Built in 1934, the camp seems to defies gravity as it sits delicately on a steep mountainside. An unbelievable vista expands across the canyon to encompass the Middle Fork of the Kaweah and to the east, the magnificent Great Western Divide. This is the only High Sierra Camp operated by the National Park Service that’s not located inside Yosemite.
Bearpaw Meadow was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 2016. Except for a few permanent structures, the guest cabins are disassembled before the winter snows. The camp is resupplied with food and other materials entirely by mule train. There is no electricity or cell service. Reservations are obtained by a once per year lottery system.
Bearpaw Meadow can trace its roots back to the original construction of the High Sierra Trail in 1928. It was the first modern trail designed for recreation use which provided tourists with access to the alpine wilderness areas of Sequoia National Park. Because the trail opened up the deep Sierra High Country, it made Bearpaw possible. It was the then park superintendent, Colonel John Roberts White who advocated the creation of Bearpaw. He had become frustrated with the overcrowding as well as overuse at the Giant Forest, the parks most popular destination.
The Superintendent sought to encourage the dispersal of visitation to more wilderness locations. White knew that for campers to travel to such a remote location as Bearpaw, they would need a high Sierra Camp with lodging and food provided. The heavy gear of the era did not allow visitors to carry such heavy loads on their backs. The camp opened in the June of 1934 and was originally known as the Bearpaw Hiker’s Camp. Lodging was $1.50 per night. For the first few years, guests could choose to ride in on stock, which is no longer the case. Although the camp retains much of its original layout, showers were not originally offered as they are now.
The camps sits on a dramatic mountainside slope at the 7,800 foot elevation. Located in Sequoia National Park, the guest cabins are sprinkled throughout a manzanita covered granite shelf. The entire site sits proudly above the valley of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River. Directly across the valley from camp is a 180 degree view of one of the tallest subranges in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Called the Great Western Divide, many of its peak reach the 13,000 elevation.
The historic site is also next to two vintage NPS Ranger Cabins, one dating back to 1934. The final approach to the camp is via a short rock lined spur trail just off the famous High Sierra Trail. The high Sierra Trail runs through the center of the camp on its’ way to the John Muir Trail. A mixture of red fir, white fir and Jeffery pine surrounds the camp.
Arriving at the camp, you will find 6 canvas sided cabins all constructed on a sloping granite shelf. You are allowed to choose your tent based on first come, first served. Tents sleep only 2 people but a third can fit on the floor if needed. Each cabin sits on a 10′ X 12′ wooden platform built on posts and piers. Three wood steps lead to the wood plank door. Each side of the canvas tent has a screen window with a canvas shade the can be raised or lowered.
The interior contains 2 single beds, 2 metal chairs and one nightstand. A kerosene lamp is also supplied. Bed mattresses are of the army style cot variety and rely on metal frames. There are no Glamping style push beds at this facility. Nor are there queen of king size bed alternatives. The cabins do not have heaters but are generally not needed. However, sheets, blankets and down comforters are provided.
The main dining hall is the featured attraction and sits on the edge of the forest. The front porch takes in the entire Western Divide, which is no easy task. Campers often sit spell bound, to contemplate the vista and discuss the days hikes. The well equipped kitchen resides on the back of the dining hall. Inside is one large eating table and topo maps of the surrounding area as well as hiking reference books. The roof is comprised of large plywood sheets. To protect it from the elements, canvas is stretched across the top with large poles at each corner.
FOOD AND DRINK
Meals are provided in a large canvas sided eating area. Food is served family style and although plentiful and well made, it is cooked by a seasonal worker, not a gourmet trained chef. Fresh salads and homemade desserts are served. The presentation and menus can be very basic. Most find the meals taste better than they really are as a hard days hike gives hikers a good appetite. Breakfast is the traditionally hot cooked affair and lunch sandwiches are available for purchase. Fresh food and all supplies are stocked via mule train. Alcohol is sometimes available. Wine and possibly beer can be purchased, but in limited quantities.
DAY HIKING OPTIONS
Interesting strenuous to very strenuous day hikes abound. Most are well over 10 miles when you figure in the round trip mileage. Hamilton lake is accessed on the High Sierra Trail. The trail gains and loses significant elevation making it a very physical challenging day hike. Tamarack Lake is also frequently done and is 1,000 feet higher than Hamilton Lake at 9,200. It seems nothing is easy at Bearpaw but the scenic value of all hikes are unparalleled.
SHOWERS AND TOILETS
Bearpaw is one of the few High Sierra Camps to have a flush toilet. The Guest toilet is housed in a small redwood plank building, constructed in the 1990s. It originally was a canvas walled structure.
The shower building is relatively small at only 95 square feet. Built in the 1990s, it sits on the same spot as the former shower. The building blends in well with its redwood plank sides in vertical plank doors. It contains two shower stalls. Each has a sink and changing area. The showers are heated by burning wood at the base of the tall water tank, directly next to the building. Shower water is controlled by a chain pull. Sometimes you can hear workers chopping the wood as they stoke the furnace. Obviously, showers are only available at certain times when the tank is being heated. Generally in the late afternoon.
ENTERTAINMENT AND TRADITIONS
There’s no doubt that the major attraction at this camp is sitting on the front porch of the Dining Room and taking in the fantastic vista while talking to other campers. A close second is the welcome brownie that you receive upon entering camp. Reputed to be the largest of its kind in the entire Sierra. However, a very interesting phenomena exists at Bearpaw. It is the mystery shadow that appears on the granite wall of the Great Western Divide, directly across the valley from camp. It goes by several names, the old man on the wall, the handyman and so on. It only appears at a certain time of day and is obvious when it occurs. A series of rock outcrops and towers cast this very unusual shadow, Can you find him on the photo below?
BOOKING YOUR STAY
Reservations are made through a yearly lottery and fills fast. However, some campers have good luck with last minute cancellations, if you have that type of flexible schedule. See our Reservations page for more information and helpful hints.
This extremely strenuous trail departs Crescent Meadow located in Sequoia National Park, not far from the Giant Forest of the Sequoia Trees. Known as the High Sierra Trail, we roller coaster up and down, but mostly up, to the camps’ final elevation at 7,800 feet. To say you should be in excellent physical condition to hike the 11.3 miles is an understatement. Not only is the trail very long and gains then loses elevation in several places but the final approach is extremely challenging. Seasoned backpackers and ultra-fit hikers find the hike enjoyable, albeit a long day. Don’t try this trail unless you are one of those people.
For those not intimidated by this trails’ length and elevation gain, you’re rewarded with outstanding vistas of the Moro Rock, Castle Rocks and the stellar Great Western Divide as you travel up the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River Canyon. The route is absolutely superb for those with great physical stamina.