There are many ways to get to the Golden Trout Wilderness. All of them are hard. But, perhaps, the easiest is from the north end through Lone Pine, off Hwy 395, to Cottonwood Lakes by way of Horseshoe Meadow Road. There is plenty of parking and good camping sites. This will give you good access to the upper South Kern River Drainage. You can take additional trails to reach Golden Trout Creek, Volcano Creek, and the Kern River.
From the South, take Hwy 395 to Nine Mile Canyon Road, proceeding to Kennedy Meadows and follow the signs to USFS Blackrock Information Station just northwest of Troy Meadows Campground. Follow the road north for 3.5 miles where the Monache Jeep Road forks off. Then, it is another 4.9 miles on Road 21S03 to the trailhead at Granite Knob, which also has a jeep trail taking you to Monache Meadows. This will get you into the southern sections of the Golden Trout Wilderness. See map on South Fork Kern River.
From the East, you can get to Monache Meadows by way of Olancha Pass from Sage Flat campround. This is a 8.8 miles hike with a 3800 foot ascent over the ridge. The trail drops down 1800 feet to the South Fork of the Kern.
From the West, you can reach the Forks of the Kern by way of Road 22S82 up from Johnsondale. See map on Upper Kern River.
The Golden Trout Wilderness was established in 1977 with over 300,000 acres with streams containing Rainbows, Browns, Brookies and Goldens. There are also some unique subspecies within this wilderness section such as the Little Kern River Goldens, Volcano Creek Goldens, and Kern River Rainbows. This area is very lightly fished as to the difficulty in reaching it. The fish will not be large due to the short feeding period at these higher elevations. Generally, the fishing will be excellent and the scenery fantastic. Expect to make a multiple day trip if you plan to fish these areas. For those that prefer not to use their own hoofs, professional packers are available to get you in and out.
The South Fork Kern was designated a Wild Trout stream in 1997 by the State of California. It has a 5 trout limit with barbless hooks and only artificial lures. Three barriers have been placed above Monache Meadows to keep non-native Brown Trout from migrating into the area. The area above the barriers were chemically treated in the 1980's to eliminate remnant Browns. Volcano Goldens were reintroduced. Some Brown migration has reoccurred due to deterioration of the barriers just above Templeton Meadows.
From the Cottonwood Trailhead you can reach:
Golden Trout Creek: Starts at the headwaters of Big Whitney Meadow and Rocky Basin Lakes. About 8 miles from the trailhead over
Cottonwood Pass. The creek has about 14 miles of fishable water from just below Rocky Basin Lakes at 10,500 feet to above Volcano Falls
next to the Kern River at 7,500. Golden Trout Creek was instrumental in providing the brood stock of most Goldens planted throughout
the Sierras. Brood Hatcheries were established within the Cottonwood Lakes. Unfortunately, some of pure Genetic strain has been lost due
to hybridization with non-native Rainbows. Ongoing research is being conducted by DFG
and Cal Trout to ascertain the genetic purity of
the Goldens within different regions of the Creek. Consists of Volcano Creek Goldens (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita) and
Golden-Rainbow Hybrids in the upper elevations.
Rocky Basin Lakes: Series of 4 lakes at an elevation of 10,800 feet. These lakes were planted with Golden Hybrids from the Cottonwood spawning program. Since these fish put Golden Trout Creek at risk in maintaining genetic purity, they have been removed by gill netting in 2001 to 2003. No fish remain at Rocky Basin Lakes. About 10.25 miles from the trailhead over Cottonwood Pass.
Volcano Creek: About 14.5 miles from the Cottonwood Trailhead. Volcano Creek is a tributary into Golden Trout Creek above Volcano
Falls. It is the ancestral home to the Volcano Creek Golden Trout and this particular area has the purist strains. The creek has two
forks that extend about 5 miles from 9700 feet to 8300 feet elevation.
Mulkey Creek: About 5 miles from Cottonwood Trailhead over Mulkey Pass. Mulkey consists of abot 8 miles of stream. The trail follows the creek through Mulkey Meadows, then you'll need to follow the creek down to the SF Kern. Volcano Golden Trout from Golden Trout Creek were introduced to the headwaters of Mulkey Creek in 1872 by Samuel Mulkey. 13 of these fish were transported to Cottonwood Creek in 1876. Later, some of the Goldens were transplanted from Cottonwood Creek to Cottonwood Lakes which the DFG used as a Golden Trout Brood Stocking program. Consists of Goldens, Brookies and Browns.
South Fork Kern River: About 11 miles from trailhead over Mulkey Pass. The first fishable waters occur at the top of Ramshaw Meadows, close to the proximity of Golden Trout Creek. It's interesting to note that these two streams are within 1/4 mile of each other and flow in opposite directions to the Main Kern and South Fork Kern within Tunnel Meadow. A lava flow from the Groundhog Cinder Cone at Tunnel Meadow flowed down Golden Trout Creek about 10,000 years ago and divided the watershed. It kept the flow from Golden Trout Creek westward to the Kern River. The SF Kern was directed eastward to the main river channel. Volcano Creek Goldens originally inhabited this area but have been reduced in numbers through competition with Brown Trout and hydridization with stocked Rainbows. Barriers have been erected at Ramshaw Meadows, Templeton Meadows, and upper Monache Meadows (Schaeffer Barrier) to help the Goldens retain habitat. Currently, you'll find Goldens above Templeton Meadows with more browns below Templeton Meadow. Rainbows and Rainbow-Golden Hybrids will be come more numerous within the Monache area. Brookies will also be found within the headwater areas.
Kern River: About 18 miles from the trailhead going to just below Volcano Falls at the Kern Canyon Ranger Station. The river is about 6,450 feet elevation at this point. A trail follows the river south for 7 miles to Hole in the Ground. From there, the trail ends due to the steep canyon walls and picks up again 2 miles further at Hell's Hole. Consists of Kern River Rainbows and Brookies.
From Road 22S82 Trailhead (Fork of the Kern):
Ninemile Creek: There is a 2.5 mile hike from the trailhead at Road 22S82 to get to the Fork of the Kern. From here a trail follows the Kern about 9 miles up to Ninemile Creek, thus the namesake. Ninemile offers about 6.5 miles of good fishing from Casa Viejo Meadow (8,300 feet) down to the Kern (5,400 feet). Consists of Kern River Rainbows in the lower portions of the creek near the main Kern. Volcano Creek Golden Trout (O.m. aquabonita) are reported to be found within the upper portions between Casa Viejo and Jordan Hot Springs.
Cold Meadow Creek: A tributary of Ninemile Creek about 18.5 miles from the trailhead. A trail follows the creek for about 4 miles to it's headwaters. Consists of Kern River Rainbows.
Kern Lake: Kern Lake is about 14.5 miles from the trailhead. You take the Jerky Meadow Trail to the Wilderness Border and continue
to the Little Kern River which you cross. From there, proceed towards Trout Meadow and onto Willow Meadows. The trail reaches the Kern River at 10.6 miles
in which you can proceed upstream to the lakes or downstream to "Hole in the Ground". There is a small Little Kern Lake downstream at the 13.5 miles mark.
The lakes lie at about 6,250 feet elevation. Due to the relative low elevation, it is often available for fishing while most of the area
lakes are still frozen over in the Spring. The lakes have a steep drop-off and most of the fish will cruise along the shoreline.
Consists of Kern River Rainbows, Browns, Brookies, and some Goldens.
From Granite Knob Trailhead (Monache Meadows):
Upper South Fork Kern River: There is a 6.5 mile hike from Granite Knob on Road 21S03 to Monache Meadow along a 4WD road. The SF Kern is mostly a meadow stream from Monache to Templeton Meadow for a 13 mile distance. The terrain is open with few trees. The stream is generally very clear and shallow, demanding 60 foot casts as to not spook the fish. Try to locate the deeper undercuts and holes behind boulders. Consists of Rainbows, Rainbow-Golden Hybrids, and Browns, mostly in the 6-8 inch size with a few up to 12 inches.