The Sierra Nevada rise gently above the foothills that mark the end of the central valley. It would make for an interesting trek to start from the lower hills at <500 meters of elevation and work your way up to the high sierra at ~4000m.

However, most the routes I found involve walking on highways until about ~1000m before the trails start. Are there any trekking routes that start at low elevations that avoid heavily trafficked highways (or have wide shoulders) and don't trespass into private property illegally?

Off-trail hiking is OK so long as it isn't difficult scrambling as are lightly trafficked roads. The best example I found is S. Fork road starting from three rivers at 300m en route to the South Fork Campground, after which the hiking trails start. What else is out there? How hard is it to get an overnight permit once COVID-19 passes?

  • 1
    Not exactly from the Central Valley, but does the Badwater Ultramarathon count? ;-)
    – gerrit
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 7:21
  • How many miles or days are you willing to hike?
    – ab2
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 21:10

3 Answers 3


Here's one I explored some years ago, seeking an experience similar to what you describe. I had got tired of driving 9/10 of the way to the mountains, walking the remaining 1/10, and thinking I had "scaled the Sierras." This does not seem like the way John Muir would have done it, although he did lament the long and gradual slope of the west side.

On the Patterson Mountain, CA, quadrangle (1:24,000), find Balch Camp. Less than 1 mile south, on the Balch Camp Rd, at about 1200 ft, you'll see a trail marked Rodgers Ridge. It ascends to the ridge line and continues East. At about 6000 ft, you join Forest Service roads, and with some cross-country work, you can find your way to Spanish Mountain (10,000 ft, Rough Spur quadrangle), a worthy destination on its own.

From there, you can stay high and head toward Randle Corral and Blue Canyon, or you could descend into the amazing and secluded Tehipite Valley and the Middle Fork Kings River. Either will lead you further East into the High Sierra.

Now for the bad news. I explored this at least 15 years ago, and never did find any trace of the Rodgers Ridge trail. It may have been established decades ago and only persists on paper. From a route finding perspective, this is not all that terrible, as the topography clearly directs you ("Just Go Up"). I found the steep hillsides to be very difficult passage, however, being covered in a thick grass over a loose soil. A trail would have been helpful.

Also, it's a southern exposure with no water until you get high up. Consider the weather and carry plenty of water.

Best of luck. And thanks for helping me relive some memories!


This is may be too short and too easy for a hard-core masochist, but all I can think of is to start at Lone Pine CA (1,136 meters) and go to Horseshoe Meadows CA (3,070 meters). This is about 20 miles of steep road. I am not familiar with these roads, so I can't say how difficult it would be to parallel them on foot.

Horseshoe Meadows leads you to Golden Trout Lake and then to the many rock-girt lakes under and around Mt. Humphreys. There are many lakes around 3,720 meters near the base of Mt. Humphreys. Mt. Humphreys itself is about 4,200 meters and requires some experience. You can then continue gently downhill cross-country on friendly granite ledges to Paiute Pass (about 3,400 meters) shortly before which you hit a trail over the Pass and down to North Lake and the road to Bishop.

If you want to go from the ridiculous to the sublime, start at Reno and slog along Rte 395 for several hundred miles.

  • Wrong side of the mountains lol. The frustrating thing is that you are forced to start high (death valley is very far away and the trek isn't that scenic in my opinion). Commented May 22, 2020 at 0:54

I’m sure there are many routes possible but one great established route I know of is the Coast Connect segment of the Hot Springs Trail https://www.wholefoodhiker.com/guidebooks-hot-springs-trail https://youtu.be/CJJAXWPTAbE

  • I am skeptical about these attempts to put together treks. They often path along windy roads with no shoulder. For example, the California coastal trail spends much of it's milage on highway 1 in parts that you really don't want to be walking on. Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 23:16

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