Stanislaus National Forest

Mokelumne Wilderness

The 105,165 acre Mokelumne Wilderness straddles the crest of the central Sierra Nevada, within the Stanislaus, Eldorado, and Toiyabe National Forests. This area lies within portions of Calaveras, Alpine, and Amador Counties and is bordered by State Highway 4 on the south and State Highway 88 on the north. Watersheds drain to the Mokelumne River on the west slope and the Carson River on the east slope. New Management Guidelines were recently adopted for the Mokelumne Wilderness; see the Wilderness Regulations or check with the nearest Forest Service Office for more details.

The Mokelumne Wilderness is a rugged landscape of great scenic beauty. Much of the area is dominated by volcanic ridges and peaks. The prominent feature is disputably the rugged Mokelumne River Canyon. There are many smaller streams flowing through deep granitic canyons but only a few lakes concentrated in the northern portion of this spectacular area. Elevations range from about 3900 feet near Salt Springs Reservoir to 10,380 feet at Round Top. Precipitation averages 50 inches annually on the west slope and as little as 15 inches on the east slope, 80 percent of it in the form of snow. Snowcaps typically linger into June in the Round Top region to the north and on the Mokelumne Plateau to the south, while the Mokelumne River Canyon above Salt Springs Reservoir can be free of snow as early as March. Summers are generally dry and mild, but afternoon thundershowers occur periodically and nighttime temperatures may dip below freezing any time.

Various Native Americans inhabited the area for 10,000 years. The most recent inhabitants, the Mi-Wuk from the west slope and the Washoe of the Great Basin, spent the warmer months hunting in the high country and trading with each other. Explorers such as Jedediah Smith (1826) and John C. Fremont and Kit Carson (1844) were the first Euro-Americans to visit the Mokelumne Wilderness. In 1848 the Mormon Battalion successfully pioneered a trail just south of present day Carson Pass in a trek from Sutter's Fort to Salt Lake City, and later, thousands of emigrants followed this route on the way to the gold fields of California. A brief period of gold and silver mining occurred during the 1860's southwest of Blue Lakes, but by the turn of the century the wilderness was infrequently visited, mostly by shepherds who grazed stock in the spring and summer.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 established a National Wilderness Preservation System "to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness." The Mokelumne Wilderness became part of the National Wilderness Preservation System with passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and was expanded with the passage of the California Wilderness Act of 1984. 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 Mokelumne Wilderness. Only one permit is required for trips which are continuous and pass through more than one Wilderness. Group size is limited to 12 people for day use and 8 people for overnight use, with the exception of specially permitted groups traveling the Pacific Crest Trail. 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.

Management of visitors and their impacts is especially important for preserving the naturalness and solitude that distinguish wilderness from other settings. Those people who use the Mokelumne Wilderness visit primarily from June through September. Most use is concentrated around the few lakes found in the Wilderness. By applying no-trace camping skills, visitors can minimize the impact of recreational use on the wilderness environment. Information about "leave no trace" skills can be found on wilderness permit attachments and is posted at trailheads.

There are over 100 miles of trails in the Mokelumne Wilderness. Travel is restricted to foot or horseback. Mechanized transportation of any kind, including bicycles, is prohibited (wheel chair use by those in genuine need is permissible). Major trailheads on the Stanislaus portion are located at Lake Alpine, Woodchuck Basin, and Sandy Meadow on the Calaveras Ranger District (Highway 4), on the Eldorado National Forest at Tanglefoot, Plasse Trading Post, Caples Lake, Woods Lake, and Carson Pass on the Amador Ranger District (Highway 88), and on the Toiyabe National Forest at Ebbetts Pass (Pacific Crest Trail), Pleasant Valley and Wet Meadows on the Carson Ranger District. For guide services and pack and saddle stock contact:

* Wolf Creek Pack Station
PO Box 1041
Verdi, NV 89439
* Kirkwood Stables
PO Box 89
Kirkwood, CA 95646

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.

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 Wilderness. There are eight grazing allotments (seven cattle, one sheep) in the Mokelumne Wilderness. Grazing management plans specify animal 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.