This hike packs a lot in over a short hiking distance – a unique geological area, one of the few segments of Dinkey Creek determined eligible for the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and of course, the popular Willow Meadow Trailhead into the beautiful Dinkey Lakes Wilderness. The trick is getting to the trailhead. A bridge failure has necessitated a detour and the last mile of the road to the trailhead can be a challenge for low-slung highway vehicles. But as one blogger noted, “this delightful hike would be worth a drive that was twice as aggravating.” See below for more details on getting to the trailhead and this map for more on the route.
Established by the Forest Service in the 1991 Sierra Forest Plan, the 640-acre Dinkey Creek Roof Pendent Geological Area features a sequence of five sedimentary rock units metamorphosed by the heat of the adjacent granite pluton. Plutons are an intrusion of igneous rock that is crystallized from magma slowly cooling below the Earth’s surface. The rocks are faulted and folded in unusual patterns and shot through with diorite sills and dikes, showing evidence of the spectacular forces that created the Sierra Nevada. The gray marble found here and other gray-ish metamorphosed sedimentary rocks contrast sharply with the surrounding off-white granite.
Roof pendants are the remains of older Sierra Nevada rocks pushed upward and isolated by the granite pluton dominating much of the Sierra. There are other roof pendants in the Sierra Nevada, including several on the Sierra National Forest. However, few are as accessible or show the variety of features found in the Dinkey Creek Roof Pendent Geological Area.
In the 2019 Draft Revised Forest Plan for the Sierra Forest, the Forest Service determined a short segment (less than one mile) of Dinkey Creek between the upper and lower waterfalls in the Geological Area to be eligible for National Wild and Scenic Rivers protection. Recreation focused on the Geological Area is considered to be an outstandingly remarkable value, which makes the creek segment eligible for wild and scenic protection.
Dinkey Creek Roof Pendent Geological Area Upper Falls
Oddly, the Forest Service didn’t find the upstream segment in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness to be eligible. Nor did they find eligible the dramatic downstream segment, where the creek has carved its way around the base of Dinkey Dome and through a polished granite gorge with a series of drops and plunge pools.
The recreation values of downstream segments that attract expert kayakers from all over the world, as well as the segment that is home to the 168-unit Dinkey Creek Campground, were ignored by the Forest Service. CalWild has researched visitor use of Dinkey Creek and shared with the Forest Service that a majority of campground visitors to Dinkey Creek come from outside the region, which means, in combination with the recreation values of the stream in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness and the expert kayaking segments, that the entire creek meets wild and scenic criteria for outstanding recreation. We’ll see if there are any changes to Dinkey Creek’s eligibility when the final Sierra Plan is released in early 2021.
Dinkey Creek is a major tributary of the North Fork Kings River. The Kings River drains into the de-watered Tulare Lake bed. The Dinkey Creek region is home to the Holkoma Mono people, who are helping to restore habitat along the stream. Cultural values are another important reason to protect streams as additions to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
André Sanchez hiking over Dinkey Creek Roof Pendent Geological Area Metamorphic Rock. Photo: Steve Evans.
Trail Directions: From the trailhead parking lot, you can hike upstream on the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness Trail or downstream on a user trail. As Dinkey Creek cuts its way through the older roof pendent rock, it has created several pretty waterfalls and cataracts, both upstream and downstream of the trailhead. It’s worth wandering off trail here to explore the Geological Area. The area abounds in beautiful scenery, made even more special by the diversity of the rock formations. Others may want to simply forge ahead into the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, as the trail follows Dinkey Creek through a series of meadows and lodgepole forests. Mystery Lake and First Dinkey Lake are about 1.5 miles and 3 miles respectively from the trailhead. Wilderness permits are required for overnight use but not day-use.
Directions: A bridge failure at Cow Creek has blocked the traditional route of taking Hwy 168 to Dinkey Creek Road and the southern portion of the Rock Creek Road (9S09). At least for now, hikers willing to make the drive and explore this magnificent area should take Highway 168 past Shaver Lake, turn right at the Tamarack Ridge SnowPark on to the northern portion of Road 9S09. In about two miles, turn left on Road 9S69. Drive about 1.5 miles to the 9S69/9S10 junction and continue straight (or veer slightly right) on Road 9S10. Continue on Road 9S10 to its junction with Road 9S62 (on the right). Continue straight on Road 9S62 another two miles to the Willow Meadow Trailhead. The road gets quite rough and rocky in the last mile and a high clearance vehicle is advised (alternatively, you can park early and walk the extra mile). There may or may not be signs at the key road intersections pointing the way to the trailhead. Check out the official Forest Service map showing the detour route.
Caution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.