Whiskey Creek Camp – Olympic Valley, California - Atlas Obscura

Whiskey Creek Camp

Olympic Valley, California

A well-preserved sheepherding camp now lies in the heart of the Granite Chief Wilderness, in the high Sierra Nevada. 


Livestock grazing was one of the founding economic activities in the development of the Western Frontier and remains important today. Sheep raising increased in importance by the beginning of the 20th century, and provided opportunities for Basque sheepherders who came to the West in substantial numbers. Hailing from the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, these people, who speak a language unrelated to any other, were renowned for their expertise in sheep husbandry.

A sheep camp was established here by the Basques in the early 20th century, and in the early 1950s, the present structures were built. They include a bunkhouse, a storehouse, and a bread oven, the latter built as a separate free-standing masonry structure. Such ovens were common in the Basque community.

The site now lies within the Granite Chief Wilderness Area, which was designated in 1984, and the buildings were initially slated for demolition as inappropriate in the wilderness. Fortunately, the camp was then designated as a historic site, and the structures are now preserved on that basis. Indeed, they were restored in the early 2000s. Whiskey Creek Camp is now one of the handful of intact Basque sheep camps remaining.

Know Before You Go

Whiskey Creek Camp is accessible only by hiking or horseback, as no motorized or mechanized vehicles, including bicycles, are allowed in the wilderness area. Dogs under restraint are okay except in some limited areas during fawning season (check the Granite Chief website for details).

The easiest access is off the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and still involves a moderate hike. The nearest access point is on the south via the Five Lakes Trail. From the trailhead, which is on the access road to the Alpine Ski Resort (now part of Palisades Tahoe) it is about 2.2 miles to the junction with the PCT, at PCT mile 1136.0. It is then not quite a mile to the junction with the Whiskey Creek Trail, at PCT mile 1136.9. Turn left (west) here; Whiskey Creek Camp is about 0.4 miles. The whole round trip is a bit less than 7.5 miles.

Alternatively, you can come in on the PCT from the north via the Palisades Tahoe ski area. In the summer months, the resort runs a gondola to the upper bowl in the resort, and this provides hiking access to the high Sierra. Go due west about a mile from the tram terminal to Emigrant Pass, on the main Sierra skyline. From here a well-defined trail drops down about half a mile to the PCT, joining it at PCT mile 1139.1. Turn left here; it is now about 3.1 miles to the Whiskey Creek trail junction. (The trail also continues straight as the Tevis Trail; do not go this way.)

Despite the altitude gain provided by the tram, this way is both longer and more strenuous than the Five Lakes Basin route, because the roughly 1500-foot altitude loss from Emigrant Pass to Whiskey Creek Camp has to be climbed on the return.

Please don't enter the sheep camp structures as they are preserved for their historic importance.

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