It’s June, which traditionally marks the opening month of hiking in our local mountains. Except because of last winter’s extreme snowpack, many trails and the access roads that lead to them remain inaccessible.
For example, Kaiser Pass Road in the Sierra National Forest isn’t expected to open until mid June. Also still closed are Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park (no projected opening date), Mineral King Road in Sequoia National Park and Big Meadows Road in the Giant Sequoia National Monument.
Nevertheless there are still many options for a hike that’s snow free or nearly so. Here are six of the best:
Where: Roads End, Kings Canyon National Park
Distance: 8 miles round trip
This is a very popular hike – and for good reason. The first half is flat and passes through the heart of Kings Canyon. The second half heads slightly uphill (600 feet) and leads to one of the park’s most scenic waterfalls.
The best time to visit is early summer. When the falls are running high, a gentle mist soaks everything within 200 yards of the base. It’s a great place to cool off and relax. Just don’t expect a ton of solitude.
Where: Big Stump Entrance, Kings Canyon
Distance: 3.5 miles round trip
Easy hike to a pretty cascade. From the trailhead on the west side of the parking lot, follow the Hitchcock Meadow Trail downhill until passing a junction with the Sequoia Boundary Trail. Take the left fork and cross both Sequoia Creek (on a footbridge) and small stream.
Just past the stream, bear left at another junction and follow Sequoia Creek downstream about 150 yards to the granite pool containing pretty Viola Falls, a series of short steps that merge into a single waterfall during high-water periods. Return by retracing your steps.
Where: Shaver Lake
Distance: 4 miles round trip
Do this hike for outstanding views of Shaver Lake and a pleasant shoreline walk. Starting from 0.6 miles past the locked gate on Road 2 (north shore past Sierra Marina), most of the trail is on fire roads.
At 1.2 miles the trail intersects with a short side trail that leads to Eagle Point, a lakeside picnic area with restrooms, barbecues and picnic tables. The main trail continues along shore before ending at the paved perimeter road. Either retrace your steps or follow the perimeter road west back to the locked gate.
Where: Huntington Lake
Distance: 2 miles round trip
The trailhead, tucked behind China Peak near the bank of Big Creek, can be tricky to find. But that doesn’t prevent anyone from going. Most bring towels.
After 0.7 miles, the “official” trail ends at a large pool deep enough for jumping and swimming. (Be cautious in early season.) There also is a large shallow area for wading. To escape possible weekend crowds, follow a “use” trail that continues upstream to more pools and waterfalls. Rock cairns help navigate hard-to-follow sections. The farther you go, the more interesting the terrain becomes.
Where: Wawona area, Yosemite National Park
Distance: 8.2 miles round trip
Yosemite Valley may boast some of the most famous waterfalls on Earth, but it doesn’t hold a monopoly. Chilnualna Falls is a little off the beaten path, even though it’s not far from Wawona Road.
Getting there requires a bit of a climb (2,400 feet). Just make sure you go a little past where the falls come into full view, until the trail emerges above a splendid 60-foot cascade. Be sure to carry lots of water or a filter. The sun can be relentless on this trail.