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Fall / spring hikes



(Published 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, road.
   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 Valley.
   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 Park boundary.
   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 Trail.
   At 1.7 miles, Ladybug Camp is reached. Veering off to the left here, the trail continues another 2.3 miles to Whiskey Log Camp.
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.












THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
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