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The Golden Trout Wilderness is a federally designated wilderness area located east of Visalia, Californiamarker within Inyo National Forestmarker and Sequoia National Forestmarker. It is in size and was created by the US Congress in 1978 as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The wilderness is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

The wilderness is named for and protects the habitat of California's state fish, the golden trout.

Elevations range from about to .

Within the wilderness are portions of the Kern Plateau, the Great Western Dividemarker's southern extension, and the main stem of the Kern River, the South Fork of the Kern and the Little Kern River.

The wilderness area is bordered on the northeast and northwest by the high peaks of the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Cirque Peak is the high point at .

Kern Plateau

The Kern Plateau is a large tableland with sprawling meadows, narrow grasslands along streams, and forested ridgesand flats. The centerpiece of the plateau is Kern Peak (11,443 ft) which has far-reaching vistas of the middle and upper Kern River drainage and much of the far southern Sierra, including Olancha Peakmarker, the southern Kaweah Range, the mountains of the Mineral King area, and the Dome Land Wildernessmarker of the far southern Sierra.

Located in both Sequoia and Inyo National Forests, this plateau had been the center of a battle between preservationists and mutiple-use advocates. Before 1947, there was little incentive to develop the area, but that changed with the Secretary of Agriculture's plan to manage the area along multiple-use guidelines due to its proximity to population centers. In addition, there was an epidemic of insect damage in the commercial timber, which was estimated at 30 million board feet. A growing market for lumber added more pressure to develop the area and in 1956, a multiple-use management plan was completed that included a timber sale on the plateau.

Wilderness advocates wanted to preserve the plateau, and opposed the Forest Service plan at public meetings. But, because no new facts were presented, the Forest Service went ahead with the timber sale which included building an access road. The sale contract contained special provisions to assure that the timber operators recognized them as they logged. A second road was constructed despite strong opposition from the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and the Kern Plateau Association.

The Kern Plateau controversy in the 1950s deepened the chasm between the Forest Service and wilderness proponents. According to former Regional Forester Doug Leisz, "The Kern Plateau use controversy was the beginning of the preservationists vs. use fight which has since touched public lands over the entire country." (although an argument can be made that the battle over the Hetch Hetchy Valleymarker with John Muir was the beginning.)


Wildlife includes the large Monache deer herd, the sensitive Sierra Nevada Red Fox, pine martins, cougars, and black bear.

California state fish

The Golden Trout.
The golden trout is California's state fish and there are two distinct native subspecies protected in this wilderness. One is the South Fork Kern golden trout and the other is the Little Kern golden trout. Pure-strain Little Kern trout are restricted to isolated populations above natural fish barriers in the Little Kern drainage area and are federally listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Recreation and restrictions

Recreational activities include backpacking, horseback riding, skinnydipping, day hiking, fishing, rock climbing, mountaineering, skiing and snowshoeing.

There are of trail including the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which stays above elevation for most of the route through the Golden Trout Wilderness. There are historical sites such as the Tunnel Meadow and Casa Vieja guard stations, and the 12-mile trail to Jordan Hot Springs along Ninemile Creek. The trail was built in 1861 by John Jordan for access to Olancha from Visalia. Past volcanic activity created the hot springs as well as Groundhog Cone and the Golden Trout Volcanic Field.

Permits are required for all overnight use and there is a quota in effect for the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead.

Other restrictions include a ban on wood-fueled fires along the PCT between Cottonwood Pass to the Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness and also at the Rocky Basin Lake area.

See also

List of wilderness areas in California



Adkinson, Ron Wild Northern California. The Globe Pequot Press, 2001

Godfrey, Anthony The Ever-Changing View-A History of the National Forests in California USDA Forest Service Publishers, 2005 ISBN 1-59351-428-X

Swedo, Suzanne Hiking California's Golden Trout Wilderness ... The Globe Piquot Press 2004 ISBN 0-76272-655-5

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