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  • Writer's pictureJason Sheck

Corral Hollow and the Bear Valley Hermit Fest

The Corral Hollow OHV route is written about in multiple Jeep and SUV road publications, and since I enjoy driving over Ebbett's Pass (aka Highway 4), I put it on the list for us to make a trip to. We had been in Bear Valley, CA earlier in the year for a hike (this one), and after seeing how quick and easy it was to get there, it was an easy decision to go back.

If you've never been there, Bear Valley and Lake Alpine have a very pleasant way about them, where the typical California busy-ness is somehow calmed and you feel like you're much further away from a large city or town than you do in many parts of California. In fact, Highway 4 from Markleeville to Bear Valley is such a wonderful drive, and takes you past multiple lakes and wonderful views, I wish it was open year round. It closes in the winter, like Monitor Pass and Tioga Pass.

The trail is rated moderate, which I comment on below, but if you wanted to make it an easy route, you could start from the west and turn back at the lookout points over the Bear Valley Ski Area. The western part of the route isn't nearly as hard as the rocky parts on the east, but would challenge any SUV or crossover driver, including Subarus. We were travelling alone, but I bet there is plenty of dust when travelling in a group on a dry day - so going topless in a Jeep will leave you with a cleaning project and a stuffy nose.

What did I learn?

A moderate OHV trail can have some pretty challenging sections to it, at least for a Jeep with our tire size and lift. The rock gardens on the eastern most part of the route required careful tire placement and decent line choice. We hit bottom once, though I am not sure what we hit. I couldn't find the scratches. The rock gardens would probably be impassable for some base Jeeps and 4x4s, and any stock crossover or SUV, such as Subarus. These vehicles would likely sustain damage getting through, around, and over the rocks. Those vehicles would probably be better off starting from the west, and turning around at the overlook areas above Beartrap Cabin.

The route starts just west of Bear Valley, CA off Highway 4. You can easily miss the trailhead no matter which way you're coming from, so keep an eye out as you get close if you're going to take this route.

These obstacles never look like much on camera, but as we worked our way up the trail the rocks got larger and the spaces between them got smaller - so eventually we were crawling over them. When things got sketchy and tippy Bri wanted to get out and walk along as I did my best to pick lines the Jeep could make without getting hung up or damaging it. Overall, it was a fun section of trail! These rock obstacles are near the eastern most connection of the trail to Highway 4.

Outside of the rocky sections, much of the route was nothing more than an forest road with some ruts and rocks here-and-there. There were some hill climbs that I was happy to have 4Low for, and some of the climbs were badly rutted and moguled out. The moguls required all the Jeep's articulation and tested our brake lock differential system, which has worked great every time we've needed it.

This was the literal high point of the trail. We're looking north here, and out of view in the distance is the Kirkwood, CA area. The hillside to the right is the Bear Valley Ski Area, if the picture was better you could see the chairlifts and runs. The terrain looks great for a smaller area, but getting here in winter would be a long drive around from Tahoe, with Highway 4 closed.

Making our way down through the woods from the overlook area to the Beartrap Cabin.

The Beartrap Cabin. It's fun to have a destination to stop at, and I think some folks even stay the night here. When I opened the door I saw Sasquatch and smelled the familiar musty odor of an old building. I don't think I'd camp in the cabin, but in the meadow around the cabin would be a great place for a roof top tent rig, or a tent. There's even a creek running nearby.

The whole time we were making our way through the route I had my eye on a storm to the south of us. You never know what rain and mud would do to our travels. It never did rain on us, but you can tell from the tracks in the road that it had rained just before we made our way down to Cabbage Patch Roach and back to Highway 4.

It's actually pretty common to see cattle grazing along Highway 4, at least it is for us. We've even hiked alongside cattle (read about it here) when we've been out on the trail in this general area. This encounter ended without incident despite the ornery body language.

When we made it back to Bear Valley we were hungry and thought we'd find some food at Hermit Fest. Hermit Fest is named for the valley and area surrounding Bear Valley, and apparently the town's annual music festival. We weren't aware of it and just happened to be there while it was going on. We found some basic tacos and burgers there, and took in some Americana and Bluegrass music. One band did a cover where we actually got to hear James Taylor sing a Huey Lewis song (If This Is It). Bri had fun with that!

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