It’s official: Kaiser Pass Road to open Wednesday

One of the Sierra’s most spectacular roads — and some would say most hazardous – opens for the season Wednesday, May 15.

MAREK WARSZAWSKI/THE FRESNO BEE
Three backpackers stop for a picture along the John Muir Trail between Silver Pass and Edison Lake in the Sierra National Forest.

For most of its 20-mile length from Huntington Lake in the Sierra National Forest, Kaiser Pass Road feels more like a goat path: 1 1/2 lanes wide, steep, winding, exposed and full of potholes.  There are a few places where you pray some gargantuan RV towing a trailered boat isn’t coming the other direction. Because one of you has to back up to the nearest turnout. And, oh yeah, there’s a 1,000-foot drop just outside your window with no guardrail.

So why do I drive it so often every summer and fall? Because Kaiser Pass Road places you right in the heart of several prime Sierra destinations, many as uncrowded as the range has to offer. Just past the High Sierra Ranger Station, about 14 miles from Huntington Lake, the road splits. One fork leads to Edison Lake, passing Mono Hot Springs. The other leads to Florence Lake.

I can think of few places that rival Mono Hot Springs for a camping trip. You can fish from the South Fork of the San Joaquin River, go swimming in spring-fed Doris Lake (a singular delight) or hike to any number of places. All with the convenience of the Mono Hot Springs Resort and its cafe, store, lodgings and recently renovated bath house. (Free soaking is available on the other side of the river.)

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Sierra Nevada roads beginning to thaw out

Wishon Reservoir, as it appeared from a helicopter during a PG&E snow survey in April 2007. Similar to 2012-13, 2007 was also a low snow year. (ERIC ZAMORA / THE FRESNO BEE)

A dry winter in the southern Sierra Nevada isn’t necessarily good news for local outdoors enthusiasts.

But the below-average snowpack does ensure that some popular access roads will open earlier than usual.

In the Sierra National Forest, McKinley Grove Road is scheduled to open April 26 all the way to Wishon Reservoir. The road to Courtright Reservoir, which sits 1,500 feet higher in elevation, will open at a later date.

No official opening date has been set for Kaiser Pass Road, which connects Huntington Lake to Edison and Florence lakes as well as Mono Hot Springs.

However, the owners of both the Mono Hot Springs Resort and Vermilion Valley Resort have indicated on their Facebook pages that they expect to be open for business May 11.  That’s two weeks earlier than the traditional Memorial Day weekend opening date for Kaiser Pass Road.

In the Bass Lake area, roads such as Beasore, Central Camp and Sky Ranch are open only to their respective snow lines. The Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway out of North Fork is open to Mammoth Pool.

At Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, very little snow exists below 7,000 feet in the most heavily visited areas.

The road to Panoramic Point has been open for weeks, and Highway 180 opened Friday to the Yucca Point gate,  providing access to Junction View and the Yucca Point Trailhead.

Highway 180 will open all the way to Cedar Grove at noon April 26. From then until May 22, Cedar Grove will be open for day-use only, and visitors are advised to bring water and food since none will be available. Campgrounds on the canyon floor will open May 22.

Further south, Moro Rock/Crescent Meadow Road is currently open and will be kept open, weather permitting. In addition, Mineral King Road is scheduled to open May 22.

Officials at Yosemite National Park are still assessing when Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road will open for the summer. Tioga Road in particular poses potential avalanche dangers.