Matt's Guide To The Theodore Solomons Trail

  • Updated: September 20, 2019
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

Theodore Solomons Trail

Have you done the JMT and are now looking for a bigger challenge? Or are you just tired of the crowds that seem to define the JMT / PCT these days? Want a chance to see seldom visited areas of the western Sierra? Then let me tell you about a largely unknown thru hiking trail called the Theodore Solomons Trail.

This post covers all the details I learned while hiking the trail. For my experience hiking the trail in in 2019 see Hiking The Theodore Solomons Trail South: Horseshoe Meadow To Roads End and Hiking The Theodore Solomons Trail North: Roads End to Yosemite.

The Theodore Solomons Trail was developed in 1974 as a lower elevation alternative to the John Muir Trail and named after early Sierra Club member and explorer Theodore Solomons. It roughly parallels the John Muir to the west and hits such highlights as Horseshoe Meadows, Mineral King, Roads End, Tehipite Valley, Courtright, and finishes at Glacier Point on the north end.

And if my experience is anything to go off of almost no one knows about the bloody thing. The most common reaction I received from people during my trek was "Theodore Solomons Trail? I've never heard of that" and when I called to get a permit the Inyo ranger claimed they only issue about 3 permits a year.

So being that the comparison is inevitable how does it compare to the John Muir Trail? Well, I'm glad you asked since I did the JMT southbound a few weeks before starting the TST.


Stats wise the TST is longer clocking in at about 280 miles vs the JMT's 220. There's also more gain but the biggest difference is the trail itself. Due to the amount of traffic it receives these days the John Muir Trail is well groomed and straightforward with multiple resupply options along the way. The Theodore Solomons on the other hand has long sections that involve cross country slogs choked with seemingly endless downed trees.



Planning Resources

Information on the Theodore Solomons Trail can be hard to find. In addition to this post and the two covering my 2019 hike of the TST here are a few more resources I've found useful:

I've made the GPS track from my 2019 hike available here. If you'd like an easy comparison with how the trail lines up with the JMT I have that here.

Theodore Solomons Trail Hikers Facebook Group is pretty much the best current source of information on the trail.

There are also two print guide books published though I make not guarantees about how current any of the information is. Gary Buscombe's A Hiking Guide To The Theodore Solomons Trail and Dennis Gagon's Guide To The Theodore Solomons Trail.

Resupply Options

Unlike the JMT you're going to have to work a bit to manage any resupply. Here are the options I found.

  • Silver City at Mineral King (Mile 55) - You can arrange to mail a package down the hill and they'll bring it in. Since it's a resort there is food and additional services here.
  • Roads End (Mile 105) - No services at the trailhead but there's a small store if you hitch down to Cedar Glen or like me you can have someone meet you.
  • Courtright Reservoir (Mile 180) - Trail joins the lake at Voyager Rock Campground which is also the start for the Dusy‑Ershim OHV Route. Long drive back here though.
  • Potter Pass TH (Mile 200) - Trail crosses the road here and there are bear boxes if you want drop your food ahead of time. Make sure to label with your pickup date. Also there are stores at Huntington Lake but you'll need to hitch down and some close fairly early in the season.
  • Vermilion Resort (Mile 218) - A bit harder to get to than from the JMT / PCT. Requires hiking east 6 miles off the trail along unmaintained and exceedingly faint cross country route. Well stocked store with a cafe serving food during specific hours. You can mail or physically drop off a resupply box. Also they have showers and laundry facilities.
  • Clover Meadow (Mile 248) - No services but car accessible and there are bear boxes in the campground.
Since I was moving at 15 ish miles a day I carried enough food to get me from Horseshoe Meadow to Roads End where my girlfriend was able to deliver a resupply. I then carried from there to Vermilion where I had dropped off a box to resupply for the last section.

Dropping A Car

All of the trailheads you pass through have backpacker lots where you can leave a car. Personally I'd recommend leaving your vehicle at the end of your planned hike, getting a ride down to the start, and then walking back.

I've left vehicles for a week or two at a time just make sure you don't leave anything scented inside as bears have been known to break into cars.

Cell Coverage

These days most people cart around cell phones to act as cameras and map devices and it can be useful to know when to expect to have reception. The following are the areas I found AT&T coverage though I was only periodically checking and there are likely more.

  • Horseshoe Meadows you can get cell signal by driving back down the road to the top of the switchbacks.
  • Silver City in Mineral King has Wi-Fi with internet access.
  • The area south of Potter Pass had reception though you loose it at the pass itself.
  • Vermillion Resort does not have cell signal or wifi but you can get it by hiking up the road about a half mile and it lasts for about 3 or 4 miles west of that back towards the trail. (The resort was also the only place I found along the trail to recharge my battery so bring a big one)
  • The climb past Clover Meadow has signal.
  • Glacier Point has signal.

Permits

Assuming you start the trail at the south end your trailhead is Cottonwood Pass accessed from Horseshoe Meadow. You can pick up the permit in Lone Pine and Inyo will generally let you pick it up after hours if you call first to make arrangements.

If you're southbound you'll be starting from Glacier Point and permits can be a lot more problematic. My advice would be to head up there a day or two early and keep checking in at the ranger station when they process the no shows at 10 am.

Water

This is the Sierra so the good news is you are going to have ready access to water pretty much the entire time. I brought a filter though I only used it on a few occasions where I my water source was flowing out of a meadow with cattle or horses in it.

Time of Year

This trail can be a bit tricky due to the stream crossings involved particularly the Middle Kings down in Simpson Meadow. As a result later in the season is going to be easier than earlier. I went in early September of a high snow year and had no problem getting across any of the streams and rarely had to take my boots off once I made it through the meadows after Cottonwood Pass.

Also be aware the trail gets down to the 4,000 ft range at times so it can get quite warm. I was fortunate to have a bit of a cooling trend when I came through Tehipite Valley and Lower Miller Crossing which are the two low points. I also had gnats swarming me for a good chunk of the trail so don't leave home without your bug net.


Hiking The Trail

I did the trail in 16 days many of which were quite a challenge. To compare I did the entire John Muir Trail in 11 solid but not overly challenging days.

I divided up the trail by sections based on where you can access it in case you want to section hike vs try and do the entire time.

Section 1
Horseshoe Meadow to Mineral King
Mile 1 to 58 miles, 8,500' gain, 11,000' loss



This is a really nice section where you're not going to run into too many people and it starts you out relatively gentle.

The Horseshoe Meadow / Cottonwood Pass Trailhead starts at 10k and you have a bit of climbing to get over Cottonwood Pass itself before you start a big gentle descent through multiple meadows.


When I came through at the end of August I had plenty of water sources though I did have to take my boots off several times to wade across creeks. The trail is in good shape though watch yourself around the lava flows as the trails on the USGS don't always match up with reality. You'll find numerous campsites with water access and well developed fire pits along the way.

The trail descends down to the Kern River at around mile 24. Here you'll find several nice campsites, a large bridge, and a backcountry ranger station.

From here you have a 7.5 mile 3,700' climb up to Coyote Pass and you start to get your first tastes of decayed trail conditions. Particularly near the pass your probably going to loose the trail so it helps to have a GPS handy.


On the far side of Coyote Pass the trails are seldom used and if you're wearing shorts you're going to regret your decision. The trail is easy to follow you just have to stomp through brush.

I recommend hurrying through Wet Meadow as it was a mosquito infested pit in late August 2019.

Hockett Meadows is where you're likely to encounter the first hikers you've seen since Cottonwood Pass. There's also a staffed backcountry ranger station here around mile 48.

After leaving Hockett you have a long gradual descent to Mineral King around mile 58. Note that if you plan to resupply at Silver City you probably want to take the trail fork just north of Hockett which will take you down to Atwell Campground.


Mineral King itself is a spectacular place and you're getting to enjoy it without having had to drive the 90 minute 1.5 ish lane road up from Three Rivers. Both Atwell and Cold Spring Campground tend to fill up around weekends but mid week you'll find plenty of sites open.

Section 2: Mineral King to Roads End
Miles 58 to 106, 11,500' gain, 14,000' loss



If you're continuing on from Section 1 you will have to hike up the up the road a bit to reach the Timber Gap Trailhead. This will take you right by the ranger station which is where you'll get your permit if you're entering here.


Timber Gap is an steady well maintained trail that takes you up 1,700 ft before descending down the far side. There's several nice campsites at the junction with Cliff Creek though be aware these a popular backpacking destinations and be prepared to move on if there's no room. I found a really nice site hidden off the trail a few miles further down.


Around mile 66 you'll pass through a redwood grove which is just spectacular and you'll find a rather quaint looking log cabin ranger station.

I hope your ready for a climb because next up is a 4,700' climb over the next 10 miles to get up Elizabeth Pass at 11,375.


Along the way you'll pass Bearpaw Meadow at mile 73 where you can find developed campsites complete with bear boxes and outhouses. In 2019 they were working on building a new ranger station here and be aware it's a major destination and may fill up.



Past Bearpaw the trail climbs steadily but remains solid until near the top of the pass. You shouldn't have any trouble reacquiring it since the switchbacks up the last few hundred feet stand out.


If you can follow the trail on the north side of the pass you're doing better than I was. I saw the occasional duck but spent a lot of time just rock hopping and trying to avoid the vegetation filled with deep holes.


Once you reach the bottom of Deadman Canyon you're back on solid trail again. I found camping to be a bit limited here but there's a few sites scattered around.


You'll be descending slowly until you reach Roaring River Ranger Station where I heartily recommend stopping in and saying hi. As of 2019 it was staffed by Ranger Cindy who is a font of interesting information about the Sierra and both times I've here she was happy to share coffee and conversation.


From here you're going to be climbing again but the trail over Avalanche Pass is well developed and the 2,500' doesn't feel too rough.


If you stick to the trail Avalanche Pass doesn't have much of a view but if you follow the finger off to the north a short distance you can get a decent one and then cross country back down to the trail.

The descent is an absolute knee banger with big granite steps and it felt like it would never end.

Once you make it down to Bubbs Creek you have a few flat ish miles until the trail dumps you out at Road's End. Congratulations! You're now 106 miles in!

Section 3: Roads End to Courtright
Miles 106 to 181, 14,700' gain, 11,500' loss




Roads End doesn't have any services but there is a ranger station that opens at 7 am which is where you'll be grabbing your permit if you're entering here. Be aware the next section overlaps with the Big SEKI Loop so permits can fill early on weekends.

Straight out of the gate you're going to be climbing hard. I had 6 days of food with me at this point and it was a struggle. Also in September of 2019 I had so many gnats while going up the trail I spent the entire day in a bugnet. You can also split up the climb by camping at Upper or Lower Tent Meadow if you so prefer.


The trail levels out a bit as it passes through Granite Basin. I wasn't able to find any camp spots with water until I reached the marsh section unless I wanted to drop down to the lakes a few hundred feet below.


You'll reach Granite Pass around mile 117 and then descend through a series of meadows. I found most of the sites along this section filled with people doing the Big SEKI Loop but there are plenty of alternatives down lower.

Starting at mile 123 you'll descend 4,000' straight down to reach Simpson Meadow and the section that causes the most concern to those trying to do the TST: the crossing of the Middle Fork of The Kings.

I wasted time bushwhacking to try and find a crossing to the south before giving up and heading north to where I'd been told there would be a reasonable crossing.


In August of 2019 it was halfway up my thigh at the deepest point and I had to do a bit of bushwhacking through shallower running sections to even reach the river proper.

Once you are across the trail follows the northern side of the Middle Fork until you exit the canyon at Tehipite Valley. Welcome to one of the more remote and also less maintained sections of the trail.


There's an old trail you can follow clearly complete with cut stone steps at times but it's obviously been years since a trail crew has come this way. I found myself climbing over an endless series of downed logs and spitting out thick swarms gnats whenever I tried to take off my headnet.


The trail gets a bit easier once you reach Tehipite Valley since there's been more interest in that area and enough people come down into it from the north to keep the trail clear.


If you look down by the river you can find the Painted Rock shown on the USGS map. There's a few petroglyphs hidden under a rock alcove.

I found the trail up out of Tehipite Valley to be steep but refreshingly clear after the last day of hopping logs.


At mile 150 you'll pass through Hay Meadow which is a beatiful camp. I found running water by following the trail around to the other side of the meadow.

When you pass the junction at the Crown Valley Cow Camp the trail is going to degrade again as you climb up towards Crown Pass.


I ended up losing it multiple times often in the white thorn bush that seems to grow everywhere in burn areas but I was always able to reacquire it again soon.

Crown Pass is at mile 162 and you'll find nice camping at either Crown Lake on the south or Halfmoon Lake on the north.


Down at Big Maxon Meadow you'll find some cabins which have seen better days which is something you'll be seeing a lot of for the rest of the trail.

Interestingly enough the Meadow Brook Cabin site has an old cart to transport people across the river though it's locked up by PG&E. (If you want to ride and even more rickety one look into Durwood Crossing north of Isabella)

I ran into multiple groups heading in to the lakes north of Meadow Brook and it's an easy descent to Courtright Reservoir and there are even a few developed backcountry campgrounds along the way.

You'll reach Courtright Reservoir at mile 181 at the Voyager Rock Campground.

Section 4: Courtright to Vermilion Resort
Miles 181 to 217, 5,000' gain, 5,400' loss






The next section follows the Dusy Ershim Jeep Trail which is filled with obnoxiously sized boulders and the occasional steep slab. Fortunately this doesn't last long and at the north end of the reservoir you'll be back on a hiking trail.


Once you leave the reservoir behind you'll get some really nice meadow views though don't be surprised if you have jeeps and ATVs running along the 4WD roads you pass. Don't stress too much if you end up on the wrong trail since there's several running in the same general direction around Black.



At mile 198 you'll cross Kaiser Pass Road where you'll find bathrooms and bear boxes which could be used to cache food.


Potter Pass is at mile 200 and is a popular dayhike destination.


On the north side of Potter Pass you have a decision to make. To follow the official TST route you'll swing to the west and visit Lower & Upper Twin Lakes. Both are beautiful and great camping if you don't mind the crowds but you are adding a few extra miles. If you don't want to do the side loop there's a trail that will shortcut it.



At mile 205 you cross a dirt road and trailhead after which you are descending to Portuguese Flat at mile 209. Despite what the USGS maps say I didn't see a campground here and the trail becomes very hard to follow. You're now getting to the hardest part of the TST.


At mile 210 you reach the bridge at Rattlesnake Crossing. This is your last decent camping opportunity so I'd recommend staying here or pushing on to Vermillion Valley Resort.


Past the bridge the trail will basically disappear and you're going to be doing a fair amount of bushwhacking. I could hear water flowing at the junction but couldn't find anyplace I could fill up.


China Camp is at mile 215 but it's just another set of ruins with the added bonus of being flooded by a stream. A few miles on the trail improves and eventually turns into a dirt road you can use to access the resort.

Section 5: Vermilion Resort to Clover Meadow
Miles 217 to 248, 5,200' gain, 5,900' loss




Enjoy your time at Vermillion Valley Resort because from here you're going to have a rough patch until you reach Cassidy Bridge at mile 240.


Follow the previous route back to the overgrown junction and do your best to find the trail leading through Tule Meadow. As long as you're up on the ridge and moving forward you're probably doing as well as you can expect.



After a long painful bushwack you'll reach Heitz Meadow Forest Service Station at mile 233. The front door is locked but the back door is wide open and you can poke through the old helmets and dishes.

Rattlesnake Lake is at mile 236 but if possible I'd recommend pushing on to Cassidy Bridge at mile 239 as it's a much nicer campspot.


The switchbacks down to the San Joaquin River and Cassidy Bridge and badly overgrown so expect to have to crawl in a few places.


When you cross the bridge there's a really nice spot to the left and two decent but less nice off to the right a short distance. Firewood can be a bit scarce so if you want a fire you're probably going to need to climb the hill a bit.


The good new is that you are now done with the bad trail! The climb out of Cassidy Bridge should feel like a breeze after the last day or two. You'll cross a bridge at mile 245 and then join a dirt road taking you in to Clover Meadow.


Clover Meadow has a campground and a small ranger station which is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There's a spigot off to the side which you can use to refill your bottles.

Section 6: Clover Meadow to Glacier Point
Miles 248 to 281, 5,800' gain, 5,600' loss



The last 32 miles is all clear trail and should feel significantly easier than what you've been doing.


The climb to Fernandez Pass at mile 260 offers spectacular views of the surrounding area though you'll hear truck and air traffic in the distance.


The area between Fernandez Pass and Merced Pass has several great camping options and I'd strongly recommend staying here. Once you cross Merced at mile 266 you'll be entering a burn area and while you can camp in many places along the Illilouette it's much nicer up here.


Once you cross Merced Pass it's also all downhill except for the last two miles before Glacier Point.


This last hill is your victory lap so enjoy it! Off to the east you can see Half Dome and the start of the JMT and most of the people you'll be passing are usually tourists venturing a few miles out of the parking lot.


Congratulations! You've now reached the northern terminus! There's a store that sells drinks and snacks and an amazing view to enjoy while you reflect on your accomplishment.


If you don't want to end at Glacier Point you do have the option of doing an additional four miles down to the Valley. This will take you to Southside Drive where you can catch one of the valley shuttles.


If you have any questions or if you found something I got wrong or left out please feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email.

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1 comments

  1. Badass! Great write-up on a pretty neat route that most folks haven't heard of. Good work! I've been through a lot of the sierra but I have yet to explore some of these west side areas at lower elevations. Thanks for bringing me along.

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