In and around Yosemite

(Part 2)

By Dave Boyer

Fresno Dome  

September 22-24 2006

Fresno Dome (Fresno Bee) After our trip to the east side of the Sierra’s, (See Tioga to Dunderberg Meadows), we decided to visit an area just outside the lower south east section of Yosemite. Tamarack Flat is only about an hour and a half away from the trail we looked at, so after morning coffee we were off to visit Fresno Dome.






Image from the Fresno Bee.



About the Fresno Dome and the surrounding area:

Fresno Dome from Sky Ranch RdFresno Dome is a unique single granite formation with an elevation of 7,450 feet that towers above a thick forested area located close to upper Sky Ranch road below Yosemite. The dome is situated south east of the National park in the Sierra National Forest. This area is a feasible destination for those who wish to explore four wheel drive routes that are not possible within the national park boundary. Fresno Dome’s dominant feature qualifies it as topographical landmark and was used by John Muir when he explored this region in the 1870’s. A short hike to the top of Fresno Dome offers an exceptional view including a grove of giant Sequoia trees called the Nelder Grove located several miles away.

Here is a link to a drawing Muir made courtesy of the University of the Pacific Library.

I wonder from what perspective he drew the drawing. The second Dome in his picture is not nearly as prominent as the primary monolith. Unfortunately a good view of Fresno Dome, also known as Wamello during the 1800’s, is difficult to find along the motorized routes.

Fresno Dome 1

>>> Fresno Dome   >>> Sky Ranch Road   >>> 6S10X

>>> Beasore Road  >>> Central Camp road  >>> Shuteye Peak OHV

>>> Sugar Pine RR Grade & Nelder Grove Big Trees

>>>  Star Lakes OHV

The Fresno Dome Trail as described in the Backcountry Adventures / Northern California book by Peter Massey and Jeanne Wilson, is designated High Sierra #19.  The trail is composed of several forest service roads that link highway 41 to Beasore road, another main route into the territory.

DSC01912The Fresno Dome trail is an easy route that wanders through thick forest trees that hold tight to the trail. It also snakes its way along ridges and passes a small number of meadows plus there are a few streams to cross that may or may not require a high clearance vehicle. The trail starts (or ends depending how you run it) out of Fish Camp, a small settlement located below Wawona, Yosemite’s south western entrance (highway 41) into the park. The area has numerous forest service roads to explore including the Sugar Pine, Quartz Mountain and Central Camp roads. There are also several more advanced trails such as the Star Lakes, Iron Lakes, and Shuteye Peak OHV routes, the latter of which is probably the most scenic OHV trail in the entire region.

On the trail:

From highway 41, the access point to the Fresno Dome trail appears to be an entrance road to a lodge, but within a few hundred feet a sign post points to Big Sandy, a nice little campground that is usually busy during summer.

The authors of Backcountry Adventures are correct on is how long it takes to run the route, and once again time restraints dictated where we would go. I had planned to get in the Shuteye peak trail as well but time didn’t allow. As with the Bridgeport route, I never had to lock in the hubs but low range was appreciated especially on the downhill grades. I had not been into this area for over 25 years and back then I used Beasore as a trailhead to backpack from. Things have changed quite a bit since the 70’s and 80’s. Beasore road has been completely paved and although it’s rough in spots, it has become part of a Scenic Byway loop suitable for car travel.

I read that the Fresno Dome route has some history behind it and is known locally as “save the rock road”. We never found the “rock” but never really looked for it anyway. I did notice a ghost road that paralleled parts of 5S39 that is not on the map. Maybe one of these days I will seek out the elusive rock.

New SMB Fall 2006 018 The weather was warm (80s) when we started the route but it cooled considerably moving up in altitude. Summer temperatures can get much warmer but luckily we had cooler weather. The average altitude is in the neighborhood of 4500 feet.




The route from Fish camp to Beasore road is scenic, winding through a somewhat dense forest of trees and ferns along with areas of wildflowers that bloom throughout the warmer seasons.





Most of the Fresno Dome Trail to Big Sandy was easy enough for a 2WD vehicle to travel over. The forest turns from a somewhat low altitude look like what is in the Wawona area, to a more high country view as you travel eastward along a very mild climb.






This trail was probably in part an old RR grade that followed a ridge for much of the route. It can be dusty. The plants along the way will reflect this during the warmer seasons but after a rain the greenery explodes once the plants are washed clean.


Here is a shot taken after a good rain. All the plants are now shining with color.


(Click on image to enlarge)

A few meadows along the way support colorful flowers even in the late summer and early fall seasons. Soon you reach the first camping area called Big Sandy. Big Sandy is a campground that has pit toilets, fire rings, and tables. I saw no evidence of potable water and trash must be packed out.


The stream could be easily crossed by most any vehicle. It’s difficult to see but there is a table located just right of the large tree in the background. I found a reasonable site where the road tees but I really prefer to boon dock if I can find a nice spot along a stream. The left route will take you to Long Meadow and a few other camps; keeping right continues down Fresno dome Trail.

Shuteye Pk-Glacier Pt 023

(As of 2009 fees are required and are substantial in price. Fees were 17 dollars per night which surprised me during a re-visit in August of that year).

After passing Big Sandy the road turned rough in spots with ruts that needed high clearance. There are also a couple of streams to cross up the road but they are not usually very deep, just a bit rocky which may give low clearance vehicles a little trouble. Most automobiles do not travel beyond this point.

(As with all off roads routes, weather can change the trail conditions considerably. During my 2009 visit, the road had been graded and no ruts where found on the entire route making it suitable for most automobiles up to Boggy Meadows).


The views along Big Creek, the primary stream the road follows, are very beautiful and the creek usually has a little water running in it year round.



Little Sandy is a boon dock area that offers camping with no facilities although there is no fee like Big Sandy. I feel it’s much scenic than Big Sandy with a small meadow area next to several sites. Of course camping next to a creek is always nice. The only drawback would be that you can’t have a fire when restrictions are in place and numerous sites might make privacy questionable. There are a few other spots along the route where you could camp without fear of having neighbors but scenery will be slightly sacrificed. To pick the more premium sites you must drop into the creek and cross it. This is not a problem when the water is low but high clearance is recommended to cross the drop offs and boulders.  Arguably one of the nicest sites to boon dock at is Boggy Meadows a few miles up the road. Here again Big Creeks flows past the camps but like Little Sandy, privacy can be an issue. Most of the sites are on the west side of the creek and do not require crossing over it to access them.


This is where most low clearance vehicles cannot pass due to fording the creek. Again, water isn’t the issue at this time of year, rather the boulders and a mild drop off can do damage to the undercarriage of low vehicles.

SONY DSCTwo miles up the road you come to the intersection of Sky Ranch Road 6S10. This image is from 2009 and in 2006 the sign was riddled with gun shot holes. No matter which way you turn, from this point on the trail becomes more of a road with wide features. The Backcountry Adventures book suggests you keep left, and soon you will pass the Fresno Dome campground. This is another large fee based campground and has several sites, but many of the camps are fairly close to one another making privacy an issue.

Fresno Dome CG

This image is from 2009.

The facilities are the same as Big Sandy and the camp usually has people in it especially during hunting season. .





Because it is one of the best spots to get a good shot of Fresno Dome itself, it’s worth a stop for a photo opportunity. Continuing on we passed the Quartz Mountain (High Sierra # 20) and Iron Lakes (High Sierra # 21), trails that I plan to drive at a later date.


Unfortunately the road turns to partial pavement for the rest of the drive. The scenery is nice but in my opinion nothing is worse than a pothole laden road! I wish they would leave it as dirt. This part of the road was slow going in my Sportsmobile. This section also is where the trailhead to Fresno Dome itself is. Views of the backside of the dome can be found here but during the entire trip, I found it funny that there was only one good photographic stop to capture a good view Fresno Dome. You’ll catch a glimpse of it from time to time but there is always something in the way; generally trees.


Still the road is scenic passing over a few creeks, all the while meandering through tall old forest trees.



I noticed that sections of the roadway was lined with newer growth trees in spots. The road finally dead ends into 6S10X the official end of High Sierra #19. From this point it’s only a short drive to Beasore Road.

One mistake was taking the Beasore road to Bass Lake. I sure don’t remember it being so steep, and a long downhill windy “paved” road did not make a pleasant return trip. There were a few ways back to the Fish Camp area that are probably more scenic if time allowed but we probably should have just returned back the same route.

We headed back to Tamarack Flat and got there before dark with enough light to gather wood and end the night with a fire and a few beers.


This was an enjoyable off road run and offers several good spots to camp at provided the weather is cool but you’re views might vary on dealing with hot conditions. Early or mid summer could be beautiful during the major flower bloom. With the amount of trails in the area, you could spend several days exploring the various routes. If you’ve never been into the Yosemite region, I highly recommend this section of the Sierra Nevada’s.

See ya on the trail.