The southeast corner of Giant Sequoia National Monument is in the Middle Kern / Needles region of the southern Sierra Nevada, and contains the area between the Lloyd Meadow wilderness trailhead on the north and a point just north of Alta Sierra on the south, and between the Tule River drainage on the west and the Great Western Divide on the east. The Tule River drainage is mostly contained within the Tule Indian Reservation, and is not generally open to public access. The area east of the Kern River and north of Lloyd Meadow is federal wilderness area, and off-limits to bicycles. The area south of Johnsondale is covered by the Lake Isabella page. The northern portion of the Monument, in the vicinity of Hume Lake and Three Rivers, is covered by the Giant Sequoia NM (North) page. The area to the east, between the Great Western Divide and the Kern River will also be described here to include loop options and rides on the border of the Monument.
This region of the southern Sierra Nevada contains fairly gentle terrain pocked by large- to gigantic-sized monolithic domes of granite. The centerpiece of the region, The Needles, is a high ridge of huge granite spires and domes viewed by the indigenous people as the center of the universe, and similarly viewed by rock climbers, if for slightly less spiritual reasons.
The area is densely forested with oak, fir, hemlock, and pines of various types. Meadows dot the area, with streams and lesser rivers feeding the mighty Kern River as it cuts a deep gorge from north to south. Some of the southernmost groves of giant sequoia can be found in the area, with one of the best trails traveling directly through the middle of the largest grove, the Freeman Creek Grove.
The high point of the area is 9302' Slate Mountain, a large, complex mountain with many sub-peaks approaching 9000' elevation. The Summit Trail passes near the summit of Slate Mountain, topping out at just over 9000' on the west, overlooking the Tule River drainage and the San Joaquin Valley.
Directions From Greater Los Angeles Area To Kernville
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.
Directions From Inland Empire To Kernville
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.
Directions From Kernville To The Needles And Slate Mountain
Continue north from Kernville on MTN-99 to Johnsondale. From Johnsondale, two choices are available. For rides closer to the Kern River and The Needles, go right and continue north on MTN-99 to trailheads and/or campsites. For rides around Slate Mountain and Dome Rock, go left and head west up Parker Pass Road to the Great Western Divide Highway (County Road 107). Go right and head north on CR-107 to trailheads and/or campsites.
Directions From San Joaquin Valley To Slate Mountain
Exit CA-99 south of Visalia, in Tipton and take CA-190 through Porterville and up to Ponderosa, then continue south, now on Great Western Divide Highway (CR-107) to trailheads and/or campsites. For access to trailheads closer to the Kern River, continue south to Parker Pass Road (MTN-50). Go left and descend to Johnsondale, making a left on MTN-99. Continue north on MTN-99 to trailheads and/or campsites.
Red TapeNo permits are required to ride, camp, hike or climb in the area. Some developed campsites charge a fee. A free fire permit is required for campfires and stoves while camping in the area. Fire permits may be obtained at either of the following ranger stations in the area:
Kernville Ranger Station
105 Whitney Road
Kernville, CA 93238
Springville Ranger Station
32588 Highway 190
Springville, CA 93265
Several developed campgrounds are found in the area:
Quaking Aspen is located in beautiful Quaker Meadow, near Ponderosa, where the Great Western Divide Highway and CA-190 meet. Quaking Aspen serves as a good lower trailhead for the Summit Trail on the northern side of Slate Mountain, and for the upper end of the Freeman Creek Trail leading down through the Freeman Creek Grove of giant sequoias. Fee required, water and flush toilets available. Also, there is a restaurant at nearby Ponderosa Lodge.
Peppermint Campground is along the Great Western Divide Highway south of Ponderosa. This campground is further from singletrack trails, but near abundant forest roads. Fee required, water and flush toilets available.
Lower Peppermint Creek is located on MTN-99 just south of The Needles. This is a good base camp for early- and late-season rides in the vicinity of The Needles, Dome Rock, and Camp Whitsett. For summer fun, there are excellent swimming holes at nearby Peppermint Falls. No fee required, no water, pit toilets.