I decided to get out into the wilds on Cinco de Mayo, 2014. I have had Gardner Canyon and to the summit of Mt. Wrightson on my to-do list for quite a while - this was the perfect day. I read about how rough the road was getting to the trailhead...it was no competition for the old jeep. However, the jeep is rough driving down the highway. I don't think you would have too much trouble getting there in a 2 wheel drive, higher clearance vehicle.
One thing I have to say is every time I get out on the trail, I'm more and more thankful for all the trail builders and maintainers. They do amazing work that does not go unnoticed. Another thing on my to-do list - get out there and do some trail work.
I expected the Gardner Canyon trail to be fairly quiet and I was right. I had the trail to myself until I got near Mt. Wrightson - I saw 3 people, all had come from the west side, Madera Canyon area.
The trail is in very good condition and easy to follow. You start out on a double track for the first mile or so. When you pass into the wilderness it becomes a single track and much nicer area. You pass the creek that has a trickle of water in it.
I would say the area is at the danger level for being dry. We need a couple inches of rain - I hope it comes soon.
I saw very few animals. No snakes or deer. One turkey that was trying to find a girlfriend. He gobbled at me several times, so I gobbled back. We did that 3 or 4 times until he got bored.