"If you are looking for the Hilton," Nick Grogan advises, "you won't find it here."
Well, no. As retired wilderness manager of the Sierra National Forest's High Sierra Ranger District, Grogan knows his mountains. But, he adds, if you want to camp, hike, or fish, the part of the Sierra reached by Kaiser Pass Road "offers plenty of chances for that." The Sierra Nevada is creased by famous mountain passes, from Walker in the south to Donner in the north. Of all of them, 9,184-foot Kaiser is not the best known but ranks among the most beautiful. Situated midway between Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks, 70 miles northeast of Fresno, Kaiser Pass grants a rare portal into the Central Sierra.
Because a holy trinity of wilderness areas forms the region's boundaries―the Kaiser Wilderness to the west, the John Muir Wilderness to the south and east, and the Ansel Adams Wilderness to the north―Kaiser Pass Road provides drive-up access to a landscape you would otherwise reach only by backpacking. The road extends 22 miles into the mountains, and experts like Grogan recommend allowing more than an hour to cover that distance. But you'd be better advised to plan on staying a day, or three. The mountain scenery is that incredible.
State 168 out of Fresno is your ticket to Kaiser Pass. For last minute supplies and gasoline, stop in the small town of Prather, 16 miles before Shaver Lake. (Prather is also the site of the forest service's High Sierra Ranger Station.) The highway winds uphill past Shaver Lake to the eastern shore of Huntington Lake and the turnoff for Kaiser Pass. From this point you must go easy on the gas pedal―Kaiser Pass Road is a narrow, circuitous byway that locals call a mountain pig path. Grogan advises drivers to pull over when oncoming cars approach.