Loop hikes in Kings Canyon/Seqouia National Park?

2:06 p.m. on December 28, 2010 (EST)
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I'm looking for a loop hike in the 50-60 mile range.  The Rae Lake loop looks gorgeous but it is also popular.  Any idea of how far in advance I should apply for a permit?  I would also consider an out and back hike that is around the same distance or even a loop in Yosemite besides the Benson Lake loop.

I'm also looking for information on shuttle services at any of those National Parks.  I wouldn't be against paying for a shuttle service

6:36 p.m. on December 28, 2010 (EST)
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I haven't done a long hike in Yosemite since the late winter of 1979-80, but one I did was a full loop around the whole valley starting at the tunnel from Fresno on the southwest side, going all the way up behind  Bridaveil Falls, the Three Brothers, Glacier Point, Vernal Falls, Little Yosemite Valley,Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Tenya Lake, Washingtons Column, Upper Yosemite Falls, El Capitain and down the old Stagecoach road to the west of El Cap. It took me and a buddy a week or more to snowshoe it in the late winter.

http://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm  Yosemite NPS link

http://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/directions.htm Sequoia/Kings Canyon NPS link


Till I saw this map above I forgot how far the two main parks areas were apart.

The links above should have all the information you are looking for...

9:53 p.m. on December 28, 2010 (EST)
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I love the Rae Lakes loop!  Once you start the third day of hiking the crowd really thins out.  IMO this trip is worth dealing the short trippers.  One variation on this loop which will have you to dealing with “crowds” only on the starting part of the trip would be starting from Onion Valley to Kearsarge Pass, but returning via the next pass north, Baxter Pass.  The three times I’ve been over Baxter we had the trail to ourselves, from Rae Lakes on.  But you will want to end – not start - the trip going over Baxter, since using it as your starting point will require close to a 7K foot elevation climb to gain the pass from the trailhead.  Even going downhill, the Baxter Pass trail is still a full day’s toil.  We never had any problems getting someone from the town of Independence to assist us dropping off our vehicle at the Baxter Pass trailhead; its cheaper than arranging for commercial shuttle services in any case.  Inquire at the general store in town to suggest a local you may commission for this service.

Another good venue is Kern Hot Springs, as a destiny along the North Fork Kern River.  Also consider the overlook (approx 36º35.5’ north, 118º24.1' west) on the east side of the Kern gorge, above where the High Sierra Trail descends into the gorge. This overview offers a riffle shot view south down the center of the gorge, in all of its majesty, for over ten miles.  The springs may be reached from the west, via Mineral King, and heading north up the Kern gorge; or from the west via Lodgepole, then heading south down the Kern gorge; from the east via Whitney Portal to Junction Meadow, then south down the Kern River gorge; or from the east via Horseshoe Meadow to the Kern Canyon Ranger Station, then north up the Kern River gorge.  All of these options are long hauls, in the range you desire.  You can also turn this into a trans Sierra route using any combination of these four road heads.  The easiest way to do the point to point option is a key-swap trip, where you split the group into two parties, each starting at opposite ends of the trail, then rendezvous somewhere mid trail, and exchange keys, using each others’ cars for the trip home.  There is also at least one company offering small aircraft shuttles east and west, and at least one surface shuttle service along the East Side.  Some search on the web will reveal these services, conditions and prices.  Trail reservations are another matter.  Venues starting from Whitney Portal are granted on a lottery basis.  The other venues are granted on a first come first served basis.  The NPS and similar web sites will provide instructions how far in advance you can reserve your permit or register for the lottery.  If you fail reserve a permit, you can try your luck and line up at the ranger station for the quota of permits that are offered on the day of departure. 


11:54 p.m. on December 28, 2010 (EST)
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There are a number of good loop hikes besides the Rae Lakes Loop, which is pretty popular. 

1.  Little Five Lakes/Big Five Lakes loop.  Start at Mineral King and go over Timber Gap, then up Cliff Creek and over Black Rock Pass to Little Five Lakes/Big Five Lakes.  From there you can return to Mineral King via Lost Canyon and Sawtooth Pass, or go for a longer trip and go up Soda Creek to exit via Franklin Pass.

2.  North Lake/South Lake loop.  Start at North Lake, go over Piute Pass and down to the San Joaquin at the northern boundary of Kings Canyon.  Then go south on the JMT over Muir Pass, and exit to South Lake via Bishop Pass.  You will need two vehicles to park at both trailheads, or get lucky by having one person hitch a ride for those few miles.

3.  Copper Creek/Woods Creek loop.  Start at the Copper Creek trailhead at Roads End and go over Granite Pass and down to Simpson Meadow.  Then go up the Middle Fork trail, and take the JMT south over Mather and Pinchot Passes, and return to Roads End via the Woods Creek trail and Paradise Valley.

4.  Copper Creek/Woods Creek loop (scenic and less traveled variation if you are up to some off trail and Class 1/Class 2 passes).  Start the same, over Granite Pass.  Then head to Horseshoe Lake.  From there, go off trail over Gray, White, and Red passes to reach Marion Lake and Lake Basin (IMHO one of the most beautiful parts of Kings Canyon).  Then go over Cartridge Pass, drop down to the South Fork Kings, and bushwhack up to meet the JMT.  Then take the JMT over Pinchot Pass, and return to Roads End via Woods Creek and Paradise Valley.  I did this trip this year, here is a trip report from it:


5:53 p.m. on December 29, 2010 (EST)
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Thanks for the advice!  I'm still thinking hard about the Rae Lakes loop.  If I leave on something like a Monday or Tuesday that would probably cut down on the crowd factor.  The one fly in the ointment for me is that because of my job and school I can't always plan things out 6 months in advance, which might mean not getting a permit for something like Rae Lakes.

Last summer I started in the Hoover Wilderness and did the Benson Lake loop into Yosemite.  It wasn't crowded at all and the views were incredible.  There are more scenic areas in Yosemite but I would recommend this hike to anybody.

If it comes down to it I may just go for an out and back hike in one of the less popular areas of one of the parks.  I've done plenty of out and backs in the Trinity Alps, the White Mountains NF and in Michigan and it never bothered me to hike over the same area twice. 


I'm at work right now and don't have my maps, is the route you are describing going clockwise or in a counter clockwise direction?



1:24 a.m. on December 30, 2010 (EST)
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I'm at work right now and don't have my maps, is the route you are describing going clockwise or in a counter clockwise direction?



 Clockwise, down to the King, heading north along the King, then up the Rae lake drainage.

1:44 a.m. on December 30, 2010 (EST)
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I had a chance to look at my maps and the Little 5 Lakes loop you mentioned looks like a fun hike.  What do you think about hiking it counter clockwise, taking the longer route and throwing in a hike up Lost Canyon?  That way looks like there are more spots to camp spaced out one easy day of walking to the next.


You got me thinking about the Rae Lakes loop or a couple of out and backs on the east side of the park.  Onion Valley up to Woods Lake or maybe over Taboose Pass to Woods Lake and back again.  I can also see a loop hike involving a little road walking to get back to my Jeep.

I'm hoping to take this trip in late July/early August, since I'll have a class starting in late August.  I'm also hoping we get some sun out on the coast this year so I can hike the Lost Coast early this spring and hit Redwood NP at some point this year too. 

11:50 a.m. on December 30, 2010 (EST)
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Doing the Little Five/Big Five loop counterclockwise would be fine, too.  Here is a trip reports of that route:


And a much more detailed, multiple-page trip report of the majority of that route:


And if you like to summit peaks, you can drop your pack at Franklin Pass and summit Florence Peak.  It's a really fun class 2 boulder scramble to the summit. 

Here is Franklin Lake with Florence Peak behind it:


The route to the top from Franklin Pass:


And in the middle of that slope:


Looking east from the summit toward the Whitney Group:


And if you take the side trip up Lost Canyon, continue on to Sawtooth Pass and take the class 2 scramble to Sawtooth Peak.  Sawtooth is one of my favorite summits - very pointed and small summit, you really get the feeling of being on top of things.  This is Sawtooth Peak from Sawtooth Pass:


12:20 p.m. on December 30, 2010 (EST)
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Onion Valley to Woods Lake would be a nice trip, too.  I haven't been in the Woods Lake basin, but I have seen most of the rest of that route.  Lots of nice scenery.  Although it means a few hundred feet of extra vertical climbing back up toward Glen Pass (near the Charlotte Lake trail), I would recommend taking the lower route from Kearsarge Pass so that you can go by Kearsarge Lakes and Bullfrog Lake.  I have camped a couple times at Kearsarge Lakes:



And Bullfrog Lake is a real gem:


Rae Lakes is also a scenic area:



4:28 p.m. on December 30, 2010 (EST)
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The better hiking season is from last of July (better flowers) through September with August being the prime time for most.  End of July next year will still have a lot of snow (passable though) at even the 11,000' passes.  Great snow cone alternatives - take syrup.

The John Muir and Pacific Crest trails provide north south access from one end of the Sierra to the other.  They are a good resource to connect to.

Sierra South (for Seq/Kings) and Sierra North (above Mammoth) by Winnet (et al) is a good reference on trails seen on maps by Tom Harrison Maps (.com).

The western approach has limited options for trails.  Kings Canyon has a single road in to trail heads, Sequoia has generally a single trail in (start of Sierra High Trail at Crescent Meadows), and Mineral King takes in a few very nice (but killer first day) trails into an area that has beautiful scenery starting from the parking lot.  The trails start, generally, at lower altitudes and take a long approach to get to the high country.

An excellent loop would be Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw (could make this a base camp for a 3 day in and out), then up over Kaweah Gap and down to top of the Big Arroya, taking trail to Little Five Lakes and over Black Rock then working your way back to Bearpaw via trail east of Cliff Creek back north to Bearpaw and out. you can bail at Mineral King and a good chance at a hitch down to 3 Rivers and back up to Crescent Meadow.

From bottom of Kern via Kaweah Gap, you could work your way around via Colby Pass down to Kings Canyon and then back to your car.  There is/was a shuttle in Sequioa so if you make it back to Lodge Pole from Kings Canyon you will be able to get a ride.

The eastern side has many more options to get to the 'backbone' of the Sierra.  They generally start high (9-10k feet) and go to a 11,000'+ pass to Sequoia and Kings within in 6 miles or so.  These accesses provide for many combinations of hikes - most lolly pops or car shuttles.

There is transportation (some times spotty) along US 395 and over Tioga pass to the west side.  Sequoia/Kings has the worst public access of all unfortunately. 


Permits can be walk up the day before - that is chancy if you have your heart set on that trail head.  They retain a certain percentage each day for walkups.  Best to get a permit in February/March time frame.  Any later than that and your odds go up that you will get the day you planned for.  Mid week have better odds than weekends and holidays.  Mt Whitney is by lottery only in February.  But they do have day hike walk ups if you are up to a 22 mile hike to 14,500' and back.

From the east, almost every small town on US-395 have access to those trails with feeder or old packer trails.  You can toss together any number of lollypops, in outs, and a few loops - lots of car shuttle opportunities.  For example:

Lone Pine - from Horseshoe Meadows via Cottonwood pass or Army pass to Sequoia NP


and then to Onion Valley or even to catchup with the Sierra High Trail that exits in west Sequoia at Crescent Valley. 

Independence - From Onion Valley over Kearsarge to Kings Canyon


Then between here and Big Pine you have Baxter, Sawmill and Taboose passes into the higher Sierra.

Big Pine into some spectacular high mountains and lakes - in and out


Bishop - Long Lake, North Lake trails over Bishop and Piute passes to catch up with the north/south trails http://www.topo.com/explore?lat=37.12012768208766&lng=-118.5506591796875&level=6&type=topo

And so on.  Figure on 10 miles a day at altitude or over passes.


In at Horseshoe Meadows (Lone Pine) over Army Pass (Mt Langley) and north on PCT to exit at Kearsarge Pass and shuttle or hitch back to car. You can do back side of Mt Whitney on permit.

In at Onion Valley (Independence) down to Vidette Meadows over Forest Pass (13,200') to upper Kern Drainage area.  Visit South America Lake, Harrison Pass and explore down the Kern returning via Wallace Creek out over Shepherd Pass following up Tyndall Creek (Mt Tyndall as optional 14r)  and down to Symmes Creek and 3 mile hike to road for a easy hitch back up to car at Onion Valley parking lot.

Bishop to South Lake to Bishop Pass and out at North Lake.  Work with Parcher's Resort for pickup and delivery. 

There are others but you get the general idea.

Equipment should include 20F bag and pad.  You can expect to see relatively rare low temps in the 20's at night above 10,000 and snow anytime.  Need a hat and high SPF UV protection to keep from becoming a crispy critter.  Shorts and t-shirt in day (long shirt will reduce sun problem) and 200 fleece to put on for rest breaks and night.  A hooded parka at night and for rain (e.g., Precip) and to keep the mosquitoes at bay evenings and mornings.  They are not big, but make for it in persistence.  Don't forget DEET 100%.  The other stuff might work anecdotally. You can expect rain showers locally very heavy in the afternoons.  Plan on being in camp 4ish or so and for sure off the higher passes before 2PM. Lightning can be a hazard there.

11:02 p.m. on January 16, 2011 (EST)
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Hello, I am a Boy Scout leader from Cincinnati looking for a five day backpacking trip for my troop the last weekend in July in Sequoia/Kings Canyon.  I will have a crew of 15 with Scouts mostly high school age with possibly a couple eighth graders.  We have hiked in Yosemite, Olympic and Tetons in prior years with 5 days hikes around 40-45 miles and 5000 feet of climbing.  They LOVE swimming holes and appreciate a small camp fire in the evening but could care less about solitude.   I was impressed with the knowledge being shared in this forum! 

All of the guides highlight the 46 mile / 7000 feet Rae Lakes loop.  But the rangers warned me that we would likely need ice axes the last week of July.  We would rather not spend the money renting ice axes or go to the trouble to find a rental shop after landing at LAX.  Are the rangers correct in recommending ice axes for Glen Pass at the end of July??

I came up with a 39 mile loop from Mineral King to Redwood Meadow to Hamilton Lake to Big Arroyo Canyon to Big Five Lakes back to Mineral King via Sawtooth.  The scenery looks amazing!  My simple calculations came to 10,200 feet of climbing, but Google Earth generally came up with elevation gains/losses 50% more - so 15,000 feet of climbing - which scares me.  Should I go for this trip?

Do you have any alternative recommendations for a Scout troop?  Other ideas don't HAVE to be a loop since we will have multiple rental cars. 

12:19 a.m. on January 17, 2011 (EST)
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It all depends on how much snow we get for the rest of the year.  Right now the high country snow sensors in Sequoia/Kings Canyon are reporting 80-90% of normal April 1 snowpack.  If we have a normal February and March, there will be well above average snowpack for the year.  If we have a dry February and March, it will be a little below normal snowpack.  For heavy snow years, the last week of July will still have significant snow on the north and east sides of passes.  

In 2009 I went over Glen Pass during the last week of July.  2009 was close to average snowpack.  Here is the south side:


And here is the north side:


Note that these pictures were taken in an average snowpack year.  A heavy snowpack (or a cool spring, as happened in 2010) would mean a lot more snow.

The other thing to remember is that by the end of July, many people will have already gone over Glen Pass, and even if it has heavy snow cover it will have a trail cut into the snow by many feet.  Don't try it early in the morning when it could still be frozen solid, and use good hiking poles and you may not have a lot of problems.

A great 50 miler that ends on Mt Whitney is from Onion Valley (over Kearsarge Pass) to Whitney Portal, via the John Muir trail and Forester Pass.  Here is my trip report for this one:


I would highly recommend this trip, but only if you can do it late July/early August.  Early July would be asking for problems on the passes.  And make sure you plan your Trail Crest exit permit for the correct day.  We spent the last night on the Portal side after summiting Whitney, and our exit permit was for the day we summited, not the day we went to Portal.

2:22 a.m. on February 8, 2011 (EST)
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End of July/1st week in August you can expect some snow and ice the last 100 feet of most passes in the Sierra this year.

Your trip from Mineral King over Kaweah Gap to 5 Lakes and Sawtooth or Black Rock pass will more than likely have snow on the passes.  I don't think you would need ice ax or crampons.  Carrying an ice ax without knowing how to use it is sort of a waste of energy.  Treks will most likely give you the stability you need in deep foot prints of those ahead of you.  The scenery on this loop is spectacular.  Among the best in the Sierra.  You should, with some effort, be able to cross these passes.  August would be even better.  Those kids will be able to do that hike.  You have a long pull up from Redwood Meadow to Kaweah gap (a long day or two) and another up from 5 Lakes to Black Rock Pass (another long day).  Take your time enjoy the mountains there.  This is the trip I'd pick.  Make sure those scouts are fit.  Time to start training is now.

The trip from Mt Langley, and the back side of Whitney (you can do Whitney from above Crabtree Meadows as a day hike - leave VERY early)  to Kearsarge Pass down to Onion Valley, would give you a real thrill going over Forester Pass.  By the end of July there will have been many through hikers going over this 13,200' pass.  It would be a challenge if not an adventure if we get a lot more snow this year.  Kearsarge at the end of the trip and New Army at the beginning could have considerable snow on them as well.  Both will be cornice free by then.  At the beginning of this hike some of the stronger boys can take Mt Langley on the way as well.  There is a 'bail out' option if Forester is too dicey by going up Tyndall Creek and over Shepherd Pass and down to the road leading up to Onion Valley for a hitch.  Going up toward Shepherd Pass from Symmes Creek is my all time favorite day hike in late June.

A comparison between the Mineral King hike and Rae Lakes would make Glen pass a better pass than Black Rock or Sawtooth.   The scenery would be a toss up with odds going to the Mineral King's trail head.

Sorry, no campfires on this trip above 10,000' - much of your trip.  Bearpaw Meadow would still have an immense pile of wood for fires from a big blow down of trees 15 years ago (or more). We were there the summer after the storm.  Looked like pickup sticks.  300 year old trees laying about everywhere.


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