Way in the Southern Sierra Nevada, there is a little-explored piece of our country known as Dome Land Wilderness. The wilderness was first created in 1964 under the Wilderness Act and has since expanded twice; first in 1984 as part of the California Wilderness Act and again in 1994 under the California Desert Protection Act. #landgrab #sarcasm. The area is known for it’s granite domes and spires. It was significantly re-shaped by the Manter Fire of 2000, which left many scars that can still be seen today.
Although there are 45 miles of trail to be trampled, most of the travel in this wilderness occurs along the 9 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Due to the ongoing drought in California, fire regulations are strict. No fires were allowed where we were going; always check with the managing agency before your trip. In the case of Dome Land, you will need to check with two; Forest Service and BLM. More information can also be found on Wilderness.net. We planned a 32-mile, 3 day loop. Route-finding was an essential skill.
Day 1: Trailhead to Little Manter Meadow – 11 miles, strenuous
After leaving the car in a small pull-out along the Chimney Peak Scenic Byway, a bumpy, unpaved road, we headed down Rockhouse Meadow Road. At first, the road is well-established and still used by the landowners of Rockhouse Meadow. It crosses the South Fork Kern River after a few miles. This year the levels are low and we had no problem with the slow-moving, knee-high water. However, the river can be vicious as we discovered 3 years ago; we were unable to cross the raging river at that time.
After crossing the river, the route continues along Rockhouse Creek, skirting an in-holding. We were unable to find the trail and ended up cutting through the private property. The USFS topo maps clearly show the trail going around the property, however our USGS based paper and GPS maps led directly through the meadow. Owners, if you’re reading this, we apologize. Readers, please follow the fence line.
This was pretty much the end of trail for the day. Once you exit the meadow, take a break, eat a snack, and prepare for the climb up canyon. It’s choose your own adventure until you reach Manter Creek on the other side of the pass. For us, scrambling was involved as the heat of the day bore down.
To our delight, we did not see another person until we approached Little Manter Meadow, our camp near the other side of the Wilderness. Given the ruggedness of the terrain, the two gentlemen were just as surprised to see us, as we were to see them.
Our initial goal was to reach Manter Meadow, but in retrospect we were glad we didn’t. Easily accessible from trailheads in Big Meadow, Manter seems to be a popular camping spot.
Day 2: Manter Meadow to Rockhouse Meadow – 13 miles, strenuous
Once we started to climb out of Manter Meadow on the 2nd day, there were some shaded spots that were ideal for lunch; we needed the fuel for what was ahead. Again, we spent a lot of time route finding, scrambling, and bushwacking to make it to Rockhouse Basin. For most of this trek, the “trail” was “likely on the other side of the creek” or “just over that ridge”.
The good news is that canyon walls are good guides but a good map and map reading skills are invaluable in this wilderness. We were climbing up and down on a quest to find the “missing” trail but only succeeded in finding other people’s confused footsteps. We did find the occasional blaze, but these were few and far between. One thing that kept us on track was our map.
After a full day’s work, we made it the 13 miles from Little Manter Meadow to Rockhouse Basin. Though we were thoroughly exhausted much earlier and had to scramble down some steep slopes in the fading light, the basin provided the first good access to water. We spent the night along the sandy shore of Trout Creek.
Day 3: Rockhouse Meadow to trailhead – 8 miles, moderate, exposed
The 3rd day was less exhausting. We were quickly able to get back on old forest roads eventually leading to the Pacific Crest Trail which was populated with fearsome thru-hikers. The last 3 or so miles back to the scenic byway are a climb and very exposed. Shade is a rare commodity and we took advantage whenever possible. Keep hydrated and fill up at the river before ascending.
If you intend to backpack this area, we strongly suggest you obtain a good topo map and study it before heading out. Our route can be found below for planning purposes. Dome Land Wilderness is a great place to get away from population hubs but poses physical and navigational challenges you need to prepare for.
Just remember to carry your 10 essentials and have a great hike!
Note: As the Wilderness is likely a bit of a drive, wherever you’re coming from, you may want a place to stay for the night before starting your backpacking trip. There are a few good pullouts on BLM land along the Scenic Byway near the base of the mountain (we marked our favorite as a waypoint on the map below) and a campground higher up.
- Lamont Peak – 4 miles, moderate
For more national forest adventures, visit our U.S. Forest Service Agency Guide.