Explore Golden Trout Wilderness

Discover 300,000 Acres of landscape Diversity And a True Golden Trout Haven

Split between the Sequoia and Inyo National Forests, the Golden Trout Wilderness covers over 300,000 acres. First protected in 1978, it is a land of diversity – from rolling forests and meadows up to high rugged granite summits.

The Golden Trout has supported native populations of golden trout (California’s state fish) for thousands of years in the drainages of the Upper Kern River. This wilderness contains all of the Little Kern River’s drainage as well as the North and South Fork of the Kern River plus 117 miles of streams; the Golden Trout Wilderness is a true trout haven.

However, golden trout populations have dwindled throughout the state and in the area due to predation and interbreeding from the non-native European brown trout. Pure populations of golden trout inhabit fewer than 10 miles of streams in the area. The local Little Kern golden trout and the Volcano Creek golden trout are classified as threatened while the endemic South Fork Kern golden trout, rainbow trout, from which golden trout evolved, and western sucker and squawfish are more abundant.

Extending from the western foothills all the way to the eastern high desert, the Golden Trout Wilderness can be reached from both sides of the Sierra Nevada range. From the east, most visitors approach from Hwy 395 near Lone Pine. From the west, various roads stem from Hwy 190 near Giant Sequoia National Monument.


Sequoia and Inyo State Forests are each required to store “good” foods. In almost any forest area in Inyo National Forest bear-resistant containers are recommended. Food should be kept in an enclosed box in eight different locations to reduce the risk of bear access. If storing food isn’t mandatory, the counterbalance method of hanging food can be used; however, where trees don’t provide sufficient height to store food you should carry an empty container of food. A new food storage method will never be accepted.

Hikers may access the Golden Trout Wilderness from the following Inyo National Forest trails and trailheads: Note: A quota is in effect for the Cottonwood Pass Trail in the Golden Trout Wilderness. This quota applies to all overnight visitors from the last Friday in June through September 15.

  • Cottonwood Pass Trail – Starting from the end of Horseshoe Meadows Road, the trail over Cottonwood Pass goes to the northern portion of the Golden Trout Wilderness. Small streams meander through tree-rimmed meadows in this wilderness area. Common Destinations: Cottonwood Pass, Chicken Spring Lake, Rocky Basin Lakes, Big Whitney Meadow, John Muir Trail.  The trailhead is located approximately 24 miles southwest of Lone Pine, CA. From Highway 395 in Lone Pine, turn west onto Whitney Portal Road. Drive 3.5 miles and turn south (left) onto Horseshoe Meadow Road. Travel approximately 20 miles to the end of the road. 
  • Trail Pass Trail
  • Olancha Pass Trail – The Olancha Pass trail is located in the northeastern portion of the South Sierra Wilderness. The trail starts at the Sage Flat trailhead, elevation 5,790 feet, and winds steeply up the Eastern Sierra escarpment to Olancha Pass, elevation 9,220 feet. It begins in canyon live oak woodland, and ends in a lodgepole forest, near Summit Meadow. The Olancha Pass trail provides access to the Pacific Crest Trail and the Monache Meadow area. A public stock corral is located at the trailhead. From US 395, south of Olancha,
    CA, turn west onto Sage Flat Road and follow to its
    end. The road starts off paved, but becomes a dirt
    road towards the end.
  • Black Rock Trailhead – Beginning on the southern border of the Golden Trout Wilderness, the Black Rock Trail goes to Casa Vieja Meadow and Jordan Hot Springs as it passes through rugged terrain desending to the Wild and Scenic section of the Kern River near Soda Flat. In the Golden Trout Wilderness small streams meander through tree rimmed meadows. The area is named after California’s brightly colored state fish. The golden trout (Onchorhynchus mykiss aguabonita) is a subspecies of rainbow trout that is native to this area. The distance to the Kern River is 9.2 miles, with a significant loss of elevation. The hike back to the trailhead is long and uphill. In summer, the area may be quite hot during the day, and surprisingly cold at night. From US 395, 55 miles south of Lone Pine, CA, and 15 miles north of Ridgecrest, CA: Turn west onto 9 Mile Canyon Rd. Drive 24 miles to Kennedy Meadows. Turn left onto Forest Road 22S05/Sherman Pass Rd. Drive 13 miles. Turn right onto 21S03. Drive to the end of 21S03 (7 miles) Blackrock Trailhead can also be reached fro Kernville, CA. Travel north on Sierra Highway, then east on Sherman Pass Road, then north on 21S03.

The Top 9 Backpacking Trail Adventures for Golden Trout Wilderness

On your journey to discover more of the Sierra Nevada. Backpacking in the Golden Trout wilderness provides a few of the iconic adventures sought out by many. This list of 20 backpack loops and destinations is based on rankings from All Trails.com

  1. Cotton Wood Lake Loop Trails – Starts in Horseshoe Meadow and travels into Golden Trout Wilderness and John Muir Wilderness.
  2. Cottonwood Lake Trail #1 –  Ok, prepare for the crowds on this 10-mile out-and-back trail. Beautiful and scenic and, for the most part relatively flat until the end. 
  3. Cottonwood Lake. New Army Pass Loop-  Named for the cottonwood trees which were located at the original trailhead in the Owens Valley, the Cottonwood Lakes are home to California’s state fish, the Golden Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita). The lakes are located in an alpine basin at the southern end of the John Muir Wilderness. They are surrounded by high peaks of the Sierra Nevada, including Cirque Peak and Mt. Langley. The New Army Pass Trail provides access to Sequoia National Park and the Pacific Crest Trail.
  4. Circue Peak via Cottonwood Lakes / Army Pass – Cirque Peak can be reached from either Cottonwood Pass Trail or Cottonwood Lakes Trail. The mountain rises between the two, straddling the divide of the Golden Trout and John Muir Wildernesses. The summit boasts an excellent panorama with a good look at Mount Langley to the north, the Cottonwood Lakes to the east, and the sprawling Sierra to the west.
  5. Mount Langley Loop via New Army Pass –  Mt. Langley Summit via New Army Pass — Roughly 26.5 mi. round-trip Mt. Langley Summit via Old Army Pass — Old Army pass is slightly shorter than New Army Pass (possibly up to 2 mi.). M.t Langley is the 9th tallest mountain in California and one of a small handful of 14,000 ft. peaks in the state that can be summited via a class-1 hiking trail. For any aspiring peak baggers out there, this is a great place to start.
  6.  Horseshoe Meadow to Happy Isles via John Muir trail. – Discover this iconic  227.8-mile point-to-point trail. Access to arguably the most scenic 227 miles of the  Sierra Nevada. Hike through the Golden trout and John Muir Wildernesses into Yosemite Valley.
  7. Kern River Forks to Painter Camp –  Head out on this 20.8-mile out-and-back trail near Johnsondale, California – The Upper Kern River is a Wild and Scenic River holding native and heritage populations of Kern River Rainbows. Kern Flats itself is an extremely scenic camp site; terrain is more open than further north where the river begins to narrow in the canyon near “the Hazards”. You will find a hiking trail along the Kern that continues south for nearly six miles to Forks of the Kern and three miles north to Nine-mile Creek to fish along with excellent fishing and swimming holes
  8. Red Rock Meadows – A nice overnight trek to Redrock Meadows is just north of Casa Vieja Meadows. The hike will stay near the headwaters of several creeks and along side a few springs too. This trip remains between 8,310 feet to 8,960 feet elevation. 
  9. Horseshoe Meadow to the Kern River – Try this 37.6-mile out-and-back trail near Lone Pine. Panoramic views & good flyfishing from Horseshoe Meadow and ending at the Forks of the Kern trailhead

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