High Sierra Trail : Crescent Meadow to Whitney Portal

HARD 47 reviews
#10 of 93 trails in

High Sierra Trail : Crescent Meadow to Whitney Portal is a 59 mile heavily trafficked point-to-point trail located near Red Fir, California that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, camping, fishing, and backpacking and is best used from May until October.

DISTANCE
59.0 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
15475 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Point to Point

backpacking

camping

fishing

hiking

forest

lake

hot springs

river

views

wild flowers

wildlife

rocky

snow

no dogs

Each paragraph below roughly corresponds to a day on the trail, although there are many ways to break up the hike, and day hikes are also possible. 1. The HST begins at Crescent Meadow, or start from the trailhead at Wolverton. The trail climbs along a steep ridge. To the right, the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River. To your left, the summit of Alta Peak at 11,000 feet. The 1st camp is at 9-Mile Creek - this creek is not labeled as such, but is referred to as 9-Mile because it is 9 miles in. Or, move on to the next creek crossing (Buck) or to the backpacker camp at Bearpaw Meadow. All three have bear boxes. 2. The second stretch is exposed alpine terrain. From Buck, the trail climbs 600 ft to Bearpaw Meadow. Here is a backpacker's camp. For the next two miles, the trail descends from Bearpaw to Lone Pine Creek. You will find a bridge over a gorge but it's another mile until easy water. There are some campsites throughout. Here you find granite formations like Valhalla and Angel Wings. Eventually you reach Hamilton Lake. Stay here or continue up to Precipice and through Hamilton Gorge. This stretch ends at Precipice Lake. 3. Hike along through a boulder field and past some shallow ponds in an alpine zone. A mile in you'll be standing atop Kaweah Gap, the pass which marks the trail's crossing of the Great Western Divide. 9-Lakes basin is to your left, but to stay on the trail descend to your right into Big Arroyo. The trail descends through Big Arroyo for several miles, eventually meeting a trail junction near an old patrol cabin. There are many campsites scattered. This junction is the beginning of a gradual, hot climb out of Big Arroyo. It is the driest stretch of the trail so fill up on water in the Arroyo. As you climb you'll get views of the southern peaks of the Great Western Divide before entering the forest atop Chagoopa Plateau. Eventually, if you choose the right fork at the trail junction, you'll arrive at Moraine Lake, a great place for a swim and camp. 4. For the first few miles of this stretch you'll get to enjoy easy hiking as the trail winds gradually through the woods with no steep ascents or descents. If you have a sharp eye, keep a lookout for Mount Whitney in the distance. It's not a clear view, but it's the first peek you'll get of the highest point in the lower 48 states, one you'll hopefully be standing on in a few short days. You'll pass the remains of an old sheep herder's cabin and through a forest of burnt tree trunks. Eventually you'll hike along the southeastern edge of Sky Parlor Meadow with an unobstructed view of Mt Kaweah. After joining back together with the other fork of the High Sierra Trail, the long, ~2500 foot descent into the Kern Canyon begins. It starts off moderate but turns into tight, rocky, steep switchbacks. Before the switchbacks, the trail passes through a dense field of ferns - this is where you need to go on rattlesnake alert. They are common here and on the upcoming stretch of trail. 5. Next is a simple and easy stretch at the midpoint of the High Sierra Trail. The trail parallels the Kern River, climbing gradually through the Canyon. You'll have plenty of water access. Approximately eight miles from the Hot Spring you'll reach Junction Meadow, the not-so-cleverly named open space where other the High Sierra Trail meets the trail to Colby Pass and other destinations to the west. There are many campsites at Junction Meadow. From here, the trail follows the right fork of the Kern River and starts to climb. Before too long you'll reach the junction to Wallace Creek. The High Sierra Trail continues to the right with a sign informing you of the short 14.8 miles left until Mount Whitney. There are a few campsites if you continue straight towards Upper Kern Basin. 6. This segment goes a western-approach climb of Mount Whitney: Guitar Lake. This is a stretch that climbs about 3500 feet in ten miles. Upon meeting Wallace Creek (which is far below you), the trail turns to the east until you eventually meet it at the junction with the JMT. About 3.5 miles in the High Sierra Trail meets the John Muir Trail where it crosses Wallace Creek. At the junction there are many campsites. Finally, you'll reach Crabtree Meadow where there is a backcountry ranger station, places to camp, and water access. From here, the trail climbs another ~800 feet in 2.5 miles to Guitar Lake at 11,400 feet. 7. The summit of Whitney is about a 3000 foot climb from Guitar Lake. The first 2.5 miles and 2000 feet switchback up the western side of the ridge until reaching Trail Junction. Here, drop your pack (keep your food protected from marmots!), grab your camera and water, and head to the summit. The summit is another 1000 feet up in about two miles. After summiting, it's about 11 miles and 6000 feet of descent to the trailhead. Back at the Junction, pick up your pack and climb the final small stretch to Trail Crest, then descend the famous 97 switchbacks.

hiking
10 days ago

I did only to the pass after precipice lake. As of late May, it was still fully covered with snow. You need to know what you are doing, but it was amazing. I'll come back later in the season someday!
Also, I did this back and forth in a day hike, about 36 miles. Very doable since up to hamilton lake (and even later - up to where there was snow) the trail is extremly well marked and easy to follow, you can do 3 miles/hour easily

hiking
1 month ago

This is my all time favorite trail so far. I have only done it once but will hope to again, my son and I hiked it in 2015. We hiked in early August and the weather was excellent. Breathtaking views at every turn. The altitude is a challenge, but if you are reasonably fit and take your time you will be well adjusted by the time you summit Whitney. One of the best weeks of my life!

2 months ago

❤️❤️❤️

backpacking
3 months ago

A buddy and I began our hike late into November and we went for about 28 miles before we were caught up in a pretty good sized snowstorm that was a little too much and had to turn back. Thats what youll get when you come late into the year though. All the snow and ice aside, this trail is absolutely amazing. At least make your way up to Bearpaw, the views here are awesome!

hiking
5 months ago

Hiked a few miles but didn’t complete. Planning on overnight camping to Crescent Meadows.

backpacking
6 months ago

Thru hiked this amazing trail in 2007, and will be doing it again next year. One of the best experiences of my life! I made a video of my HST hike on YouTube. Search for Four Feet Up, High Sierra Trail. Hope you enjoy!

hiking
8 months ago

09/17/17 - Beautiful hike up to Bearpaw High Sierra Camp. This trail can be challenging due to all the elevation gain and loss. The beginning and ending elevations are misleading because there's a lot of up to go down and vice versa. The trail is in good condition and well traveled but never crowded (at least when we were on it). At the lower elevations, the gnats or noseeums or whatever they are are particularly pesty. They don't bite but they fly into ears and eyes, even getting between sunglasses and skin. Having had experience with them two years ago, I came prepared this year with a mosquito net which made all the difference. We stopped for lunch halfway at Panther Creek, a beautiful spot with a lively stream and plenty of shade. There's also a nice rest spot at Buck Creek just before the final climb to Bearpaw Meadow.
9/18/17 On our "rest" day, we hiked up towards Kaweah Gap. I made it to Precipice Lake and was quite pleased. The trail climbs from Bearpaw Meadow approximately 4 miles to Hamilton Lakes, which makes a picturesque stopping point before beginning the more punishing ascent to Pine and Precipice Lakes. As with the 11 miles of the trail from Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw, there's a lot of up to go down and vice versa. Spectacular wide open views greet you along the way and we were lucky enough to be met by ice floes in Precipice Lake. Quite a stunning sight. The return down to Bear Paw was a long downhill with more uphill than I would have preferred.
09/19/17 - Retracing our steps back down to Crescent Meadow. A beautiful day for an 11.3 mile hike. Again, lots of up even though our final destination was down. A restful stop at Panther Creek for a snack. Encountered two horse/mule pack trains in their way up to reprovision Bearpaw and a number of hiking parties but still the trail never felt crowded.

backpacking
10 months ago

Completed Aug 2017. Whitney and Wright creek crossings dicey but everything else fab!

10 months ago

Great views and great trail etiquette can be found immediately after departing Crescent Meadow. We just did an out-and back day hike from Crescent Meadow and it was spectacular. There is not much elevation change the first few miles, so you can put in some rather easy miles and get a variety of alpine views along the way. Keep an eye out for bears in the thick brush above and below the trail. I was a bit concerned about surprising one on this trail because of all the little turns along the mountain side. No worries as long as everyone in your group has good awareness.

11 months ago

Great views, waterfalls, lakes, and weather.

11 months ago

Buitifull scenery with lots of exposures.

backpacking
Thursday, June 15, 2017

Arrived on Monday to see that it had just snowed a few inches the night before. It was insanely beautiful walking to eagle view and looking over the south side with snow still on top of the trees. we didn't do the entire trail only till bearpaw meadow. Possibly one of my favorite trails I've ever been on.

backpacking
Monday, September 19, 2016

Amazing views you'll never see without hiking to them!

backpacking
Thursday, September 15, 2016

Didn't finish it due to scheduling and altitude sickness, but I will be trying again next year. Extremely beautiful trail. Lots of wildlife! Give yourself plenty of time, so that you can really enjoy it.

camping
Friday, January 29, 2016

This trail begins at Crescent Meadow and culminates at the peak of Mount Whitney. Awesome trip, awesome experience. My only recommendation is take a day off the trail at Kern Hot Springs. Its at the center of the trail and will revitalize you for the next half of the hike. Time of year completed was the end of August/ beginning of September of 2015.

hiking
Monday, May 11, 2015

This year marks my 50 year anniversary for hiking the High Sierra Trail. As a high school graduation gift, I asked my parents to drop me off at Crescent Meadows and pick me up in Yosemite Valley. I joined the JMT at Wallace Creek, ignoring Mt. Whitney. After the beauty and solitude of the High Sierra Trail, I was somewhat disappointed at the crowds on the JMT (yes, it was popular back then, and Rae Lakes as raucous as ever). I ended up hiking straight througn, never assembling my fishing rod, not reading my book, and using my stove only to make soup in the evening. I arrived in the Valley in nine days, and never again had any desire to hike the JMT again (I still have not climbed Whitney). The Sierra High Route has captured my interest, and I have hiked various spectacular segments of that route. Bottom line: you can't go wrong with the High Sierra Trail.

hiking
Friday, November 28, 2014

Amazing hike. Plenty of water and the views cannot be beaten!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Looking for a one-week, self-guided adventure off the beaten path that you'll remember for years to come? Not a fan of crowded trails? Look no further. This trail manages to pack a massive number of breathtaking views and bucket-list-worthy accomplishments into a relatively short trip that still feels like a journey into the wild.

I solo-hiked the High Sierra Trail in June of 2014. Estimated stats: ~16K feet of elevation gain over ~92 miles of trail. Note that the typical route ends by exiting through Whitney Portal after summitting Mt. Whitney. I decided to extend my trip a bit and head North after Whitney and exit over Kearsarge Pass / Onion Valley. (See attached photos for a list of my trip legs, distances, approximate mileage and elevation gain).

I've hiked a lot of high-elevation Eastern Sierra, but never done such a long stretch of backpacking nor so many miles. It was a humbling experience.

General tips:
1. Even in drought conditions like we have in 2014, there was plenty of water along the trail at the end of June.
2. Snow was only encountered on the North side of Forester Pass, which is not part of the typical HST route. No crampons/ice axes/spikes were necessary for me, and I have very little experience hiking on snow. Some post-holing. No life-threatening drop-offs.
3. If you're afraid of heights - you're going to have trouble in several areas, beginning with hiking out of Sequoia, around Hamilton Lakes, and Mt. Whitney.
4. There are established campsites at fairly intuitive / regular intervals along the trail. You still need to take a bear canister, but it was nice to have these for convenience.
5. Whitney at sunrise: Woke up at ~12:30am, hit the trail by 1am, summitted around 4:30. Frigid.

hiking
Monday, January 06, 2014

Did this trail from Jan 3 to Jan 5, 6 miles in and then out. There is a set of camp sites 5.8 miles in from the Crescent Meadow trailhead that allow you to sleep on exposed rock under the stars, without obstruction. You can watch the sunset over the mountains. Really great.

For Jan 3-5, we needed 30' sleeping bags, and 4 layers of clothing while sitting around.

The camp sites had premade fire pits, and a food locker at the first camp site.

Note that the map shown on this trail page, as of Jan 3, 2014, doesn't show the entire High Sierra Trail, just the first 12 or so miles.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

I didn't leave from Guitar Lake, I did Whitney Portal to Summit in one day, starting from midnight. I loved this hike to 10k. Above 10k is very desolate and exhausting, but of course, the Fourtneer status makes it worth it :)

hiking
Monday, September 23, 2013

This was my first multi-day hike. It was challenging and awesome. Saw some beautiful country and had a great time. At first it seemed daunting to reach the Whitney summit but by the end of the week it seemed too soon for it to be over!!! :)

hiking
Sunday, August 04, 2013

This was one of the most amazingly breathtaking and most difficult hikes I have done to date. Started off at Crescent Meadow in the Sequoias. We decided to take a leisure pace and do on average of 7 miles per day. Packs weighed in at about 45lbs. Our trek took us to Buck Creek where we spent our first night. Bear paw meadow was stop #2. Third night we spent at Hamilton lake where we were able to catch and eat some fish. The lake was amazing and the weather was great. Hicks into all of these stops were moderate with some difficult up hill spots. Leaving Hamilton lake was our first really tough hike Up to The Picturesque Precipice Lake then up even more crossing Kaweah Gap. We spent the next night at Junction Meadow, a nice quite camp with plenty of water from a beautiful stream. Our next stop, Moraine Lake. My favorite lake of the whole hike. Nice sandy beaches, beautiful views of the Kaweahs and the water temp was perfect. The hike from Moraine to Kern Hot Springs was tough, and mostly down hill. Depressing cause over the next couple of days we'd have to gain that same elevation that we just lost (sequence of stops may be in wrong order, going off my phone notes and may not be all correct). From Junction Meadow was actually Crab Tree Ranger station. That hike was long and lots of climbing. Got rained on and fell in Right Creek that was overflowing due to rainfall, but it was still a beautiful hike. From Crab Tree we set off to Guitar Lake at the base of Mt. Whitney. I gotta admit, all the trails from Kern Hot Springs were tough and uphill, but worth the effort. Wind storms and elevation hindered sleep at Guitar. Set off for Mt. Whitney at around 3:00am. Again, all up hill, and I mean up. Lol
The summit on our 9th day to the top of Mt. Whitney started off cloudy but once we got to he summit, the clouds cleared and it was breathtaking.
This was actually our longest day, 13 hours from Guitar to the summit then down the 97 switchbacks to Trail Camp on the East side where we spent the night.
Our 10th day was longer than expected, and more switchbacks than we thought. But...we finally made it to Whitney Portal and had a wonderful meal of Hamburgers with cheese an bacon, an order of fries and a wonderful beer. Ahhhh.
I am so glad I did this hike and encourage all to venture on to the HST. The views are just breathtaking.

camping
Tuesday, March 05, 2013

I hiked this trail in August 2008 with my friend Patrick while we were still in college and it was a blast. I'd been wanting to hike the high sierra for at least 10 years prior after visiting the trailhead numerous times as a child, but only for day hikes. This trail lived up to my expectations and then some. It was a grind, it was exhausting, it broke me down. But aside from getting married I would venture to say it was the most rewarding experience of my life. We came in prepared and were on such a tear that we shaved two days off our pre planned 7. Finished the whole thing and down to Whitney portal in 5 days. The views, wildlife, and overall beauty of the trail is magnificent and worth every ache and pain. I will do it again in a heart beat, just gotta make the time. Amazing experience

hiking
Friday, March 02, 2012

Hiked in a group of three from west to east in seven days. Amazing traverse of the Sierra Nevada with non-stop scenery. We did this early in a big snow year and some of the creek crossings were more exciting (and dangerous) than we would have liked. There was snow over Kaweah Gap and on Mount Whitney, but it was easy. Great weather the first six days, but had to descend Whitney the last day under hail and lightning in a bad storm.

hiking
Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The trails and the terrain are beautiful and pleasurable...BUT...STAY AWAY FROM CALIFORNIA HOT SPRINGS! It is a tiny cluster of cabins and camping areas......in some tacky area called Pine Flat and I was there with my service dog who wears a service dog harness I walk her on and she is a well behaved,quiet,trained dog. My dog Daisy and I have hiked all over California and this California Hot Springs section has nasty people who run a store called Seven Oaks Market. Out on the trails through Calif. Hot Springs my sweet dog and companion Daisy was shot at by a local resident
who I heard joking about it with his friend.

hiking
Wednesday, October 12, 2011

This is a great hike! It starts at the Sequoia National Forest and ends at Whitney Portal. I turned back after completing Whitney and turned a 70 mile hike into a 120 mile hike. The views are amazing. The first ten miles follow the side of a mountain to Bear Paw Meadows. From there you hike up to 10,700 feet to the stunning Kaweah Gap. The trail then follows a ridge above the Big Arroyo and then down to the Kern River. The trail then heads north eight miles along the river. Don't miss a chance to stop at the Kern Hot Springs where there is a working bathtub to soak in! The Trail heads up the Wallace Creek and meets up with the end of the John Muir Trail. The last campsite at Guitar Lake is located below Mount Whitney and features stunning views of the highest mountains in the Sierras. Wake up at 3am and start up the steep trails and you can make the Mount Whitney summit to see the sunrise. This was truly an amazing hike, although it requires a lot of endurance and preparation!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

WATCH OUT FOR RATTLESNAKES!!! Just as the author stated in his guide, there are rattlesnakes just as you come into the switchbacks on your way into the Kern river valley. On our trip we making great time into this section when my hiking partner almost stepped on one. From that point on, it was like hiking through a mine field and we encountered 4 more on the trail in the next 1/2 mile.

This is possibly the most remote location of the entire trip. You will be about 3 days of hiking, for the healthy man, in any direction to the nearest road. Communications are sketchy even with our spot device as the canyon walls block most the satellites. Getting struck by a rattlesnake here would be a logistical nightmare!!!

http://s47.photobucket.com/albums/f189/Bubba281/High%20Sierra%20Trail%20September%202011/?action=view&current=P9190426.jpg

hiking
Sunday, February 20, 2011

An absolute pristine backcountry experience. The meandering trail out of Crescent Meadow out to Bearpaw Meadow was a good leg warmup for the push up into Hamilton Lakes. The first night spent at Hamilton Lake with the Granite Peaks of the Kaweahs backdropped by the stars was serene. Take some extra time to go off trail into the Nine Lakes Basin for some boulder hopping and running before heading into the Arroyo Canyon. The Absolute must of this trek is dropping into the Kern Drainage and taking a muscle relaxing dip at the Kern Hot Spring, the most remote hot spring in all of North America. Summiting Mt Whitney at 14,496' at the tail end of a trans cross West to East of the "Mighty" Sierra Nevada Mountain is a truly Wild experience. Did not run into a single other backpacker during my trek, not recommended as a solo as i did due to any potential emergency situations. At times you are 30-40 miles in any direction from the beginning of any access road with a further 15-20 miles to any EMS assistance. Bring money or plastic for the trail end at Whitney Portal Store and partake in some great grub after a few days of trail food, portions are from the old rock climbing days when one serving fed 2-4, really nice.

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