Ponderosa, a community of about 140 cabins surrounded by the Giant Sequoia National Monument, is located in the less traveled part of the Sierra Nevada — and that’s part of the attraction.
Unlike Yosemite National Park, the Gold Country or Sequoia National Park, there are fewer well-known sites there.
But Ponderosa is well worth a visit for its hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking — as well as wildflowers in spring, snow shoeing and cross-country skiing in winter, or just sitting on a cabin deck listening to the wind in the Ponderosa pines. Plus there are smaller crowds.
It is about four hours east of San Luis Obispo and marks the southern range of the Giant Sequoia. The 7,200-foot elevation is above the level of poison oak or ticks, making hiking enjoyable.
The most direct way to get to there is on State Highway 190, also known as the windy 190. It’s one of the more precipitous state highways, as it gains 6,168 feet in elevation from Springville to Ponderosa in just over 26 switch-back miles.
State Highway 190 becomes Mountain Road 107 the last two miles before it reaches Ponderosa.
Here are some of the top attractions:
The 7,221-foot granite dome looks across the Peppermint Creek drainage to the granite fingers of 8,245-foot Needles. Both are rock climbing destinations. Atop Dome Rock you can spot the 14,505-foot tall Mt. Whitney, the highest summit in the lower 48 states — nearly 45 miles away as the crow flies.
In addition, you can still see evidence of the disastrous 150,700-acre McNally Fire in 2002, which burned for 37 days. It was started by an illegal cooking fire near Johnsondale.
Dome Rock is a couple of miles off the road with a short scramble to the top. Be mindful that rock climbers just below can be injured by falling rocks. Don’t let kids wander. There are no guardrails as one side gradually slopes to vertical.
The trailhead is a few miles off Mountain Road 107, and is a five-mile round trip. The former fire tower that topped the rock burned down a few years ago when a spark from the stove ignited the shake roof.
Sometimes military jets on training missions fly up the canyon and over the landmark before returning to the desert below.
Jordan Peak Lookout
The lookout, on top of the 9,115-foot tall Jordan Peak, is east of the highway off Forest Road 20S71. On a clear day the Coast Range is visible. The tower is a steep 500-foot climb from the trailhead.
Respectful hikers are invited up to a viewing platform if the forest service workers aren’t busy. The lookout may be closed due to fire, inclement weather and other emergencies.
Giant sequoia trees
Several groves are accessible by road or trail.
The easiest to reach is the Trail of 100 Giants, which includes trees estimated to be 1,500 years old along a paved trail. A vehicle fee of $5 is charged to maintain and improve facilities.