Hiker Symbol for the Kern River ValleyLookout & Schaeffer Mountains

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Enjoy remote peakbagging with wanderlust-inspiring Sierra views!

Sierra View from Lookout Mountain Trailhead
Photo taken near the Lookout Mountain Trailhead by the Danner Meadow firesafe area.
THE STATS
  • 6 miles
  • Out 'n' Back Hike; with Loop option
  • Top Elevation: 9722 ft
  • Start Elevation: 8800 ft
  • 1800 feet of ascent
  • New firebreak trail
  • Some off- trail hiking & route finding
  • Kern Plateau near Sherman Pass
  • Closest Towns: Kernville, Johnsondale, Kennedy Meadows

Hiking to Lookout & Schaeffer Mountains

There is no better time to do this hike than now!!

As a precaution during the 2017 Schaeffer Fire, firemen created a wonderful hiking trail/hand-built firebreak singletrack leading right up to Lookout Peak. This raked and manicured singletrack (as of Fall 2017) generally stays on the northeast side of the ridge.

Lookout Mountain on the Kern Plateau
Enroute to Schaeffer Mountain; looking back at Lookout Mountain.

The area is mostly unaffected by the fire; it did creep up and lightly burn to the north side of the ridge, but most of the trees survived.

Popularized by Ruby Jenkins, the hike is also featured in the book "Exploring the Southern Sierra: East Side." This version of the hike varies slightly, by staying on the ridge trail and going beyond Schaeffer's actual peak to the best viewpoint.

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile for Lookout & Schaeffer Mountain Hike

Lookout Mountain Details

New trail up Lookout Mountain

The new firebreak trail.

The Danner Meadow Firesafe area, a turnaround cul de sac, doubles as the trailhead parking (see directions below). Although, there is no trailhead sign, the old roadbed continues beyond, and marks the start of this hike.

Before hiking, one might want to venture around to the northeast to get a sneak peek of the High Sierra.

Start the hike by continuing northwest, in the same direction of the old logging road. In about 400 feet or so, take the new firebreak trail to the right and follow it up the ridgeline.

At .6 miles, the trail flattens for a brief respite before climbing steeply and merging into the boulders that comprise the summit.

Sunrise from Lookout Mountain
"Alpine Starts" are well worth it! Sunrise of Bald Mountain on the hike up.

After a quick scramble, Lookout Mountain's bouldery summit is attained in 3/4 miles with almost 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

As the name suggests, there are some views up there. The panoramic vista is sprinkled with pine trees, both alive and dead, but a huge amount of terrain is visible at all angles.

Olancha Mtn, Bald Mountain, Sherman Peak, Slate Mountain, The Western Divide, and the High Sierra Peaks are all in sight.

To see even more, head on to Schaeffer Mountain!

Olancha Peak view from Lookout Mountain Summit of Lookout Mountain

View across Rattlesnake Canyon to Olancha Peak.

At the summit of
Lookout Mountain.

Schaeffer Mountain

To continue on to Schaeffer Mountain, keep following the forested ridge northwest along the firebreak trail.

Mountain views from Lookout Mountain

Looking East toward Kennedy Meadows.

.5 miles beyond Lookout Peak, the route passes through a meadow and the trail flattens briefly before descending more.

Meadow between Lookout Mountain & Schaeffer Mountain

Meadow between Lookout Mountain & Schaeffer Mountains.

In just under 2 miles (from the trailhead) and a loss of 600 feet in elevation, the route reaches the saddle between Lookout and Schaeffer Mountains.

Looking across at The Needles

The Needles.

Almost immediately the trail becomes much rockier. Not far ahead the peak-like pile of jumbled rocks is a false summit. The firebreak trail continues on the other side, and leads to another large heap of boulders. The top of this false summit looks back at Lookout Mountain. The narrowing ridge continues.

Not far beyond, 2.5+ miles into the hike, a small unassuming pile of rocks marks the summit. A small cairn (duck) houses the register. It's hard to believe that this is the actual Summit, when the drama increases significantly just ahead.

On the rocky ridge just to the west of the peak, there are some wonderful western views. Sherman Peak is to the left while the Durrwood Creek drainage in the Cedar Canyon are just ahead with Slate Mountain, Dome Rock, The Needles, Maggie Mountain are to the right.

Schaeffer Mountain's West Face

Amazing View of Little Kern Canyon

The Little Kern Canyon and Farewell Gap
on The Great Western Divide.

The hike is not over however!!

The highlight of this hike is the wanderlust-inspiring sight of the upper Kern Canyon at the precipitous western flank of Schaeffer Mountain!

Head back to the east side to catch the firebreak trail and continue on down the ridge.

At about 3 miles from the trailhead, the route reaches another granite studded knoll with commanding views. Old maps show this as the summit of Schaeffer Mountain.

Look for some great resting/viewing spots on the large boulders at the top of the craggy cliffs, which tower above Stony Meadow far below.

Don't miss the incredible view of the deep Little Kern Canyon as it leads one's eyes up to the gunsight shape of Farewell Gap.



Schaffer Mountain from Stony Meadow
Schaeffer Mountain as seen from
Stony Meadow to the northwest.


Summit of Schaeffer Mountain;
note the small cairn (pile of rocks)
that holds the register.

Equally impressive the is the sight of Kern River Canyon flowing from the highest peaks in the Sierra, and eventually wrapping its way around the Flatiron to continue south.

When it's clear one will see through the heart of Sequoia National Park and beyond...as far as the divide between the Kings and the Kern rivers. Mount Whitney, some of the big 14ers, and the Kaweah Mountains are in view.

When you're done sucking up the wonders of the High Sierra return the way you came.

Or....

Loop Option

With the new (2017) firebreak trails, one can make a big loop hike by continuing down the ridge to the north and veering onto the Old sheep Driveway Trail to Stony Meadow. This is off the beaten path and super remote. Since it adds additional mileage and uphill hiking, prepare accordingly. Taking a map and having navigational outdoor skills is probably a very good idea.

Read the description here!


Nearby Trails & Hikes

Schaeffer Mountain

Schaeffer Mountain view from the north, on Old Sheep Trail.

Directions

From the Kern River Valley, drive up M99/Sierra Way north along the Kern River.

Turn right on Sherman Pass road and drive up and over Sherman Pass. 5.7 miles past Sherman Pass, turn left on Bonita Meadow Road (22S41) for about 3.8 miles, and turn right at the sign to Danner Meadow (21S46)for about a 1/2 mile.

The unsigned and unofficial trailhead is at the end of the road at the Danner Meadow Firesafe area. The meadow is off to the left as you drive into the cul-de-sac and the trailhead follows the extension of the old road straight ahead.

From Kennedy Meadows, drive about 23 miles up Sherman Pass Rd (9 Mile Canyon Rd) and turn left on Bonita Meadow Road (22S41) for about 3.8 miles. Then turn right at the sign to Danner Meadow (21S46) for about a 1/2 mile.

Dont Get Lost!
Kernville Adventure Map

This area is depicted on the local adventure map:

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Map Details