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23 Great High Sierra Hikes

23 Great High Sierra Trail Hikes Throughout the Sierra

Updated: November 30 , 2020

The high Sierra is worldly renown for its challenging , yet rewarding mountain passes and scenic trails. From PCT hikers who challenge the boundaries of long distance hiking and traversing the High Sierra during early spring and summer seasons, to the Season flock of backpackers and day hikers that flow to beautiful destinations throughout the Sierra, each has their own unique list of qualities that would make a best of list for the Sierra.

High Sierra Trails are picturesque, challenging, and often unseen be the millions of visitors to the Sierra each year. The High Sierra Lakes and trails are what dreams are made of if your like hiking in the back-country or discovering some of the most beautiful natural pools of water on the earth.

Many of these trails have trail quotas and limited access as you need a permit to travel through and stay overnight in many of these areas, however others the only limitation is time and effort.

Here at Sierra Rec we have made it a priority to hike as many trails as possible each summer in order to experience and review many of these locations.And yet we still have not traversed several of the best locations. So on this list we provided our reviews plus have loaded links to resources and review from other sites that provide the details for the best of the best in high sierra hiking and backpacking.

Upper Cathedral Lake – Yosemite National Park

Sierra Rec Magazine Staff Trail Picks-

  • Young Lakes Loop Yosemite National Park – Hiking out of Tuolumne Meadows to the North up to Young Lakes via the Dog Lake Trail head is a challenging high Sierra hike that provides meadows, creek crossings, vista Cathedral Range views and perfect mountain camping locations for backpackers.
  • PCT Trail From Echo Lake to Fontanillis Lake (several Loop Options available) – Hike the PCT up past Echo Lake picking up visits to Tamarack, Ralston and Lake of the woods on your way to Lake Aloha for the first night, then proceed over the pass to Susie, Gilmore, Dicks and Fontanillis lakes in Desolation Wilderness.
  • Vogelsang to Yosemite Valley – Starting in Tuolumne Meadows in yosemite hike up the Rafferty Creek trail into the Vogelsang high camp region. (Several lake options here we like Boothe lake for a first night camp) – Hike up and over Vogelsang Pass into the Lewis Creek drainage, hike along Lewis creek until in merges with the Merced river and into Merced Lake. from Merced Lake you can proceed to the valley even picking up Half dome if you get a permit and seeing Nevada and Vernal Falls. Alternative Route, Loop back up to Cathedral lakes at Merced Lake and finish back in Tuolumne meadow.
  • Virginia Lakes to Green Lakes Valley – One of the most overlooked loop trails on the Eastern Sierra. Starting at Virginia Lakes just North on Mono Lake Hike up the virgina Lake Canyon by a series of beautiful lakes and harsh mountain scenery upto Summit lake on the border of Yosemite National park. (If time allows on your trip adventure into Yosemite National Park Return Creek Canyon) From Summit lake cross over to the Green Creek Canyon for another serie sof great high Sierra lakes. Each of these canyons are popular day hikes, but should be on any backpackers or backcountry fishing persons bucket list as a through hike.
  • Fourth Of July Lake – A Short Backpacking trip that includes time on the PCT and a series of popular day hike lakes options in the Central Sierra south of Lake Tahoe. Hike from Carson Pass of HWy 88 on the PCT South past Frog Lake and divert on the trial towards Winnemucca Lake and Round top Lakes which are very popular day hike destinations and beginner one night backpack destinations. Follow trail down 1200 feet below Round Top Peak to Fourth of July Lake. a small quaint lake that provides all that we love about the Sierra.
  • Nelson Lake Lake to Mathes and Echo Lakes Loop – A rare hike in the Sierra that needs permit but has no official trail. Hiking to Nelson Lake in the Cathedral range is typically done following the signs of human use trails over the pass behind Elizabeth Lake. Nelson Lake itself is just a fantastic destination hike, but when you add a cross range journey over to Matthes Lake and then around to Echo Lake before exiting over the Cathedral lakes route of the John Muir Trail, you end up with one of the best backpacking loop routes available in yosemite national park.

Thanks to great resources found at here is a great list of 18 fantastic trails in the High Sierra to add to your bucket list of hikes as you explore the entire Sierra or just the little corner you are traveling to this summer.

Northern Sierra Trails

  • Fontanillis & Dicks Lakes, Desolation Wilderness, El Dorado Co.
    • Great weekend trip to a pair of fabulous lakes near Lake Tahoe
  • Lake Aloha, Desolation Wilderness, El Dorado Co.
    • Hike from Echo Lakes to this dramatic, granite-bound lake.
  • Kennedy Lake, Emigrant Wilderness, Tuolumne County
    • The perfect weekend trip to a stunning mountain lake
  • Emigrant Lake, Emigrant Wilderness, Tuolumne County
    • Multi-day trip to a fabulous fishing lake
  • Cathedral Lakes, Yosemite National Park
    • Picturesque Lakes only 3½ miles from Tuolumne Meadows
  • Hike on the John Muir Trail through breathtaking scenery
  • Young Lakes- yosemite National Park, Tuolumne Meadows to Young Lakes Loop
    • Hike the Yosemite High Country North of Tuolumne meadow to Young Lakes. a Picturesque location with three lakes set in a cradle near ragged peak and White mountain. Popular for rock climbers this is not an easy hike but a great place for backpack weekend.

Southern Sierra Trails

  • The High Sierra Trail, Sequoia National Park
    • 71 trans-Sierra miles from Crescent Meadow to Mount Whitney
  • Paradise Valley, Kings Canyon National Park
    • A wonderful weekend trip out of Cedar Grove
  • Rae Lakes, Kings Canyon National Park
    • A multi-day trip to fabulous lakes, part of the Rae Lakes Loop
  • Bear Creek, John Muir Wilderness
    • Lake Edison area trail leading to dozens of alpine lakes
  • Evolution Valley, John Muir Wilderness to Kings Canyon
    • Many call Evolution Valley the most beautiful spot in the Sierra
  • Graveyard Lakes, John Muir Wilderness
    • Hike 7 miles from Lake Edison to scenic lakes with great fishing

Eastern Sierra Trails

  • Baboon Lakes, Sabrina Basin west of Bishop
    • 4½-mile hike from Lake Sabrina trailhead
  • Big Pine Lakes, Inyo County, south of Bishop
    • Seven alpine lakes amid jagged peaks
  • East Lake, Mono County, near Bridgeport
    • An easy 3.2-mile hike for a weekend trip at a scenic lake
  • Barney Lake, Mono County, near Twin Lakes
    • A 4.7-mile hike to this pretty lake with a beach and views of Crown Point
  • Pioneer Basin, John Muir Wilderness
    • Seven remote lakes spread across a high alpine basin
  • Hilton Lakes, Southern Mono County, Rock Creek area
    • A moderate 4.6-mile hike to great camping lakes

About the author

Charlie REC magazine - Charlie Pankey ~ Publisher

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