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The Woodchuck trailhead is about a two-hour drive from Fresno on Highway 168 to Dinkey Creek Road in Shaver Lake to the McKinley Grove Road by Dinkey Creek. After crossing the Wishon Reservoir on the dam, the trailhead (about 6,700’ elevation) is about .4 miles further on the left. There is a bathroom available.
This was my first hike on the Woodchuck Trail and I had a sense of sadness since my former experiences with the Wishon area involved a search for a missing hiker who fell to her death and was found by the YOSAR search team on the third day of our search. I wrote about this search in my book “Seeking The Lost: Stories Of Search And Rescue”.
There have been afternoon storms in the higher elevations recently and portions of the trail were covered in about 2” of snow. No rain was predicted for the day of the hike. It was a chilly 29 F degree start with cloudless skies. As with most trails in the Sierra National Forest, the trail was littered with debris and fallen trees. This is somewhat unfair since most trails are a mess after the winter season.
My intent was to go to Woodchuck Lake (or Chimney Lake as a shorter plan B). I had reviewed the maps and read about the hike in a Sierra South hiking book. The distances were given as 8 miles to Woodchuck Lake. With an early start, I figured it would be a hard but doable push round trip. And this is where I question the distances from the book. Did the authors actually measure this hike or did they scale if from a topographical map? I used both a Suunto Ambit II and a Garmin Oregon and found the distances to be considerably farther. I never got to Moore Boys Camp, which was supposed to be about 6 miles from the start. I turned back at 6.52 miles by my Ambit, which is stingy with mileage and 7.5 miles by my Oregon. I guessed that I had missed the trail junction at the boys’ camp but when I downloaded my route, I had not even got that far yet. I hope the “Tom Harrison Maps” folks do a map for this area. They use a wheel to measure the distances. His maps are pretty dependable.
With several large trees across the trail and no real vistas, this was a bit of a disappointment for this solitary hiker. I spooked a small deer herd and realized that in an area where hunting is allowed, the animals are more timid than those in the national parks. Bugs were not a problem but I always carry bug spray. There were dependable water sources outbound starting at Woodchuck Creek.
Most of the outbound trail is climb and my Garmin indicated 2,537’ of elevation gain overall on my route. On the return leg, there is a hard climb on tired legs after re-crossing Woodchuck Creek. Once you reach the ridge that parallels Wishon Reservoir, the trail is civilized with gentle rollers. The best place I found for crossing Woodchuck Creek is upstream from the “trail” sign. There is another place further outbound where I just decided to wade the stream with no evident opportunity for a dry crossing.
This was a trial run for me since I plan on doing an overnight with my sons at Woodchuck Lake this summer. It looks very doable and I hope the sights will be better at the lake. For me, the Woodchuck Trail is mostly about destination not the view along the way.
Campsite Above Woodchuck Creek Far Side Outbound
No Dry Crossing
Seasonal Assurance Markers
I Crossed Upstream From This Sign
Bear and Coyote Track Together
Frozen Water On Brush
Trail Follows Road For Short Distance