Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mountain Home State Forest

Wow, Mountain Home State Forest. Have you heard of it? We hadn't until recently.

Back in June we planned a camping trip with some friends who requested a place within five hours of LA and with lots of trees. Frazier Mills Campground in Mountain Home state forest is what we found. But back in early June the main road was CLOSED because of snow! We ended up camping at Belknap near Camp Nelson (Amanda wrote about it here) and it was amazing but a couple weeks ago we finally made it up into Mountain Home State Forest and we are so glad we did.

On the way up to the Sierras we drove through the outskirts of Bakersfield, through oil fields, pomegranate fields and ranches.  From Bakersfield you take the 99 to the 190 and once you get to Springville you take Balch Park Road up to MHSF. Blach Park Road is a beautiful drive through winding roads of oak groves. Somewhere in between the oak groves and the pine forest there are blackberry bushes EVERYWHERE and in the late summer it's the perfect time to pick some (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).

From Balch Park Road you can either continue on that road all the way to MHSF or you can make a right on Bear Creek Road and it will also lead you to the same place. We chose to take Balch Park Road on the way up and Bear Creek Road on the way down, both are beautiful drives. Balch Park is narrow and winding, and Bear Creek Road is steeper but a wider road.

Once you get up to MHSF you are suddenly in a forest were the ferns and Giant Sequoias rule the land.  There is something magical about seeing a giant sequoia's red bark through through the trees, dwarfing the massive pines that surround it in this old growth forest.

The campgrounds are all within an hours dive of each other so we recommend checking out more then one campground before you set up the tent. We stopped at the first one we came upon because JW was done being in the car after four and a half hours. But it worked out great, in fact we loved it.  But exploring the next day showed us that there were other great options.  There are six campgrounds (Frazier Mills, Hidden Falls, Moses Gulch, Shake Camp, Balch Park, Hendrick Pond) in the area that offer different things, some are by stocked fishing ponds, some are by streams (only one camp has no major sources of water around). There is also a seventh campground, Methuselah group that is reservation only. Methuselah is also one of the drier campgrounds.

There is a lot of great history in the area. John Muir quoted the area as being one of the finest Giant Sequoia groves in the Sierra. In 1946 in an effort to conserve the area the state purchased the land from a logging company by legislative action, and thereby created the first California State Forest.  There are many giant stumps in the area, and in some places just as many stumps as live trees. But the stumps themselves are so enormous that they are still quite inspiring to see.  Not to mention the archeological site with evidence of humans inhabiting the place for over 8,000 years.

One of the great things that MHSF offers is that there is PLENTY to do. We are excited about going back next year because there is so much more to do than what we fit into this trip, and we did a lot this trip!

There's the Hercules Tree, the Adam tree, several meadows and the Memorial Meadow (a memorial to a place crash), there are ponds for fishing, there's Hidden Falls and all it's swimming holes, Moses Gulch also has fishing and swimming holes, there is a museum, a native American archeological site (8,000 years old), an amazing-tasting fresh water spring, black berry picking, and lots of hikes.

The Hercules Tree

An impressively sized room was carved out of the middle of the tree
This is the road to Memorial Meadow, directly across from the Hercules Tree

We hiked the road for a bit to Memorial Meadow, but didn't make it there. You can also drive there, no 4-wheel drive necessary.
When we come back THIS is where I want to camp
There aren't many sites, they are all walk in AND they are a short distance from Hidden Falls
The water is FREEZING but you should definitely try to get in anyways. It's too beautiful to pass up!

We only explored a small area of Hidden Falls, there is definitely so many more amazing spots to explore.

When we asked the camp host at Frazier Mills what his favorite campsite was he said Moses Gulch was the best. Some of the sites are right next to the Tule Rive, near lots of great swimming holes and with great fishing.
One of the upper campsites, a little walk from the water

This is one of the ponds that is popular for fishing. There were definitely more people around the ponds compared to the rest of the forest. But it was Labor Day weekend, people were to be expected.

The amazing spring. This water is magical people. We were tempted to make a quick run back up the mountain just for this water.
This place was really neat to explore, lots of Tulare Native American history.

If you come at the right time of the year be sure do to some berry picking!


  1. I was originally in search of a great place to camp this summer looking for a "place within five hours of LA and with lots of trees." I pretty much scoured google maps and researched every camp site I could find that fit that description. When I found Hidden Falls, this blog had the only additional information I could find. I was excited, I asked every camp friend I knew, "Have you heard of Mountain Home State Forest?" I can't tell you how many people turned their noses up at me. All I had was this one blog. Nothing else. No one supported my crazy idea to check this place "random" place out.

    But I did it anyway. The blog was too compelling. Too many cool stories and great pictures. And now that I have returned, I dont know how to thank you! We spent a week in MHDSF and it was the time of our lives. There is too much to do. We rode horses with Tim at the Pack station, hiked a perilous 7 mile trail (Eastside to Griswold) complete with deer and a bear, swam in the falls, picked blackberries, drank wonderful spring water, ate lunch on the memorial trail, miners cabin, adams tree, hercules tree and so much more.

    We also checked out each campsite. Balch park is ideal for kids and trailers, Shake Camp for isolation, Hidden Falls for walking in, Frazier Mill for a good time, Hendrick pond for fishing, and Moses Gulch for the most remote and hard to get to.

    As far as Bear Creek Rd vs Balch Park Rd, even though take Balch Park adds 3 miles, it felt faster. I wouldn't call either one wider or easier. YMMV.

    1. Hello, so we're going in a couple of weeks and also finding it difficult to find much info. We have 6 adults, 2 toddlers and 3 large dogs in the group. We chose this place as you can bring dogs from what we understand. We are thinking we will stay in Hidden Falls, sound right? First time camping with either a dog or toddler, what could go wrong, haha.