Emigrant Wilderness

Located in the Stanislaus National Forest in California.

The 113,000 acre Emigrant Wilderness is located on the upper western slope of the central Sierra Nevada mountain range within the Stanislaus National Forest. It is bordered by Yosemite National Park on the south the Toiyabe National Forest on the east and State Highway 108 on the north. It is an elongated area that trends northeast about 25 miles in length and up to 15 miles in width. Watersheds drain to the Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers. This area is entirely within Tuolumne County and is approximately 140 air miles east of San Francisco and 50 air miles south of Lake Tahoe.

The Emigrant Wilderness is a glaciated landscape of great scenic beauty. The northeastern third of the Wilderness is dominated by volcanic ridges and peaks; the remaining areas consist of many sparsely vegetated granitic ridges interspersed with numerous lakes and meadows. Elevations range from below 5000 feet near Cherry Reservoir to 11,570 feet at Leavitt Peak, but the elevation range of most of the popular high use areas is 7,500 to 9,000 feet. Precipitation averages 50 inches annually. 80% of it in the form of snow. Snowpacks typically linger into June sometimes later following very wet winters. Summers are generally dry and mild but afternoon thundershowers occur periodically and nighttime temperatures could dip below freezing anytime.

History - Various native peoples occupied this area for 10,000 years, spending the summer and early autumn hunting in the high country and trading with groups from the eastern side of the Sierra. The most recent groups were the Miwok of the western slope and Piute of the Great Basin. Following the discovery of gold in 1848, large numbers of miners and settlers came to the Sierra and the native cultures quickly declined.

In September-October 1852, the Clark-Skidmore party became the first emigrant group to travel the West Walker route over Emigrant Pass continuing through a portion of the present-day Emigrant Wilderness. Several more emigrant parties were enticed by officials from Sonora to use this route in 1853 but it was a very difficult passage with many hardships and was soon abandoned. Relief Valley was so-named because of the assistance some emigrants received there from residents of the Sonora area.

Recreation - Management of visitors and their impacts is especially important for preserving the naturalness and solitude that distinguish wilderness from other settings. Approximately 15,000 people use the Emigrant Wilderness every year, primarily from June through September. Many people are attracted to the numerous lakes which are periodically stocked with trout by the California Department of Fish and Game. Firewood is scarce within the wilderness. No wood fires are permitted above 9,000 feet. By applying no-trace camping skills visitors can minimize the impact of recreational use on the wilderness environment. Information about"leave no trace" techniques can be found on Wilderness permit attachments and is posted at trailheads.

Wilderness Travel - There are approximately 185 miles of trails in the Emigrant Wilderness. Travel is restricted to foot or horseback. Mechanized transportation of any kind including bicycles is prohibited. Popular trailheads are Bell Meadow, Crabtree Camp, Gianelli Cabin and Kennedy Meadows. Maximum group size is limited to 15 people. Visitor permits are required May 25 through September 15.

Special thanks to High Sierra Goat Packing for supplying the photo on this page.


For further information contact: Summit Ranger District, Stanislaus National Forest


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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