hikes (ski touring)
January 26, 2001)
it’s summer or winter, the Big Meadows
area between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National
Parks is a favorite destination year-round.
Whether hiking, horseback riding, camping,
sightseeing, snowshoeing, or cross-country
skiing, the Big Meadows area is an ideal locale
to enjoy the amenities of the Sierra Nevada.
We spent the day on cross-country
skis, our preferred mountain mode of travel
in the winter. Due to the rolling terrain,
spectacular vistas, and off-trail and backcountry
opportunities, all levels of skiers can be
entertained at Big Meadows.
The Big Meadows Road provides
access to several campgrounds, Horse Corral
Pack Station, a Forest Service ranger station,
backcountry trailheads, and the Buck Rock
Fire Lookout. In the winter, the snow-covered
roads are available for use by winter recreationists.
The area, which is now a part
of the Giant Sequoia National Monument, is
located eight miles south of The Wye (near
the Kings Canyon park entrance) on Highway
180. There is a sign on the highway that indicates
the Big Meadows turnoff; turn east for one-quarter
of a mile to a plowed parking area. (See “Getting
there” for additional information on
road conditions and access.)
The Big Meadows area has been
a popular cross-country skiing destination
for many years. Until the 1980s, there was
a warming hut at the meadow, which was operated
by the now-defunct Wilsonia Ski Touring.
Previously at Big Meadows, the
Montecito-Sequoia Cross-Country Ski Resort
had included the area in their network of
groomed trails. The resort is currently under
new management, however, and last winter (2007-2008)
they didn’t groom the trails. Hopefully,
the grooming policy will resume and there
will once again be packed snow and built-in
two-way ski tracks — quite a luxury.
After stopping in at Montecito-Sequoia’s
ski shop to purchase our trail passes (they
also rent skis), we had one more decision
to make — whether to drive the half-mile
back to the Big Meadows Road trailhead or
ski directly from the Montecito-Sequoia lodge
The helpful folks at the ski
shop informed us that there was one steep
hill between the lodge and Big Meadows that
wasn’t yet fit for skiing, which helped
us make the decision to drive. By 11 a.m.,
we were stepping into our skis at the Big
Meadows parking area.
The trail is actually the Big
Meadows Road and groomed for about 4.5 miles.
Several well-marked side trails/roads also
take off from the main Big Meadows Road with
levels of difficulty ranging from easy to
intermediate to advanced, so the possibilities
The trail begins at about 7,550
feet elevation, heading north up a gradual
grade for about three-quarters of a mile to
a junction. There is a sign here that indicates
that Rabbit Meadow is to the left (north).
This was our first rest stop,
and we started peeling off layers. The day
was sunny and warm, and although mid-January,
it was reminiscent of spring-skiing weather.
With jackets off and sunscreen
on, we continued our journey east. We did
not take the time to tour Rabbit Meadow, which
is an easy one-mile loop ski that intersects
again with the Big Meadows Road about a half
mile further up the trail.
We traveled through an open forest
of lodgepole and Jeffrey pines and red fir.
The trail is easy to follow and the gently
rolling terrain made for constant skiing with
steady gliding, the best kind of workout.
The kids, on the other hand,
weren’t interested in our cardiovascular
health. They were on a mission to find slopes,
the higher and steeper the better, and the
farther we traveled, the more conducive the
terrain became for their type of skiing.
The day was so warm that huge
clumps of snow were falling from tree branches
above. This was also a form of entertainment
for the kids, especially when the timing is
so perfect that a “snow-bomb”
actually hits its moving target, namely Mom
About one mile from the Rabbit
Meadow junction, the trail emerges onto a
plateau. Here, the recent snow-groomers plowed
an area on the south side of the road that
is an excellent Great Western Divide viewing
On this exceptionally clear winter
day, we were able to see Little Baldy, about
11 miles away via the Generals Highway. Farther
yet, we looked beyond the Kaweah’s Middle
Fork canyon to the snow-covered Great Western
Divide, easily spotting Sawtooth Peak, Empire
Mountain, and Farewell Gap in the Mineral
At a little over two miles, we reached the
westernmost arm of Big Meadows. We ate lunch
here, at Horse Camp, perched in the sun on
a lodgepole pine fence, overlooking a large
section of the massive meadow.
While sitting here, several parties
of skiers passed by, heading both in and out.
After lunch, we continued on our easterly
route and immediately came to the Buck Rock
This is a steep road that ascends
about 1,100 feet to the fire lookout in 2.3
miles. The views at the top into Kings Canyon
are unforgettable... so we assume.
We haven’t yet skied there,
although we were certainly tempted. We stayed
with our original route, however, and will
look forward to the Buck Rock tour on another
We skied another quarter mile
on the Big Meadows Road and came to the Forest
Service ranger station. Most of the skiers
that had skied past while we were eating lunch
were now sprawled on the sunny porch of this
cabin enjoying their lunch break.
Just beyond the cabin is the
summertime trailhead parking area for Jennie
Lakes and Weaver Lake. Skiers can actually
take this short, groomed cutoff to utilize
a restroom here, another unexpected amenity
along this trail.
After we climbed a small bluff,
we headed down the other side. This is now
the beginning of the Big Meadows Campground.
The campground is extremely large, extending
for more than a mile along Big Meadows Creek.
We continued skiing until our
agreed-upon turn-around time of 2:30 p.m.
This found us on the east end of the campground,
still on the groomed road, but we were the
only tracks, meaning we had gone where no
skier had gone before... this winter.
Our elevation at this point was
7,600 feet. We skied about four miles with
very little vertical elevation change, making
it a great ski trip for beginning skiers with
lots of stamina.
The Big Meadows area offers many
skiing opportunities. A skier could make their
every outing of the season to Big Meadows
and be able to explore some new terrain each
We, too, will soon return to
this superb area. It’s a winter paradise
that we look forward to exploring.