By Dave Boyer

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Above Fresno along the west side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, highway 41 leaves the lower foothills and winds its way into Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Park with its granite dome and sheer cliffs is definitely the gem of the Sierra’s but doesn’t offer any off roading opportunities. Yet once outside the Parks boundaries, the Forest Service allows backcountry vehicle travel. The areas east and northeast of the highway have several fire service roads to explore, some of which I have posted about on this site. Of all the trails in this region, I feel the route leading to Shuteye Peak fire lookout is one of the most scenic 4×4 trails in the Sierra Nevada Range.

The section of mountain range between Tahoe and Kings Canyon is somewhat unique compared to the rest of the Sierra’s. The abundance of granite makes these areas look different than spots a few hundred miles further north or south of Shuteye Peak. Yosemite’s Tioga Pass as well as Sonora Pass north of Shuteye are beautiful roads but the same is true of Kaiser Pass and Kings Canyon NP to the south. The canyons in these areas are surrounded by granite cliffs and domes that make for some of the most scenic views along the Sierra Nevada Range in my opinion. Places like the Vermillion Valley below Edison Lake and Immigrant Basin above Pinecrest Lake are beautiful granite laced regions and Shuteye Peak is no exception.

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The lookout is an active US Forest Service fire tower that watches over a huge section of land around Bass Lake and areas of the high country in the Sierra National Forest. This includes parts of Yosemite, and lands basically around the San Joaquin River Canyon. When manned during summer, tours are open to the public.

The Trip:

In late August of 2009 I made a trip a group of guys out of Merced who take a few yearly trips to just hang around camp, throw horse shoes, drink beer, and sit around the fire smoking fine cigars…the classic dude trip.

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Although the group was small  (only four of us this time around), it was a typical camping trip with all the big gear, tons of munchies and loads beer. We camped at a favorite spot of Don’s along Chiquito Creek. Although this has been a camp that has survived years of use, one day I fear that the roads into this area will be closed off to vehicles.

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                                                Chiquito Creek

Nothing beats disperse camping next to a stream, but it may soon be a thing of the past if certain people get their way.

Except for Don, none of the guys had ever really been on a four wheel drive excursion. Well after recovering from the night before, the four of us decided to seek out Shuteye Peak. While I had my SMB, Don’s son Jeff took his good friend Anthony to the top via his Toyota Pickup. While not an extremely equipped off road vehicle, Jeff’s truck had off road tires and four wheel drive capabilities. This run definitely opened their eyes.

Getting there:

As mentioned, Bass Lake resides in the foothills along state highway 41. Beasore is a major roadway out of Bass Lake that is part of the Sierra Scenic Byway. In itself, the byway loop is a great drive offering several scenic viewpoints, forest service campgrounds, and trailheads for backpackers.

From Bass Lake take Beasore Road (also called FR-7) about 10 miles to the Central Camp turn off (6S42). From there continue this dirt road about 5 miles to the Shuteye Peak trail (6S59). Note that Beasore is a very steep grade and in general, no reliable fuel is available above Bass Lake.

Amenities:

As mentioned, Bass Lake is about the closest place for supplies and fuel. One spot along the road (during this writing) called Jones Store has been a landmark stop since the early part of the 1900’s.

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The store is packed well and suited for those staying in the rustic campground that’s located next door. Jones Store serves great food including breakfast, burgers and sandwiches. It’s held the tradition of being a spot that people frequent once they’ve made a visit and sampled the food. Everything is like what ma used to make, and the homemade pies are fantastic.

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The store closes whenever the owners need to make a run for supplies or anytime something comes up. In the past, gasoline had been delivered from an old style pump of times long past. If this pump is still in operation, it might be the only chance in your lifetime to fuel up from a historical standpoint in time. I can’t say if fuel is still available though. With our governments out of control regulations, more than likely they will stick their noses into this blast from the past and ruin a long held tradition…lets hope not. Whether or not Jones Store will continue to sell fuel, this place should be around for a while and is well worth stopping by even if just to grab a Coke.

We cruised around the local area during our stay. Some of the forest roads are very scenic.

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Shuteye Peak OHV trail:

The trail to the lookout definitely requires four wheel drive and a reasonably lifted vehicle is also suggested but the forest service classifies it as an easy OHV route. For an extended bed van it’s a more technical 4×4 run that requires tall tires, around a 6” lift, and a spotter to get you over the worst portions of the run. On some sections, chances are you’ll drag your tail.

For those who would rather not tackle a 4×4 trail, the Sierra Scenic Byway is a wonderful drive especially in late Spring or Fall when the road is open.

The OHV route to Shuteye Peak starts off at 6000 feet and climbs to an 8400 foot altitude level within its six and a half mile length. It travels through thick forest at the start of the trail but breaks out in some spots.

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Soon the trail crosses one of two creeks. The route continues back into heavier forest before reaching the forest service gate that closes the trail during the off season.

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Most of the route is a fairly easy climb but soon the trail begins degrade.

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About half way in just below the gate, there is one spot that is a great place to camp at. Camping is sparse from this point on.

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This is one of the few spots to camp at although further up the trail areas of solid granite are flat enough to boon dock at. The Forest Service will not allow camping at the lookout.

The last of the mild run stops where the trail takes a sharp turn towards the top.

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This was one of the first premium vista points along the route. We took time to enjoy the view and have a beer.

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Besides the exceptional views, the geology of the region was interesting in itself. If this was exfoliating granite, it was the most unique I’ve ever seen in the in the area including Yosemite. We all wondered if it was more of a volcanic type flow  rather than the typical granite that dominated the mountain range.

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Can you see Anthony standing against this small monolith? It’s a little bigger than what it looks like in the picture.

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                                    Still feelin the hangover Anthony?

I suspect anyone driving this route would stop to breath in the beauty here. It certainly opened our eyes. After making the abrupt turn in the trail, it becomes a bit more challenging. Time to lock the hubs.

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As the trail circles around the peak the trail can be quite rough in spots but this isn’t the worst section of the trail.

There are some spots where you’ll travel over solid granite and the trail seems to disappear.

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For me, this is some of my favorite type travel. Being able to drive on solid granite is rare and seems like being in another world. It reminds me of sitting on Half Dome but on a more larger scale. What a spot to boon dock at!

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                                       Glad I pulled my disconnects.

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This hilltop is probably the worst section of trail but it was the best part of the drive IMO. Here I needed a spotter and took it easy. A series of stair stepping granite ledges had to be negotiated and it was a bit challenging for an extended bed van. I really got the most out of my lift. Some of the worst was actually dropping off the mini peak and heading back up towards the lookout. Unfortunately with time pressing on, I didn’t take too many pictures of this section on the trail but we had to come back this way and would get some then.

After the crest, the trail mellowed out.

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On this section we were able to make some time.

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Again we approached some of the strange looking granite dome formations. If you look closely you’ll see the lookout station in the background.

Finally we made it.

DSC02118  As we pulled up, the ranger was on the radio with another lookout. He said “you won’t believe it, a f….ing van just pulled up here”. The other ranger replied “what?” The Shuteye Peak ranger repeated his message and explained “its a four wheel drive van!”.

There are no manmade steps leading to the lookout. Mother Nature supplies the route.

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                                               A few views from up top.

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I must say, it must be nice to work somewhere you feel like being on top of the world.

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I’m behind on the left, Don in the center, and Jeff on the right. The picture was taken by Anthony. It’s something I’ll never forget.

I have some shots from the lookout that will stay in my album for the time being. The ranger preferred not to be photographed and I respected his request. We were all given a premium tour of the facilities and I must admit he went beyond what the government requires.

The drive back to camp was fantastic. We would see the sun set before leaving the mountain.

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Not too far from the lookout, this area was another great camping spot. I don’t know about having a fire but assume it would be OK and I doubt it’s visible from the lookout.

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We headed back up over Little Shuteye Peak which is the most difficult part of the trail to negotiate.

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It requires a slow crawl in low range driving this portion of the trail.

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If you have seen this picture before, now you know where it was taken.

The sun was setting fast and it wouldn’t be long before the off road light would have to be uncovered.

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Jeff and Anthony headed back to camp while Don and I stuck around and snapped a couple evening shots. The day was coming to an end and we still had a long drive ahead of us but I didn’t mind coming off the mountain in the dark.

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Summary:

This trail is a fantastic 4×4 run. A working fire lookout just adds appeal to the drive. Besides the beauty of the granite domes and outcroppings, the scenic views are exceptional. The drive is challenging for a large vehicle making it one of my #1 choice as an OHV route capable of being done in a modified van. I think the run could be done by most SUV’s with a good set of tires but there might be some bottom scraping if the vehicle hasn’t been lifted. There are plenty of areas to  camp at in this region as well as several easier Forest Service roads to explore. If you’re in this section if the Sierra’s, Shuteye Peak is well worth the effort to visit. 

Thanks for following Sportsmobile 4×4 Adventures

See ya on the trail.