PCT: Muir Trail Ranch to VVR Ferry

Miles 857.7-878.7 of the northbound PCT: Crossing over Selden Pass, between two opportunities for resupply in the remote expanse of the central Sierra.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
34 km
Ascent
1.3 km
Descent
1.3 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
2.4 km
High Point
3.3 km
Gradient
VIEW ON MAP
PCT: Muir Trail Ranch to VVR Ferry Map

Description

As the Pacific Crest Trail ambles through the central Sierra on a route shared with the John Muir Trail, it delves into expansive wilderness far from any roads, leaving no easy way to leave the trail for rest or resupply. Two opportunities come near the middle of CA Section H, however, in the form of private resorts located close to the PCT corridor. At either Muir Trail Ranch or Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR), hikers can book accommodations or send packages for pickup. Most PCTers visit one or the other for resupply, and both places have a host of amenities to offer weary hikers. VVR is especially popular with long-distance hikers, many of whom take a zero-day there to relax and recuperate off-trail. In between the two resorts, the PCT holds some classic Sierra scenery, including a river gorge with swiftwater crossings, alpine lakes with serene camping, and a high pass with possible snow.

From the Florence Lake junction that leads to Muir Trail Ranch (NB mile 857.7), the PCT turns to climb out of the South Fork San Joaquin river valley. It’s a steady plod on broad switchbacks, but through a pleasant blend of hillside forest and meadows with expanding views. A flatter stretch leads eventually into an elevated basin, which holds the two Sallie Keys Lakes (NB mile 863.7). A wooded isthmus separates the two, and the trail traces one shore to thread between the lakes.

Up ahead is Selden Pass (10,870 feet). The trail rises steadily through bouldery meadows to first reach Heart Lake (NB mile 864.8), then make a twisting climb to the top of the pass (NB mile 865.6). Selden is known to be one of the easier passes on the JMT section of the PCT, but traction may still be useful in early season. Upon cresting the top, you’ll gaze down on Marie Lake with its bundle of granite islands. It’s a quick descent to the lake, where you’ll find many good campsites. You might choose the popular camping zone located mid-shoreline (NB mile 866.3), or find a more secluded spot on one of the peninsulas.

From the lake, the PCT drops down to follow the outlet stream, which feeds into Bear Creek. The ford of this creek lower down (NB mile 869.1) is known to be tough, and may be impassable early season. You may search for fallen logs to aid the crossing, or you can opt for the alternate route that crosses two forks of the stream higher up. This route leaves the PCT on Sandpiper Lake trail, then takes a use trail to connect with Seven Gables Lake trail, and then rejoins the PCT near the normal Bear Creek crossing.

The next few miles descend gradually through a forested valley, passing several suitable campsites near the creek. From the junction with Bear Creek trail (NB mile 872.4) the PCT heads uphill to start climbing over Bear Ridge. On the ridge are some campsites with especially nice views, but their water sources are seasonal. The Bear Ridge trail junction (NB mile 874.5) is the first opportunity to leave the PCT for Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR). It’s a 7-mile walk down the trail and across the dam at Edison Lake to reach the campground.

Beyond this Bear Ridge junction the PCT continues on a flat stretch on top of the ridge, then drops in switchbacks to reach Mono Creek and cross it on a bridge (NB mile 878.7). Just over the bridge is the side trail leading to the VVR ferry pickup spot. The ferry normally runs a regular daily schedule through the summer, but that can change due to weather and lake levels. Check the Vermillion Valley Resort website for information. Instead of taking the ferry, you could continue on the trail along the north side of the lake to reach VVR.

Permits: This segment is within the John Muir Wilderness of Sierra National Forest, but comes immediately after the northbound trail leaves Kings Canyon National Park, and both areas require permits for backcountry camping. PCT long-distance Permit is recommended because it simplifies the logistics of permits from multiple agencies. If you don’t have that, you will need a permit issued by the agency in charge of where your trip begins. For example, if you start hiking within Kings Canyon you will need to arrange your permit through that national park. If you start farther east or south, at a trailhead in Inyo National Forest, you will need a permit from that agency instead. The number of permits may be subject to quotas, so it’s best to reserve well in advance. Note also that each permit is only good for continuous wilderness travel, meaning that if you exit the permit area you will need a separate permit to legally re-enter. This restriction applies to the PCT long-distance permit as well.

Sources: http://jmtbook.com/john-muir-trail-selden-pass/ https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/local-permits/ https://pctmap.net/trail-notes/ https://pctwater.com/

Difficulty

Moderate

Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

May, June, July, August, September, October, November

Features

  • Alpine
  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Guidebooks in this area