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~~Last updated March 2003~~

This trail description was contributed by Heidi Burckart of the Gold Country's Horsemen's Association of Sutter Creek, Ca.

Pacific Valley Trailhead

Hwy. 4, Alpine County

Pacific Valley to Highland Lakes
Ideal for Horse Camping

  • Trail Location: From Hwy. 88, in Woodfords, take Hwy. 4 west. Through Markleeville, past Wolf Creek Rd., past Silvertip Campground. Road condition varies; is steep in spots, and has some switchbacks; take your time. Continue past the Pacific Crest Trailhead, past the Ebbetts Pass summit, down into Hermit Valley. Gear down dropping from the summit, it is about 7 miles down to the bottom. Once you have driven through Hermit Valley and are climbing up the other side, it is about 3 miles to the turnoff to Pacific Valley. After you cross Pacific Creek, go one quarter mile; make a left turn into the campground. The campground is about 1 mile in length, with camping on both sides. Creek is on the left.
  • Trail Location: From Calaveras County, Angels Camp. Go east on Hwy. 4 towards Big Trees State Park. Continue past Bear Valley Ski Resort, past Lake Alpine to Mosquito Lake. At the east end of Mosquito Lake, gear down, or put your 4WD in 4 low. You don't have to lock the hubs as this just gives you lower gears, so you don't get your brakes hot. Drop down the Pacific Grade. After the 4th switch back, the road straightens, and starts to level off. Make a right into Pacific Valley Campground. See above for remaining directions.
  • Trailhead Parking: You can park in any of the designated spots, and at the end of the road is a loop, you can drive around. We have maneuvered a 40 foot fifth wheel trailer through there without a problem.
  • Campground facilities: Vault toilets, year round creek (it does get low towards the end of summer). Some spots have picnic tables. Several large group camping areas, big enough for 5 - 8 rigs.
  • To be aware of: Some ranchers run their horses loose during the summer in the meadow, so you want to be able to lock up your hay so they can't get into it. USFS patrols regularly. Have a campfire permit. Along the trail are fences and gates that will be closed if there are cattle in the area. Please close the gate behind you.
  • Trailhead location: At the end of the campground road there is a dirt road that goes straight. Ride out that road about a mile and you will come to a fence. Go through the gate and the trail forks; go to the left. You will immediately cross the creek. The rest of the trail description will follow.
  • Trail difficulty: Moderate, some steep and rocky sections, but nothing extremely difficult. Several small creek crossings.
  • Trail Elevation: Camp is at approximately 7,000. Feet. Trail climbs to about 8,000 feet.
  • Trail Markings: The trail is marked well by notches in the trees, and by signs at all intersections.
  • Trail Length: Approximately 15 miles round trip. Plan on a good 7 hour round trip ride, not including lunch.
  • Packing with horses: Packing would be an easy task as the trail is very accommodating for this purpose, with many high mountain meadows along the way for grazing and several creeks, and the trail is wide enough to accommodate pack animals. Once you get to Highland Lakes, there is plenty of water and grass with trails that go off in all directions from there.
  • Maps: Stanislaus National Forest Map.
  • Trail High Points/ Low points: High… The views to the South… As far as you can see, The Dardanelles etc… Low: Gravel Road the last 2 miles to Highland Lakes. Gates to open and close along the way.

    Trail Description: At the end of loop at Pacific Valley, take dirt road. Go one mile to fence. Go through fence, go left at trailhead. Cross creek. Follow trail about 3 miles into Marshall Canyon. As you are climbing up Marshall Canyon, you will come to a trail sign, make a sharp right, head straight up the hill, sign should say Peep Sight Peek, or Milk Ranch Meadow. Climb up to the top, go through meadow. At end of the meadow just when you get back into the trees, another sign, and a fork in the trail. Go left towards Milk Ranch Meadow. (trail option # 2, see below) Follow that trail, cross a creek. You will come to a steep hill in front of you with a bluff on your left. I have never been able to find the exact trail up that hill, so make your best way up it staying somewhat close to the bluff. Once you reach the top, the trail takes off again just below the bluff. Here the view is fantastic. The trail gets a little wet going across this inclined meadow. Stay to the left of the trail, or the upper side, when you see the one spot it gets pretty wet. Follow the trail through another creek, you will come to another meadow. Go straight through it; you will find the trail at the other end. Now you will start dropping down to Milk Ranch Meadow. When you come to the bottom of the hill, you will find a fence on your right, stay next to the fence, when you reach the corner of the fence, and it takes a turn to the right, follow the trail up and to the right. You will come to a gravel road after about a mile. Go through the gate and stay to the right on the road. You will see a few cabins and corrals on the left, you can cut through there as a short cut to the road again, as the road winds around to the left. Stay near the road, and follow to Highlands Lake.

    Trail Option # 2: At above marked "Y" go to the right towards Hiram Meadow, or Gabbetts Meadow. If you start early enough in the day, you could make it all the way to Spicer Reservoir. The trail is easy to moderate. But use your best judgment on time frame. I plan on trying to ride all the way into Spicer Reservoir this summer (2003), and when I have an update I will post it. It takes about 3 hrs. to get into Hiram Meadow.

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Site Originally Created October 24, 1996. 

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