Thursday, July 31, 2014

Florence Lake To McClure Meadow And Back As An Overnight

Dale Matson

GPS Route Downloaded To Terrain Navigator Pro
It Is 36 Miles Round Trip

Getting to Florence Lake is half the battle. It is three hours Northeast of Fresno over Kaiser Pass. Once over the pass, the next 14 miles takes one hour on a single lane road with patches on patches. The view along the road is great but the driver needs to pay attention to road. There is a fork in the ‘road’ with seven miles remaining that goes left to Edison Lake and right to Florence Lake. Some folks traveling the PCT/JMT stop at Edison Lake for resupply since it is closer to the trail and offers showers and an eatery. Florence Lake is about seven miles from where the trail out of Florence Lake intersects with the JMT as it descends from Selden Pass. There is a cutoff trail to the Muir Trail Ranch where folks send 5 gallon buckets of food etc. Both lakes are reservoirs developed by Southern California Edison for producing electricity. Ironically, both lake resorts generate their own electricity and there is no regular telephone coverage.

Florence Lake Store From Boat Dock

Even though we are in our 3rd year of drought, Florence Lake remains relatively high, fed by the San Joaquin River. The water taxi is 25 dollars round trip and well worth the money to avoid the additional four miles of additional hiking to the trailhead at the south end of the lake. The first run is at 8:30am. It is not uncommon to see a Mercedes “Unimog” on the far end of the lake used to convey supplies to Muir Camp, a private resort. Once you climb out of the lake beginning on the ‘yellow brick road’ the trail passes by open meadows and dense woods with not much to see other than Pyramidal Mt. Shinn. At nearly 11,000’, it dominates the landscape. The Unimog road and foot trail repeatedly cross each other but the foot trail is 2 miles shorter. There is also ‘The Tombstone’ a pillar about 10,600’ to the north of the trail. At about 8 miles out you can see the John Muir Cabin built by the U.S. Forest Service about 50’ south of the trail.

The Tombstone

At about 9 miles you reach a bridge over Piute Creek once across the bridge, you enter into Kings Canyon National Park with expansive views. The JMT follows the San Joaquin River upstream. The river has cut a huge narrow gorge out of the rock as it rushes loudly beside the trail. Eventually, the trail crosses the San Joaquin on a panel bridge and heads to a junction with the trail to Goddard Canyon. At this point the average traveler should figure on camping for the night before the epic climb along the cliff face heading toward Evolution Creek. I have done this trip with average backpackers in four days and three nights on two separate occasions. Because I was alone this time, my pace was a skosh quicker. If you think my trip was fast, imagine someone like Leor Pantilat who could take the first ferry out and return from McClure Meadow to Florence Lake before the last ferry of the same day.

San Joaquin River

Evolution Creek

Evolution Creek Crossing

The Hermit On Right

The Evolution Creek crossing can be simple or simply dangerous when the creek is high and fast. One year my younger son Zack was almost swept downstream. There is a safer crossing upstream under those circumstances. It is about three miles from the creek crossing to McClure Meadow. There is not much to see along the way through the woods. When you arrive at the Meadow, there is a world-class sight. I had to take the final shot in the morning because of smoke from various forest fires. A Video with more photographs is available Here:



  1. My favorite place in the Sierra. It was on that boat ferry that I was recruited for SAR by Koda himself :) a memory I will never forget. That team carried me through my 20's and kept me out of trouble and in beautiful places like this gem. No better sight than waking up along the bank of Evolution Creek to the haze and serene flow from the High Sierra.

    1. And you said It couldn't be done as an overnight!

  2. This year the Fresno Bee reported PCT folks saying Evolution Creek was up to their shoulder and necks. They had to carry their packs on top of their heads. I also read that Bear Creek crossing was worse and many left the trail at Florence Lake and walked by road to Edison Lake!