Directions to the Trailhead: From Kernville, take Sierra Way (M99) north for about 20 miles. Turn right on Sherman Pass Road (FS 22S05) for about 8 miles to the trailhead (FS 33E48) which will be on the left. The trailhead has a large parking area, with plenty of room for “airing down” and an information sign.
Road Description: The 4×4 road is about 10 miles long from the western to the eastern trailheads without any side trips. It should take you 3-4 hours depending on road conditions, areas explored and number of rigs in your party. Prior to the 70’s the 4×4 road was an old mining road that was much longer. It started on M99 at Road’s End and connected with the Monache 4×4 Road (FS 34E38). Two Gear Grinder families traveled the 4×4 road in the Summer of 1970 over Memorial Day weekend. They camped out along the way taking three days to traverse. The Trailblazers had built bridges over some of the marshy areas. One of their bridges is still in use today. On the Monache 4×4 Road on the west end of Bakeoven Meadow there is a log bridge over a marsh area. We were told by these “old-timers” this 4×4 road was a wild and scenic area filled with history and 4-wheeling adventure through a pristine forest. When the area was logged sometime in the 70’s the 4×4 road was altered and shortened, but the road still remains a wonderful place to explore.
The Forest Service rates the Sherman Pass 4×4 Road Most difficult. This road is not recommended for long wheelbase, full-size vehicles. Traveling the 4×4 road west to east (as described here) is recommended for rigs that are modified with suspension lifts and traction devices because of the steep, rocky climb. East to west is easier and recommended for less modified rigs. The road is closed during the winter months due to snow. Call before you head out. In 2005 the road didn’t open until after the 4th of July.
The Gear Grinders adopted the Sherman Pass 4×4 Road on 6/23/1993. We share maintenance with the Bakersfield Trailblazers. The 4×4 road starts at an elevation of 6585 feet, meandering through a mixed conifer forest following old mining and logging roads to its eastern terminus near Bonita Meadow at 8,815 feet. You’ll pass mining ruins, climb Sherman Peak to an elevation of 9,909 feet, cross pastoral meadows and cool mountain streams, pass through an area that burned in the McNally Fire of 2002, and traverse terrain that will both challenge and entertain you. You’ll wind through trees on a road so narrow you’ll understand why this road is not recommended for long wheelbase or full sized vehicles. This road has a little bit of everything; rocks, water, mud, sand, rocks and often snow.
The McNally Fire burned a total of 150,696 acres between July 21 and August 29, 2002 at a cost of 45.7 million dollars in the Sequoia and Inyo National Forests including about 5% of Giant Sequoia National Monument. This fire was one of the worst in the history of the Sequoia National Forest. This devastating fire destroyed 14 structures including the Road’s End Resort where the fire started from a careless camper’s camp fire. The McNally fire’s advance ended at the site of two previous wildfires; the 1990 Stormy Fire and the 2000 Manter Fire. Wildflowers grow in abundance in these higher elevations, and are a stark contrast to the burned trees.
Sherman Pass 4×4 Road: Reset your odometers at the trailhead. Please note all mileage is approximate. Head up hill through the gate up on a steep, narrow road with many tight switchbacks. This area of the road is prone to washouts. At 1.7 miles on your right the remains of a mine/mill site can be seen. There is a lot to explore here if your group is so inclined. This area before the fire was thick with Oak and Pine. North Meadow Creek is forded at 2.5 miles. This area is covered in wildflowers in the spring and summer. The road follows the creek through North Meadow. At 3.4 miles you reach an open area with an intersection in North Meadow. You have climbed 2500 feet in just over 3 miles. There is an unmarked road to the left (Sherman Pass 4WD Extension) and North Meadow Road (FS 33E29) to the right. These roads will be described below. Continue straight on FS 33E48, this brings you to the top of Boulder Hill. There is a go-around to the left that rejoins the main road at the bottom of the hill.
At the bottom of Boulder Hill the road bears right. You cross a boggy area with more rocks. In early spring keep your eyes open for the elusive snow plant. Here the road becomes narrow as it winds through the trees. At 6.6 miles you turn left by a corral. This is Corral Meadow. For a quick exit turn right on Corral Meadow Road (FS 22S26). At 6.9 miles turn left at a fork in the road. The road continues on winding through the forest of Ponderosa and Red Fir and over rocks. Turn left at 10.1 miles where you will see the trailhead sign in Bonita Meadow. Turn right onto Bonita Meadow Road (FS 22S41). Continue on this road to the paved Sherman Pass Road (FS 22S05).
Getting Back: From the Bonita Meadow exit at the paved road turning left leads to the Black Rock Ranger Station, the Monache 4×4 Road (Easy, but fun), and Kennedy Meadows. There are limited services at Kennedy Meadows (no gas) with Kennedy Meadows General Store, Irelan’s Restaurant (great ice cream) and the famous Grumpy Bears Restaurant and Tavern. Continuing on from Kennedy Meadows will lead to US395 just north of Pearsonville via the infamous Nine Mile Canyon Road (fasten your seat belts and check your brakes).
To the right from the Bonita Meadow exit will bring you back to the start. Just backtrack to Kernville.
Sherman Pass 4×4 Road Extension: Turn left at the intersection at North Meadow. This road is not signed. Follow the road as it bears left and downhill. The right fork leads to an overlook and camp area. The road is narrow in places turning into a shelf road. The road ends after about 1.5 miles. Stop at the Hill Top Discovery Mine ruins (look for the monument sign on a tree to your right) for a panoramic view of Kern Canyon. The road does continue briefly for about a quarter of a mile, but the mine area gives you a good parking/turn around area. Here you can view The Needles, Capitol Rock, Elephant Knob, Sentinel Peak and the quaint community of Ponderosa. With good binoculars you can see the fire lookout atop the Needles.
North Meadow Road (FS 33E29): Turn right at the intersection in North Meadow. You will cross a creek several times on this road. At a mile you will come to an intersection with two signs. Bear left to go to Sherman Peak (see description below). Bear right to the Embree Cabins and mine site. Cabins are on the left and a spur road to the right takes you to the mill and mine site. Here elderberries and currants cover the hillside amongst the mine artifacts. Continue down this road to connect with the paved Sherman Pass Road (FS 22S05) where there will be a trailhead sign for North Meadow Pass Road.
Gil Embree first came into the valley in 1938 to help build the original mill in Johnsondale. While on a hunting trip in 1940 he had noticed an outcropping of tungsten ore on the side of Sherman Peak, but it wasn’t until 1948 that he had the capital to develop the claim. In May of 1948 Gil and his wife Beulah (Babe) with their two sons aged 6 and 3 moved up to the mine site. There was no road to this location at this time. Their supplies were packed in nine miles from Road’s End. The family lived in a tent for several years, coming down from the mountains only when forced by the snow. Working the mine was a family event. When enough ore was accumulated Gil walked the nine miles out to the main road and returned with 20 mules to pack out the 3,000 pounds of ore. A daughter was born during this time. They later had a house built of native rock, the cabin that you see now. He built a “jeep” road up to his mine with a Caterpillar with a cable dozer. Then he built his roller mill with a 9-foot flywheel. The remains of the mill and flywheel are still there to see along with various other mining equipment. The Embree’s also had a mine in Bonita Meadow.
The mystery of the Embree name. We use the spelling of “Embree” as listed in Bob Powers’ book and a log book in the cabin. You may find the name spelled “Embery” on some maps. And the sign at the intersection uses “Emery”.
Sherman Peak: What a view! The peak is at an elevation of 9,909 feet. On the northern horizon you can see Mt. Whitney (14,495 ft.) and to it’s right Mt. Langley (14, 026 ft.). Closer to the north can be seen Olancha Peak (12,123 ft.) towering over Monache Meadows. To the east is the fire lookout on Bald Mountain (elevation 9,382 ft.), six miles away. To the south is Cannel Peak (9,470 ft.). To the west is the Kern River Canyon.
Once this peak held the Sherman Peak Lookout, which was built in 1927 and later destroyed. Made of logs it’s legal location was T 22S R 33E Sec 14. Here Ted and Lila Lofberg worked the summer position on the Sherman Peak Lookout. The Embrees and Lofbergs had first met in Old Kernville at Bert James’ store while getting groceries. The Embree’s cabin and the lookout were only two miles apart, but there was no road through the forested mountainous terrain at the time. It was a friendship that lasted a lifetime.
Special thanks to: USFS Ranger Bob Frenes for his assistance with our Adopt-a-Trail program. Pictures provided by Gear Grinders Lisa Couch and Pamela Fellows. Additional road maintenance pictures provided by Gear Grinder guest George Rees. Mary Grimsley, corresponding secretary of the Gear Grinders, for historical and MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) information. Jon Aichele of the Trailblazers for historical information. The Bakersfield Trailblazers 4×4 Club who share this adopt-a-trail with us. And finally thanks to all the Gear Grinders that have volunteered countless hours in the past to maintain the Sherman Pass 4×4 Road. The Gear Grinders and Trailblazers 4WD Clubs maintain this road with pride ensuring access for ALL to enjoy this unique and interesting backcountry area.
- Sequoia National Forest Official Website. Information concerning OHV registration requirements, safety messages and route information can be found here. The National Forests in California are in the process of route inventory and designation of all the roads, trails, and areas used by OHVs. Information on the National Forest’s Route Designation Strategy can be found here. Map on this page is an excerpt from the Sequoia National Forest’s Cannell Meadow Ranger District Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Map. (Please note the Cannell Meadow Ranger District and the Greenhorn Ranger District has been combined to form the Kern River Valley Ranger District.) Official maps of the Sequoia National Forest including OHV maps can be requested at their website on their Maps and Brochures page.
- “Exploring the Southern Sierra: East Side” by J.C. Jenkins and Ruby Johnson Jenkins. This wonderfully detailed guide book explores the Scodie Mountains including the mountains east of the North Fork of the Kern River between the High Sierra to the north and the Tehachapi Mountains to the south.
- “High Sierra SUV Trails: Vol. II The Western Slope” a guide book by Roger and Loris Mitchell. Information on Mitchell’s books can be found at Track & Trail Publications. He has a series of guide books that are a must for the backcountry explorer.
- “North Fork Country” by Bob Powers. History of the people of Old Kernville and neighboring communities including the Embree family. If you love the history of the people who settled this area, Powers’ books are full of this wonderful history.
- “Guide to Northern California Backroads and 4-Wheel Drive Trails” by Charles A. Wells. This book is a part of a series of great guidebooks for the 4×4 adventurer.
- USGS 7.5′ Maps “Durrwood”, “Bonita Meadow” and “Fairview”.
- Stewards of the Sequoia promotes responsible recreation and environmental stewardship. They are a division of California Trail Users Coalition, a registered non-profit corporation (501C.3).
- Kern Valley Museum and Kern River Valley Historical Society. Fascinating historical displays of the people and events that preserve the unique history of the area. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. Don’t forget to ask about John Harley and his encounter with the town bully that led to the discovery of the Harley Mine.
- USDA Forest Service informational Auto-Tour Brochure on the McNally fire of 2002.
- The Buck Rock Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the tradition of forest fire lookouts and other historically significant buildings, including information on the Sherman Peak Lookout.
- Sierra Nevada Webcams. Click on the link to the left of the main page and scroll down for the Sherman Peak webcams (7 cams total) and get a beautiful panoramic view!