Pacific Southwest Region Viewing Area
LOCATION and PHOTOS
Slate Mountain Botanical Area
Forest: Sequoia National Forest
District: Tule River/Hot Springs Ranger District
Description: An unusually large variety of very rare wild plants are concentrated on the rocky outcrops and crevices along the 9000’ high ridge of Slate Mountain. Most of these rare plants are found only in a few places in Tulare County. Typically these plants appear briefly after the snow melts flowering for a couple of months in the spring and summer. The flanks and summit of Slate Mountain are comprised of pre-cretaceous metamorphic rocks, such as slate. The Mountain is surrounded on all sides by Mesozoic granitic rocks which are the more common rock type in the Southern Sierra Nevada. The summit is rocky, yet rather flat. It is in these habitats that the rare plants occur.
Slate Mountain is the type locality for purple mountain parsley which was discovered in 1976. The distribution is highly restrictive. In fact, this area contains approximately 30% of the known populations. Twisselmann’s buckwheat was first located on the Needles in 1963 and discovered on Slate Mountain in 1976. The vast majority of populations occur on Slate Mountain and is an extremely rare endemic. Commonly associated with Twisselmann’s buckwheat and purple mountain parsley is the prostrate pine-mat manzanita. The open ridge tops are sparsely dominated with an over story of red fir and western white pine. Other interesting plants include pine fritillary, steer’s head, Bridge’s cliffbrake and pride of the mountains.
Viewing Information: The hike up Slate Mountain is about 4 miles one-way or 8 miles round-trip. There is 2,000 feet of elevation gain; it starts at about 7,000 feet and ends at 9,000 feet. The trailhead is near site 23 in Quaking Aspen Campground where you will see signs for Trail 31E14. Ask the campground host about parking or park on the road across from the campground entrance making sure not to block traffic. Remember, motorized bikes or ATV’s are not allowed on trails in Giant Sequoia National Monument.
At about ¼ mile the trail intersects a paved road and you must turn right and walk about 300 yards along the road. You will then see the trail marker on the left and can resume walking on the trail.
The trail climbs gradually at first and there are several meadows in its lower section. During July these meadows are covered with all sorts of flowers including corn lilies, sneezeweed, columbine, rein orchids, leopard lilies, and geraniums. You then pass through a couple of pine plantations whose trees are about 30 years old. The trail then begins to switchback up and you can see great views of the Needles and the Kern River Canyon and the McNally Fire area. In about 2 miles you reach a saddle with a few downed logs that make a great spot to rest. Here you are at the border of the Botanical Area.
After the saddle the trail contours up the south-facing ridge. Soon it becomes quite rocky and here is where several of the rare flowers described above can be found. You’ll notice the rocks are quite colorful up here. There is indeed a lot of slate on Slate Mountain as well as other types of metamorphic rock. You might recall that most of the High Sierra is composed of granitic rock. Slate Mountain is unique and the metamorphic rocks and their associated minerals create a unique soil type. That is the main reason why we find these rare plants here.
After the rocky ridge the trail becomes quite steep for a short period of time and soon you find yourself in a dense red fir and western white pine forest. After about ½ mile the forest clears a bit and you find yourself at another saddle. Here is the junction of this trail with the Bear Creek Trail, 31E31.
Here you can continue on the Bear Creek Trail which heads downhill for about 8 miles finally ending at Coy Flat. If one has the forethought to do a car shuttle, leaving one car at Coy Flat and driving the other up to Quaking Aspen, this would make a great all-day hike. You can also head due east and scramble the last 300 feet or so to the summit of Slate Mountain, but this is not an easy task and should not be attempted if you are not comfortable hiking off trail or if there are thunderstorms in the area. You can also continue south to Freezout Meadow and eventually cross Forest Service Road 21S94 at Windy Gap. But keep in mind it will probably take you about 2-3 hours to get back to Quaking Aspen so most people will simply retrace their steps back.
Safety First: Highway 190 beyond Springville is a steep curvy two-lane mountain road so exercise caution when driving. Always carry a map, food, water and extra clothing when hiking. Be sure to wear (comfortable) hiking boots, as well.
Directions: From Porterville, follow Highway 190 east for 17 miles to Springville. Then continue up Highway 190 east 26 more miles to the Quaking Aspen Campground. The hike up Slate Mountain is about 4 miles one-way or 8 miles round-trip. There is 2,000 feet of elevation gain; it starts at about 7,000 feet and ends at 9,000 feet. The trailhead is near site 23 in Quaking Aspen Campground where you will see signs for Trail 31E14. Ask the campground host about parking or park on the road across from the campground entrance making sure not to block traffic.
Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Sequoia National Forest, Tule River/Hot Springs Ranger District. Phone: (559) 539-2607.
Closest Town: The nearest town with services is Springville, California (26 miles west).