Here is a short video of the road trip we took over Memorial Day Weekend. We camped at Quaking Aspen Campground in the Sequoias the first night, then headed south and camped next to the Kern River the next night.
Memorial Day Weekend we headed up to the Sequoias. We stopped in Bakersfield for an early lunch at Camino Real which was pretty good and even offered a good selection of vegetarian options, which surprised me for being in Bakersfield. Back on the road, we drove up through Porterville and then East on Highway 190 into the Sequoia National Forest. We were headed for the Quaking Aspen Campground where I had reserved a campsite for one night.
Once camp was set up we still had some daylight left so we drove down to the Trail of 100 Giants. Parking seemed to be limited when we got there but after waiting a little while we were able to take a spot from a group that was leaving and paid the $5 day use fee. Although I’ve been to the Sequoias before, these large trees never cease to amaze me with their gigantic mass.
On our way back to the campsite we stopped at the Ponderosa Lodge for some extra supplies but also decided to have a few beers out on the patio since it was so nice out. Back at camp we prepared dinner and started our fire.
We played a fun game of Cards Against Humanity until it was pretty cold and late. It got colder than I had anticipated that night in camp and I was somewhat uncomfortable all night and didn’t get much sleep. In the morning we made breakfast and packed up. We were going to drive to the trailhead for the Needles Lookout but while passing by the Ponderosa Lodge again we saw that the chili cook-off was in full swing so had to stop and check it out.
We hung out at the Poderosa Lodge for a while listening to the live music and people watching (probably longer than we should have). We finally hit the road again and headed out to find the trailhead to the Needles Lookout, which was actually very close to Ponderosa. I turned off onto a dirt road which had a sign and an arrow that said “Needles Lookout” so I figured that was the way to go. When trying to drive up the road to the trailhead the road became less and less passable. There were large erosion ruts in the dirt and the road was becoming very narrow as we got further up. There were a lot of cars that just parked off on the sliver of land next to the road but there was really no place for us to park. Eventually, we had to back our way down and turn around on the narrow dirt road and we left. Since that trailhead proved too difficult to get to I figured we’d try something easier and headed for the Dome Rock trailhead. This was much more accessible and the trail to the top of Dome Rock was super short.
On top of Dome Rock we were able to get expansive views of the forest below and distant mountains. It was such a surreal view it almost felt like looking at a large panoramic painting.
When we descended Dome Rock it was about time for lunch so we made some sandwiches before heading out to our next destination.
I wanted to make it to our next camping spot with some daylight left so we headed for a place called Big Meadow, which is where I wanted to stay. We drove south on the Great Western Divide Highway until we hit M-50 at Parker Pass, then made a left towards Johnsondale. We made a quick stop in Johnsondale at the R-Ranch for some last minute snacks. The R-Ranch was situated in a nice area with a lake nearby but kinda had weird compound vibe to it. We had to check in with a guy in a toll booth before driving up to their general store. We parked and got out and walked up the steps to the store, but before entering I caught sight of one of the locals hanging out near the porch.
After patronizing R-Ranch we made our way down Sherman Pass Road until we got to Forest Route 22s12 which would take us to Big Meadow. But before getting to Big Meadow we came across a sign for Horse Meadow Campground, which is an established campground versus the dispersed camping we were heading for. We decided to check it out in hopes we could have a fire there since there was a fire ban in all other surrounding areas. Once we found a spot and parked we were approached by an old Santa Claus looking man who turned out to be the camp host. He told us the temperatures here were dropping to the low 30s at night and asked if we had a bucket and shovel, because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be allowed to have a fire. Well we had a bucket but didn’t have a shovel. It almost seemed like the guy was trying to get us to leave as he chuckled about the weather. But even if we could have a fire we weren’t really equipped to sleep out in weather that cold, so we decided to head down the mountain where it would be warmer and see what kind of dispersed camping we could find near the Kern River.
On our way down the M-99 next to the Kern we saw a few promising spots where other people were camping. We made a pit stop at McNally’s for a bathroom break and then headed back up to one of the spots we saw earlier. We found a good location near the river where no one else was camping. There was already a fire ring set up and even a bench someone crafted out of rocks. I think the area was called Roads End; it was just north of McNally’s and the Fairview Campground on the west side of the road.
The next morning we stopped by McNally’s again in hopes of getting breakfast but apparently they are not open for breakfast. We continued down to Kernville where we ate the Cracked Egg Cafe (I didn’t think it was anything special, but then again I’m a vegetarian). In the center of town at Circle Park there was a craft fair going on so we checked that out for a bit. But before it was time to depart Kernville, I had one more stop to make, and that was the Kern River Brewing Company.
I first tried their Sequoia Red, which was alright, but then decided I should just order a flight so I can try all of the beers since we had a limited time here. The beer that surprised me the most was their Just Outstanding IPA. I am not an IPA fan by any measure, but this beer was, well, just outstanding. It didn’t hit you in the face with crazy hoppiness, but still had great flavor, was well balanced, crisp, and smooth going down. I feel like real hopheads would actually denounce it as an IPA, but for me it was great.
While sitting out on the outside deck enjoying the beer and scenery, the bartender came out and asked if I wanted to try their 7th Anniversary Imperial Coffee Stout, well that was a no brainer. She brought it out to me in a flight glass free of charge and it was hands down the winner of the day. I really wish I could’ve spent some more time there and tried some of their food since the place seemed to be a great establishment. Next time I’m in Kernville it is on my list for sure.
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The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend we set out for Kennedy Meadows near the Kern River (not to be mistaken for the other Kennedy Meadows near Sonora Pass) for some backpacking. On our way to Kennedy Meadows we ended up taking a slight detour through The Chimney Peak Backcountry Byway that ended up being pretty cool. We took a left on Canebrake Road from the 178 just east of Lake Isabella and drove up the winding dirt road and passed by a cool looking campsite on the way.
I was a little worried about taking my 2WD wagon onto this dirt road which I knew nothing about, but the road ended up being pretty well maintained and well graded.
It was nice coming down off the dirt road to meet back up with actual pavement. We turned onto Kennedy Meadows Road and took it all the way to the campground at the end of the road where the PCT passes through. There was a parking area in the campground near the trailhead where we were able to park for free.
Not too long after we hit the trail we crossed the boundary into the South Sierra Wilderness.
At 2 miles from the trailhead we came to a wooden footbridge which extends over the Kern River. Before this bridge was built, hikers had to forge the river here.
There were a group of people camping right past the bridge which I thought was weird, but maybe it was a good camping spot. We continued on the trail which kept gradually gaining elevation and at about 4 miles in we entered an area of the forest which had suffered some fire damage.
At 4.5 miles we came out of the burnt zone and then started getting nice views of Clover Meadow. This was the area in which we were planning to camp.
We headed north on the trail and kept an eye out for good places to set up camp. We eventually settled on a spot near Crag Creek that overlooked the south part of Clover Meadow.
The weather was perfect out and there were not many bugs at all. There was also very few people out in the area considering it was a holiday weekend. Later in the evening it started getting chilly so we started a small fire and enjoyed watching the stars come out.
The next morning we made a quick breakfast and packed out. When we left our camp we took a different trail that followed Crag Creek, but we ended up losing the trail and had to cross-country back to the PCT.
This little stretch of the PCT in the South Sierras is quite nice, and the fact that we didn’t need a wilderness permit for this area made it even better. I’d also definitely recommend the campground in Kennedy Meadows for a good drive up camping spot. The hike out from Kennedy Meadows to Clover Meadow is about 5.4 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation gain.