Emigrant Wilderness is a hidden gem in the Sierras, overshadowed by neighbors like Yosemite and Tahoe but just as scenic and with far less traffic. I first heard about the area from my parents who backpacked there for weeks at a time hopping from lake to lake. I was pretty skeptical when they recommended it to me since it didn’t seem to be a popular destination. However, I quickly realized they were right and we were blown away by epic lakes, lush meadows, snow lined peaks, and endless wilderness areas to explore. Best of all we had entire lakes to ourselves on holiday weekends!
One of my favorite parts of Emigrant Wilderness is navigating off trail, and this article is based on two separate trips exploring the high elevation lakes under Granite Dome, as well as finding a route to the summit of Granite Dome for panoramic views of the Sierras.
Click on an itinerary image or map icon to read a detailed description of hiking options. I'm hoping to plan another trip back to explore the southern side beyond Granite Dome, and I'll provide more details here!
Dates hiked: 7/3-5 (2014) & 7/2-4 (2015)
A permit is required for overnight trips in Emigrant Wilderness between April 1 and November 30, but they are free and there are no quotas in place. There are several ranger stations where permits may be picked up and they can leave your permit out if you are arriving after hours. We came from the east side of the Sierras so we had to coordinate a separate pick-up location but the rangers were very accommodating by phone and email.
Emigrant Wilderness is easily accessible from both Northern and Southern California; just a 3.5 hour drive from the Bay Area or 6.5 hours from Los Angeles. Our starting trailhead was Kennedy Meadows in the middle of the Sierras, so no matter your starting location you must arrive via Highway 108. This highway is closed in the winter so make sure to check road conditions.
Kennedy Meadows Resort is just south off the 108 and has cabins, a restaurant, a store, and a pack station. There are two campsites adjacent to the resort and more information on them can be found on the Stanislaus National Forest website.
There are a couple options for parking but we chose to pay for the lot near the resort cabins/restaurant. Our legs thanked us at the end of the hike! From the parking lot, hikers head south on Kennedy Meadows Road until it turns into a foot trail.
The following is a list of gear necessary for Emigrant Wilderness that may not be required on other trips.
National Geographic Trail Map
Always carry a map! This folded map covers Emigrant as well as neighboring Carson-Iceberg and Mokelumne Wilderness Areas.