Road Trip to the Kern Plateau

OMG I’m writing about something other than peak bagging! I never meant for this blog to be solely about that, so I thought I’d do a write-up of our fantastic Memorial Day camping trip over Sherman Pass to the Kern Plateau.

The trip was a bit last minute – I’d been talking about it for a while but did not get around to actually figuring out the details until the week before. I was able to get campground reservations for Friday night only. We’d have to wing it on Saturday and Sunday. The Kizers joined us, along with Scott M.

Friday we left San Diego around 1pm and headed up, over Walker Pass (the PCT groupie that I am), to the Fairview Campground along the Kern River just north of Kernville, arriving around 8pm. I’d made dinner reservations at Johnny McNally’s, and that was totally worth it – low-key steak house with a huge patio overlooking the river. Perfect! The Kizers & Scott arrived shortly afterwards. One more drink and we hit the sack.

Our plans for Saturday depended on where we’d be able to camp, since the many dispersed campgrounds along the river were completely packed. I wandered over to the campground host (Amber) and made friends with her – she confided to me that she’d had one cancellation that she had not released yet. Long story short and we secured a site for Saturday, yeah!

With no more concerns about where we were sleeping, we hit the road in all three vehicles. We headed north on Highway 99 to the Great Western Divide Highway to visit the Trail of 100 Giants – home of the Long Meadow Grove of giant sequoia trees. The campground parking area was crowded and we arrived just in time, before they started turning cars away. We walked along the nature trail checking out and climbing on (and in!) the big trees.

After lunch in the campground, we headed up a bit further to the Nobe Young Waterfall. The campground host told me about these falls confidentially – we’d hoped to visit a different waterfall that formed a “natural water slide,” but the area was closed to cars due to last year’s fire, and he suggested this as an alternative; but “shh, don’t tell anyone.” The trail to the falls was short but very steep. The falls were tall and impressive, but the pools at its base were occupied by a group of chillin’ and loungin’ 20-something stoners. Not much of a secret, apparently. We climbed around for a bit and took some photos, and then headed back up.

We took a dirt road shortcut (Last Chance Meadow Road, 22S02, to Lloyd Meadow Road, 22S82) back to our beautiful riverfront campsite – and the fun began! We had bought inner tubes for the kids (big and small) and we hit the river. Normally at this time of year the Kern River is raging – floating down the river in inner tubes is something that normally has to wait until much later in the summer, if ever. Well, California is in a drought, and this past winter was drier than ever. This is not good; but the upside was that inner tubing in late May was possible. We spent the sunny afternoon splashing in the river. Later in the evening, gazing up at the star-filled sky, we saw a StarLink launch! It was the second one that Tara & I have seen!

Sunday morning we packed up and hit the road, but this time we headed east toward Sherman Pass. This 9200-foot pass had only just opened for vehicles for the season. The road crosses from the west to the east side of the southernmost Sierra Nevada mountain range – the last chance to do so until Tioga Pass Road, over 150 miles to the north (as the crow flies) in Yosemite National Park. Despite being recently opened there was not a trace of snow anywhere along the pass.

Once over the pass, we drove most of the way up to the Bald Mountain fire lookout tower, and walked the last bit. Chatted a bit with the keeper and admired the amazing view. Our next adventure was to go offroad further north along the Monache Meadow 4×4 trail to the South Fork of the Kern River. The rugged and mostly downhill road took a couple of hours to navigate – and was surprisingly busy! We had considered camping back there, waaaay off the beaten path, along the South Fork… but it was packed! After exploring a bit we headed back up to the paved road.

Tonight’s camp was at Troy Meadows. It’s a first-come, first-served campground, at nearly 8000 feet, with lovely ponderosa pines and roomy campsites. When we drove through in the late morning to claim our spot, only the areas near the stream were busy. The site we selected had a wide meadow on one side, an appropriately-distanced pit toilet on the other… and no one within sight! We lit a campfire, tossed frisbees in our private meadow, and enjoyed the stars. Oh, and guess what!? We saw ANOTHER StarLink launch! Third one FTW!!

Monday morning we hit the road and continued further east to the tiny town of Kennedy Meadows. The General Store was closed (with a few PCT hikers cooking their breakfast on the deck – and a huge selection of worn-out shoes in the discarded hiker’s box), but the infamous Grumpy Bear’s Retreat was open – and absolutely packed with hiker trash! The line to place our breakfast order was not very long, so we did. What we did not know was that ordering was the easy part. It took over an hour for them to actually bring us our food (after we’d paid for it – so we couldn’t bail). It put a bit of a damper on the weekend, but at least the food was pretty good. And with that we headed home!

About Erika Lawson

Blogging from El Cajon, CA, just east of San Diego. I mostly blog about hiking, but also traveling and family life as a working mom. I also have blogged about my experience dealing with (curable) breast cancer with as much humor and disdain as possible.
This entry was posted in Mountains Are Calling, Rambling Ramblings, Yes, We Reproduced... and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Road Trip to the Kern Plateau

  1. Ted Lawson says:

    You guys have so much fun. I hope it never stops.

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