Trail: Trail Pass Trail
Mileage: 12.2 one way
Min elevation 8892ft
Max elevation 10425ft
Directions to trailhead: From Lone Pine, CA turn west toward the Sierra Mountains on Whitney Portal Rd. Turn left onto Horseshoe Meadow Rd, and follow the road to the end.
Parking: Signs will guide you to parking and trailhead.
Permit: A backpackers permit is required for overnight stays. This can be obtained from the Lone Pine Visitor's Center. Day hikers do not require a permit.
Map: We used the Whitney Portal, it cuts off a corner of the loop.
We planned a 3 day backpack July 20-22. Storms moved through the area daily requiring afternoon rain gear. Although the trail heads up Trail Pass early the elevation gain is a minimal 579 feet; the trail primarily slopes downward toward Ramshaw Meadow once over the pass. There is no water source until about 8.5 miles on the Trail Pass Trail at the time we hiked it.
My GPS says the total mileage is 32.2. Counting the miles listed on the map says 27 miles. The first day we hike to Tunnel Meadow on Trail Pass Trail. The second day we hike the Ramshaw Meadow Trail. The 3rd day we hiked the Templeton-Mulkey Meadow Trail back out to Trail Pass Trail.
The trail starts flat from the parking lot. Head toward Trail Pass
.39 miles turn Left for Trail Pass Trail, which leads you over Trail Pass.
The trail crosses part of Horseshoe Meadow
After exiting Horseshoe Meadow the trail starts a gentle meander upward to Trail Pass.
At 2.47 miles we reach Trail Pass summit - a 579ft ascent from the meadow floor. The PCT crosses here and is a popular stopping point for food and rest.
The sign at the top of the pass points to various destinations that can be reached from this location: Cottonwood Pass, Mulkey Pass, Horseshoe Meadow (the way we came from) and Mulkey Meadow.
As we hike down from the pass we find these yellow flowers provide a pleasant splash of color.
Great view from the trail of both meadows and mountains
As we walk the trail landscape changes to reveal pockets of red rock and white flowers.
In just over 5 miles the trail opens up to Mulkey Meadows. Despite the rain the view is worth taking a moment to stop for.
As we travel we meet folks on horseback coming off the meadow trail.
We come to this sign on the trail, we follow the arrow to Tunnel.
On the trail you want to stay to the right.
The trail turns from dirt to granite sand as we travel.
At 7.51 miles the trail leads you to a stock gate. Please be sure to secure it to keep the cows where they are suppose to be!
At 7.83 miles we continue to follow the arrow toward Tunnel Meadow.
All of a sudden we see pure white granite rocks appear on the surface at about 8 miles. Funny how suddenly the scenery changes.
Trail Pass Trail is a well traveled stock trail. We run across multiple mule train and horse groups as they move to and from camping areas.
At 8.5 miles we see the first signs of water. Up until this creek there are no water sources.
Suddenly the South Fork Kern River appears along the trail. The trail has a dramatic change here as it now follows the river and changes from bleak sand and granite to lush green grass, flowers and pine trees.
The trail and the stream head down into a small canyon.
We experienced some downpour conditions throughout the afternoon. At 9.59 miles the trail opens up and we find some flat developed camp spots that comply with the 100 foot from water source rule. Also, look across the stream for developed campsites. Near this area is the turn off toward the left for McConnel Meadows.
Telegraph wires are down all along the trail - a bit of history still hanging on.
At 10.9 mile we reach an old horse camp
As the trail passes the old horse camp to the left opens up into Tunnel Meadow.
We setup camp just past the big rocks in some trees to provide a little shelter from the rain. We're at mile 12.21 near the Tunnel Cutoff Trail
A ring for a fire was located nearby in an open area. So we built a fire, time to warm up!
I heard a lone coyote was howling so I headed back to the meadow and saw the coyote hunting in the fog. The coyote isn't visible in the picture, but I could catch of glimpse of it now and then as it moved.
The coyote howled a few more times during the night and into the next morning. The acoustics of the valley with surrounding rock formations and fog made for an unusual echo effect of the howls and barks; like nothing we had heard before - it had a musical effect as the sound bounced but was also absorbed.
Tomorrow we head toward Ramshaw Meadow!