Florence Lake reservoir resides in the John Muir Wilderness Area of the Sierra National Forest. From the south east end of the lake it is approximately 9 miles to the north entrance of Kings Canyon National Park. Its’ location close to the mid-way point of the famous John Muir Trail has made Florence Lake a popular trailhead for hikers traveling North and South on the trail.
The original, natural Florence Lake lies near the reservoirs’ south east end. Theodore Solomons and Walter Starr named the lake in July of 1896. They traveled through the area while exploring and mapping what has become the northern section of the John Muir Trail. When they saw a beautiful lake filled with water-lilies they named it and the large domed rock at its’ head Florence, in honor of Starr’s sister.
The multi-arched dam for the reservoir was completed by Southern California Edison Company in 1926 as part of the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project. The water from the south fork the south fork of the San Joaquin River flows into Florence Lake and is carried through the 13 mile long Ward tunnel to Huntington Lake and on to a system of reservoirs and hydro power facilities farther down stream.
During World War I Southern California Edison engineers envisioned a series of dams and power stations above Florence Lake on the south fork of the San Joaquin, running all the way to its’ head waters, with dams at Blayney Meadows and the Evolution Valley. Fortunately, courts ruled that the utility giant did not have the right to condemn the private property that still exists in Blayney Meadows. Evidence of the 1915 camp and potential dam site can still be found in the river gorge below Blayney Meadows. In 1950 the Evolution Valley and surrounding area was incorporated into the Kings Canyon National Park, preserving its’ spectacular beauty for all of us to enjoy.
Crossing Florence Lake by ferry, the most prominent landmarks are Ward Mountain and Mt. Shinn.
In 1925 the US Forest Service named Mt. Shinn for Charles Howard Shinn (1852-1924) an early member of the Sierra Club and longtime conservationist.
Ward Mountain was named in 1938 for George C. Ward, a former president of Southern California Edison and the chief engineer for the projects at Shaver, Huntington and Florence Lakes.
7,328 feet / 2,234 meters above mean sea level (measured at Florence Lake Dam spillway).
Using Florence Lake as a starting point for your next High Sierra adventure is an excellent choice for anyone who loves or wants to get to know the “Range Of Light”. There are countless things to see and do from this remote Californian wilderness location. The area is abundant with breathtaking high elevation peaks, pristine alpine lakes, meandering streams and rivers, and beautiful wildflower covered meadows. Florence Lake truly is one of California’s best kept secrets. Throughout the years its secluded location high in the Sierras has helped to keep the lake pristine and relatively unused compared to other reservoirs in the state. The area is a fantastic destination spot for fishing, camping, hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, horseback riding, hot springs and more.
From Fresno – take Hwy 168 East to Huntington Lake (about 2 hours travel time) then turn on to the Florence Lake Road approximately 1.5 miles past China Peak Ski Resort. This road begins as a well graded two lane road but for the last 13 miles becomes a roughly paved, twisting one lane road with “turn outs”. (Allow at least 1.5 hours to travel from Huntington to Florence Lake as the maximum speed for safety is 10 to 15 mph). Approximately 7 miles before Florence Lake you will come to the High Sierra District Ranger Station and soon after, a fork to the east (left) which leads to Mono Hot Springs and Edison Lake. Remain on the main road (right) and continue to its end at Florence Lake.
Tickets for the 4 mile Ferry trip across Florence Lake can be purchased at the Florence Lake Store. The Florence Lake Ferry service runs every two hours on the 1/2 hour beginning at 8:30 A.M. and ending at 4:30 P.M.
Drive time from Fresno: +/- 3hrs
Drive time from San Francisco: +/- 6hrs
Drive time from Los Angeles: +/- 7.5hrs
Accommodations / Amenities
Other than the rustic and reasonably priced cabins of Mono Hot Springs Resort at Lake Thomas Edison, there are no other hotels or cabin options between Huntington Lake and Florence Lake. There are two developed camping facilities in the area along the road in to Florence Lake from Huntington Lake. These two campsites are at Ward Lake and Jackass Meadows (near the Florence Lake Dam).
Florence Lake has a small general store (open Spring-Fall only) on the West end of the lake that is owned and operated by the Muir Trail Ranch. The store offers little odds and ends that you might have forgotten to pack as well as ferry tickets across the lake and boat rentals. On the South shore of the lake resides the Florence Lake outpost of Southern California Edison Company. This is where the trailhead for the 4 mile trail around the lake can be found. For hikers who don’t take the ferry, the trail around the west side of Florence stays high above the lake and has spectacular views up the San Joaquin Canyon to Mt. Darwin and peaks beyond the Evolution Valley.
Forest Supervisors Office \ 1600 Tollhouse Rd. \ Clovis 93612 \ (559)-297-0706
High Sierra Ranger District \ 29688 Auberry Rd.\ Prather, CA 93651 \ 559-855-5355
High Sierra Visitors Center \ Kaiser Pass Road (Summer Only) \ (559) 877-7173
Eastwood Visitors Center \ Huntington Lake (Summer Only) \ (559) 893-6611
Dinky Creek Ranger Station (Summer Only) \ Shaver Lake 93664 \ 559-841-3404
Bass Lake Ranger District \ 57003 Road 225 \ North Fork 93643 CA \ (559)-877-2218