Courtright Reservoir Guided Hiking
Almost in the exact center of the high Sierra National Forest is Courtright Reservoir. Courtright is located between Yosemite National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. One of its most striking features is its massive granitic domes protruding around the lake. The other key feature of this area is the powder blue reservoir water. Ice Age glaciers sculpted much of the landscape while Helms Creek shaped the “V” shaped canyons to the south. There are some amazing hiking and horseback riding trails around the lake.
Guided Hikes and Horseback Rides
Unless special circumstances are present, such as a pandemic or snow, Courtright Reservoir can be visited from late May through the end of November. The elevation of the lake is at 8,182 ft above sea level (fasl). There are a few different trails you can go on. Each has its own unique qualities. This post identifies Maxson Trail and the trails leading to Mt. Goddard.
Maxson Dome is the most striking geologic feature in Courtright. It is what I originally connected with on my first visit to the area. It reminds me of kneading bread dough. The way the granite seems to fold in and onto its self like a wave at the beach, and its round smooth features make me think of bread. The Maxson Trail leads directly behind Maxson dome. This trail is relatively straight forward and through the forest.
The Maxson Trail starts on the East side of the lake just past the Helms Creek damn. It is an out and back hike with a round trip length of 8.6 miles. The elevation gain is about 900 ft. It is a moderate day hike that permits camping at Hobler Lake. The key features of this hike are the beautiful granitic Maxson Dome (9,456 ft), soothing forest trail, and Hobler Lake. This trail is also the beginning route of others, like the Mt. Goddard Trail.
You do not need a wilderness permit unless you are camping. Be aware that there is a sign that says you need a permit, but I checked the forest service website and it clarifies that it is regarding camping.
A large part of the Maxson Trail is through a rather uneventful forest. However, there are a lot of dead trees and hazard trees surrounding the trail. This can be very eventful in windy conditions. You will have limited views through the forest while hiking. The best part of the trail is the Hobler Lake at the end. There is also a branch of the trail that leads to the Maxson Dome. Unfortunately the Forest Service hasn’t maintained the trail and it is not obvious from the sign posting.
Mt. Goddard Trail
Mount Goddard is one of the tallest mountains in the area. It is remote, and often described as “a beast of a mountain.” From its peak you can have unobstructed views of all the surrounding mountains in the Sierras and beyond, including Mt. Whitney. If you are feeling adventurous and bully, you only need to look at Mt. Goddard.
This round trip hike can take up to 5 days to complete. It is just under 50 miles round trip. It has a lot of similarities to the Everest Base Camp trek. It would be a great way to prepare for it, if you didn’t want to hike Mt. Whitney.
Some of the key features of this trail are its lakes, the Goddard Divide (a very neat canyon), the wilderness, and Mt. Goddard. The trail requires camping permits and is regulated by the forest service. In addition you need a class 2 cross- country permit to go on it.
On my way up the Maxson trail, I ran into two hikers getting back from Mt. Goddard. They were able to go up and back in 4 days. They were not able to summit the mountain, but they did make it to Martha Lake in the Goddard Divide. If you want to summit the mountain, It will take 5 days to complete the trail.
The Goddard trailhead is just past Courtright Reservoir’s Helms Creek dam on the South East side of the lake. The trail leads North along the Maxson trail. Just before you arrive to Hobler Lake, about 4 miles, turn right at the split. Continue hiking for another 3.5 miles. You will pass Post Corral Creek and come to a junction where the you will stay to the East. The junction is where the North Fork trail leading up to the Kings River meets your trail. The Forest Service has not identified where the trail leads only the name of the trail, so be careful. The trail turns into Hell for Sure trail. You will then pass Fleming, Disappointment and Hell for Sure lakes. Just keep hiking until you reach Goddard Canyon Trail. Then hike along the San Joaquin River (cross-country) until you reach Martha Lake. Hike East to access Mt. Goddard for a South West approach.
There are a few pack stations near Courtright. Clyde Pack is probably the closest one, but they are a little expensive. they charge $50 for an hour. If you have the means and want to take a horse on the trail, I recommend bringing your own or borrowing a friends. It will probably take about 3 hours round trip on a horse to Hobler Lake.
For a full service pack trip, Clyde charges $700 per person, per day, with a minimum of 6 people for 5 days. That is a total minimum charge of $21,000.
Directions to Courtright
From Fresno, Take Highway 168 to Shaver Lake. Turn right onto Dinky Creek Road. Travel for 13.6 miles past Shaver Lake and make a right to cross over Dinky Creek. The sign says Courtright reservoir. If you miss the turn you will end up in the Sierra National Forest visitors entrance. After you make the right you will pass a forest service station. Keep going until you see the sign for Courtright reservoir. Make that left up the hill and you will then be in the Sierra Nevada forest.
What to Bring on Your Cortright Reservoir Guided Hiking Trip?
You will want to wear a comfortable pair of hiking boots. You can get by with regular tennis shoes, but your feet will be sore the following day. It is a good Idea to bring a day pack with snacks and water. A camelbak is an excellent choice for hiking. It is portable, easy to use, and can fit in a larger bag filled with snacks. The forest can bring about unexpected situations, which you could not plan for. For example windy events that cause trees to blow over. In such cases it is best to stop the hike and get to some place safe.
When is the Best Time to Go?
The short answer is any time you want. The long answer is it depends. The High Sierra mountains offer unique climates ranging from dry hot chaparral to frozen alpine. The Maxson Trail can be hiked from summer through fall. The Forest Service blocks the trail entrance in the winter and spring. I like the fall the best because the temperatures are more forgiving and you can see some of the fall forest colors.
Fishing is supposedly amazing at Courtright. I do not fish, so I can not speak from experience. There are also a lot of climbing rocks to top rope or free climb on. Every time Ive been to Courtright, Ive seen people fishing and climbing. I hear the fishing in Dinkey creek is also good. Whatever brings you to this paradise above 1 mile, you are sure to have a great time. If you come up, check out Courtright reservoir guided hiking trips!