Relief Reservoir Backpacking

Emigrant Wilderness

A great spring trip
when the rivers are roaring.

Relief Reservoir Backpacking Trail

Following the Old Dam Construction Road

Relief Reservoir

Only 4 miles from Kennedy Meadows rest the broad waters of Relief Reservoir. The dam was built in the early 19th century when all of the equipment had to be hauled into the back country along a steep, rugged road. Steam powered winches were used to drag the heaviest equipment up the granite road.

The hike to Relief Reservoir can be made as a day trip, but it is more enjoyable as an overnight backpacking outing. Being on the shore of the reservoir at dusk and sun-up positions you for the best fishing. The trail climbs 1,300' to its highest point before dropping to the Grouse Creek crossing and on down to an excellent lakeshore campsite.

map of hike to Relief Reservoir

Hiking Guide to Relief Reservoir

Getting Organized

Wilderness Permits for the hike to Relief Reservoir can be picked up at the Summit Ranger Station near Pinecrest or the Bridgeport Ranger Station in Bridgeport. Park at the trailhead parking lot a quarter mile before you reach Kennedy Meadows. Pick up last minute supplies at the Kennedy Meadows Resort store.

Starting the Hike to Relief Reservoir

Follow the dirt road beyond the pack station over a slight rise and across Kennedy Meadow. The trail enters the Emigrant Wilderness at the far end of the meadow. Soon the trail crosses a bridge and begins a stiff climb up the old dam construction road carved out of the granite mountain side. A second bridge offers an overview of some good fishing spots along the river, dangerous in early summer when water is high.

The Heart of the Hike

Old dam tender's cabin at Relief Reservoir

Dismantled in 2011

Steep switchbacks lead up to the site of the PG&E maintenance cabin, which was dismantled in July 2011. Continue past the cabin site, climbing toward the reservoir. As you come even with the dam you catch your first glimpses of Relief Reservoir. The trail traverses up the slope high above the lake and then turns downhill to Grouse Creek. As soon as you cross Grouse Creek (tricky early in the summer when water is high), turn off the trail and head down to the lake.


A point of land provides excellent campsites. If erecting a single tent, work your way to your left a short distance and pick a level spot overlooking the water. Large groups have plenty of room in the main area of the point to spread out and set up multiple tents. If the point is occupied, continue up the trail a half mile and then turn toward the lake. Respectable campsites can be set up there.

Nearby Adventures

  • Explore the Dam - All kinds of old machinery are scattered around the area. You can venture into the old powder room dug into the mountain side.
  • Hike to Lower Relief Valley - When 1852 emigrants became stranded while crossing the mountains, it was at Lower Relief Valley that a rescue party from Sonora found them. The location became known as Relief Camp. Good camping and fishing. 2.5-mile hike.