Anyone in moderately good physical condition can access the heart of Emigrant Wilderness. Sudeep and David Rauser and Natty, their Rottweiler/Labrador mix, descend the 10,825-foot Big Sam, which overlooks some of the hundreds of high mountain lakes in the wilderness.
A true outdoor experience is the goal of many wilderness-minded individuals beating the paths around the Bay Area. Unfortunately, the seclusion they intend to achieve is almost nonexistent on the hiking trails nearby. With moderate ambitions, wilderness seekers can attain real seclusion and a true outdoor experience in one of the best-kept secrets in the High Sierras: the Emigrant Wilderness.
While crowds flock to the insanely popular Yosemite National Park, few wander northward to the adjacent Emigrant Wilderness. To hikers, backpackers, horseback riders, mountaineers and especially fishermen, the Emigrant Wilderness represents a paradise of geographical diversity, minus the hordes of people.
If sweeping vistas are what you seek, an individual of moderate physical fitness might consider hiking to the top of the 10,640-foot Leavitt Lake Pass. Anyone with an SUV can drive right up to the trailhead at Leavitt Lake, accessible via a 3-mile-long dirt road that intersects state Route 108 just 3.8 miles beyond Sonora Pass. After a short but steep ascent you reach Leavitt Lake Pass and can gaze at the highest peak in the Emigrant Wilderness, Leavitt Peak, at 11,570 feet elevation. A few more ambitious miles and a couple of hundred vertical feet will take you to the apex of Big Sam, at 10,825 feet the highest spot attainable by trail in the Emigrant Wilderness.
The views are truly spectacular, and from this point you can access nearly every corner of the Emigrant Wilderness.
Hundreds of gorgeous, secluded lakes are easily accessed in the area. A topographical map and a good pair of hiking shoes will get you to some of the least visited, yet most hospitable lakes in the world. The lakes and streams in the Emigrant Wilderness are home to some of the most delicious trout money can't buy. Almost everywhere you go you can spot fish hopping happily out of the water during the evening hatch. Nearly all the campers on the trail have a fishing rod lashed somewhere on their pack.
Considering which of the possible lakes to explore can be a difficult decision. With literally hundreds of perfect lakes of all shapes and sizes to experience, it would be impossible to choose the "best" one. A particularly enjoyable trip is an overnight excursion to the inappropriately named Toejam Lake. Approximately 10 miles beyond Dodge Ridge Ski Resort is the Gianelli Cabin trailhead. The 10-mile hike begins in a shaded coniferous forest and traverses granite rock formations, vast grassy meadows and pine groves before reaching the little, secluded and tranquil Toejam Lake. On a lucky weekend, you might have this lake all to yourself, in which case you'd want to set up camp on a well-arranged campsite on the western edge of the lake.
The Emigrant Wilderness is an ideal location for horsepackers. With so much to see and so little time, exploring the wilderness on horseback or with the assistance of mules can be an attractive option.
For more information on camping, backpacking and horsepacking in the Emigrant Wilderness, logon to www.fs.fed.us/r5/stanislaus/visitor/emigrant.shtml.