The main attraction for this trip resides in the Inyo National Forest known as Volcano Meadow. Volcano Meadow was formed thousands of years ago when the Sierra Nevadas were being developed. Today one can visit these long inactive volcanoes and their affects on the landscape. Volcano meadow contains natural lava made bridges, waterfalls, hollowed out volcanoes, and more. It is the ancestral home to the Volcano Creek Golden Trout and this particular area has the purist strains. One can enter into the center of Groundhog Cinder Cone Volcano from the north. The best part is it being protected within the wilderness boundaries and few people go there.
If you are traveling from the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, consider an alternative route to Groundhog Cinder Cone. It is a 3 day trip totaling 31.5 miles, but can be broken out into a longer trip (shorter miles per day!). Check it out -> HERE
Day 1 – Blackrock Trailhead to Fat Cow Meadow Creek (10 miles)
The trail begins at Blackrock Trailhead located at the end of Forest Service Road 21S03. After walking a few hundred yards a Golden Trout Wilderness sign is visible. Not only does the sign announce the wilderness boundary, but the sign also represents a change from the Sequoia National Forest to the Inyo National Forest. About 1.8 miles later the trail comes to Casa Vieja Meadows. Continue 0.2 miles to a trail junction. Go east heading around the northern side of Casa Vieja Meadows. Another trail junction comes into view within a few hundred feet. Stay to the left (north) and the trail takes will ascend over a small saddle.
After trekking for 2.3 miles and leaving Casa Vieja Meadows, the trail comes to another intersection near Long Canyon Creek. Take a right (east) to proceed up Long Canyon. Another 0.5 miles, take a left (north) to continue up Long Canyon for another 3.2 miles. A couple of springs are along the way to refill. If they have dried out, just go down into Long Canyon and refill at Long Canyon Creek.
Once the 3.2 miles is complete, the trail descends from the highest point along the trip (9,460 feet). Go 2 more miles and the trail comes to the last trail junction for the day. Continue north (left) for another few hundred feet and Fat Cow Meadow Creek is the final destination for the day. If the there is no water, proceed further along the trail for about a mile to come to Strawberry Creek.
Day 2 – Fat Cow Meadow Creek to Volcano Meadow (10.6 miles)
Day 2 is long, but with the elevation changing slightly over the next 10 miles, it makes for a nice long walk. From Fat Cow Meadow Creek (8,700 feet) the trail goes north to Strawberry Creek (1.0 miles). Once at Strawberry Creek (8,610 feet), make a left (west-northwest) and follow along the creek for another half a mile. Templeton Mountain is on your right towering almost 10,000 feet! It is a dormant dome shaped volcano. Stay to the right after walking the half a mile and proceed another 1.2 miles to the next trail junction in the mildde of Templeton Meadows (8620 feet).
Once at the Templeton Meadows junction, proceed straight to Ramshaw Meadows (west-northwest). The next 5 miles treks along the western edges of Templeton Meadows and Ramshaw Meadows. If water is needed, head into the meadow carefully as to not disturb any wildlife that may nest/live there and return to the trail. Ramshaw Meadows exists within the headwaters of the South Fork of the Kern River. A small climb uphill will be at the top of Ramshaw Meadows. Red Hill will be on the left at 9,469 feet elevation. Another remnant volcano.
At the end of the 5 mile trek from Templeton Meadow Junction, the trail goes in three different directions. Make a left, heading southish, but make sure to stay to the right as it quickly splits into two trails. The correct trail follows the creek on your right and drifts away from Red Hill. Go another 0.3 miles for a smaller trail junction and make a right (west). Another 0.6 miles and the trail enters into the top of old volcano flows from Groundhog Cinder Cone. One can camp anywhere, but if you make a left at the trail junction and go 2 more miles the trail will take you along side the southern portion of Groundhog Cinder Cone and into Volcano Meadow.
Day 3 to 5 – Options and Trekking Back
Either spend day 3 relaxing and exploring the area or head back. If you do spend the day, take a walk into Groundhog Cinder Cone. The volcano must have ruptured out on the northern side giving access to its center. Go fishing back at Golden Trout Creek and while doing so, head down stream to see Natural Bridge. Be prepared for a longer trek as the round trip from Volcano Meadow is approximately 8 miles.
Heading back, just retrace your footsteps to the trail head. Overall the trip back should be mostly downhill. It should be relatively easy to make good time and maintaining your pace.