RT: 7.2 miles

In the late spring, shortly after California allowed Phase 2 freedom from the COVID-19 inspired three-month SIP (Shelter in Place), I had to get out – and drove to see a hiking friend in Sonora, in central California near the foothills of the Sierra mountain range. We had previously discussed taking a couple days to do some early Sierra hikes in the hills closer to the higher range of still snow-covered mountains. The first trail we selected, to Relief Reservoir, was an “out and back” hike from Kennedy Meadows, just off of highway 108 near Sonora Pass. Much of the trail had been cut from the walls of a canyon and stream-carved gorge and led to the reservoir which was built in the early 20th century. This was to be a glorious experience of rock, rushing water, tall cliffs, lush plant life and blue sky. Remembering that many miners and their families had “rushed” to California after gold was discovered in Sutter’s Mill, some 80 miles north of Sonora, in 1849, we could think of such miners digging for and panning gold in these hills, often leaving scars in the hills and remnants of their efforts to be discovered. These days, this dam provided a beautiful destination for hikers who could ponder the massive dam project as they trudged steadily up the canyon to the dam site.

In order to avoid the heat, we left from the General Store early and enjoyed Kennedy Meadows with a spectacular mountain backdrop.

Kennedy Meadows

The Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River or its tributaries were our constant companions along this trail. The melting snow from the surrounding mountains provided ample water for an impressive view as we traversed the river on a bridge.

Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River

A steady climb began as we followed the route that the dam builders had made to access the remote dam site.

Looking back down on the “road” that was made to access the dam construction site

Looking up to the left as we ascended, Kennedy Creek came bounding down the mountain. This creek flows from Kennedy Lake much further up the canyon.

Kennedy Creek

A rather impressive bridge crosses high above Summit Creek as we began to follow that tributary toward Relief Reservoir.

Bridge over Summit Creek

Gushing Summit Creek was tumbling down the gorge from the reservoir.

Summit Creek

Alongside the trail were remnants of the old steam donkeys, the power winches used to pull supplies and equipment up the mountain.

Remains of a steam donkey
More steam donkey remains

And then, there it was, beautiful Relief Reservoir surrounded by masses of granite.

Relief Reservoir

Looking back, the large dam came into view making a spectacular sight.

The dam at Relief Reservoir

My friend, Lynda, and I couldn’t resist the photo op!

Kathy and Lynda at Relief Reservoir

On the return trip we were glad that we had started early as the day had become quite warm. The river looked very inviting, but we kept moving on.

Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River at Kennedy Meadows

Completing the hike at the General Store, we rewarded ourselves with an ice cream, always a great way to end a hike!

Kennedy Meadows General Store

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