The Golden Trout Trail

The Hockett Trail was first chosen for its efficacy as a trans-Sierra route, and specifically chosen by the Union Army for its usefulness as a trail between forts in Visalia and the Owens Valley. Coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, the route of that old trail also traces the native range of California’s distinctive sport fish, the California golden trout. In addition, the Hockett route follows streams east and west of that native range. This makes the Hockett route an ideal route for the sport fisherman.

The three watersheds of the golden trout are, from west to east, the Little Kern River, Golden Trout Creek, and the South Fork Kern. The Hockett Trail followed these streams from its crossing of the Little Kern at Wet Meadows Creek, down the Little Kern Valley, up Kern Canyon, Golden Trout Creek, and finally the South Fork Kern.

“Here the trail branches, and there are two routes to Big Cottonwood, two or three miles further on. Both routes are plain. The one following up the east bank of the stream leads over a low divide between Little and Big Cottonwood, and brings one finally to the last-named. Here is an ideal camp; wood, water, grass, and trout are in plenty. The wonderful golden trout of the Sierras are here, in overwhelming abundance. It is no exaggeration to say that the poorest angler can here at almost any time of day catch strings which would drive the frequenter of local streams wild.” — Hubert Dyer, Sierra Club Bulletin, 1893

The attractiveness of the Hockett route isn’t limited to the Kern watershed. On the west side, the Hockett Trail followed the Kaweah River from the Kaweah Delta to the headwaters of the South Fork Kaweah. On the east side, the Hockett Trail followed Cottonwood Creek, stocked with golden trout since 1876, before dropping down “Hockett Hill” into the Owens Valley and turning north toward the Owens River, yet another notable fishing stream of the region.

Today, the Hockett Trail route and the trout streams along it enjoy wilderness protection from South Fork Campground on the west side to the outskirts of Horseshoe Meadows on the east side, largely due to the creation of the Golden Trout Wilderness in 1978. Unfortunately, fishing on the lower Owens River is not what it was before the Los Angeles Aqueduct, though efforts are being made to restore the stream. As for the state of the trail itself, it is not wholly maintained, and segments of the original trail were completely abandoned as far back as 1969 and 1940. Much of the original route is now paved over, and some of it has been under Lake Kaweah since 1962.