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High Sierra Trail: Crescent Meadow to Whitney Portal

HARD 52 reviews
#12 of 86 trails in

High Sierra Trail: Crescent Meadow to Whitney Portal is a 59 mile heavily trafficked point-to-point trail located near Three Rivers, California that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from May until October.

59.0 miles
15,475 feet
Point to Point





nature trips



hot springs



wild flowers




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.

4 months ago

Amazing and jaw-dropping views with great history of the trail! Walk-in permits are easy to obtain. Bear boxes in almost all of the established campsites. Some campsites have outhouses. Favorite campsites: Hamilton Lakes, Moraine Lake, Kern Hot Springs, Guitar Lake. Must do hike!

7 months ago

Hiked the HST one year ago this week. We made from Crescent Meadow to Whitney Portal in 7 days (6 nights). We had big thunderstorms with hail at Precipice Lake, Crabtree Meadow and Guitar Lake. Soaking in Kern Hot Spring was a perfect break in the middle of day 3. We did an alpine start on Whitney and got to see the sunrise and lightning across the Valley on White Mountain. I can’t think of a better way to spend a week.

8 months ago

This trail has a little bit of everything. I especially enjoyed the numerous fly fishing opportunities along the way. We saw nine black bears on our trip.

8 months ago

It was a great trip! I did see a bear and a rattlesnake. I do recommend stopping my Bearpaw Meadows to buy a brownie for $5.

8 months ago

Really great hike! Definitely a challenge, but certainly doable if you're in decent shape. We took 7 days (7/14-7/20) and found that to be a good sweet spot for a challenging but not too aggressive pace. Our itinerary was: Bearpaw Meadow, Hamilton Lake, Big Arroyo, Kern Hot Springs, JMT Junction, Guitar Lake, and Whitney-Whitney Portal. There was absolutely no snow and it was easy going the whole way through. There are plenty of spots for water throughout, but bringing a bladder is recommended for those draining sunny days. A few things to note: 1) Highly recommend that you bring bug spray as mosquitoes are all over this trail. They're not unbearable, but it can be very annoying at times. 2) We ran into a couple rattlesnakes along the way, so watch your step during the day as they sunbathe on the trail or in campsites 3) Trekking poles are highly recommended for stability across all the various river crossings, slowing down for steep descents, and helping up the long ascents.

9 months ago

Incredible hike. Did this from Crescent Meadows to Whitney Portal from 6/15-6/20 (6 days, 5 nights). Very demanding hike but no major issues in terms of stream crossings or snow. Kaweah Gap does not require snow gear, and while we used axes and spikes for a couple sections of the Whitney Trail switchbacks, the snow will likely be gone soon. The sun is very powerful and draining at these altitudes so it is best to start hiking early and bring appropriate clothing.

Highly recommend for anyone looking for a challenging hike that rewards with awesome views throughout.

10 months 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

10 months ago

Extremely discouraging with all of the constant gains and immediate losses in elevation but the views are second to none. Would only do it again if i went through rather than out and back from Hamilton

11 months 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!

Saturday, March 24, 2018


Friday, February 23, 2018

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!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

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

Saturday, November 25, 2017

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!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

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.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Great views, waterfalls, lakes, and weather.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Buitifull scenery with lots of exposures.

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.

Monday, September 19, 2016

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 :)

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!!! :)

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.

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

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