you cross a swampy section. Steep switchbacks take you in 30 minutes to a summit from where you have the first good views of the western mountains. Now you are on a foresty plateau, passing by a flowery meadow. Ten minutes later a sign announces that you are crossing the Lower Staircase Creek. Fifteen minutes later you pass another tiny creek, presumably the upper one. Then the trail begins to descend. Fifteen minutes later (five hours into the hike) you reach the bottom of the Granite Stairway. The trail goes up steep again for half an hour. At the summit (the highest point of the hike) you have great views of the Minarets. This is when you exit the forest.
After a steep descend, in 25 minutes you reach the fork to Fern Lake. You now have unobstructed views south. The steep descend continues coasting the canyon on your left until it crosses the King Snow Creek, about one hour after the Fern Lake junction. This is a wide crossing with low water. After this there is another uphill section, this time on a annoyingly sandy trail. Then the trail dives one last time towards Devil Postpile. It's about 30' from the crossing to the sign welcoming you to Devil's Postpile and a further 15' to the junction with the John Muir Trail. The ranger station is 15' down the trail, past Soda Springs. You will know you have arrived because a) the number of people around multiplies by 100 and b) you hit the river.
Weather for western trailhead
Weather for Devil's Postpile
5. From Lake Edison to Pine Creek via Italy Pass
Western trailhead: Lake Edison ((2,300m).
It takes about 5 hours from the Bay Area to Lake Edison. Take 101 south, 152 east (exit 356 in Gilroy), 99 south,
Herndon east, 168 east to Shaver Lake, Huntington Lake, Kaiser Pass. After Kaiser Pass the road becomes narrow and goes down into a valley. After about 30 kms, one reaches Edison Lake. There is a resort and campground by the lake (vermilion Valley Resort, 559 259-4000).
The trailhead is at the dam, southwest of the lake, before the resort.
Follow the signs for "Vista Point" and you get to
the Bear Ridge trailhead. There is a bear box at the trailhead.
(Make sure you do NOT get confused by the big sign "Bear Creek Cutoff" that
is a completely different trailhead)
Eastern trailhead: Pine Mill Creek trailhead. Take the Rovanna Exit off highway 395 just north of Bishop, and drive west to the Pine Creek Pack station
(2,255m). The road continues beyond the pack station, but there is a gate that
stops you from driving any further.
Make sure you take the Pine Lake and Honeymoon Lake trail.
It's about 10 kms to Honeymoon lake (3,169m). A use trail continues towards
Granite Park but soon disappears when you start hopping over boulders, but
countless cairns mark the route. You cannot see Italy Pass but you can see
the false pass to its left.
Milestones (west to east):
6. From Roads End to Independence via Harrison Pass
The Kings-Kern Divide is a 10 km horizontal ridge (from Thunder Mt in the west to Mt Stanford in the east) that separates the Kings River basin on the north from the Kern River basin to the south, and that connects the Great Western Divide (Thunder Mt and mountains to the south) with the Sierra Nevada (Mt Stanford being in between the Palisades and Mt Williamson).
The KK Divide can also be reached from Shepherd Pass via a trail that ends at Lake South America, very near both Lucy's Pass and Milly's Pass. While there is no official trail, one can therefore hike in a few hours from East Lake (the southeastern terminus of the trail coming from Roads End) to Lake South America (the northwestern terminus of the trail coming from Shepherd Pass).
Harrison Pass (3880m) might however be an easier (if longer) option to achieve this trans-sierra route. After leaving the trail south of East Lake, stay left (north) of Lake Jimi Hendrix and keep following the creek east. After passing one lake to the right, one lake to the left, climbing a massive wall with a spectacular waterfall, you reach the glacier announced by the twin lakes. From the second twin lake you have the best views of the west face of Mt Stanford and in front of you is the 1km long barrier of Harrison Pass that connects Mt Stanford and Mt Ericsson. From here the slope to the latter looks deadly. However if you make it to the pass, you will see that it is just easy class-2. Once on the other side of the pass, you are exactly north of Lake South America. Read here for details on crossing the Kings-Kern Divide.