The Grand Tour is not necessarily walking every trail within the Golden Trout Wilderness. Rather this trek keeps along the outer boundary of the Wilderness as one giant loop. The hiker will get to see views of canyons, lakes, meadows, volcano flows, hot springs, and more. The trip starts on the Sequoia National Forest’s Summit Trailhead, but can easily begin on the Inyo National Forest at Horseshoe Meadow.
Day 1 – Summit Trailhead to Maggie Lakes (9.0 miles)
The Summit Trailhead begins at 8,265 feet elevation and is located near the end of Forest Service road 21S50. The trails starts off by going downhill for about 0.75 miles to South Mountaineer Creek. The creek is the first dependable water source on the trail while the other source is another 7 miles away. The trail now begins to ascend up to the ridge line that divides the flow from the Tule River and Kern River. Enjoy some great views once at the top of the ridge line.
Proceeding north from the ridge line, the trail descends down into Jacobsen Meadow. An old trail, called the Jacobsen Trail, is seen to the west and is no longer maintained. The trail begins to ascend to Mowery Meadow and meets up with the Mountaineer Trail to the east. Mowery Meadow is approximately the “half way point” for day 1. The trail continues to ascend to Alpine Meadow, Neva Point, and to a vista point looking into Pecks Canyon.
Once you enjoy the view of Pecks Canyon, the trail turns west towards Maggie Lakes. This stretch of the trail is rocky and hasn’t been maintained for sometime. Watch your footing while trekking down to an unnamed creek crossing. This is the other dependable source of water and a good spot for a break or refill. Continue an additional mile to arrive at Maggie Lakes (9,020 feet).
Day 2 – Maggie Lakes to Wet Meadows (7.8 miles)
The trail begins with a small climb and a relatively flat walk for 1.9 miles. About 1 mile along the trail Frog Lakes will be on the left. There is not trail so if you are wanting to check it out, you’ll need to follow the creek up the drainage to the small lake. Another 0.9 miles and a view of Twin Lakes is seen. This would be a dependable source for water. The trail now ascends towards Sheep Mountain. Once along the ridgeline the trail now enters Sequoia National Park. Head downhill a short distance and make a right at the trail junction going northeast.
The next 2.1 miles treks within the South Fork of the Kaweah River watershed to Windy Gap. In fact the trail crosses through some of the headwaters. Windy Gap is the next junction point at 9,500 feet elevation. Continue heading straight and ascend up past Green Meadow to the Park and Forest boundary (9780 feet). The trail returns to the Golden Trout Wilderness. A quick 1 mile downhill descent into Wet Meadows is all that remains for the day.
Day 3 – Wet Meadows to Bullfrog Lakes (7 miles)
The trail goes east and northeast staying relatively close to a stream that flows out of Wet Meadows and down to the Little Kern River. Once out of the trees, the trail is on a south facing slope and surrounded by brush. The trail wraps around and proceeds north with a continual descent towards the Little Kern River. Once across the river, keep going north and staying to the left at trail junctions. Near Broders Cabin Site the trail continues north another 2.2 miles. The hiker will notice how the trees are beginning to thin out as the trail ascends towards Farewell Gap.
Bullfrog Lakes junction is small, but noticeable. If one wants to climb up to Farewell Gap and return, add about another 2 miles to the days trip. Otherwise take a steep and rocky mile climb up to Bullfrog Lakes. There are no actual Bullfrogs at the lake but there are Mountain Yellow-legged Frogs.
Day 4 – Bullfrog Lakes to Silver Lakes (8.5 miles)
Hike back down the way you came to Broders Camp Site. Stay to the left at the trail junction, which may be hard to see. The trail should be ascending and up the side of a small ridge to a great overlook. Once at the overlook take a last glimpse at Farewell Gap. The trail proceeds east towards Shotgun Creek. A mile after the overlook the trail junctions with the Shotgun Pass trail (north). It is a steep 2 mile ascent to the lake from this point. Trees will shift to Fox Tail pines, grasses, and shrubs. There are fish in Silver Lake too. Add another mile round trip from the lake to Shotgun Pass if you take this optional trek. The views are simply breath taking at the pass assuming weather is good by the time you arrive.
Day 5 – Silver Lakes to Coyote Lakes (12 miles)
This days is the longest day of hiking compared to the rest of the trip so start early. One could stop at the Coyote Trail and Coyote Pass junction, but having a camp fire and being near a guaranteed water source added another 3 miles. If you wish to not trek up to the lake and stay at the junction, that will make this day 9 miles long.
Begin the descent down Shotgun Creek for approximately 2.3 miles. Once at the trail junction, take a left and stay to the left for another 5.5 miles. This section is a long, but historical, climb up to Coyote Pass (10,160 feet). Views of the Little Kern River and Cameback Ridge can be seen along the way to the south and southwest. Pistol Creek and Rifle Creek are the two streams that cross this section of the trail. If there is water, make sure to spend the time refilling water reservoirs. The next water source potentially starts once over Coyote Pass.
Topping Coyote Pass the trail descends down into Sequoia National Park. About a mile later the trail junctions with Coyote Lakes Trail. If you cannot go any further or don’t want to, try to setup camp for the day. Otherwise take a right (south) towards Coyote Lakes. The trail ascends about 2.6 miles and back into the Golden Trout Wilderness. Take a left (east) at the junction and 0.5 miles of downhill trekking to Coyote Lakes.
Day 6 – Coyote Lakes to Kern River (7.6 miles)
Leave the lakes by going uphill for about 0.5 miles. Then take a right (north) heading back the way you came from the previous day. About 2.6 miles later take a right (east) turning back onto Coyote Pass Trail and heading towards Kern Canyon Ranger Station. The trail treks along Coyote Creek and downhill for about 4.5 miles.
Once at the bottom of the trail and at Kern Canyon Ranger Station and the Kern River, cross over the river heading up Golden Trout Creek. The trail is now within the Golden Trout Wilderness on the Inyo National Forest side. Set up camp and relax the rest of the day.
Day 7 – Kern River to Groundhog Cinder Cone (8.1 miles)
Start the day early to enjoy cooler weather as the trail climbs uphill for 5.0 miles along Golden Trout Creek. Volcano Falls and Natural Bridge can be seen along this stretch. Volcano Falls is what keeps the Golden Trout safe from intermixing with other breeds of trout. Natural Bridge was formed thousands of years ago when the lava flows covered this area. Once the 5 miles is complete, trek another 0.4 miles to a trail junction at Little Whitney Cow Camp.
Little Whitney Cow Camp has a trail heading north along Creek. However, since it isn’t maintained on a regular basis, this trip continues eastward along the meadows edge towards Groundhog Meadow. Proceed 2.7 more miles and setup camp just east of Groundhog Cinder Cone.
Day 8 – Groundhog Cinder Cone to Barigan Stringer Trail Junctions (6.1 miles)
The trail continues eastward another 0.6 miles. Take a left (north) at the trail junction and do the same 0.3 miles later. Go another 0.3 miles and take a left (north) up Golden Trout Creek. Water access should not be a problem the remainder of the trip. About 3 miles later take a left (northwest) ascending out of Golden Trout Creek. Travel another 1.9 miles to the destination at Barigan Stringer Trail Junction. Set up camp on the outside edges of the meadow and enjoy relaxing after several long hiking days.
*Optional* – Barigan Stringer Trail Junctions to Rocky Basin Lakes (4.3 miles)
This trek was designed for a short a relaxing day. However, it will add another day to the overall trip so plan accordingly. Continue up Barigan Stringer for another 1.7 miles. At the fork in the trail, continue westward another 2.6 miles till the arrival at Rocky Basin Lakes. Enjoy swimming, fishing, and relaxing those muscles.
Day 9 – Barigan Stringer Trail Junction to Horseshoe Meadow Campground (10.7 miles)
Head east at the trail junctions for another 2.6 miles. The trail arrives at Big Whitney Meadow. Continue straight towards Cottonwood Pass and Horseshoe Meadow. The trail crosses through the meadow at this point for another 0.7 miles. Continue straight at the trail junction that enters from the north. Trek 3.7 miles to Cottonwood Pass (11,160 feet). Chicken Spring Lake is only 0.7 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), but this will add an additional 1.4 miles if you take this optional trip. Once at the pass, descend another 3.7 miles to Horseshoe Meadow Campground. The campsites are first come first serve, so it is recommended you arrive at this point in your trip during the week and not the weekend. This is also a good place to have someone restock your food supplies if needed.
Day 10 – Horseshoe Meadow Campground to Mulkey Meadows (6.9 miles)
Head west from the campground about 0.3 miles to a trail junction. Go south towards Trail Pass (10,500 feet) for 2 miles. Once at the pass Trail Peak is located to the west and views of Sharknose Ridge and Mulkey Meadows are to the south. Continue south for another 2.3 mile to the next major trail junction. Now within Mulkey Meadows, continue in a south-southwestern direction along Mulkey Creek. Trek alongside the creek for another 2.3 miles, which should end at the southern tip of the meadow. Set up camp here.
Day 11 -Mulkey Meadows to Fat Cow Meadow Creek (7.3 miles)
Start by ascending up the trail about half a mile and then descend for another 4 miles down to Templeton Meadows. Once in the meadow the trail continues south for another mile to a trail junction. Stay to your left heading in a southeastern direction towards Monanche Meadow/Strawberry Meadows. Another 1.2 miles and the trail leaves Templeton Meadows and joins up with Strawberry Creek. pass between the two mountains, Templeton on the left (North) and part of the Toowa Range to your right (south). It is a short section, approximately half a mile, and then hang a right (south) for another mile to Fat Cow Meadow.
Day 12 – Fat Cow Meadow Creek to Casa Vieja Meadows (8.0 miles)
Continue south and make a right at the trail junction, not far from Fat Cow Meadow Creek. The trail climbs for 2 miles to an unnamed pass. The pass divides Toowa Range and Kingfisher Ridge. The remainder of this days trip descends to Casa Vieja. From the pass continue downhill 3.2 miles through Long Canyon. Make a right at the trail junction (west) and then a left (south) about a half mile later. The next 2.3 miles crosses several tributaries to Long Canyon Creek. The trail ends in Casa Vieja meadows, which is part of the headwaters for Ninemile Creek.
Day 13 – Casa Vieja Meadows to Kern Flat (10.2 miles)
Though this trek may seem like a longer day, it is all downhill. Casa Vieja Meadows is approximately 8,300 feet and Kern Flat is at 5,000 feet. The steepest part of the trek is from Casa Vieja Meadows to Jordan Hot Springs. The 3.2 mile downhill trek provides great views. The McNally Fire of 2002 moved through this section of the trip.
Within 0.2 miles of Jordan Hot Springs an old historical cabin can been seen. There is a bridge that cross the creek at this point. Take it across and continue on the trail paralleling Ninemile Creek. About 2.5 miles after Jordan Hot Springs the trail encounters Soda Flat. Proceed another mile to a trail junction and keep to the left.
The trail starts to follow the Kern River on the eastern side. Trek along the mighty Kern River for 2.2 miles to Kern River Bridge near Grouse Canyon and Hockett Peak Creeks. Cross the bridge and head south another mile to Kern Flat.
Day 14 – Kern Flat to Little Kern River Bridge (8.9 miles)
Leave the Kern River by trekking uphill towards Trout Meadow/Doe Meadow. In about two miles the trail climbs out of the canyon ascending about 1,500 feet in elevation. At this point the trail flattens out, respectively, and crosses over The Flatiron. Cold springs can provide a refreshing refill on water. Continue another 4 miles and the trail with meet a jection close to Trout Meadows Ranger Station. Take a left (south-southwest) for 0.2 miles to the ranger station. Continue in that direction for about half a mile and the trail goes west towards Little Kern River. About 2.2 miles later, the trail arrives at Little Kern River Bridge.
Day 15 – Little Kern River Bridge to Summit Trailhead (10.6 miles)
The last day could feel like it is the longest day of hiking. Beginning at 5,760 feet elevation the journey ends where it began (8.265 feet elevation). Hydrate well and top off the water. Depending on when one leaves and the time of year, it can be a hot and miserable 3.1 miles up to Grey Meadow.
Proceed across the bridge and go to the right for 0.3 miles. At the trail junciton, make a right. Another 0.3 miles and the trail meets up with a cutoff trail. Continue straight towards Grey Meadow. Approximately 2.5 miles later the trail arrives at Grey Meadow. There is a US Forest Service Admin cabin and a private cabin. A creek flows from the south. If there is no water, proceed on the trail going north-northeast of the Forest Service cabin and at trail junctions go left until the trail crosses Clicks Creek. Here water should be available all year long.
Once across Clicks Creek, continue west and cross it once more. The trail goes uphill 2.2 miles climbing 1500 feet in elevation towards the Wilderness and Giant Sequoia National Monument boundary. From the boundary, continue 0.8 miles to Forest Service Road 21S50. Make a right (west) and follow the road back to the Summit Trailhead for another 3.5 to 4 miles.