Glistening granite domes. Lush meadows. Crystal blue water.
Sounds like Tuolumne Meadows, right?
Try Courtright Reservoir. California's most scenic reservoir is nearly as spectacular as Yosemite's High Country with a fraction of the crowds.
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Courtright Reservoir may be remote - it's about 33 miles south of Shaver Lake - but the roads are good, and access is easy. Well worth the 2 1/2-hour drive from Fresno, once you get there you might not want to leave.
Hiking options from Courtright are numerous. The Maxon trailhead, located about 1 mile from the dam, serves as a jumping-off point for destinations in Kings Canyon National Park and the John Muir and Ansel Adams wilderness areas.
Maxon Dome, one of several granite monoliths surrounding the lake, rises above the trailhead parking lot like a silent sentinel. Views down rugged Helms Creek toward nearby Wishon Reservoir are breathtaking.
The first part of the "trail" is actually part of the Dusy Ershim 4x4 road, a rugged thoroughfare that stretches from Courtright to Kaiser Pass. Don't worry though; we're only going a little way.
After about a mile, the Maxon trail and the Dusy Ershim road separate at an obvious, but unsigned, junction.
Following the trail through a forest of pines and red firs, Maxon Meadow appears in another half-mile with little elevation gain. The meadow stretches out for what seems like forever, backed all the time by the imposing Maxon Dome.
Now is the time to leave the trail and approach the flank of the dome. Notice the smooth sloping surface, uplifted from the Earth in the form of molten rock and then polished by ancient Sierra glaciers.
It's also a great place for a nap.
More adventurous hikers will want to continue along the trail another 3 miles to scenic Hobler Lake. Others will want to stop right here and enjoy a picnic lunch.
En route to Courtright Reservoir, be sure to stop at McKinley Grove, one of the largest stands of Giant Sequoias in the Sierra. A short interpretive trail is interesting and informative.
Originally published in The Fresno Bee and on fresnobee.com on July 25, 2002