Features: There’s no better place in the central Sierra Nevada foothills to view a spectacular wildflower display than a hike along the scenic Hite Cove Trail on the Sierra National Forest. A spring hike along this scenic trail is also a great introduction to the proposed Devil Gulch-Ferguson Ridge Wilderness and a great outing to enjoy the free-flowing South Fork Merced Wild and Scenic River.
The best time to hike this popular trail is in the Spring (March through mid-May), when the wildflowers are at their best and the wild South Fork is pulsing with snow-melt. The trail begins at about 1,900 feet elevation and meanders upstream 4.5 miles to the former mining camp of Hite Cove. Those who just want to dawdle and smell the wildflowers may hike to a nice lunch spot alongside the river at about 2 miles in. There is little elevation gain, but the trail requires moderate effort because it drops in and then out of side drainages and over the feet of ridges reaching down into the river.
Just a few of the wildflowers you are likely to see include the ever-present California poppy and various lupine. Baby blue eyes, blue dick, fiddleneck, shooting stars, Indian paintbrush, purple owls clover, twining snake lily, and Chinese houses are common, depending on the time you visit. In the unusual started-dry-but-ended-wet spring of 2016, large and dramatically colored Mariposa lilies dominated the trail in mid-April.
The Hite Cove Trail also bisects a more than 47,000 acre roadless area of great interest to conservationists. Most of the protected wilderness in the Sierra Nevada is high altitude alpine rock and ice. The Devil Gulch-Ferguson Ridge roadless area encompasses a rare chunk of undeveloped low elevation foothill ecosystem that is little represented in the National Wilderness Preservation System. The area also harbors an unusual old growth ponderosa pine forest at its higher elevations and is home to at least three rare plants.
The South Fork Merced River canyon and the roadless area through which it flows provide important connectivity for the migration of animal and plant species from lower to higher elevations in response to climate change. The roadless area also plays an important role in protecting the biotic integrity and water quality of the South Fork Merced, which is managed not only as a Wild and Scenic River, but also as a state-designated Wild Trout Stream. Former Senator Barbara Boxer included this area as a proposed wilderness in her California Wild Heritage Act of 2002. CalWild and other conservation groups are urging the Forest Service to recommend wilderness protection for this area in the Sierra National Forest Plan.
Directions to trailhead:
The Hite Cove Trailhead is on Hwy 140, about 21 miles east of the town of Mariposa and about 10.5 miles west of the Yosemite National Park entrance gate. As you are driving east on the highway, look for the Savage’s Trading Post historic marker sign just after crossing the South Fork Merced bridge. Trailhead parking is limited, so it is a good idea to get to the trailhead early on weekend days during the popular spring wildflower season. The first ¾ mile of the trail is across private property so please stick to the trail. Some parts of the trail parallel sheer riverside cliffs, so care is indicated while hiking.
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.