Stanislaus National Forest

Emigrant Wilderness

The 113,000 acre Emigrant Wilderness 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. See the Wilderness Regulations and check with the nearest Stanislaus National Forest Office for more details.

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 7500 to 9000 feet. Precipitation averages 50 inches annually, 80 percent 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.

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 Me-Wuk 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 declines. 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.

In 1931, the U.S. Forest Service designated this area for primitive management as the Emigrant Basin Primitive Area. The Wilderness Act of 1964 established the National Wilderness Preservation System "to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness." On January 4, 1975, the Emigrant Basin Primitive Area was designated as the Emigrant Wilderness and became part of the system. Various human uses, such as recreation, grazing, and mining, are allowed by the Wilderness Act, but all activities will be managed or carried out subordinate to the higher purpose of maintaining wilderness values. These overriding values are 1) outstanding opportunities for solitude and 2) the ability of natural processes to operate free of human influence.

A Wilderness Visitor's Permit is required for overnight visits to the Emigrant Wilderness. Only one permit is required for trips which are continuous and pass through more than one Wilderness. Group sizes are limited to 15 people and 25 pack and saddle stock. One permit is required per trip per group. If you have a larger group than is permitted, reduce the number of people, split the group to visit different areas, or visit an area which permits larger numbers. You are not permitted to camp or travel within one mile of a related group.

For trips entering Yosemite National Park Wilderness from Cherry Lake, Kibbie Ridge or Lake Eleanor, contact the Groveland Ranger District no more than 24 hours in advance of your trip.


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. 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 posted at trailheads.

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. Poplar trailheads are Bell Meadow, Crabtree Camp, Gianelli Cabin, and Kennedy Meadows.

For guide services and saddle and pack stock contact:

* Kennedy Meadows Resort
P.O. Box 4010
Sonora, Ca. 95370
209-965-3900/965-3911 (summer)
209-965-3900 (winter)
* Aspen Meadow Pack Station
P.O. Box 3403
Sonora, CA 95370
209-965-3402 (summer/winter)

Always be prepared for cold and wet weather!
Trip Planning

Wilderness permits are required for overnight camping. Forest and Wilderness maps can be purchased at any Stanislaus National Forest office or from the National Forest Store. You may also find the following useful:

* Carson-Iceberg Wilderness; Jeffrey P. Schaffer; Wilderness Press.
* Sierra North; Thomas Winnett; Wilderness Press.
* The Tahoe-Yosemite Trail; Winnett and Denison; Wilderness Press.


Livestock grazing first came to the high country in the 1860's. The Wilderness Act allows grazing to continue where it was an established practice before the area was designated as a Wilderness. About 400 cows with calves graze three allotments in the Emigrant Wilderness. Grazing management plans specify cattle numbers and length of time in each feed area. Gates and drift fences control livestock movement to prevent overgrazing and to reduce conflicts with wilderness visitors. Please help by keeping gates closed.

Under the Wilderness Act mineral rights established prior to December 31, 1983, will remain subject to constraints on exploration and mining to protect surface resources. The Snow Lake area and the East Fork of Cherry Creek above Huckleberry Lake are highly mineralized with scheelite, a source of tungsten. There are 66 claims. One 20 acre claim is patented and privately owned. Mining activity has been sporadic and largely unsuccessful. A road from Leavitt Lake is used to provide access by mining permittees to these claims. The road is closed to vehicular use.