Pacific Crest Trail and Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
Though we view the Mokelumne Wilderness from the perspective of long-distance Southbound backpackers on the main long-distance trails. Along our way we are going to find endless excellent short, medium, and long distance backpacking trips that are well suited for shorter trips to better explore the Mokelumne Wilderness. These are mostly in and out trips along the same route, or trailhead to trailhead hikes.
The reason for this is a lack of connector trails between the Pacific Crest and Tahoe to Yosemite Trails across the Mokelumne Wilderness is the TYT-PCT wrap around different flanks of formidable terrain features decorating the heart of the Mokelumne Wilderness.
The massive bulk of the Deadwood Peak Massif and the configuration of the Summit City and North Mokelumne Canyons wrapping around it makes connecting the PCT and TYT across the Southern end of the Mokelumne Wilderness virtually impossible.
The Tahoe to Yosemite transits the Mokelumne Wilderness through a remote section of the Western flank of the Sierra Nevada, mostly through the two deep granite canyons of Summit City and the North Mokelumne Rivers. The only trail connecting the TYT and PCT routes once we enter these canyons is the trail running out the top of Summit City Canyon. South of this trail there are no links between the PCT and TYT until we reach Highland Creek to the South of Highway 4 in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness!
We can tie short bits of the TYT and PCT together for short backpacking loops around the North end of the Mokelumne Wilderness, from Carson Pass South down to Upper Blue Lake, and back through Upper Summit City Canyon, but that's about it.
The maps below show us why.
The Mokelumne Wilderness has many less loop routes than the Carson Iceberg or Emigrant Wilderness to our South, or the Desolation Wilderness to our North. This makes section hiking either the PCT and/or TYT our best bets hiking though the Mokelumne Wilderness. There's really not a practical loop that we can hike around the Wilderness by tying together the PCT and TYT, as there are in the Carson Iceberg and Emigrant Wilderness to our South.
To loop the Mokelumne we would either have to hitch-hike between the Lake Alpine (TYT) and Ebbetts Pass (PCT) Trailheads on Highway 4 or continuing South across Highway 4 (on either the PCT or TYT) to the Highland Creek Trail in the Northern Carson Iceberg Wilderness. The Highland Creek Trail is the first trail connecting the TYT and PCT once we hike South of Blue Lakes on the PCT or turn down Summit City Canyon on the TYT.
The terrain in the Mokelumne Wilderness is very unlike the Emigrant and Carson Iceberg Wilderness to our South where multiple connector trails link the PCT and TYT together, which opens up a heck of a lot of excellent long distance backpacking loop trips around both these fantastic wilderness areas.
These connector trails also open many alternative routes for long distance backpackers hiking across them.
Not so in the Mokelumne Wilderness! It's one route or the other across the Mokelumne Wilderness.
Permits South on the TYT from Carson Pass are had from the Amador Ranger District of the El Dorado National Forest.
If you plan on hiking this section South out of Carson Pass check on the status of the Carson Pass Cabin with the Amador Rangers before you depart, if possible. The seasonal Carson Pass Cabin is the primary permitting authority at Carson Pass.
Northbound hikers into this section of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail from Bee Gulch will get permits from the Calavaras Ranger District of the Stanislaus National Forest.
The Long Perspective
Southbound Long distance backpackers enter the El Dorado National Forest hiking through the Carson Gap out of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Tahoe to Yosemite Trail hikers depart the El Dorado and enter the Stanislaus National Forest at the very South end of the Mokelumne Wilderness crossing the North Fork of the Mokelumne River at Camp Irene.
The Pacific Crest Trail travels through the Eastern edge of the Mokelumne Wilderness only nominally in the El Dorado National Forest. Most of our Pacific Crest Trail route is in the Toiyabe National Forest, which administers the Eastern flank of the Sierra from Lake Tahoe down to Yosemite.
The route of the Pacific Crest Trail pretty much stays in the Toiyabe National Forest through Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4 for the vast majority of its route down to its entrance into Yosemite National Park.
The Toiyabe National Forest covers Everything East of a line drawn North and South along the Sierra Crest from the crest of the Carson Range (bounding the Eastern and Southern shores of Lake Tahoe- the Sierra Range wraps around Tahoe's West Shore) South all the way down to Tuolumne Meadows. Three National Forests cover the same distance along the Western flank of the Sierra Crest.
The High Sierra mountain passes and their trailheads are technically split between the Eastern and Western flanks of the Sierra. In fact, the national forest boundary runs down the whole length of the Sierra Crest, and across all the mountain passes. One step West puts us on the Western flank and in one National Forest, one step East puts us on the East flank in a different national forest.
But the administration of the mountain passes South of the Lake Tahoe Basin down to Yosemite, being the Carson, Ebbetts, and Sonora Passes, are all administered by the Western National Forest. I figure the West flank Forests manage these shared trailheads because the Toiyabe National Forest is so frigging huge.
All the forests surrounding the Toiyabe administers the trailheads they share with the Toiyabe National Forest.
For whatever reason none of the PCT trailheads at the High Sierra mountain passes mention that the vast majority of the PCT across the North Sierra from our exit out of the Tahoe Basin to our entrance into the North Yosemite Backcountry is through the Toiyabe National Forest. It is.
Permits entering the Mokelumne Wilderness from the East are had from the Carson Ranger District of the Toiyabe National Forest from Carson Pass down to just North of Sonora Pass. The Bridgeport Ranger District handles East Sierra permits from just North of Sonora Pass down to the bottom of the Hoover Wilderness at Virginia Lakes.
Lake Alpine, where the route of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail crosses Highway 4, sits about 15 miles West of Ebbetts Pass down Highway 4. Lake Alpine and its trailheads North and South are administered by the Calavaras Ranger District of the Stanislaus National Forest.
The administration of the Mokelumne Wilderness on its Southern side along Highway 4 is also split following the roughly Southwestern bending course of the North Mokelumne River.
A narrow strip of the Southwestern end of the Mokelumne Wilderness, South of the North Mokelumne River, is administered by the Stanislaus National Forest's Calavaras Ranger District, while the Eastern Flank of the Mokelumne Wilderness North and East of Ebbetts Pass is monitored by the Carson Ranger District of the Toiyabe National Forest.
See the maps below for the visual details of these boundary lines.
The links along the top of this page leads to the contact information for these National Forests and their Ranger Districts that issue permits for whichever direction we enter the Mokelumne Wilderness.