By Dave Boyer

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The Wolf Creek Trail located just east of the Sonora Pass crest (Ca highway 108) is a class I off road vehicle route that offers scenic views of the Sierra Nevada’s close to the 108 corridor. Situated basically north of the Leavitt Lake Jeep route, this path is a much smoother route than most 4×4 trails and is generally 2WD friendly in good weather. It meanders through light to medium forested areas and high altitude shrub brush below the eastern slope of Sonora Peak and White Mountain which rest at the crown of the Sierra Nevada Range. The 4×4 road finally ends up passing through the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center located at Pickel Meadow. The trail supplies excellent views of the surrounding mountains and is scenic alternate to highway 108.

The Vehicle Trail:

(Click on any image to enlarge)

The start of the drive is a bit difficult to find and easy to pass by mainly due in the lack of any signs or placards along the highway identifying the path.

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Access to the route is slightly less than two miles east of the Sonora Pass Marker at a small flat along the highway that is often used as a camping spot. It’s common to see vehicles or horse trailers parked at the trailhead as well. There is a sign that states you are entering a Marine Training area and to be cautious of personnel using the area. In other words, don’t blatantly fire weapons in the area.

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Another sign is contact information specifically for the Marine’s who enter the White Peak Mountain area. The sign also shows the level of fire threat and even though much of this zone  features  barren ground with little to burn, the rangers will ticket you if you ignore the rules. Several years back during summer I had a couple of rangers on quads made me aware of this and although they were both quite young, the one ranger told me “dude if you start a fire I’ll have to ticket you man”. I quickly responded with “bummer man, what about my Q dude? It’s propane”. The other guy said “like if you can just turn it off with a knob man, it’s cool”. At least we could BBQ on that trip. Charcoals were not allowed at that level of fire restriction so we were good to go with propane, but there are times when even stoves or propane fired devices are not allowed so check before entering the area.

As mentioned, the path is suitable for 2WD travel when dry provided your tires are in adequate shape and the road has been graded. There are portions where the grade is steep and low range is appreciated but definitely not required.

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From the upper trailhead the road starts off as a mild climb through lightly forested land. For the most part the terrain never passes through any heavy forest areas such as what’s located on the western slope, but sections or “islands” of thicker trees are abundant throughout the region.

 

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A possibility exists where drivers may have to pass through ruts. These segments of the trail can pose problems with vehicles that sit low to the ground.

 

 

 

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Rain is also something to be concerned about and although most of the route is somewhat sandy, there are spots that may become sloppy.

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These sections can become slick requiring four wheel drive. During early summer, snow will likely be present along the path and at times may block the road in areas shaded from sunlight. During early summer, the road is usually dry plus it’s the most spectacular time to visit when the alpine flora is in its full glory and the grasses are green. But due to the trails high altitude setting, it’s a great run throughout the late summer and even fall before the highways closes for the season.

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The route passes several Marine Corp bunkers that are used for training. I knocked but nobody was home.

 

 

 

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The trail follows a rim route that give exceptional views of the surrounding mountain range peaks.

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The road also crosses a few small creeks, the largest being Wolf Creek and its one lane bridge.

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DSC04460 I don’t think the stream is much for fishing but the lake it feeds from might be worth looking into.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A section of the forest has burned in the past but even that portion of the road is interesting and has its own merit.

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During autumn, the fall colors add to the scenery as shown in all these shots, and the recent snow also was a welcomed event from a photographic point of view.

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On the way down, the trail offers views of the marine base situated below. The trail becomes wider and smoother as you drop in altitude.

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As you travel down the road there are a couple of smaller trails more suited for actual 4×4 travel but the main road is easy to follow for the most part.

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There is one loop that extends the adventure and ends up coming into the Marine base as well but the shortest route is the better maintained road. Finally you’ll reach the base and highway 108.

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It is a bit strange driving out of the base. I now see the kiosk appears to be manned by private security where years ago it was military personal on guard as you drove through.

Fuel, Food, and Supplies:

Please see the previous Leavitt Lake post for information.

Backpacking and Day Hikes:

Trailheads are located about half way into the 4×4 road that allows walking access into Silver Creek Meadows and Wolf Creek Lake. The hiking trail to Wolf Creek Lake ties into the Pacific Crest Trail while the Silver Creek packing trail follows the crest of the Sierra Nevada Range. I’m sure there are several other trails to explore in the area. This route would also be a great mountain bike trail or “on road” motorcycle trail bike run.

Camping:

There’s plenty of good cover for those wishing to boon dock along the trail but much of the route passes over high altitude sage brush that is more abundant to the area. Finding a secluded camping spot is up to the adventurer. Fortunately, many spots along the way offer travelers  nice places to boon dock away from other individuals who might occupy the area. As a note, some of the area is restricted and a permit may be required for overnight camping, so it’s a good idea to contact the Bridgeport Ranger District (760)-932-7070 or write the District Ranger @ HC 62 box 1000 Bridgeport, Ca. 93517.

Be aware that it’s not uncommon for the upper section of Sonora Pass to close due to snow during September/October for a brief time before Cal-Trans makes the final winter closure leaving the Marine base and highway 395 the only way out. Depending on the storm and/or the amount of snow that drops, Cal-Trans usually opens the pass within a day or so, but I’ve seen vehicles trapped on the wrong side of a locked gate while the owners wait for someone to return and let them out. It is advisable to tell a friend or family member anytime you plan to go off road, and make sure to get a (forest service) map of the area so you know where you’re going. Don’t rely on standard GPS devices as maps. These are always good safety rules for any off road adventure. Please stay on the trails and pack out what you bring in and just as important, enjoy the ride.

Summary:

Sonora Pass happens to be the second highest route over the California Sierra Nevada Range and as mentioned in the Leavitt Lake article, the pass ranks high as a scenic route over the Sierra’s. The Wolf Creek Trail is a great drive for those who want to see the backcountry and don’t have heavy off roading experience plus it gives travelers a better scenic advantage over the highway. Although I rate this as a simple class I trail, weather conditions can change the rating quickly. Silver Creek Meadow and Wolf Creek Lake are great hikes that offer access to some of California’s most scenic alpine settings.

See ya on the trail.

Dave.