Kennedy Meadows in Emigrant Wilderness

Kennedy Meadows in the early season is lush and green and surrounded by snow capped mountains and ridges. The wide meandering creek flows out of Kennedy Lake, which is pretty, but muddy this time of year.

My first trip to the Sierras this year was on July 4th for an overnight stay in Emigrant Wilderness. It was a big snow year after a series of late storms swept through the mountains dropping as late as May, so the high elevations were still covered, but the lower parts of Emigrant had just melted out.

I had my eye on Emigrant Lake which I knew was still frozen over, which would have been a long overnight, but I changed my plans last minute and instead planned a trip with a few colleagues and picked out a shorter route that everyone would enjoy. I had been through the bottom of Kennedy Meadow before when I came down Soda Canyon two years ago, but I didn’t get all the way up to the lake.

The trailhead parking lot is a half mile before the end of the road at the Kennedy Meadows Resort, both of which were humming on 4th July. From there we follow a dirt road which takes us to the wilderness boundary. The trail climbs up the granite alongside Middle Fork Stanislaus River, crossing over a footbridge, and continuing its ascent. A little further up Kennedy Creek tumbles down a steep ravine to join Summit Creek. Another footbridge crosses the swiftly flowing stream, and we shortly arrive at the trail junction.

A bridge crosses over Kennedy Creek at the base of the valley.

The Kennedy Meadows trail forks to the left, climbing up a dusty trail, before flattening out after a crossing a bridge at the entrance to the valley. From here the trail ambles through forest and chaparral, crossing over seasonal streams, and providing occasional glimpses of meadows and mountainsides. It’s not until you get deeper into the valley that the wide open meadows start to appear, and at this time of year, framed by snow capped mountains, they are lush and green.

Looking up Soda Canyon from Kennedy Meadow Trail, there’s still a lot of snow on the mountains after a big snow year.

Kennedy Meadows is used for grazing cattle and horses and there’s some large fenced corrals in the meadow, which the creek meanders through. The best campsites are on the far side of the creek on the west bank, and the only way to get there is to wade through the river. It’s wide and relatively slow flowing but this time of year is still deep; thigh high and cool.

Now on the far side we scout out a campsite, there’s a far number of occupied sites already, but we find a nice site among the trees beside the river and set up camp. We have a little time before the evening so we decide to try and get up and see the lake. I had been warned at the ranger station that there had been reports that the trails to lake were muddy, but so far we’d had dry trails the whole way, but just below the lake we quickly realised these reports were accurate as we started to sink in. After everyone got their feet a little wet, not finding a way through, we decided to call it a day and head back to camp to dry our shoes by the fire.

Cabin in Kennedy Meadow, just below the lake.

The next morning I got up early and decided to try again to get to the lake by taking a higher route, we were only camped a little over half a mile from the outlet. This time I got all the way the lakeshore in time to see the dawn light reflecting off the still surface. I headed back to camp and had a cup of tea while I waited for my hiking companions to stir.

On the way back we tried the other side of the lake again, after crossing back across the creek, but the meadow again got just as muddy. At this time of year there’s no way to get to the top of the lake without getting your feet a little wet. But nothing was lost, we took in the snow covered ridges surrounding the wide open meadows as we headed back down to the trailhead.

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