NORTH and SOUTHBOUND PCT HIKERS
Hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail will see little of the Stanislaus National Forest. Unless you exercise some of these same route options, and weave-in elements of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail into your PCT hike through these same connector trails mentioned above and in the trail guide.
Two strong suggestions for hikers North and South on either trail: do your homework, compose your route by putting together the best sections of both trails by finding the sections that best suit you, your goals, your experience, and your level of fitness.
Or first hike the classic routes of each trail, then start weaving them together. This hiking will be as interesting as you make it.
The Pacific Crest Trail route Vs. The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route across the Northern Sierra Nevada
The Pacific Crest Trail backpacker will merely brush the Stanislaus National Forest a couple of times hiking along the Sierra Crestline between Carson Pass and Sonora Pass. The majority of the PCT hiker's trail between Carson Pass and Yosemite Lays within the Toiyabe National Forest.
Once you cross Highway 108 at the Sonora Pass (Southbound) you will enter the Stanislaus National forest for your brief hike around the Eastern edge of the Emigrant Wilderness for 7.97 miles.
The PCT route South of Sonora Pass to the trail junction above Kennedy Canyon and Kennedy Lake follows the boundary line between the Stanislaus and Toiyabe National Forest along the crest line of the Leavitt Massif. The PCT never really enters the Emigrant Wilderness, but only penetrates a few feet into the Eastern limit of the Emigrant hiking across Leavitt Peak.
Once you pass South over the Leavitt Massif the PCT turns East to again hike into the Toiyabe National Forest at Kennedy Canyon and remains in the Toiyabe NF until we enter the Northern Boundary of the Yosemite National Park's wilderness through Dorothy Lake Pass.
The total length of the Pacific Crest Trail hiker's involvement with the Stanislaus NF is limited to these very few steps. That's too bad, as the Stanislaus has a lot of beautiful terrain that PCT hikers miss.
And I'm very happy that the PCT skirts around the heart of the Emigrant Wilderness. It keeps it quite up there in the High Emigrant Basin.
The annual traffic is heavy when the "main body" of PCT hikers pass through the Sierra Nevada, and I'm glad it goes around the heart of the Emigrant Wilderness.
On the other hand, the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail hiker is within the Stanislaus National Forest for the majority of their hike between Carson Pass and Yosemite. The TYT route is much quieter...
On the third hand, the Tahoe to Yosemite backpacker is deprived of the experience of hiking through the Toiyabe National Forest, especially the East Fork of the Carson River. The Southbound Tahoe to Yosemite hiker will not see the Toiyabe National Forest again after entering Summit City Creek. (The TYT hiker can see the Toiyabe from Carson Pass, and from the South side of Round Top... )
In short, the PCT hiker only gets a taste of the Stanislaus NF, and the TYT hiker only gets a couple of brief glances East at the Toiyabe NF.
The Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails each craft unique routes down the Sierra Crest. The PCT is biased to the East flank of the Sierra Nevada, and the TYT biased to the Western flank.
This makes hiking between Lake Tahoe and Tuolumne Meadows something that needs to be done at least four times, once to check out each route, and a second time to get to know them a little better, a third trip to put together the best parts of both trails, and a fourth trip just for fun, to fully deploy your knowledge and explore the relationships between these two classic High Sierra Hiking Routes.
Pacific Crest Trail Route: MODIFICATIONS for the ADVENTUROUS PCT-TYT HIKER
Pacific Crest Trail hikers (Northbound) can incorporate greater experience in the Stanislaus National Forest into their hikes. Especially PCT section hikers, who generally take more time, take more scrambles, and take more side-routes. Taking more time, or should I say investing more time exploring the terrain has its advantages.
PCT alternative Route #1: Across the Emigrant Basin to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station
First, your exit and re supply strategy from Yosemite National Park. You are going to resupply at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, being your first resupply located 75 miles North of Tuolumne Meadows.
The PCT exits Yosemite through Dorothy Lake Pass, swings down to the West Walker River drainage, then turns up Kennedy Canyon to the backside of Leavitt Peak. Sonora Pass and Highway 108 sit on the North side of Leavitt Peak.
The smart PCT hiker hitches 9 miles West down Highway 108 to resupply at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station-not Bridgeport, then hitches back up to Sonora Pass to continue South along the PCT. But you have an excellent alternative to the Pacific Crest Trail route.
You can easily hike down to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station by entering the Emigrant Wilderness of the Stanislaus National forest through Bond Pass rather than exiting Yosemite into the Toiyabe National Forest through Dorothy Lake Pass. Here's how you do it:
Rather than passing out of Yosemite National Park through Dorothy Lake Pass into the Toiyabe National Forest on your way North to Sonora Pass, you instead turn Northwest through Bond Pass into Emigrant Wilderness, then hike down the TYT route to pick up your re supply at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, rather than hitch-hike from Sonora Pass.
The trail junction up to Bond Pass sits about a mile South of Dorothy Lake Pass at the top of Jack Main Canyon. Most Pacific Crest Trail hikers hitch-hike down Highway 108 to Kennedy Meadows from Sonora Pass. I merely propose walking there by the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route...
From Kennedy Meadows you can easily hitch back up to Sonora Pass on Highway 108 and continue South on the Pacific Crest Trail from there. This route variation adds around 15 miles to your total. I've got to check that... but it's a great piece of trail and stunning country that the PCT misses.
Check out our "Trail Culture" pages that depict this route, though I hike Southbound from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows. I figure you PCTers can use your imaginations and read it backwards...
The alternative route for the Southbound Tahoe to Yosemite hiker is to exit Saint Marys Pass and walk the mile East up to Sonora Pass. From Sonora Pass we can continue our hike South on the Pacific Crest Trail. Or we can hitch down to Kennedy Meadows, resupply, and follow the TYT route South out of Kennedy Meadows to our Bond Pass entry into Yosemite where we will rejoin with the PCT route for the majority of the remaining hike down to Tuolumne Meadows.
Contrast and Compare Route Variations
Is it worth it? It's quite a bit longer to hike down to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station along the TYT than hiking to Sonora Pass along the PCT and hitch hiking down to KM.
Lake Harriet, just North of Dorothy Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail is real pretty, set in thin Whitebark forest and granite. The terrain down the West Walker is fine forest and granite too, and the trail into Kennedy Canyon has a very remote feel to it.
Arriving at the head, the top of Kennedy Canyon we have a fine four-way view: East down Kennedy Canyon, looking at the avalanche routes clearing the forested mountain sides above Kennedy Canyon To the Southwest we view the hulking mass of Big Sam, blocking our way into the Emigrant Basin. To the Northwest we look down towards Kennedy Lake and another quick way to hike down to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. To the North the PCT route climbs over Leavitt Peak to intersect with Highway 108 at Sonora Pass.
We have a lot of hiking options around the Emigrant Wilderness that are quite nice options on a long distance hiking trip or can be put together to form a nice long local hiking loop.
Hiking the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route North or South through Bond Pass brings us into and across the heart of the High Emigrant Wilderness. Continuing Northwest we have grand views of the multiplicity of canyons falling West off the Sierra Crest line, until we pass into the great granite bowl that composes the High Emigrant Basin making up the high heart of the Emigrant Wilderness. Trails radiate out from the High Emigrant Basin to all major compass points.
To the North a trail crosses over Big Sam to intersect with the PCT at the top of Kennedy Canyon. To the Southwest trails lead down the Western flank of the Sierra towards Pinecrest Lake far down mountain near Highway 108. To the Northwest the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail passes through the interface between granite and volcanic terrain that Brown Bear Pass perfectly splits on its way down to Kennedy Meadows.
On the NE side of the Emigrant Wilderness its granite terrain has been covered by volcanic material, revealing a stunning line where these ancient volcanic eruptions reached the limit of their flows. The SW side of Brown Bear Pass is composed of the distinctive pinkish-hued granite that highlights the beauty of the the High Emigrant Basin. Hiking up to the throat of Brown Bear Pass we see that the interface between granite and volcanic terrain continues down the middle of the valley on the Northwest side of Brown Bear Pass. Majestic granite bounds the SW side of the valley, while volcanic formations decorate the NE side. As you head down Summit Creek between this terrain created by fire and ice the incredible bulk of Granite Chief rises out of the terrain, like a great island of granite surrounded by an ancient sea of frozen lava.
As you can infer from my route descriptions, I think both the Pacific Crest and Tahoe to Yosemite routes on the North side of Yosemite National Park are awesome. You can't lose by hiking either route. My theory is to put together the longest trip your senses and physical capability can reasonably absorb.
PCT Northbound alternative Route #2: Extending the Route through the Carson Iceberg Wilderness by tying together elements of the Pacific Crest and Tahoe to Yosemite Trails
My second way-cool alternative route is to cut off of the Pacific Crest Trail route at Wolf Creek Pass in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness to hike down to an optional PCT resupply, and a mandatory big fresh meal at Lake Alpine Lodge via Highland Creek and the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route. Map.
From Lake Alpine we can either remain on the TYT hiking North to Carson Pass to experience the deep solitude and route-finding difficulty of the unmaintained trail from Camp Irene North through Summit City Creek to Round Top. This is a very different set of trail conditions and atmosphere than hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. Besides requiring route-finding skills and the ability to deal with deep isolation, this route variation adds about 11 miles to your total.
Contrast and Compare Route Variations
What is really different about this unmaintained section of the TYT from Lake Alpine to Carson Pass from the Pacific Crest Trail from Ebbetts Pass to Carson Pass is the pace. You can only go as fast as you are able to find a route through the terrain. You cannot just put your head down and hike as fast as you can. That approach will get you lost.
The TYT route requires a different approach to hiking than the PCT.
I strongly suggest hiking the Highland Creek connector to the TYT from Wolf Creek while hiking North on the PCT in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness, and visa-versa if you are hiking South on the TYT. I strongly suggest that you break off from the TYT to connect up with the PCT at Wolf Creek Pass if you are hiking the TYT Southbound out of Lake Alpine.
This route variation allows the TYT hiker to see the upper reaches of the East Fork of the Carson River. A fine section of the East Carson River is encased deep within a grand granite vault that is just stunning from the Pacific Crest Trail. As you will arrive at Sonora Pass on the PCT route only a mile East of the TYT's access point on Highway 108 at Saint Marys Pass, you will have substantially the same hitch-hike down to Kennedy Meadows to rejoin the the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route Southbound to Yosemite.
Southbound hikers on the PCT will miss the hike up and over Tyron Peak, the cow-pie water of Noble Lake, and the volcanic terrain and forest that composes Noble Canyon's Eastward drainage. The view from the shoulder of Tyron Peak is really nice. From that position you can see how the Highland, Arnot, and Disaster Creek Drainages carve the terrain dropping off the Western Flank from the Sierra Nevada Crest line. In return the PCT hiker will be rewarded by the seclusion of the hike down Highland Creek, the great granite terrain along lower Highland Creek, close-up views of the great volcanic mass of The Dardanelles, and the satisfaction of walking into Lake Alpine.
At Lake Alpine you are in position to hike through the unmaintained section of trail along the TYT up to your reunion with the PCT at Carson Pass. Or we can hitch 15 miles East from Lake Alpine up Highway 4 to continue our hike along the PCT from Ebbetts Pass.
Hiking the Lake Alpine to Carson Pass section of the TYT is much more of a navigational challenge than the Pacific Crest Trail between Ebbetts Pass and Carson Pass. The terrain is very much different as well. While the PCT passes through almost exclusively volcanic terrain, the TYT leaves volcanic terrain behind after crossing over Mount Reba. Climbing into Summit City Creek's great granite canyon is exhilarating.
PCT section hikers should seriously consider these two route variations, the first across the Emigrant Wilderness to walk into Kennedy Meadows from the North Yosemite Backcountry, as well as our second option of hiking down to Lake Alpine from the Northern Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
These route options mixing up the best sections of the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trail as you hike through the Stanislaus National Forest will add a few dozen miles, and give you a good taste of the Stanislaus National Forest if you are a Pacific Crest Trail hiker.
I suggest the Highland Creek connector to for hikers on both the TYT and the PCT. This extension of the trip through the Carson Iceberg Wilderness makes both routes richer. If the PCT hiker does not alter their route they will miss the joys of the Stanislaus National Forest. If the TYT hiker does not alter their route they will miss the East Carson River in the Toiyabe National Forest.
Yeah, I know you PCTers are in a rush. Too bad for you.
The trails between Lake Tahoe and Mount Whitney are the Crown Jewel of the Pacific Crest Trail. If you can't stretch out the most beautiful part of the whole trip a bit, then that means that you've got to come on back and do it again in a manner that will allow you to actually "soak it up," and take the time to do the experience justice.