The Freeman Creek Trail is one of the finest biking trails in the southern Sierra Nevada. There are three strong arguments in favor of this trail being among the top five in the southern Sierra. First, the trail is entirely ridable, with no portages required. Second, the moderate elevation and gentle grade make for an easy out-and-back from either end. Lastly, the trail travels through one of the largest groves of giant sequoia in the region, passing trees that rival those found in more famous groves further north.
Numerous other reasons add to the attractiveness of this trail. Fine camping can be found throughout the area, and guest accommodations are available at nearby Ponderosa and Camp Nelson. The trail can be easily combined with other trails and roads if more mileage is desired. Other activities in the area include trout fishing, excellent rock climbing at Dome Rock and The Needles, horseback riding, hiking, and stuffing your face with kielbasa and sour kraut at the Ponderosa while perusing strange coincidences at the Kennedy-Lincoln Coincidence table.
This description assumes riding from the top of the trail at Quaking Aspen down to the Lloyd Meadow / Pyles Camp area. For riding directly from Quaking Aspen campground, this makes for an easy out-and-back ride as the climbing is not that strenuous for the return. This is also the riding direction if using the Freeman Creek Trail as part of the larger Slate Mountain loop.
From Quaking Aspen campground, cross the highway and head north on either Forest Road 22S82 (paved), or a lesser dirt road a short distance east. These roads lead around a meadow and up over a saddle, meeting at a rounded 'X' intersection. Take the upper right (northeast) leg of the 'X' and descend to the Freeman Creek trailhead. Pass through a cattle gate (close it behind you) and begin riding the trail.
The trail curves through dense groves of fir and hemlock, crossing the creek via a sturdy bridge, then begins a gentle climb. After the climb, the trail begins to switchback down the mountainside. As the forest becomes more dense, the first sequoias are encountered. The largest trees are very close to the trail, and often come as a shock after rounding a corner.
The forest slowly changes from fir and hemlock to ponderosa and jeffrey pines and black oaks as the trail levels out on the bottom of a large basin. Views of nearby Hermit Spire to the north are impressive. Despite the low elevation (~5200') some groves of lodgepole pine are encountered here also. One of the last sequoias encountered is the largest, the George H. W. Bush Tree. This giant rivals the mighty General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park and the Mariposa Trees in Yosemite National Park.
Once past the Bush Tree, the trail travels through thinner forest and open meadows before encountering Mountain Road 99 just south of the Lloyd Meadow wilderness trailhead. For the out-and-back option from Quaking Aspen, this will be a good place to stop and rest before returning up the hill. For the Slate Mountain loop, or if more mileage is desired, the trail continues directly across MTN-99.
Climb a short hill and continue southeast through drier and rockier terrain. The trail is more technically interesting in this section, and has a few route-finding challenges as it passes east of Pyles Camp in the vicinity of Soda Spring. Care is needed to avoid becoming lost in the many braided cow tracks in the forest. The trail climbs up a gentle grade and meets MTN-99 approximately 2 miles north of Merlin Dome.
For the out-and-back option, either return via the trail from here, or go north on MTN-99 and meet the easier section of the trail near Lloyd Meadow. For the Slate Mountain loop option, head south on MTN-99 past Merlin Dome and The Needles to return to the trailhead near Camp Whitsett.
|Directions From Greater Los Angeles Area To Johnsondale|
From areas in and around Los Angeles, and generally west of the I-605 Freeway, the best route is via Highway I-5. Follow I-5 past it's junction with Highway CA-14, in the Newhall Pass, and continue north over Tejon Pass and down to the CA-99 split near Grapevine. Take the CA-99 and continue north to Bakersfield. Exit at CA-178 and go right (east) to Lake Isabella. Just before Lake Isabella, exit at CA-155 and head north around the lake. Continue through Wooford Heights, where CA-155 goes left (west), and continue north on what is now Burlando Road. Burlando Road ends at a 'T' intersection in Kernville, where Mountain Road 99 goes left (north) and follows the Kern River. Continue north on MTN-99 past the Sherman Pass Road junction and up a long grade to Johnsondale.
For the lower trailhead, follow directins in the paragraph titled 'Lower Trailhead From Johnsondale' below.
For the upper trailhead, go left at Johnsondale, following MTN-99 west as it becomes MTN-50. At the junction of MTN-50 and the Western Divide Highway, go right (north) and continue to Quaking Aspen Campground. Follow the directions in the paragraph titled 'Upper Trailhead From Quaking Aspen Campground' below.
|Directions From Inland Empire To Johnsondale|
From inland areas east and south of the San Gabriel Valley, take Highway I-15 north over Cajon Pass and on to Victorville. Exit at Highway US-395 and continue north. Follow US-395 to Inyokern and go left (west) on Highway CA-178. At CA-14, go left again (south) to the continuation of CA-178 and go right (west). Follow CA-178 over Walker Pass and down through Onyx and Weldon. Go right on Sierra Way and head to Kernville. In the town of Kernville, Sierra Way becomes MTN-99 and continues north, following the Kern River. Continue north on MTN-99 past the Sherman Pass Road junction and up a long grade to Johnsondale.
For the lower trailhead, follow directions in the paragraph titled 'Lower Trailhead From Johnsondale' below.
For the upper trailhead, go left at Johnsondale, following MTN-99 west as it becomes MTN-50. At the junction of MTN-50 and the Western Divide Highway, go right (north) and continue to Quaking Aspen Campground. Follow directions in the paragraph titled 'Upper Trailhead From Quaking Aspen Campground' below.
|Directions From San Joaquin Valley To Quaking Aspen Campground|
Exit CA-99 south of Visalia, in Tipton and take CA-190 through Porterville and up to Quaking Aspen Campground.
For the lower trailhead, continue south on Western Divide Highway to the junction with MTN-50. Go left (east) and drive down to Johnsondale and follow directions in the paragraph titled 'Lower Trailhead From Johnsondale' below.
|Lower Trailhead From Johnsondale|
From the intersection of MTN-50, MTN-99 and NF-22S82 in Johnsondale, go north on Forest Road 22S82 and continue to Lloyd Meadow. The trail ends a few miles before the end of NF-22S82, about 0.5 miles south of Pyles Camp. The trail also crosses the road just before the final short grade up to the Lloyd Meadow wilderness trailhead. This crossing point is a good starting or ending place for the easier upper section of the trail.
Upper Trailhead From Quaking Aspen Campground
Across the road from the Quaking Aspen Campground entrance, go north on Forest Road 21S50. Continue north for just less than 0.5 mile, past a meadow and to a saddle. Go right on a dirt road but veer left (north) near some Forest Service green dumpsters. Continue north for 0.2 mile to the Freeman Creek Trail parking area.