Sometimes owning a 4×4 feels like being part of an exclusive club. Spending a weekend at Monache Meadows in the southern Sierra Nevada is definitely one of those times.
Accessible only by a rough jeep road, Monache Meadows is a gem if you can get there. The reward is some spectacular free campsites and a bonafide mountain playground at your disposal.
I was there to go fishing for golden trout, the California State Freshwater Fish, which is native to only a few streams and creeks in the southern Sierras. The South Fork Kern River that flows through the meadow is one of those rare places to catch a golden trout.
Golden trout have been called the most beautiful trout of all the species and their native range is so tiny that they hold cult status among fishermen.
Me, I am not a very good fisherman. So I wasn’t all that surprised when I didn’t catch a fish the first day after two hours walking the river.
The second day I made some adjustments and was happy to see some results. I tried a new rig that I hoped would be harder for the trout to see and that would allow me to cast farther. Whatever it was it worked because I caught two fish in an hour. The first I released, but the second I took for dinner.
That night I cooked the trout in butter and garlic and squeezed lemon juice over it before eating. It was delicious.
Geographically speaking, Monache Meadows is part of the Inyo National Forest and is sandwiched between the Golden Trout Wilderness to the north west and the South Sierra Wilderness to the south east. The jeep road is accessed via Sherman Pass Road, which connects the Kern River area north of Kernville and Lake Isabella to Highway 395 and the Owens Valley. The only services on Sherman Pass Road are at Kennedy Meadows, a famous stop on the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT makes its way past Monache Meadows as well, skirting its eastern edge.
Recreationally speaking, there’s lots to do other than fishing. People use the area for hiking, hunting, family camping, photography, and dirt biking to name a few. You could even go to Monache Meadows and do nothing and still have a good time. Having a good book to read and enjoying the outdoors would be a fine weekend.
Because of this, expect to see plenty of people on summer weekends even though it’s hard to get to. You’ll have to arrive on Thursday to get one of the better campsites. At an elevation of 7,900 feet, colder times of the year will have less people and it can be inaccessible during the winter months because of snow.
I lucked out and scored one of the better campsites that had spectacular views of the meadow and Olancha Peak.
For precise campsite locations, take a look at my custom google map for Monache Meadows.
I’m not much of a bird watcher, but the birds were entertaining to watch while I drank my morning cup of coffee. They ruled the meadow. A flock of about 300 black birds would rise together from the vegetation and fly a hundred feet to a new spot where they would land and disappear under the bushes. A few minutes later they would do it again gradually covering the entire meadow presumably looking for food. I also saw a bunch of other interesting birds, like a western tanager and red-wing blackbirds.
One bird I did not see the entire weekend was the stellar jay, normally the avian mascot of the high Sierra.
Another fun dimension of the weekend was my ongoing battle with my neighborhood chipmunks. The damn critters were relentless!!
Other than fishing, spent time exploring the vast meadow complex in my truck and flying my drone.
I thought about hiking to the summit of Monache Peak, elevation 9,425. As time crunched, it didn’t happen. Always next time. For serious hikers, Olancha Peak (12,132 ft) is also hike-able from Monache via the PCT but is a much more difficult trek.
After three nights and three days of primitive camping, normally I am ready to get home for a warm shower and other comforts. As I was driving out, I realized I could have stayed another three days. So I guess I’ll see you again, Monache.