Kern Plateau

Sherman Pass (FS 22S05)


ALONG THE WAY: Sierra views not seen by the masses and no traffic, but lots of twists and turns


Some Favorites From Our Expeditions

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    Feast your eyes on the Kern Plateau from the Sherman Pass vista point. Try to pick out Mounts Whitney and Langley and Olancha Peak.

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    Stop in at Kennedy Meadows General Store, a hugely anticipated landmark for hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail.

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    If you’re up for some trekking yourself, hike to Bald Mountain Lookout to see how wildfire spotting is done and take in a well-earned vista of the Dome Land Wilderness.

A Secretive Route

In the nearly 200 miles between the Tioga and Walker Passes, the only paved road giving drivers a way across the Sierra is the Sherman Pass Road (Forest Road 22S05) in the Sequoia National Forest.

The most scenic of trans-Sierra routes, it isn’t a short cut. Based on an animal trail, Sherman Pass Road came into being for the logging industry in this stretch of high country, not as a transportation corridor. Though Sherman Pass lies between Earlimart off Highway 99 on the west side of the Sierra and Pearsonville along Highway 395 on the east, many in those vicinities might still choose to go around those mountains rather than across via the Sherman. It’s a twisty route that makes for a long drive.

Crossing the Sierra here also requires some map study to pick out the other roads that will bring you to Sherman Pass Road. A proper map. Don’t rely on GPS for Sierra touring, especially in the backcountry. One that shows topography is even better so that you really understand the terrain.

To give an idea of where to start plotting the course, from Earlimart, start with County Road J22 heading east to Ducor, then follow the roads that will take you through California Hot Springs and Johnsondale to eventually come to Sherman Pass Road via the Kern River Highway/M99. Coming from the east, exit Highway 395 just north of Pearsonville and follow County Road J41/Kennedy Meadow Road to reach the pass. (An alternate west-to-east route across the Sierra in this vicinity would be to continue along the Kern River Highway/M99 at Johnsonville until Lake Isabella and connect with the Walker Pass instead of the Sherman.)

The Kern Plateau

The Sherman Pass vista point overlooks the Kern Plateau (and Mount Whitney if it’s a clear day). Anglers know the plateau as home to California’s state fish, the California Golden Trout. Others who are in the know come to this high-up spot to beat the heat in summer months.

The Kern Plateau stands out in this part of the high country as a vast swath of gentler landscape spanning some 950 square miles. Untouched by glaciers, it has forested hills and meadows instead of ice-carved peaks and valleys and given the remote location, it maintains a sense of hidden wild.

Bald Mountain Lookout: A Hike With Views AND Opportunity to Play Wildfire Scout

Bald Mountain Lookout, off Sherman Pass Road, offers another vista of the plateau, one that stretches 1,000 miles over three wilderness areas (Domeland, Golden Trout and South Sierra). Perched at an elevation of 9,430 feet, the tower has been used since the 1950s to scout for wildfires, but does have visiting hours for the public.

A Major PCT Landmark: Kennedy Meadows

The Kern Plateau is also home to Kennedy Meadows, not to be confused with the area of the same name along the Sonora Pass to the north. The Kennedy Meadows General Store is a favorite landmark for many who hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Besides being just past the 700-mile mark for those coming from the trail’s southern beginning and a very popular restocking point, it’s the prelude to High Sierra country. It’s also the start of bear country, meaning the point at which they’re required to use bear canisters for their food.

Some Roadside Kitsch: A Uniroyal Gal & the Hubcap Capital of the World

If you’re driving Sherman Pass west to east and are into offbeat attractions, swing into Pearsonville after you reach Highway 395 to say you’ve been to the Hubcap Capital of the World.

You can also say hi to the Uniroyal Gal. She’s a towering busty blonde made of fiberglass, who was a promotional model for Uniroyal Tire Company in the sixties. (Though some of her peers wore bikinis, the Pearsonville gal is more conservative in a pink blouse and red skirt.)

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