Emigrant Wilderness

Cliffs below Granite Dome in Emigrant Wilderness

Emigrant Wilderness is a 112,277-acre parcel on the north side of Yosemite National Park in Stanislaus National Forest. To the east is Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and Hoover Wilderness. Along the northern boundary is State Route 108 over Sonora Pass in the Sierra Nevadas. Emigrant Wilderness area itself runs about 25 miles long on a northeasterly centerline and is up to 15 miles in width. Elevations vary from below 5,000 feet to 11,570' at the summit of Leavitt Peak. The more popular areas of the wilderness are in the 7,500-to-9,000-foot range.

Emigrant Wilderness is distinguished by a very scenic glaciated landscape. The northeastern third of the property is filed with volcanic ridges and peaks while the rest of the property is crossed by sparsely vegetated granitic ridges separating numerous lakes and meadows.

The name comes from Emigrant Pass, a pass crossing the Sierra Crest along one of the braided routes of the California Trail followed by gold-seekers on their way to the gold camps of central California during the Gold Rush of 1849. While there is evidence of native people inhabiting the area for up to 10,000 years before the Euro-Americans arrived, it was the arrival of those Euro-Americans that precipitated the abrupt decline of the local tribes. The first recorded crossing of Emigrant Pass by an emigrant group was in 1852 by the Clark-Skidmore party. They were following the West Walker route (first described by Joseph Walker, a famous mountain man/trapper who passed through this area in the late 1820's). That route passed through a portion of today's Emigrant Wilderness and several parties followed the Clark-Skidmore group over the next couple years, however, the relative hardship (and danger) of the route soon caused total abandonment of it.

The US Forest Service designated the area as the Emigrant Basin Primitive Area in 1931 and that became the Emigrant Wilderness on January 4, 1975. Since then there has been considerable controversy in regard to 18 small dams that had been built on the property previous to the wilderness designation. In accordance with certain provisions in the Wilderness Act, maintenance of those dams has been stopped and they are now being allowed to decay and disappear naturally.

About 185 miles of trails exist on Emigrant Wilderness, including a section of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail running south from Sonora Pass along the high ridge past Leavitt Peak, turning east to cross Bond Pass and then dropping further south into Jack Main Canyon.

About 15,000 people visit Emigrant Wilderness every year, most in the June-through-September season. Wilderness permits are required for overnight visits to the wilderness although only one permit is needed for folks who travel the Pacific Crest Trail and pass from wilderness to wilderness. The California Department of Fish and Game periodically stocks most of the lakes with various species of trout.

Piute Lake, Emigrant Wilderness
Piute Lake, Emigrant Wilderness
Trails on Emigrant Wilderness
Hiking trails on Emigrant Wilderness