Photo of South Fork San Joaquin River, Fresno County, CA

South Fork San Joaquin River

John Muir Wilderness

Photo of San Joaquin River in the John Muir Wilderness, Fresno County, CA

The 11 miles of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River above Florence Lake offer long stretches of excellent fishing for the most part easily reached from trail which parallels the river. It is best done as a backpacking trip although lower portions of the river could be reached as a day outing using Florence Lake as a base.

The lush meadow and spectacular peaks of northern Kings Canyon National Park provide a scenic backdrop. The trail along the upper South Fork of the San Joaquin River is popular with hikers, since it connects with the John Muir Trail, but the river is not heavily fished.


Making Your Way to the South Fork

Be prepared for a long, twisty drive on a narrow road to reach Florence Lake. From the Fresno area allow yourself three hours to drive east through Prather, past Shaver Lake and Huntington Lake, and on over 9000' Kaiser Pass to Florence Lake. (Fill your gas tank in the foothills or at Shaver Lake. From Prather to Florence Lake is about 60 miles.) The road may be closed by snow into the early summer.


In My Creel

  • #12 Joe's Hopper
  • #14 Light Cahill
  • #16 Red Quill
  • #16 Adams Irresistible
  • salmon eggs
  • Berkley Power Bait
  • 1/8 oz. Blue Fox Vibrax spinner

Fly fishing is excellent along the San Joaquin River. Bait and lures can also bring good success. Unsure of the conditions I would find, I put a variety of flies, baits, and lures in my backpack:



Photo of Florence Lake, Fresno County, CA

Florence Lake

At Florence Lake you will find a small store, boat ramp, and ferry. For $20 round-trip you can ride the ferry to the south end of the lake, saving yourself 4 miles of hiking. A trail up the ridge connects with the main hiking trail after half a mile. You could follow that trail to the right down to the San Joaquin River if you wish to start fishing right away and work your way up the river bank. This would make a great day trip if you are camped near the north end of Florence Lake.

For backpackers, turn left at the trail junction, heading toward Kings Canyon. The trail intertwines with the Muir Trail Ranch 4-wheel-drive road. Stick to the trail whenever you can because the two eventually separate. 2 miles from the ferry you will pass through Double Meadow. There the trail is almost a mile north of the San Joaquin River, bypassing the privately owned Blayney Meadows and Muir Trail Ranch (a guest ranch) between miles 3 and 4.5.

Photo of Middle Fork San Joaquin River, Fresno County, CA

At Alder Creek, just before Blayney Meadow, you could cut down to the San Joaquin River only a quarter mile away at that point. Fish your way downstream from there. Otherwise, continue on the trail parallel to the San Joaquin River, avoiding lateral trails leading up to Selden Pass. (You might want to stop at the public hot springs just beyond Muir Trail Ranch, however, for a soak.)

Between miles 6 and 7.5 (Piute Creek) the San Joaquin River is out of sight from the trail, but the open forests there allow an easy quarter-mile walk down to its bank. Along the way watch for the John Muir cabin just off the trail. Once the trail passes Piute Creek at mile 7.5 the trail is much closer to the river. Good fishing spots appear almost at once and continue all the way up to the beginning of Goddard Canyon at mile 10.8.

Accommodations and Supplies

Lodging is available at nearby Muir Trail Ranch (right on the San Joaquin River), Vermilion Valley Resort (at Lake Edison), and Mono Hot Springs Resort. Plentiful accommodations, including vacation cabin rentals, can also be found at Huntington Lake or Shaver Lake.

Photo of Middle Fork San Joaquin River, Fresno County, CA

Several campgrounds are located in the area. Right by Florence Lake is Jackass Meadows campground. Others include nearby Mono Creek, Mono Hot Springs, Ward Lake, and Bolsillo. More can be found along the way back to Huntington Lake.

California's Best Camping logo

To find the very best campgrounds in the area and all across California, visit California's Best Camping.

Backpackers will find good camping sites along the San Joaquin River at the south end of Florence Lake, just beyond Muir Trail Ranch, a quarter mile beyond the Piute Creek bridge, at the first bridge beyond Aspen Meadow, and near the second bridge. Wilderness Permits are required for overnight stays in the wilderness area. Pick them up in Prather or at the High Sierra Ranger Station. During busy times of the year it is advisable to make permit reservations ahead of time.

logo saying California's Greatest Lakes

For more information about camping, lodging, boating, and fishing at Shaver Lake, Huntington Lake, Florence Lake, and Lake Edison, see California's Greatest Lakes coverage of California's Greatest Lakes.

On your way to Florence Lake you can pick up fishing supplies at the following places:


Recommended Books for Fishing along the John Muir Trail




Photo of Middle Fork San Joaquin River, Fresno County, CA


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