Kennedy Meadows … Mountain Biking in the Southern Sierra Nevadas
I went to Kennedy Meadows based on a tip from a fellow rider (Cinda) I had met on the Thunder Mountain Trail (Utah) a couple years previous. She said she and her husband (Mike) had biked a most wonderful trail in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. She told me the trail started right in the Kennedy Meadows Campground.
So, since I was going to be in the area to ride the famous Cannell (Plunge) Trail I thought I would go check it out.
I stopped at Grumpy Bear’s Retreat to ask for directions to the campground. The woman at the bar had told me to continue for another 1.5 miles and take the right hand turn where the road split. I also asked, (even though she didn’t look like the exercising type) if she knew of a nice trail that started in the campground. She said she didn’t have a clue, but if I took the left turn at the split and drove 13 miles there was a ranger station, and someone there would surely know.
I left the car running while I got out to read all the signs at the entrance to the Kennedy Meadows Campground. There was no map and no other information posted regarding trails in the vacinity. I drove around the Kennedy Meadows Campground loop looking for either a trailhead sign or the Campground Host. I found the campground completely empty except for a family that was piling into a van as I approached. I stopped and asked if they knew of a trail starting in the campground. The man said the only one he had seen was the one just below his camp, a trail called the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I told him there must be another since the PCT does not allow bicycles. He said they had not seen another trail.
I exited the campground without seeing another trailhead or any other campers. I drove back to a flat place down toward the riverbed where I had spotted some horse trailers earlier, figuring someone there could tell me all about the trails in the area. Despite seeing two trucks with huge horse trailers, 3 other vehicles, and a large 5th wheel, I could find no one to speak with.
- The blue “P” marks the Trailhead.
- Click Garmin for all kinds of data for Kennedy Meadows.
Have you done this ride? What did you think of it? How about sharing your thoughts on our Visitor Stories page?
I followed hoof prints, figuring they would lead to a trail, but they seemed to head in a dozen different directions without leading to a specific path. After walking almost all the way around the Kennedy Meadows Campground I returned to the car … coming to the conclusion that Cinda and Mike must have biked on the PCT. So I drove back into the campground, parked the car at the PCT trailhead, and went to check the signs.
At the trailhead I found a large sign telling about the Sierra Wilderness with a map showing different burn areas. I read the whole thing over twice but couldn’t find any mention of restrictions on trail usage. So I walked over to the start of the trail. I spotted the usual PCT sign but to my surprise, there was only a no motorcycle sign. After scanning the entire area and not finding anything prohibiting bicycles, I was sure this must have been the trail Cinda and Mike traveled. So I decided I was going to ride it too.
The next thought that entered my head was … did they bike south (the way I’d driven in from) or to the north … toward the wilderness. I finally decided I would ride south thinking they might not have wanted to enter a wilderness area.
Heading south on the PCT was a chore… even though it was relatively flat. The trail surface was deep sand due to the lack of any rain and a large volume of horse traffic.
I passed at least 4 PCT signs within the first mile and all had the “NO MOTORCYCLES” sign attached below.
Less than a quarter mile later I spotted a PCT sign laying behind a bush. It was as I was getting off my bike to erect the sign that I first spotted the “NO BICYCLES” sign attached below the PCT sign.
Once I got the sign stood back up I turned around, rode back to the road, and then back into the campground to the PCT trailhead. During the return trip to the campground I decided Cinda and Mike must have traveled north from the trailhead. At least I would try riding up there and see how far I got before I came across a “NO BICYCLES” sign in that direction.
Well, I never did come to a “No Bikes” sign … only “No Motorcycles.” So I still don’t know whether mountain bikers are allowed on that stretch of the PCT.
I found the northbound PCT not as flat (as the southbound), but a lot easier to ride due to a more solid trail surface. Although I came across some sandy sections it looked like the northern portion had had a lot less horse traffic. The trail seemed to be loosely following the riverbed, gently climbing over small hills only to drop back down.
About a mile up the trail I was a little startled when I rounded a corner to see a woman backpacker in a green hat and shirt, wrapped loosely by a red sweatshirt. At first she looked to be a ranger of some sort. “Hi,” I said. “Are you a ranger,” I asked. The young lady (Sadie) said she wasn’t. Anxiously I asked, “Do you know if I am allowed to ride my bike up here?” She said, “This is the PCT, so in general, I would say you probably are not … but I have been hiking for weeks and have not seen a ranger.” I responded with, “I thought the same thing about the PCT. But I read everything at the trailhead and I saw only ‘NO MOTORCYCLES’ signs. I know the National Forest was speaking with the International Mountain Biking Association about usage of the PCT so I was hoping this section of the PCT was opened to bicyclists, kind of like how bikes are allowed on some portions of freeways.”
Sadie then told me she had hiked 1,900 miles on the PCT and had about 750 miles to go to reach the Mexican border. She said she was hoping to get a restaurant salad in the town of Kennedy Meadows. I told her I was familiar with some of the PCT in southern California and she said her biggest concern was getting water down there.
She then warned me she had just seen a bear up the trail a bit and I told her I was comfortable seeing bears as I had done much backpacking in Yosemite in my earlier years.
Just as I was saying goodbye and good luck to Sadie two men on horses rounded the corner from the north toting large rifles (deer hunting season had opened the day before). As they passed us one of them said, “Remember, I have a cold beer waiting for you at our horse trailer when you get down there,” to which Sadie responded, “I’ll be there in a few minutes.” I saw no one else on the trail that day.
I came across a beautiful natural setting with a large wooden bridge another mile or so up the PCT, and decided that would be my turn-around point. The creek was flowing there (it was dry in the campground). I would have love to have biked farther but I was due home that evening and had at least a 6 hour drive.
On my way back to the car I wondered why bikes are not permitted on most (or all) of the PCT. I decided to take a photo to emphasize the effect of bicycle tires compared to boots and horse tracks. Check the photo below … what do you think?
The ride back to the car took less than a half an hour. I changed my clothes right in the parking lot (since there was not another living sole in the entire campground), put my bike on the rack, and headed the car toward San Diego. Kennedy Meadows Mountain Biking? The little I tried was pretty good.