/ spring hikes
LADYBUG TRAIL... LITERALLY
February 18, 2000)
The foothills zone of Sequoia
National Park offers hiking opportunities
in winter and spring, before the oppressive
heat of summer arrives. Although clear, sunny
days lift the spirits and offer incomparable
vistas, anytime in these seasons is a good
time to hit the low-elevation trails.
The hike from South Fork Campground
to Ladybug Camp is less than two miles and
is rewarding for so little effort. The elevation
gain is close to 800 feet.
The trail begins in a foothills
woodland at 3,600 feet with dense groves of
oak and California nutmeg and laurel. It travels
upwards through riparian groves of alder,
cottonwood, and sycamore, which now have more
leaves on the ground than on their branches.
The trailhead begins 13 miles
up the South Fork road from Sierra Drive.
The last few miles of the road are unpaved,
but in good condition and passable in all
but the stormiest of seasons.
To travel up the South Fork is
like a walk back in time. Small family farms
give way to acre upon acre of rangeland.
Those that live on the upper
reaches of the road still have to plan their
journeys into town the same as the families
of a century ago, who also had to consolidate
their errands into one trip. It’s a
little more convenient with modern-day transportation
rather than horse-and-buggy or Model T, but
it is still a long and winding, yet so scenic,
But it wasn’t always a
road that took travelers up the South Fork;
it was a trans-Sierra trail. Its destination
back then was the Owens Valley, not just a
mere 13 miles to a campground.
In December 1862, John B. Hockett
received permission from the County of Tulare
to build a trail from the west to the east
side of the Sierra Nevada range. The Hockett
Trail began near Hale Tharp’s ranch
at the confluence of Horse Creek and the Kaweah
River (now Lake Kaweah), followed the South
Fork along much of the present-day road and
the Ladybug Trail, then crossed the South
Fork to ascend steeply to Hockett Meadows.
It crossed the crest at the present-day
southeastern-most corner of Sequoia National
Park and descended to the Little Kern. At
Lewis Camp, it crossed the Kern River, then
over Cottonwood Pass to descend to the Owens
The trail was built mainly for
commerce, so Visalia businesses and merchants
could resupply east-side miners. For more
than 100 years it has been a favorite route
for southern Sierra travelers.
The Ladybug Trail is no longer
the Hockett Trail although a non-maintained
trail still exists, overgrown and steep, to
Hockett Lakes. These days, the South Fork
Trail from the campground through Garfield
Grove, which follows a more southern route,
connects with the Hockett Trail just east
of Hockett Lakes.
The Ladybug Trail travels on
the north side of the Kaweah’s South
Fork. It starts on the east end of the South
Fork Campground, just inside the Sequoia National
No entrance fees are required
to access this remote corner of the park.
Hikers cross the river on a footbridge
immediately after leaving the campground.
After crossing the bridge, the trail turns
east and continues to parallel the river although
climbing above it.
At one-half mile, Pigeon Creek
is crossed. At about one mile, the trail descends
to Squaw Creek.
The trail now climbs away from
the oak-hardwood forest and enters the conifer
zone. Cedars are prevalent here and down along
the river are the rounded tops of some giant
sequoia trees whose seedlings washed down-canyon
from the Garfield Grove in 1867.
In December of that year, a rainflood
swept down the South Fork carrying with it
many of the giant trees. Redwood logs were
swept all the way down to Three Rivers and
as far away as Farmersville.
Many pieces of the massive tree trunks are
still strewn along the length of the Ladybug
At 1.7 miles, Ladybug Camp is
reached. Veering off to the left here, the
trail continues another 2.3 miles to Whiskey
On this day, we proceeded east along the South
Fork a few hundred more yards around a bend
to a spectacular series of pools and waterfalls
at the confluence of Garfield Creek. It’s
a heavenly site with a view of the currently
snow-capped Homer’s Nose outcrop.
We rock-hopped a bit, then opted
to watch the river roll by on a sunlit, water-polished
boulder with remnants of an old bridge. The
bridge, which crossed the South Fork just
north of Garfield Creek, washed away in some
past flood, and this portion of the Hockett
Trail became history.
The Ladybug Trail is an optimal
day hike whether warming up for the summer
backpacking season or just spending an afternoon
with the family.
And the reason it’s called
“Ladybug”? The name says it all.