Ansel Adams Wilderness: A Wild Experience In the Sierra Nevada
Photo © Michael Olwyler ©
We go to Wilderness to witness beauty. We go there for challenge, renewal, and to share with our family and friends the wonders of what we experience. The approach to the Ansel Adams Wilderness from the west in the southern Sierra Nevada, off the southern border of Yosemite National Park, is long, but not difficult.
The Ansel Adams Wilderness spans 231,533 acres. In 1984, after his death, the area was named in honor of Ansel Adams, well-known environmentalist and nature photographer who is famous for his black and white landscape photographs of the Sierra Nevada.
The Ansel Adams Wilderness is managed by the Sierra and Inyo National Forests. Entry access into the wilderness is administered by each National Forest through trailheads under their purview. The 'western slope' of the Ansel Adams Wilderness is a more gentle experience, but it's not without its challenges. And, of course, you must use bear canisters and proper food storage, leave no trace of your visit, and reduce your use of natural resources. If everyone did this, you could come back with your grandchildren in 25 years and see it exactly as it was during your first experience here.
You'll see lots of forested areas in this portion of the Ansel Adams Wilderness, as well as smooth and rounded peaks; spectacularly rugged canyons; old, healing forest-fire scars; lakes with gentle ripples reflecting the sky; storms of intense ferocity and striking beauty; and that bear who can rip apart your stuff sack after untying it from your high-line. You can walk or ride a horse here, and, though the more used trails are kept clear by a small and effective trail crew, they are difficult to maneuver. Make sure you have a map and someone at home who knows your itinerary and emergency contacts when you don't show up on time.
You should be familiar with and use the principles of 'Leave No Trace' backpacking. Review and learn the principles at http://www.lnt.org/programs/principles.php
Between spring snow-melt in June and the subtle color-fest of October, access into this portion of the Ansel Adams Wilderness from the town of North Fork and the Bass Lake area is relatively easy. The approximately 1.5 hour drive to trailheads near the Clover Meadow Station (7,001 foot elevation) follows portions of the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway - Forest Road FS81, which sometimes is called the Minarets Road or the Mammoth Pool Road. Along the Minarets Road you'll follow the meanders of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River gorge. If you use the Beasore Road (Forest Road 5S07, also a portion of the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway), you'll rise quickly to Cold Springs Summit and through sometimes dense forests until the pavement ends, and then a slow, but good dirt road leads you onward to your destination.
There are several trailheads accessible from the town of North Fork or from Bass Lake: Jackass Lakes; Norris Creek and Fernandez Pass, the most popular trailheads; Isberg Pass; the Mammoth Trailhead; Miller and Cassidy Crossing; Piau (formerly Squaw) Dome; South Fork; Hell's Half Acre; and the Logan Meadow Trailhead. Trailheads on the High Sierra Ranger District access other areas of southern portion of the Wilderness.
You must plan well ahead and prepare for any possibility in the wilderness. Out there you're on your own! You MUST have a wilderness permit, so please visit the website listed below for details. Or, call the Bass Lake Ranger District office for information at (559) 877-2218 during business hours - they'll help you figure it out. You can make a reservation for a wilderness permit well in advance to guarantee access on the day you want to enter the wilderness. There are entry quotas for all trailheads entering the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Information for entry into the southern portion of the Ansel Adams Wilderness on the High Sierra Ranger District can be obtained at (559) 855-5355.
Fees: Reservations for wilderness permits are $5 per person.
Pets must be on leash and in control, but don't expect the bears to believe that YOUR dog doesn't bite - they'll swat them to a pulp!
Equestrians can have a great experience in the wilderness, but they must take extra precautions to help maintain the character of wilderness. Please use weed free hay to help limit the spread of noxious weeds and protect our agriculture. Today, the Backcountry Horsemen of California recommend the best ways to reduce your impact, and how to share the resource with other users in the High Country Manners: A Common Sense Guide for Stock Users In the Sierra Nevada PDF file located in the sidebar. Stock packers need to use proper food storage to prevent unwanted bear encounters.