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This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Tunnel Meadow, CA

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Guide 4 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List CA > Sierra Nevada
3.5 of 5 by 2
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 1.5 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance One Way 6.77 miles
Trailhead Elevation 8,939 feet
Elevation Gain -505 feet
Accumulated Gain 311 feet
Avg Time One Way 2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 7.81
Interest Ruins, Historic, Seasonal Creek & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Inaugural Calculation on Button Tap!
15  2017-07-01 BiFrost
30  2017-06-30
Golden Trout Wilderness
30  2017-06-30
Golden Trout Wilderness
Author chumley
author avatar Guides 75
Routes 667
Photos 13,162
Trips 1,416 map ( 10,534 miles )
Age 46 Male Gender
Location Tempe, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jul, Aug, Sep, Jun → Any
Seasons   Late Spring to Early Autumn
Sun  5:36am - 5:59pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
An intersection of rivers
by chumley

Likely In-Season!
This meadow in the heart of the Golden Trout Wilderness is a fascinating study of history. It is bisected by the historic Hockett Trail, one of the earliest trails to cross the High Sierra and a main link to the earliest Whitney trail.

For the purposes of getting to Tunnel Meadow, the statistics shown and trail as described begins in Mulkey Meadow south of Trail Peak, where hikers can arrive from the north via Horseshoe Meadow over Trail Pass or Mulkey Pass (connecting to the PCT), or from the south via a trail from Ramshaw Meadows. It ends about 7 miles later at the historic Tunnel Forest Service Station, where trails lead in four separate directions.

Travel on the trail is straightforward. Along Mulkey Meadow, a worn path is easy to follow as it gently climbs to the end of Bullfrog Meadow after 2.5 miles reaching a crest in a lightly wooded area before dropping to the South Fork Kern River at the 3.25 mile mark. Here the trail turns downstream, dropping about 500 feet in 0.75 miles to the upper reaches of Tunnel Meadow. A mile later, at the 5 mile mark, you reach the site of an old air camp and corral.

The next 1.25 miles follows a sandy path on the northern flank of the meadow. When the meadow ends, the trail follows the higher ground above the SFK drainage. You'll pass a signed junction for a trail that heads north to Big Whitney Meadow, Rocky Basin Lakes, Siberian and Cottonwood Passes.

Just past that junction the trail makes a short traverse across the location of the historic tunnel and reaches a cabin, 30-foot redwood water tank (last used in 1978) and other remains of the Tunnel Forest Service Station. Trails here lead south to Kern Peak, southwest to Volcano Meadow, Little Whitney Meadow, and the main stem of the Kern River (9 miles and 2,500 feet lower). To the southeast, a trail leads along the South Fork Kern River to reach points such as Casa Vieja, Indian Head, Casa White Sands, and the Monache Ranger Station.

Golden Trout Creek and South Fork Kern River were connected at some point in geologic history. One was a tributary of the other, and they merged near what is now the Tunnel FS Station. A volcanic event that I haven't been able to date divided the two rivers, which are now separated by a lava flow and ridge of sediment just 300 feet across. Both streams now empty into the mainstem of the Kern River, though despite being just 100 yards from each other near Tunnel Meadow, SFK flows 88 miles and Golden Trout about 75 miles before the two join again at Lake Isabella, a manmade reservoir on the Kern River 50 air miles south of Tunnel Meadow.

Despite the geologic separation, Chinese laborers were contracted to build a tunnel between the two streams in 1886, diverting most of the water from the stronger-flowing Golden Trout Creek into the South Fork Kern River. Unsurprisingly, this upset ranchers in the Golden Trout drainage and rumor has it that the tunnel either collapsed on its own or was blown up shortly after being constructed. Knowing this history, it is easy to see the location and remnants of the tunnel as you hike past its location today.

Tunnel Meadow itself has an interesting history. An 1,800 foot airstrip was constructed in 1931 so a wealthy cattleman could fly there for the purpose of fishing! Over the years, an air camp was established with tents, an office, outhouses, and a corral where pack animals could be rented for travel elsewhere on the Kern Plateau. By the 1950s, Tunnel Aircamp was a popular spot for general aviation pilots, and regarded as one of the most challenging fields to land. At over 9,000 feet elevation, some sources indicate it was the highest elevation airfield in the US at the time. Winds and terrain difficulties caused frequent crashes.

By 1970, the Bob White Flying Service outfitted tourists and their gear, flying them 20 minutes from Lone Pine to Tunnel Aircamp for $35. The camp rented tents, beds, linens, and all other essentials for a mountain getaway! The FAA required airfields to have telephone service, so the aircamp featured a single-wire old crank-style telephone connection between camp and several ranger stations on the plateau, connecting all the way to Lone Pine.

In 1978, with the establishment of the Golden Trout Wilderness the airport was closed to general aviation. However the aircamp remained open and outfitter flights continued under an annually renewed special use permit until it expired 12/31/1982.

Today, few signs of the aircamp remain. Just the old corral and some remnants of buildings that once stood at the site. The landing strip is still somewhat visible on satellite photos and a keen observer can find it when hiking in the meadow. The old crank telephone wire has been broken in many places from fallen trees, but hikers will encounter it often on the trails across the Kern plateau.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2017-07-08 chumley

    One-Way Notice
    This hike is listed as One-Way.

    When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Tunnel Meadow
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Golden Trout Wilderness
    This was a great backpacking trip in the southern Sierra! We altered our plans due to the incredible winter snowfall in the Sierra, moving south and sticking to elevations under 11,000 feet to stay below the snow and avoid dangerous stream crossings.

    This trip came together in the few days before we left, and wasn't even mostly finalized until we picked up our permit in Lone Pine. Even then, we made itinerary changes as we went along, which is always nice. I printed maps about an hour before we left, and managed to load 23 tracks into Route Scout with potential options!

    Day 1: Horseshoe Meadow to Ramshaw Meadows
    10.07 mi (-1210 ft / 998 aeg)
    This was a relatively easy first day, despite the heavy pack weight. Trail Pass is a pretty easy climb on a great trail. It's a big drop into Mulkey Meadows, and after a very slight climb, a surprisingly steep descent to Ramshaw. We were all surprised by the amount of hiking in sand, and I was a little annoyed at my decision to leave my gaiters in the car. As it turned out, my shoes filled with sand once too often and I managed to grind a blister on my achilles that would prove to be a nuisance for the rest of the trip. Below 9000 feet, the afternoon sun was warm and we were tired so we found a suitable spot to make camp.

    Day 2: Ramshaw Meadows to Tunnel FS Station
    5.58 mi (213 ft / 470 aeg)
    This was intended to be an easy day and certainly turned out that way. We cut the corner across the northern part of Ramshaw Meadows on a reasonably-well-worn route that isn't marked on maps. The crux was crossing South Fork Kern River, which turned out to be easier than expected, with just a light current and knee-deep water. Upon arriving at the cabin at the old FS station, we saw two tents but no people. We opted to camp at a site a short distance away to avoid the potential popularity of a spot like this on a holiday weekend.

    The initial plan to summit the adjacent Kern Peak was quickly shot down and we instead opted for short exploratory hikes around camp. This turned out to be a good idea since a fire south of the area choked the area for a few hours in the afternoon. It would have been tough climbing a mountain with the smoke and visibility dropped to under 5 miles so it wouldn't have been worth it anyway!

    Day 3: Tunnel FS Station to Big Whitney Meadow
    6.81 mi (833 ft / 1056 aeg)
    After Karl got in a 12-mile/3000 foot peak in the morning and 9L and I took a more leisurely trip up Tunnel Meadow, we set out on another easy day with full packs taking us up to our next camp at Big Whitney Meadow. The hike along Golden Trout Creek is beautiful, and a highlight of this loop. Once you emerge from the wooded trail the expansive views in the 1000 acre Big Whitney Meadow are stunning. You aren't allowed to camp in the meadow so it was surprisingly difficult to find a good campsite with easy access to water. Once we found a spot and gathered firewood, I set out to explore the meadow. As was the case the previous day, smoke from the fire south of us moved in for a few hours in the afternoon, obscuring some of the views.

    Day 4: Day hike to Rocky Basin Lakes
    Separate triplog.

    Day 5: Big Whitney Meadow to Horseshoe Meadow
    8.34 mi (1431 ft / 1532 aeg)
    With the long drive back to Phoenix ahead of us, we kicked off Independence Day with a 7am start. The first two miles across Big Whitney Meadow required several very cold stream crossings and a section of trail that was marshy and wet before gaining elevation and drying out. The next two miles feature immaculate trail that switchbacks and climbs 1200 feet to Cottonwood Pass. From here we rocketed downhill the last four miles to the truck, finishing well ahead of plan in just 3 hrs and 20 min. After a mid-morning celebratory trailhead beer we were on our way back home.

    Thanks to 9L for planning and Karl for driving! As a tortoise I know often says, just like HAZ, you rock! :)
    Tunnel Meadow
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Golden Trout Wilderness
    It was time for another adventure to my beloved Sierras. Our original plan was the Rae Lakes Loop but we had to change things up due to the snowmelt and a collapsed bridge in Upper Paradise. We decided on the Golden Trout Wilderness roughly a week before the trip. Once that was decided we spent the week cramming for what felt like an exam by pouring over maps, triplogs and even calling the Inyo National Forest office for info. Everything came together quickly and we hit the road after work on Thursday night and spent the night in Barstow. We completed the drive to Lone Pine on Friday and picked up our permit and headed up to Horseshoe Meadow and were off!

    Our hike started out fairly easy as we climbed 500 ft over Trail Pass and then dropped down and headed southwest for Ramshaw Meadow. We had loaded packs with five days worth of food so that was a chore. The nice thing is the hiking was fairly easy going and the miles cruised by. We selected a campsite in a flat area on the north side of the meadow with water nearby. We settled in for the evening with a nice views of the meadow and a campfire.

    We packed up camp on day two and headed to the west for Tunnel Station. The going was easy again as we hiked across the meadow. At one point we had to cross the South Fork of the Kern River. We were concerned the river would be high with all the snowmelt but found an easy crossing in knee deep water. From there we continued a few more miles to Tunnel Station and found a nice campsite roughly a quarter mile north of the old ranger station. Later that day we explored the area. This is a perfect spot for fishing because you’re on a plateau above the South Fork to the east and Golden Trout Creek to the west. We spent another enjoyable evening around a campfire. The only downer was smoke drifted in from a fire to the south.

    The next day started slowly for Chumley and me. Karl left at the crack of dawn to hike Kern Peak to the south. We chilled in camp and then made an easy day hike to Tunnel Meadow. There is an old corral and camp area that would be perfect for a large group. After exploring the area we headed back to camp and started packing up. Karl returned and the three of us put the heavy backpacks on and headed north for Big Whitney Meadow. Our route paralleled Golden Trout Creek and featured one easy crossing in knee deep water. We continued on along this magnificent section of trail and reached the meadow where Chumley found a prime campsite nestled fifty feet above a tributary. We thought we would have issues finding firewood but the three of us are very resourceful and quickly gathered wood for the two nights we planned on camping here.

    Day four started out mellow. We planned on day hiking to Rocky Lakes Basin so we took our time and headed out around 8:30am. The going was very easy as all of us were carrying day packs. The miles flew by as climbed to the basin at roughly 10,800 ft elevation. Once up top we ate some snacks and admired this amazing area! Rocky Lakes Basin was by far the highlight of the trip and I’ll do a separate triplog with more details. We returned to camp around mid-afternoon and settled in for our final night in the wilderness.

    We woke early on day five and quickly packed up camp. We wanted to be on trail by 7am and that’s exactly what we did. The first two miles are easy as we headed east in Big Whitney Meadow. The next two miles climb 1,300 ft as you head over Cottonwood Pass which tops out at roughly 11,100 ft. The trail is in excellent condition as it’s built for stock use so the grade is mild. Once up top we took a short break and admired the views. From there it was four fairly easy miles as you drop back down and head for Horseshoe Meadow. We arrived back to the car around 10:15am and packed up and headed back to Phoenix getting back to town around 7:30pm. Another trip in the books!

    Final thoughts:
    We wish we headed directly to Tunnel Station to start the hike. Ramshaw Meadow was just okay. There are several good day hiking options from Tunnel Station. This would have been better use of our time. The perfect itinerary would be two nights at Tunnel Station and two nights at Big Whitney Meadow.

    Mosquitos were out and were annoying but we thought they would be worse.

    Water was plentiful and we never went more than a few miles without it. There was snow on the peaks but only patches along our route.

    We had a camp fire on all four nights and that was really nice, especially with most of Az under fire restrictions.

    The Golden Trout Wilderness is a solid wilderness but don’t go there as a primary choice. Other areas in the Sierras are better. It’s a good backup option if needed. Trail Pass (GT62) is a non-quota zone so scoring a permit is simple. Dogs are allowed too so that’s bonus.

    Thanks to Karl and Chumley for joining in on this trip! It was a lot of fun as always. And thanks Karl for driving! It’s a long way from Phoenix and I can’t thank you enough!

    Permit $$
    Information is listed below

    Map Drive
    Connector trail - Not Applicable

    To hike
    Deep in the Golden Trout Wilderness, access can be achieved from numerous trails and trailheads from all directions. Overnight use in the wilderness requires a permit from the Inyo National Forest. Walk-up permits are free. Reserving ahead of time costs $10. Reservations can be made by visiting and searching for "Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permits"
    page created by HAZ_Hikebot on Jul 08 2017 9:16 am
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