December arrived and ushered in the first major snow storm of the season. Soon the ski lifts at Badger Resort and China Peak will open to once again test our skills at down-hill and cross-country skiing.
For those of us who are looking for a change of pace from the major ski areas, I have a few suggestions for you. These areas will not have groomed trails, but are accessible for cross-country skiing or snow showing without a long drive.
Lewis Creek: Driving toward Yosemite on Highway 41 on the right is a sign that reads Lewis Creek. Follow behind the green forest gate to the fallen tree that has been converted to a bridge. The trail continues up stream on the opposite side. This trail follows the stream over three separate small bridges, an old cabin foundation and Red Rock Water Fall before arriving at the Sugar Pine Road. Return by the same trail back to your original parking area.
Snow Play Area: Just before arriving at the park's south entrance on Highway 41, a sign on the right will read Snow Play Area. Follow this narrow road roughly a quarter of a mile that increases in elevation to a large parking area. At the north end ski or snowshoe through the trees until crossing an old logging road.
Check your map for there are many secondary road junctions to continue this adventure. If you decide to ski into Mariposa Grove through the back entrance, take a guide who is familiar with this route.
Mariposa Grove: If you want to experience the winter scene at Mariposa Grove, use the easy route and drive to the south entrance into Yosemite. Once past the gate turn right to the parking area and ski or snow shoe this two mile road into the grove. Witnessing this grove of ancient trees covered with snow has its personal rewards.
Bass Lake: On Road 222 driving toward Bass Lake at the crest of the highway on the left is a green forestry gate. Behind this gate is another old forestry road toward Chepo Saddle. Ski this road to the top for excellent views, or explore one of the few side roads as they maneuver into the wilderness. A local forestry map is advisable for first time adventurers.
Forks Trail: Now that were in the Bass Lake area, how about the Forks Trail? One entrance will be within the Forks Campground and the second will be located behind another green forestry gate off Road 426. The dirt road behind the forestry gate is almost a mile of flat road before intersecting the Forks Trail.
Goat Mountain Lookout Tower: Drive Road 426 north to the junction of Road 223 and follow it almost to Thornberry Road. On the left is a parking area and road that will lead to the Goat Mountain Lookout Tower. This is a much easier route to the tower than the Forks Trail, with a gradual three mile road increase in elevation.
Thornberry Mountain: At the entrance of Road 223 and the Thornberry Mountain Road is another green forestry gate. This mountain road will follow along the crest of Thornberry Mountain. This fire road can be steep in sections but the rewards will be the views of Oakhurst, Coarsegold and North Fork.
Timing for each of these adventures will vary from one to four hours. Millage will also vary, so review your map if these areas are not familiar to you. I would rate these adventures easy to moderate.
Make it a goal during 2014 to take some personal time in your busy schedule and seek out those hidden trails that surround us. Let this winter season be a start of new adventures within our wilderness.