Northeast of Fresno and east of Shaver Lake, the Swamp OHV Route traverses a variety of terrain and access three backcountry lakes. This challenging route is accessible by both Exchequer Meadow and Willow Meadow west of Dinkey Creek. Access to Swamp Lake, via Willow Meadow, is 11 miles and is rated Class B. Taking the route from Exchequer Meadow is 7 miles, passes Hatch, Mud and Grouse Lakes, and is rated as Class C. As you ascend the boulder strewn trail from Exchequer Meadow, the Red Fir virgin forest thins out and yields its hold to lodgepole pines and displays the awesome canyons of the Kings River to the south. To the east and across Ruby Creek, the imposing, blocky, granite summit of 10,218 foot Nelson Mountain dominates the scene. From the Willow Meadow point of entry, the trail is Class B for for one mile, then turns to a very difficult Class C.
To reach the trailhead from Fresno, head northeast on SR168 towards Shaver Lake. Just past Ockenden, turn right heading east on Dinkey Creek Road for about 11 miles to the Dinkey Creek Ranger Station. About 300 yards south of the station, turn left heading southeast on McKinley Grove Road for 2.5 miles. Turn on road signed by Swamp Lake Vehicle Way on the right. Follow this road for 3 miles. Veer left at fork and continue for another 1.1 miles. Veer left at fork and continue for another 0.8 miles to trailhead gate.
The route is a low-standard logging road for the first mile, and then deteriorates into a four wheel drive road as it climbs higher up the mountain. There are stretches that are rough for trail bikes, negotiating over and around numerous large boulders.
Traveling in 4WD and granny gear, new vistas begin to appear through the trees. The awesome canyons of the Kings River can be seen to the south. To the east across Ruby Creek, the imposing, blocky, granite summit of 10,218 foot Nelson Mountain dominates the scene.
At the 3.5 mile mark there are two small campsites and the hiking trail to Hatch Lake. Near one of the campsites is a small spring of water which supports a natural garden of wildflowers. Start at the campsite on the south side of the OHV route for an easy, 20 minute hike to Hatch Lake. The fishing at Hatch Lake is surprisingly good because only a few people take the time or effort to hike.
Beyond the trail to Hatch Lake, the route climbs a few steep switchbacks and tops a 9,300 foot ridge revealing the headwaters of Dinky Creek. Once across the pass, clear views of the LeConte Divide and 13,568 foot Mt. Goddard define the distant horizon. The road switchbacks down the shaded north side of the ridge, dropping 600 feet in elevation in about a mile.
After crossing a fork of Dinkey Creek, take the route to the left to avoid the private property at Mud Lakes. From this point on, the route becomes a short wheel base road and is very difficult. Only experienced drivers with short wheel based vehicles should attempt to go any farther. Trail bike riders should walk the road first before deciding whether to proceed. The road starts to climb steeply and it is very rocky and slow going. After about 1.5 miles of steep grade, it levels off for the short distance to Grouse Lake. You may want to try your hand at fishing here.
The route gains elevation quickly on its way to the ridge. Park vehicles at the top of the 9,600 foot pass and take in the grand vistas on foot, where panoramic views of the surrounding lakes, meadows and peaks can be seen.
Swamp Lake is only a short half mile down hill from the OHV route, in a large bowl-like depression. The name "Swamp" does little justice to the beauty of this lake.
The route winds its way around Swamp Lake past a single campsite beside a Forest Service cabin (once used by snow surveyors), then proceeds down a series of very steep and narrow switchbacks. A small miscalculation may turn into a costly mistake.