Explore the most popular dog friendly trails in John Muir Wilderness with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.

Words can't describe the overwhelming wow factor of reaching the top of Kearsarge Pass and seeing the view that lays beyond. I was so focused on getting up there and stopping to enjoy the wonderful scenery along the way that I didn't think beyond the goal. What awaits is glistening lakes and even more majestic peaks stretching in all directions. Lordy, this region is vast! But backing up... I am a 55+ female in pretty good shape, one knee that annoys and a back that can suffer if I push it. I am experienced with long hikes but rarely do any at elevations above 5000 feet. The drive up to the trailhead was long for my 4 cyclinder Forester but we plodded along using the manual gears. We started the trail at about noon. The parking lot was maybe 60% full. Most of the other hikers were backpackers, many were doing the PCT and came to the trailhead with hopes to find a ride into town to get some supplies (and good luck for that, Independence doesn't have too much in the manner of retail establishments). Anyhow, I had one treking pole and an 8 pound dog and a day pack. The trail was always clear and easy to follow. There were wildflowers along the way and even a wily marmot. I loved seeing all the people (mostly young, but not all!) who told me they were on extended hikes (goes from Mexico to Canada!). Lots of foreigners as well. The trail was challenging for the oxygen supply;) I had planned to reach the top at 3 hours in or so but it took me four. I stopped alot to take pictures and at one point to make a sling from my windbreaker for my little dog to give him a rest. We gladly stepped aside for the backpackers. Hiking alone allowed me to keep a pace that felt comfortable- I am no fan of 'arduous'. The last stretch, however, took a deep sigh of resolve- I had vowed to turn back after 4 hours no matter where I was and I was closing in on that. Huffing a bit, I got to the peak at 3:58 p.m. There were about four people up there and they took my picture for me. I took their picture too, they looked like a Patagonia ad! I literally felt overwhelmed by the beauty of the view on the other side of the pass. For certain the hike up revealed beautiful trees, the bluest sky, colorful rocks, wildflowers, a roaring creek and waterfall, and a couple small lakes with water like a fantasy. I was happy with that, so here was this extra visual reward for having made it. I watched the backbackers head on down towards it all. Dogs aren't allowed at this point so if I were to make this a two day overnight, the dog would have to stay home. Anyhow, I started my descent at about 4:15 and it took me three hours- downhill! Blame the knee for that. It convinced me that two poles is the way to go in the future. If I didn't have the dog I might have jogged a bit on the parts without rocks. Once at the parking lot I gave two backpackers (both well over the age of 60 and on a month long trip) a ride into town. I was wiped out. I camped at Independence Creek campground and slept well.

camping
4 days ago

A super scenic hike and there wasn’t too much snow left on the trail. It’s easily passable but bring dry socks if you’re camping out!

totally worth the hike. My dog and I hiked to second lake, it was breath taking. also make sure you drink plenty of water with high altitude. if you have a dog the ground gets very hot so make sure to check their paws.

Update from previous review on May 8, 2018:
2nd attempt. Trail completed on Monday, June 11, 2018, start time 0915 hours, Onion valley campground temperature @ 76°, starting elevation @ approximately 9200 ft. Highest altitude reached per established sign stated 11760 ft, AllTrails (AT) indicated 11878 ft., difference of 118 feet? For story telling purposes I like the sound of AllTrails. End time was at 1700 hours, with an ending temperature at 77°, total miles 11.9.
The scoop in between start and end is very much an individual experience, but this was mine....
This date, the trail was loaded with backpackers both coming in and going out, very few day hikers; it was a constant stop and move out of the way experience from start to finish. At one point I was kind of dreading it- the smell of hard work (sweat) is not the most welcoming and Ew. Little did I realize that fast forwarding a few hours that would be me, I only say that because there was no one else around to blame. The first mile is awesome, lots of elevation gain that the very well maintained switchbacks disguise. The scenery is dramatic! Mile #2, you climb up to approximately 10367 ft., on rocks, this little stretch was not fun, I was not comfortable using my trekking poles and should have put them away. There is a lake you have to stop and check out, very picturesque. Towards the end of mile #2, my heart was ferociously beating and my quads were on fire (again individual experience). Mile #3 is Barron, hot, and dry. It was a gradual but loooong hike up. You see your destination the entire way, and it never felt like I was getting closer! The sound of crashing, falling boulders with a sprinkle of a mini avalanche is -stop you in your tracks frozen scared, kind of terror! I have never witnessed or heard such a terrifying sound before. At around 3.9 miles you come across a beautiful lake, this time around it had a thin layer of frozen ice over it, unbelievably spectacular! According to AT, you are situated at approximately 11466 ft at this point. Mile #4 is long, bare terrain, mentally I felt like I was falling apart. At 4.5 miles you reach the Kearsarge Pass, you can easily identify it by all the hikers resting on this tiny bit of rock space. As a matter of fact, I felt like a walrus trying to move around and among an overcrowded small rock full of other walrus with their trekking poles also. From the pass to the lake valley Mile #6 marker, you have to understand what you hike up or down, you will have to do it again. I was not mentally prepared for this, and only for the playful and God forsaken commentaries of a friend, I knew I had to finish it! And that's where my story ends, the rest was an emotional and physical experience that killed me out there.
I left the valley floor at approximately 1345 hours, with plenty of daylight to burn. For the first time hiker, you got this. For the less conditioned hiker, slow and steady- just keep climbing.
***not sure if jumping in those lakes is permissible, but my fingertips convinced me not to baptize my own self. The lakes are far too inviting!***

10 days ago

Very scenic hike with dramatic alpine scenery. Went yesterday up to the Duck lake pass - the upper part of the hike is sometimes under snow so had to hike around on talus. We were wearing our street shoes and managed to walk around most of the snow. No mosquitoes yet!

hiking
11 days ago

Hiked all the way up to Seventh Lake. After the Third Lake, it was pretty un-crowded. Trail is snow-free but a bit muddy crossing the meadows on way to the Sixth and Seventh Lakes.

backpacking
14 days ago

Nice hike! We did it in the spring time and all the lakes were still frozen but very scenic.

hiking
18 days ago

Camped at Big Pine Creek campground and hiked to the second lake on June 1st. The entire hike is absolutely beautiful and the view of the second lake with Temple Crag on the back is just breathtaking. Words can't describe how beautiful this place is. We are definitely coming back for an overnight camp by the lake.

hiking
21 days ago

Hiked on May 29, to the 3rd lake, trail till which is relatively snow free. Attempted to continue up to the Glacier trail but was unsuccessful; pretty much covered in snow, and I lost the trail fairly early and had to turn around. Perhaps doable with ice axe, crampons and good route finding skills

Amazing trail , Great Lakes views , es una hermosura devén de venir es uña experiencia única

Beautiful views. Just went last weekend and the trail still has some snow and icy at some points as well as soft snow near the mouth of long lake. Long lake still pretty much frozen. But highly recommend for the views.

5/28/18

Started at the trailhead parking lot and hiked to the third lake. It was warmer than expected but very pleasant. The trail was very well maintained and there was no snow/ice. The hike was almost entirely uphill with decent tree coverage once you pass the cabin. We (couple) were comfortable with a backpack, water bladder, and some breakfast bars. This is a great day hike.

I hiked just to the pass yesterday with full camping gear in tow. Trail was very easy to follow to that point, just a few icy patches to navigate. When I got to the top around 3PM, clouds were rolling in, and I was greeted with snow and some thunder. The snow was not sticking, but I decided to turn around anyway because I did not bring much cold weather gear. Even so, the views on this route were stunning and varied. There were clear blue lakes, frozen lakes, and raging waterfalls. There is a constant variation in vegetation, terrain, and forests- it never feels like you are in one biome for too long. And it's all against a backdrop of snow-covered peaks. I highly recommend this hike before all of the snow melts!

hiking
25 days ago

Have hiked this trail many times. Absolutely one of a kind. You’ll be hiking parallel to a creek nearly the entire hike with waterfalls on the way up. If you’re a fisherman, bring a compact rod.
Don’t miss out on this one of a kind trail.

Ive done a lot of hikes in my 46 years and did Kearsarge Pass for the first time.....my favorite so far. May 27, trail was mostly clear of snow to the pass with perhaps a dozen snow patches on the trail that were easy to pass through. Just went to the top and back for the 9.4 miles. Love that dogs are allowed. Will bring my lab next time.

hiking
1 month ago

Just hiked it on 5-20-18 with my dog. There is clear trail for about 1/4 mile if your lucky enough to find that section. After that it’s pretty much snowpack the whole way. Lots of postholing. Snowshoes recommended. Pretty much guessing where the trail was and made plenty wrong turns. Ended up following some ski tracks and made it to Barney. All the lakes were still frozen and made for some gorgeous views. Skelton from above was by far my favorite view. Mid thaw, valley down below, mountains to the right, beautiful! The snow made it tough but well worth the effort. Got to watch some backcountry skiers come down one of the mountains above Barney too. Awesome!

hiking
1 month ago

Went to the Third Lake only which was a pretty clear trail - some leftover snow. Heard that heading towards the Fourth Lake had more snow so we just turned around at the Third. I'm deducting one star because I had heard the Third Lake was more turquoise in color, and we were really disappointed it was not - maybe it was the time of year or the time of day?? Any tips on that would be appreciated.

We somehow took a wrong turn on the way up and the way back so we did almost 15 miles. It was a pretty strenuous hike and we both think we were battling slight altitude sickness. Overall it was an amazing experience. We were so glad we opted to stay at the Glacier Lodge the night before and the day of the hike.

Tip: bring sunscreen for the exposed areas; stay at the Glacier Lodge the night before so you get a good night's sleep and the day of the hike so you get a nice hot shower!

It honestly lives up to hype with the sights to see. It is a challenge despite what other reviews might say. It’s continuously uphill and the altitude climb can really get to you (nausea, dizziness, and headaches). It takes about 2-3 hrs to get to the first lake depending on how many times you stop to rest. Bring lots of water/snacks and come prepared for a nice challenge. You’ll be sore but if you can push through it then it’s worth it. Lakes are beautiful blue green water and the views truly are breathtaking.

Just completed it today May 18.
Amazing view throughout the trail and not just the pass itself. Beautiful lakes and some at higher elevation were still frozen. Most snow has melted and it was very easy to see the trail. Less than a mile of the trail was still under the snow.
We also met some PCT thru hikers on the way to resupply at Independence. The trail just keeps going west and I would love to camp here one day and just keep going. But we still made a beautiful day hike out of it.
Saw a marmot , my first encounter.
It is not an easy trail, but if you are cardio prepared, the reward are the views and entire experience of being out there and going thru snow in May.

The highest of the five lakes is a jewel.

Attempt made on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, start time at approximately 11 a.m., (late start)! I'm giving it a 3 only because I completed about 1/4 of it. I lost the trail in the snow and no clear tracks to lead me anywhere. Without hiking experience or reliable GPS in the spotty vicinity, I turned around to a defeat. I would like to state that the little I was able to trek, absolutely stunning views and waterfalls. I will most certainly return to finish this, as it deserves! The only intimidating portion of this area, is the 20 minute drive back down in a sedan. My brakes felt every bit of that descent.

Beautiful!! the first and second lakes were frozen and the third was halfway melted. Not very hard but amazing views.

It’s an incredible hike! Like some other recent posts, we only went to 2nd lake but the entire way had such beauty there was no boring aspect. The weather was perfect. The hike isn’t strenuous and can be taken quite leisurely. I had a knee issue recently and managed to complete this hike without much issue. And my Maltese/Pomeranian did too! According to my Suunto Traverse we did just under 10 miles round trip. Can’t wait to come back when the lakes have thawed. We hiked on 05/05/18

No, dogs are certainly NOT able to use this trail. Past Kearsarge Pass you are hiking in Kings Canyon National Park. National parks do NOT allow dogs on wilderness trails.

hiking
1 month ago

Stunning views all around on this trail. However due to the late season snow we were forced to navigate that on most of my groups' three-day backpacking trip.

We camped at Chocolate lakes, just under Chocolate Peak which turned out to be an amazing lakeside site.

The next day we carried on to our next camp site near Bishop Lake. Getting to Bishop Pass was fairly annoying with the late season snowpack on the ground. While it was mostly solid and post holing wasn't much of an issue, it was pocked with holes from melt

on Big Pine Lakes Trail

hiking
1 month ago

Wow. Just wow. Spent all yesterday morning, from 8 a.m. - 1 p.m. hiking up to the second lake (group felt that going up to the third would’ve been a little more dangerous considering we didn’t anticipate so much ice) and the views were absolutely breathtaking! It started to snow as we were making our way back down (which made the hike all the more better) and ran into many anticipated fishermen. Sadly for them the lakes were frozen over leaving only a small little area for them to fish. However, all in all, this was probably the best hike I’ve done so far this year and I would LOVE to go back when the weather gets warmer!

hiking
1 month ago

I completed this trail on 27April18. Up to lake 3 is a safe hike and is where the best views are, beyond that, there is nothing moderate about it, at least in the winter time. I decided to push myself and continued (I only had crampons, no snow shoes) but there is still so much snow that is actually dangerous. Is so deep in some areas that my whole leg would get buried on it, and I am a 6’1” tall guy. There are so many creeks that you can hear them under the snow so you wanna be careful. The other lakes are smaller and not so impressive like the first three. Since the snow was so deep I didn’t go around lake four and intercepted the trail in the other end, which btw is nowhere to be seen, I just followed my GPS. The snow was so unstable that I had to crawl, slide on my rear, etc. I lost part of my hiking pole, stuck somewhere in the deep of it, even I almost lose one of my boots in a similar scenario. I had to dig it out. About the course, is continuous uphill up to lake four. Lake 1 is at 10000 ft., highest point 10800 or so. The loop which is somewhere around 5 miles long starts after 4.5 from the parking lot. The uphill is moderate in general, strenuous at times. Weather was chilli but comfortable.

backpacking
2 months ago

Not sure if I need to add to the big review pile for this trail, but why not. It lives up to the hype and the access is easy. I would say this is an excellent trail for beginning backpackers who want to experience the Sierra Nevada at its best.

It is popular for a reason, but the presence of people dwindle the further up you go, and there are options to expand beyond this trail (such as Agassiz Col which I attempted but failed, a successful failure I must say).

Why does the summary on this trail's description say it "features a lake"? As a matter of fact, it features so many lakes the namers half-assedly named them numbers. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...!

Nice hike

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