In 1861, a young prospector by the name of John Hite headed out from Coulterville on a prospecting trip with a sack of flour and a few provisions. Over 3 million dollars were made in the mine that he claimed called the Hite Mine above the South Fork of the Merced River. I have been wanting to visit this actual mine above Hite Cove but had never quite made it there. Today was the day!
Where: Sierra National Forest with Some Stretches Through Private Property
Distance: 7.91 Miles
Elevation Range: 1,404′ to 3,190′
Date: January 15, 2016
Map: Buckingham Mountain Topographic Quad, Sierra National Forest
This hike required us to take two vehicles, staging one at the parking area across from the Hite Cove Trailhead. We drove the other vehicle up above Indian Flat RV Park. We were able to drive up the dirt road from the trailer park, following the sign, about a mile and a half, following the old dirt road through a stretch of private property. Please be respectful of the private property in this area.
We drove up the road, keeping on the main road when it took a sharp left. We were able to make it up without needing 4WD, but I imagine the road conditions can vary from year to year and the road may suffer. We also followed the main road but if you aren’t paying attention, it would be easy to go into one of the many private driveways off the road by mistake. I think if you follow the main tracks, you will be able to find it. We parked in a wide area where other vehicles could get by us if needed, then continued walking up the dirt road. We could see ATV tracks as we walked.
As we walked up the road, we could look across the Merced River Canyon and see Trumbull Peak at 5,004′ elevation. The exiting storm’s remaining clouds swirled around the hills and canyons.
Following the dirt road, we continued up and over the ridge, catching our first glimpse at the Hite Cove area way below us.
As we walked along the road, Steve introduced me to an old friend of his. He told me the story of how he had hiked this route several years ago and this baby tree had been all bent over. He straightened it up, propping these rocks against it to keep it upright. Nice work Steve!
As we continued along the road, we didn’t see anymore recent ATV tracks. There were a couple of areas where rockfalls had fallen on the road, resulting in some serious obstacles to vehicles.
I had read that there are several mines and diggings in the area in addition to the Hite Mine. We came across a main one though, with a shaft that headed back into the mountain quite a ways. Of course, I checked it out closer. The walls and ceiling were solid rock and I didn’t see any timbers that had been used in the entrance portion of the mine. The floor was wet and pretty muddy. Just imagine the hard work that was involved by the men who hand worked this mine. Wow!
We continued down the road, coming across many old diggings, to the old mining town of Hite Cove (also formerly known as Hite’s Cove, and Hite), which was named after John Hite who discovered his gold there. He operated the property for 17 years and became quite rich. The mine was active again during the early 1900s and there has been some prospecting in the area in recent years. Hite Cove was a thriving community at one time. By 1864, the town had a population of over 100 and a 10 stamp mill in operation, later increased to a 20 stamp mill. The Hite Cove post office operated from 1868 to 1869, and from 1878 to 1889. The buildings burned down in 1924, but many foundations and remnants still exist. The building in the picture below was built long after the town burned down but it occupies the site of the former hotel. Dick Etsel has a wonderful website with old pictures from the area and you can see a 1911 picture of what Hite Cove looked like here.
It was time for lunch and we found a dandy spot, right across from where the old suspension bridge used to span this stretch of the South Fork of the Merced River.
It was time to head down the trail toward Savage’s Trading Post. We noticed a few new trees that had fallen down across the trail and river. We were able to climb over or under the ones on the trail.
We even saw a couple of Sierra Newts heading back from their night time escapades down at the river.
Most folks think of this stretch of the trail being famous for its poppy display in the spring. It is way too early for those poppy flowers yet but we did locate small poppy seedlings, coated with recent raindrops, just getting their start in life. We continued on out the trail through a short stretch of private property. Note that this trail is closed in the summer due to the fire danger.
Most people plan their visit to Hite Cove in the spring to see the poppy display and although that is always beautiful, this area has plenty to offer in the winter. It is a lower elevation and more accessible to get to, plus you can get a good workout with a hike like this that gives you a 2,000 foot gain in less than 2 miles. We also didn’t see a soul.
Maps and Profile
Gold Districts of California Bulletin 193 California Division of Mines and Geology 1976 Hite Cove District
Guide to the Ghost Towns, Mining Camps, and Other Formerly Inhabited Places in Mariposa County, California
Chamberlain, Newell D., The Call of Gold: True Tales on the Gold Road to Yosemite, Valley Publishers, Fresno, California 1972
Prior Blogs in This Area: