How to describe Kennedy Meadows…
It’s the goal for the first seven hundred miles—the end of the desert, the start of the Sierra, the motivation to keep walking through heat and sand and cacti. I knew to expect a general store and a crowd of hikers hanging out, but beyond that the only image I carried in my head was from Wild:
The real, non-Hollywood Kennedy Meadows is way less green and—like most hiker-filled places along the trail—way, ah, funkier. The parking lot is dusty and there’s a gas tank with an old Shell sign out front. There’s a front porch and a giant side deck covered in hikers who applaud every new hiker as he or she arrives. There’s a store that sells a LOT of beer and pints of Ben & Jerry’s. There’s a walk-up window that sometimes sells hot dogs and burgers.
There’s a single washing machine with a waitlist over 100 hikers long. Two outdoor showers that spit out moderately hot water. And a collection of seemingly unserviced port-o-potties.
Hikers camp out back, setting up tents among trees and old gas pumps. One guy even found a spot for the 3-person, 17-pound treehouse that he’s carrying on the PCT. (Really.)
Kennedy Meadows is a hiker vortex. We were there for about 24 hours, but some people had been there for days. Drinking beer, playing cards, drinking beer, smoking, drinking beer. We saw one guy who was packed up and ready to head back on the trail (for the second or third day in a row) get sucked right back in (beer, card game, etc).
I think I had been expecting something greener, grander—more cinematic, I suppose. At least this way it wasn’t tempting to stay. On our second evening there, we waited for it to cool down (which wasn’t until around 6PM) and then hiked out to the campground a few miles up the trail. Onward to the mountains.
Miles hiked: 2.4, Mile 702.4 to 704.8, river by Kennedy Meadows Campground