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Rae Lakes Loop, Kings Canyon NP

Earlier this year our scout leaders asked if I would be interested in helping them plan and execute a 50 mile backpacking trip.  Naturally, they had to twist my arm.  I presented several options, and, after much discussion, they chose to do the Rae Lakes loop in Kings Canyon National Park, with a side trip to East Lake and Lake Reflection to make the total mileage over 50.

On Monday morning we drove to the trailhead at Roads End in Kings Canyon.  After we started to ascend the switchbacks up Bubbs Creek, we could see down the canyon toward the trailhead:


And across from us was the canyon of the South Fork Kings River, where we would descend at the end of the trip:


As we ascended we came across a marten that was pursuing a squirrel in a tree.  This picture was taken just before the marten caught the squirrel:


And a little higher this one rattled at me just before I stepped next to it:


Some scenes along the way up Bubbs Creek:



That night we stopped at Junction Meadow, here are two pictures from there, first is Mt Bago:


And West Vidette:


The next morning we headed up to East Lake.  After the first climb to the main canyon of East Creek (like many side tributaries to Bubbs Creek, it is a hanging valley), we came across this waterfall on East Creek:


More scenes as we continued up.


 Looking down toward Bubbs Creek and Mt Bago:


Looking up:


Finally we arrived at East Lake, which did not disappoint:


Mt Brewer from East Lake:


After setting up camp at East Lake, we went up to Lake Reflection, which is another couple miles up the drainage.  Some views along the way:



East Lake from above:


Then we reached Lake Reflection.  I really like the outlet pool at Lake Reflection:


The outlet of the main lake:


And the lake itself:


After some relaxation at Lake Reflection, we returned to East Lake. Back down at East Lake, we enjoyed the view as the lighting changed:



The next morning, East Lake was a mirror:



We then descended back to Junction Meadow.  On the way, we could see up the canyon of Bubbs Creek, where we would be going that day:


From  Junction Meadow, the ascent up Bubbs Creek is steep, but there are great views in that section of the canyon:


We finally reached the point where we met the John Muir/Pacific Crest trail and started the ascent toward Charlotte Lake, where we would stop for the day.  As we went up, we could see up Bubbs Creek:


And across toward the Vidette Creek drainage, with East Vidette, Deerhorn, and West Vidette striking a dominant pose:


And here is Charlotte Lake from above:


Sunset at Charlotte Lake:


The next morning the plan was to do just a few miles, over Glen Pass, to stop at Rae Lakes.  After taking a cross country shortcut from Charlotte Lake, we met up with the JMT/PCT again.  Not long afterward, the pass was visible:


By this time, clouds were gathering quickly.  I knew that rain was on the way.  Reaching the pass, views all around:



Looking down at Rae Lakes:


Descending from Rae Lakes, looking toward Mt Rixford:



And Painted Lady:


By the time we got to Rae Lakes, the clouds were thick and threatening, and the lighting was not good for pictures:





At this point, the day was still young so we decided to head a couple miles down to Dollar Lake.  Along the way we passed Arrowhead Lake:


A few more shots below Arrowhead Lake:




We got to Dollar Lake and set up tents, and within minutes the sky opened for a several hour rain.  But I managed to get a decent picture before it started:


After the rain lifted, another shot from the same spot:


That night, it started raining again, and for a while the wind was really rocking my tent.  But in the morning it was calm again, although the overcast said that we would get a repeat performance before the day was out.  Our plan was to descend to upper Paradise Valley to camp for the night.  So down we went toward the Woods Creek junction.  Pictures along the way (with the obligatory foxtail pine content for Patman in the first picture):


During the descent, the rest of the group decided that we were making good time and wanted to avoid another night of camping in the rain.  They figured that we could make it out to the cars before dark.  This changed our day from ten miles to 19 miles…

Upon reaching  the Woods Creek junction, we crossed the famous suspension bridge, where only one person is allowed to cross at a time (it sways and bobs with every step)


After crossing, we started down the Woods Creek trail.  Some views along the way:


Castle Domes:


Continuing down:


Halfway through the day, upper Paradise Valley comes into view:


From upper Paradise Valley, looking up the South Fork Kings:


Descending Paradise Valley:


In the lower part of Paradise Valley, the South Fork Kings is a gentle peaceful stream:


After a nice stroll down Paradise Valley, it got steep again for the final descent:


Looking down the canyon, toward the Sphinx; our first day ascent was up the Bubbs Creek drainage to the left of the Sphinx:


We reached Mist Falls, which only has a little water in this severe drought year:


Almost to the bottom:


Once we reached the bottom, we turned west and went the final two miles of flat ground to the trailhead.  A final shot, of Grand Sentinel by the trailhead:


That was a long day…19 miles with a pack.  But we made it.  Another two and a half hours later, I was home.  It was a great trip overall, with fantastic scenery.  I would recommend it to anyone.

Wow......... great trip! Thanks so much for the foxtail, that brings back great memories and makes me happy.


I'll need to look through this report a few times to absorb it, those are some fantastic pictures (as usual---well done).


Incredible photos...I need to put this area on my hiking bucket list. Thanks for sharing.

The pictures (thanks for the luxury of LOTS) bring back memories of that area.

Thank you.

What a beautiful hike. Thanks so much for taking the time to post all of these awesome pictures, John. Please, keep them coming. I can't get enough Sierra pictures! There's no place like it.

Sugar pine,

You always come up with some great routes. You are a natural born trip leader. Fine photography and nice clear air from the rain.  Sequoia and KC NPs remain under-utilized compared to a place like Yosemite. I have only been there once recently, but plan to go back. I love the big trees and all of that space.

If I was only 50 yrs younger i'd be thrilled to do that beautiful trail. What a trip. Regards, al


Al - Don't let age get in your way.  I'm 53, and another guy who did the trip is 60.  I see people in their 70s on the trail regularly.  In fact, eleven years ago I was on the JMT and met a guy who was in his mid-70s who was trying to break his old record for doing the entire JMT unsupported (220 miles of high sierra trail).  His personal record was just over five days.  He told us that he would run all day until about midnight, then sleep for about three hours, then get up and run until midnight.  I'd love to be able to do that in my 70s.

Thanks for the travelogue and just beautiful pictures of that area.  I have waited too long to do these long hikes but I do provide shuttle service for friends so they can start at point A and walk long miles to extraction at point B. Then I get to see the pictures. Meanwhile, I camp not far from roads and cars, so I enjoy a half a loaf. Thank you for taking Scouts into the Wild Lands.  You impact the lives of kids more than you will ever know or imagine.  May GOD continue to bless and guide you for your service for kids and their families.

Fantastic pictures! I need to go back and try the loop again. I went last year in April and the trail had just opened for the season. We went clockwise and by afternoon of the second day, the trail was covered in snow and we couldn't make it to Dollar Lake. We ended up camping for the night and hiked back the same way we came.

On the bright side, we got some great pictures of the winter conditions. 


Our remote campsite


Absolutely beautiful...can't wait to actually do this loop myself with my daughter.

I plan to retire to Rae lakes (hey we can dream) :)  I love the Rae Lakes loop.  I've done all the variations on this route, starting/ending from the east, from the west, exiting over Baxter Pass, and as a west/east transverse.

The side trips to Sixty Lakes Basin and Gardiner Basin are excellent options to lengthen the trip.  You can also opt to incorporate these basins into an rarely considered variation on the Rae Lakes Loop.  This involves some cross country scrambling over a pass joining the southern end of these basins, and utilizing the Charlotte Creek trail.  This modification to the traditional Rae Lakes Loop substitutes for the section of the PCT passing over Glen Pass, making the loop considerably longer.  Alternatively this variation can be a completely different take on  the Rae Lakes Loop, forming a new loop that travels over Kearsarge Pass, Glen Pass, the two basins as described above, then exiting back out via Kearsarge Pass.

I've had some interesting experiences on the Rae lakes Loop.  On one solo trip I was hangining out under the full moon.  Dinner and KP was over.  I killed the light to take in the surroundings as they were.  As my eyes adjusted I thought it looked like the ground was moving.  I switched on my light and was awe stuck - there were hundreds of little voles scurrying all about my camp.  On another solo trip I had just ascended the switchbacks heading north from Mist Falls on the Kings River when I noticed this huge dust cloud some miles ahead, followed some thirty seconds later by an omnipresent roar that filled the canyon.  It was a stupendous size rock avalanche.  My destination was just north of the avalanche.  It continued to generate sporadic rock falls throughout the night, occasionally providing a fireworks display of sorts as sparks flew from the tumbling boulders.  But the most visceral experience I had in the Rae Lakes region was a horrible early winter trip that required going over Glen Pass while it was storming, in deep snows covered by a boilerplate crust.  The pass had a double cornice.  It was one of the scariest backcountry experiences of my life, not so much for the cornices, or even the dangerous condition of the snowpack, rather because if we had a team fall on the south side of the pass we'd end up in that tiny lake below the pass, wet in near zero degree temps, probably with injuries.  It was a truly stupid decision to attempt the pass; in fact it was stupid to even be anywhere in the Sierra wilderness that time of year, let alone the long trip we were taking.  The experience moved me such that I now feel uneasy taking that pass even in the middle of summer.  Ah, the follies of youth.



Ed - I have thought about doing a variation, going from Charlotte to Gardiner, then over to Sixty Lakes and then Rae Lakes.  I even entertained another route that went from Sixty Lakes to Gardiner and then over King Col, but I have heard that King Col is a nasty route.  Kind of like when I was in Kaweah Basin and considered going out over Kaweah Pass instead of Pyra-Queen col.  I chose Pyra-Queen, and later realized that it was the better choice after hearing about how gnarly Kaweah Pass it.

On the map King Col looks a 5.0+ and a lot more suffering than what I want to do on a basic hiking trip.  Your comparison of options to link Sixty Lake Basin from Gardiner Basin do look very similar to the choices you described in Kaweah Basin.  One source that sometimes helps me researching unconventional routes before I have eyes on them is


I used to hike in the Rockies and Cascades and sometimes miss the flowers in bloom all summer and ample moisture. Recently I was in the Cascades of central Oregon during some unseasonable fall weather. I have never been so happy to be back in the Sierra. We sat down for lunch one day at 6,000 feet and it was about 39 degrees with a stiff wind. The volcanoes we came to see were covered in snow and the clouds covered them up most of the time.

The Sierra have the best weather for hiking anywhere and a long season. It is easy to find places with a view that goes a long way. They are not all that crowded if one knows where to go. It is great to be home.


ppine said:

"..The Sierra have the best weather for hiking anywhere and a long season..."


Generally I agree.  But this summer has been kind of unusual.  It seemed there was more rain than we had in decades in the eastern Sierra, and the storms lasted longer and were more vigorous with hail and all.  A survey of the 2015 summer trip logs shows a higher number of wet weather and hail events than I've noticed in prior four of five years posted on TS.  Yet I can't help but notice how the perennial flora appears more drought stricken on my recent visits. 


January 28, 2021
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