Kern Plateau, Sequoia National Forest
Photo © Alex Specht
The Kern Plateau, at the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada mountains, is a remote, high elevation plateau offering a retreat from the heat of summer, and a beautiful outdoor setting for almost any outdoor recreation activity. Consisting of more than 950 square miles, the Kern Plateau has served as a summer destination for many generations and cultures beginning with the earliest Native Americans.
Today popular outdoor activities include camping, hiking, off highway vehicle use, and horseback riding along with the traditional hunting, fishing and cattle grazing. In the winter the area offers excellent over snow vehicle (OSV), snow shoeing, and cross country skiing opportunities.
Following are a few of the highlights in the Kern Plateau to help you connect with this gorgeous and diverse forest in the southern Sierra Nevada.
Bald Mountain Lookout Tower scans over 1,000 square miles with a view of the Dome Land, Golden Trout and South Sierra Wilderness, as well as Olancha Peak and Mt. Whitney, and the headwaters of the Kern Wild and Scenic River. At an elevation of 9,430 feet the lookout is located off Forest Road 22S77A from Sherman Pass Road. Visitors are welcome at this seasonal tower; please call for hours of operation.
Dome Land Wilderness. Known for its many granite domes and unique geologic formations, this semi-arid to arid country has elevations ranging from 3,000 to 9,730 feet. Vegetation is mostly pinyon and sage. Much of this area was burned in the Manter Fire of 2000. Trailheads on the east side are near Rockhouse Meadow and at the Long Valley Campground (BLM). Access is via Nine Mile Canyon Road on the east side. From the west, take Mountain Road 99 to Sherman Pass Road to Cherry Hill Road. Follow signs to Big Meadow and Manter Meadow.
South Sierra Wilderness. Fragile meadowlands, forested ridges, rolling hills, and craggy, steep peaks describe this wilderness. A relatively gentle terrain area of 24,650 acres on the Sequoia National Forest portion is ideally suited to family-oriented recreation. Elevations range from 6,100 feet near Kennedy Meadows to the summit of Olancha Peak at 12,123 feet. Eastside access is via Nine Mile Cayon Road (J41) to Kennedy Meadows Road. From the west, take Sherman Pass Road (22S05).
Overnight Camping. There are four developed campgrounds on the Kern Plateau. Horse Meadow is located on the west side of the Plateau, 38 miles northeast of Kernville. Take Sherman Pass Road (FS 22S05) and turn on Cherry Hill Rd. (FS 22S12).
On the east side of the Plateau is Troy Meadow located 53 miles northeast of Kernville on Sherman Pass Rd (22S05), or travel 34 miles west on Nine Mile Canyon Road (J41) through Kennedy Meadows from Highway 395. Fish Creek and Kennedy Meadows Campgrounds are also located in this area.
The Kern Plateau offers many dispersed camping areas which are great for visitors who are self-contained and/or have large groups. These areas may not have facilities and do require a campfire permit. Some of the more popular areas include Troy Meadow Overflow, Fish Creek Overflow, Bonita Meadow, South Fork of the Kern River around Kennedy Meadows and Big Meadow. Osa and Paloma Meadows are also very popular.
Sherman Pass Road offers access to the Kern Plateau. This scenic route stretches from the North Fork of the Kern River in the west, east to the high deserts of Highway 395. This two-lane road climbs out of the Upper Kern River Canyon to Sherman Pass before falling to the east side of the Kern Plateau. Much of this area was burned in the McNally Fire of 2002.
The route is open from late May or early June (depending on snow) until the snow falls in late fall or winter. At the summit visitors can enjoy stunning views of the Sierra Crest and the Mt. Whitney group, the tallest mountains in the lower 48 states. As the road winds across the plateau the forest changes from red fir, to mixed conifer and to pinyon pine.
Fees: Campsites are $17 a night
Troy Meadow Campground has several accessible sites. These include paved walkways, accessible bar-b-ques and restrooms.
Pets are allowed. They must be on a leash no longer than six feet.