High Sierra Trail : Crescent Meadow to Whitney Portal

HARD 30 reviews
#12 of 83 trails in

High Sierra Trail : Crescent Meadow to Whitney Portal is a 60.3 mile heavily trafficked point-to-point trail located near Sequoia National Park, 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
60.3 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
16840 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.

backpacking
5 days ago

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

26 days 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.

1 month ago

Great views, waterfalls, lakes, and weather.

1 month ago

Buitifull scenery with lots of exposures.

1 month ago

backpacking
2 months ago

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.

2 months ago

2 months ago

backpacking
9 months ago

hiking
9 months ago

hiking
9 months ago

backpacking
11 months ago

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

backpacking
11 months ago

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.

hiking
Sunday, July 24, 2016

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
Wednesday, June 24, 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.