A Socially Distant Weekend in Sequoia National Forest

After two months of strict quarantining, a small group of friends and I decided to enjoy a socially distant weekend in Sequoia National Forest. It felt so great to get out of the city and into a tent, and I came home feeling much more like myself after a night under the stars.

Sequoia National Forest is located in the Southern Sierra and is absolutely MASSIVE. The National Forest covers 1,193,315 acres. There is no shortage of areas to explore in Sequoia National Forest – it has over 2,500 miles of road, 850 miles of trail, and ranges in elevation from 2,000 feet all the way up to 12,000 feet. Sequoia National Forest and the Southern Sierra was an area that I had been wanting to check out for so, so long, but had just never made it out there – who knew it would take a global pandemic to get me to visit it for the first time!

Day Hike on the Pacific Crest Trail

Trail: Kennedy Meadows to the Bridge via the PCT
Mileage: 4.1 miles out-and-back
Elevation gain: 465 feet

A trip to Kennedy Meadows and the Southern Sierra wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Pacific Crest Trail. So, our first stop on our weekend in the Sierra was spent hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) north from Kennedy Meadows campground for a little over two miles to the bridge.

This area is absolutely beautiful. The trail hugs the South Fork of the Kern River and is abundant in wildflowers during the early season. Its a gentle “roller-coaster” of a trail – it gently goes up and down, up and down. After two miles, you’ll arrive at a bridge crossing the South Fork of the Kern River – and your turn-around point!

There were plenty of shaded places to sit and have lunch. We crossed the bridge and went about a tenth of a mile north and found a perfect spot for a PB&J break.

I will say that this hike was hot and largely exposed, even in May. The southern Sierra, even at higher elevations, really is a high desert. Even though there are an abundance of trees in the area and the trail follows the South Fork of the Kern River, the area still stays hot and arid.

As always, it was awesome to see the PCT thru-hikers on trail. With COVID, there were far less thru-hikers than I would expect for the last weekend in May, but in a non-pandemic year, you can expect to see a line of thru-hikers officially leaving the desert and moving on into the Sierra!

Dispersed Camping in Sequoia National Forest

Since all of the campgrounds were closed due to the COVID (by the time that I publish this, many of the campgrounds have been opened, but check their status here), we had no option but to go dispersed camping! Although I say that we had no option, we were totally fine with it – dispersed camping is free and (usually) offers much more solitude than staying in a campground.

In the week leading up to our trip, I did a TON of research to try and find us a good, legal spot. I truly don’t know if they were enforcing it, but the Forest Service was implementing a $5,000 fee for individuals and a $10,000 fee for groups who were caught using developed campsites/recreational facilities. A good reminder to ALWAYS (not just during the time of a global pandemic!) check out the rules and regulations of an forest service/BLM area before you go.

As is usually the case with dispersed camping, it took us a little while to find our campsite. I had spent quite some time online the week before to find information on dispersed sites in the area and forest service roads to check out. Once we were done with our hike, we set out trying to find a good spot! After traveling down Sherman Pass Road for 8 – 9 miles and trying out a few forest service roads that didn’t necessarily pan out, we ended up in the Fish Creek Overflow area on Forest Route 21S33.

Once we turned onto Forest Route 21S33 (really easy to spot – it’s on the other side of the road from Fish Creek Campground and even had its own sign!), we traveled for a little over a mile to get to the dispersed camping area. There were plenty of established sites, all spaced out from each other. Even though it was Memorial Day Weekend and was probably more crowded than any other weekend in the summer (except maybe July 4th), we didn’t feel like we were on top of any other campers. There were plenty of established, legal fire rings, and the area was a really cool area to explore by foot. I suspect that somewhere around here is the jeep trail to Monache Meadows, but I’m not entirely sure.

We had a lovely night out of the apartment (for literally the first time in months), ate delicious camp food, played games, and enjoyed Coors Lights over the fire. A great time was had by all, and I’m really excited to go back!

Lunch at Kennedy Meadows General Store

As a PCT enthusiast (and one-day-hopeful!), a trip up to the Kennedy Meadows area would not be complete without checking out the Kennedy Meadows General Store and the official end of the desert for Pacific Crest Trail thruhikers! The General Store is a cute little store that sells cold drinks, ice cream, and Southern Sierra souvenirs. Out on the porch, the grill fires up burgers, sandwiches, and breakfast. During the summer months, the store hosts movie nights and live music.

For a list of the various services that the store provides for PCT thru-hikers (including free camping, hot showers, and resupplies, oh my!), visit here.

Picture courtesy of the Kennedy Meadows General Store’s website

We got to the store around 10:30am, but (again) after months of quarantining, we couldn’t help but get a can of cold soda and an ice cream and enjoy it out on the patio… yes, at 10:30am. Had we arrived a little later, I would have loved to indulge in some BBQ on the patio, but alas, it was just too early for lunch. Hey – we had to put our foot down somewhere! It felt great to be outside enjoying each others company, and we got to people watch some of the PCT hikers hanging about. It was a wonderful end to a socially distant weekend away from LA!

Overall, it was a really great weekend, and I’m so glad to have finally made it up to Kennedy Meadows and Sequoia National Forest. If you have any questions about the hike or camping spot, please let me know in the comments or by email at meghikes1@gmail.com.

Happy camping!

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