Rae Lakes Trail

HARD 77 reviews

Rae Lakes Trail is a 37.2 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Cedar Grove, California that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from June until September.

37.2 miles
7,844 feet






nature trips







wild flowers





no dogs

This trek can be planned as a 3 day hike unless you are experienced enough to hike up to 20 miles a day with a backpack. Bring a water-filter. You'll have access to the water (creek along the trail and lakes close to campgrounds).

3 days ago

One of the greatest Sierra hikes I have ever done. We took 7 days to complete the CW loop so we could take our time while on the JMT portion. It was well worth it and highly encourage anyone with the time to do the same. We saw 2 Bears at middle paradise but they never messed with us, however the squirrels at middle Rae Lake did. They attempted to eat into our snack bags within minutes of us taking a break! The trail was in good shape with the exception of the bridge being out at upper paradise (feet wet crossing) and another one just before Bubbs ands Woods creek meet up (easy bolder hop).

11 days ago

Made this Clockwise hike with Dan M (previous review). I’d like to emphasize our selection of camp sights as I felt ours was a great way to enjoy the best part of this loop. If you’re hiking the Rae Lakes Loop why not spend some time at Rae Lakes?

Day 1 - Ranger Station to Upper Paradise

Day 2 - Upper to Dollar Lake. Sure, with an early start, you can make it Rae Lakes, but this would be a tough ~14 mile day with ~3,600’ of elevation gain putting you at Rae late afternoon when most of the better Camp sites are taken. And then since you can only stay 1 night at Rae you’re out the next morning having only spent the evening and night at the best part of this trail.

Day 3 - Dollar to Rae Lakes. This is a short 4 mile hike. The crown jewel of this hike is Rae Lakes. The Dollar Lake stop puts you at Rae before noon, with your choice of any Campsite. We selected the little peninsula in the NW corner of Upper Rae just to the east of the little strait or stream connecting Upper and Middle. We were able to relax here all day, swimming in both Upper and Middle, fishing, talking with the exhausted clockwise hikers coming from Upper and the counterclockwise hikers coming thru the pass. Also enjoyed talking with all the JMT’ers and PCT’ers. This was an awesome, relaxing, well-needed restful day for some Hikers from Louisiana (elevation 12 feet).

Day 4 - Rae to Sphinx - up early to enjoy the views from Glen pass at dawn. It’s all down hill (stairs) from here. This is about 14 miles. You can make it all the way but for us it would’ve been late and we didn’t want to drive the 2 hours back to Fresno on that winding mountain road at dusk.

Day 5 - Sphinx back to the Ranger Station.

If you have 4 nights I recommend this itinerary. If we had to do it over again we perhaps make Day 4 shorter and Day 5 longer.

All in all a great hike! Enjoy.

11 days ago

We were a group consisting of two 50 year old boys and three 20ish year old men. We did the loop clockwise camping 4 nights. Camping spots were Upper Paradise, Dollar Lake, Upper Rae Lake, and Spynx.
River crossing at Upper was fine as we utilized a log jam roughly 200 yards downstream from the bridge location. The only issues we had was with water filtration due to our filter choices but it did slow us down to enjoy the views and catch our breath. We carried each one liter and I would recommend 2 liters for the pass as its a long haul over to the next fill up area. I would also recommend an early start for the pass as it does get warm fast. We started at 6 A.M. to cross over Glen. Saw bears at upper and spynx.

11 days ago

I've read somewhere that this is the most often done hike in the High Sierra and it is easy to see why. You really get the taste of just about everything here - from lush meadows, pleasant forests and swift rivers with waterfalls to snowy mountain passes and crystal lakes, and all that beauty in a loop that can be done in a couple of days! You really can't go any better than this.
We did our hike in the clockwise direction in 3 and a 1/2 days and it wouldn't be that difficult to do it in 3 if needed.
On the first day, we started from the permit station at around 10am and reached the Upper Paradise by mid-afternoon. The bridge over the river is still out and we met several groups of people who turned back at the sight of the river that needs to be forded. That said, with hiking poles for extra support and sandals or water-shoes to give you some grip, we didn't really feel that it would be quite that bad. Mid-June, the water reached to just around the upper part of my thighs (I'm 6'1") and I'm sure that later in summer, it will be lower than that (if you're not unlucky with rain).
On the second day, first thing in the morning, we forded the river and hiked up to where the trail meets the PCT/JMT (in the upper right "corner" on the map) and followed those to the Upper Rae Lake where we set up camp at around 5 or 6pm. This was by far the most strenuous day of the hike with 3600+ feet of elevation gain and quite a few up-and-down bits, especially in the first part, which added some extra feet to boot. Nevertheless, the views along this section are just spectacular as you slowly ascend above the treeline, and the lakes themselves are simply breath-taking.
On the third day, we started with the first light in order to reach Glen pass before the sun would soften the snow, making it more difficult and dangerous to walk on. Especially since we didn't have any micro-spikes or snow-axes, we were a bit worried but, as it turns out, with hiking poles and sturdy boots, the pass was nowhere near as bad as we had feared. Later in summer, things are bound to get even easier, but I would definitely think twice about doing this when there is a lot of snow. After you reach the pass, it's all downhill from there and there was no snow at all on the southern side, making the descent a walk in the park. We reached Charlotte Meadows by around 3:30pm and for a moment we debated whether to stick to the plan and set up camp there or hike all the way back to the car. In the end, we decided to take it easy and spent the rest of the afternoon bird-watching, but it's easy to see how one could make it from the Lakes back to the permit station in a day, albeit a fairly hard one.
On the fourth day, it only took a couple of hours to get to the end.
So, in summary, this hike is definitely right there in the top best hikes that I've ever done and I can happily recommend it to anyone who likes the outdoors and is not afraid of backpacking.
As other have said, the clockwise direction seemed easier with the ascent being more gradual, and I also felt that it worked better in terms of dividing the trail into manageable sections in a way that you get to camp by the lakes, which I can't recommend enough.
Finally, while on the trail, particularly in the lower sections, keep an eye out for rattlesnakes - we encountered two, and one of them let us get within striking distance before it started rattling, all coiled up and scary as hell. We froze and it slithered backwards off the trail while still coiled (I didn't even know that they can do that!) never once taking it's eyes off us, so no harm done, but it did scare me a lot. We haven't seen any bears but plenty of deer, a variety of lizards, birds, some marmots and a pika at the top of Glen Pass.

12 days ago

Highly recommend clockwise. Took me 4-1/2 days— hiked out the morning of the fifth day. There was a flash flood at the washed-out (former) Paradise Bridge- I heard some people got stranded for hours on an island in the middle of the river. A couple guys went out to rescue them— was touch-and-go. It was a little scary and also inconvenient, with rushing brown water you could not filter because it would clog/ jam up your water filter.

No-one told any of us there is a log jam- not even 1/8 of a mile downstream- which features a huge tree you can waltz across the river on. This info would have come in handy for a lot of people that day.

This is one of the most stunning hikes you will ever experience... but you’ll have to work for it.

14 days ago

Amazing and beautiful place to backpack! So glad I was able to do this one! I did a four night loop with my son’s scout troop. Other reviews have covered most of the info, but I would emphasize that you watch out for bears and rattlesnakes (we encountered a Mom and cub on trial and two rattlers during our hike.). I’d also emphasize that it seems like people are not exaggerating when they say counter clockwise is tougher: we did clockwise and as we went along I was grateful every step toward the end that I was descending that section and not ascending. There’s plenty of water everywhere and a lot of space to camp and the main sites and those have bear boxes for stuff that may not fit in your bear can. Also, be prepared for the oft encountered Sierra thunderstorms and rain.

16 days ago

Great loop gets a little busy at the suspension bridge but you get a great mix of loop hikers and through hikers that can chat around a campfire

20 days ago

Loved this loop. We did it in 3 days and saw a few black bears. Bring bug spray.

22 days ago

We are the “Intrepids” - a group of women aged 40-74 that love the outdoors and we embrace physical challenges. This hike is not for the timid nor those who are not in shape. We saw some frightening human behavior this past week.

We started out our counterclockwise hike up Bubb’s Creek last Thursday only to be turned around about 3 miles in by torrential rainfall and a lighting storm about noon. Since we planned for weather and wanted a layover day, the 24 hour layover in the Car Campground w a beer was an ok way to spend the night. Lesson: Do NOT let the early morning blue skies lull you into late starts. Get on the trail by 9am after you get your permit. On the bright side, the rain is a blessing. It’s predictable from about 1pm to 5pm and lasts about 3 hours. Our skies were very clear from any smoke from fires about 40 miles away in Yosemite. There was little to no dust to contend with. And be prepared for more visitors than normal. Yosemite is on fire and vacationers turned south to Kings Canyon it appears.

And let me add that I cannot imagine hiking this adventure clockwise. We loved our expanding approaches each day and the way down was painless and gradual compared to other places we’ve ended on a descent.

So we began again on Friday, July 20th. Early. 7:30am. We were greeted by a young black bear we saw the day before. She is about 75-100lbs and as cute as a button. She will do her bear thing and get out of your way; we watched her about 10-15 min each day. Once over the bridge the trail heads up and up to Sphinx Creek. This trek was much easier than anticipated as it’s short and the switchbacks are kind. We reached Sphinx campsite about 10am for a 45 min water and snack break. Not a cloud in the sky.... the way from here starts out flat and gradually ascends. As we would learn the whole trip, clouds would begin to build about 1130am. By about noon the group was tired and hot and the clouds were a blessing. There is a rattlesnake in this story I just don’t recall if it was Friday or Saturday that it slinked across the trail rattling at the forward group as they stepped by. Anyway the goal was Charlotte Creek and we arrived just in time to put up a 10x10ft tarp to stand under (there were 10 of us) while lightening struck all around us as we huddled beneath some shorter trees. The rains came like a monsoon about 1:30pm. We spent the next three hours singing and snacking while creating systems to keep our packs dry. We sat on bear vaults and took turns clearing the puddles of rain from the tarp. A small river formed under our feet it rained so hard. We watched drenched hikers all afternoon move up the trail non-plussed and others run down stating they were DONE w this weather. We felt a bit smug under the tiny tarp which we usually bring to create shade in the high country. About 430pm the rains subsided and the thunder grew more distant. Time to set up camp! We surveyed the area and noted that the rushing water had created flood patterns so we could pick good drier tent sites by reading the ground and debris deposits. Dinner was a special gyro recipe I’ve put together after years of hunting and gathering and drying veggies. Basically plain freeze-dried ground beef seasoned w oregano and mint and a dash of Lawrey’s over rice. Lots of rice. And topped w reconstituted sheep feta, tomatoes, olives, and red onions further enhanced w tzatziki sauce (yogurt, cucumbers and dill). We inhaled every bit and we were in bed by 830pm. Early start Saturday to Vidette Meadow. We agreed to wake up at 530am.

1 month ago

The most beautiful and varied scenery in the Sierra’s. Would recommend a 3-5 day loop. There is plenty of water, bugs surprisingly light despite all reports for July, plenty of hikers and backpackers but quiet places are easy to find. Our group of four packed lightly for a planned single night stay at the Lakes but decided to push the whole route in a single go. Loop mileage varies but according to our 3 GPS devices and totaling mileage markers we felt it was closer to 44-46 miles, not 41 and certainly not 37.

1 month ago

Simply amazing backpacking trip.

1 month ago

By and far the best and most thorough overview of the Sierras. If you check this and Yosemite Valley backpacking off your list, the rest is beautiful details. We took 5 days, 4 nights and did it counter-clockwise. We camped as follows: Junction Meadow, Middle Rae Lake, Woods Creek, and Lower Paradise Valley. The gain to Junction Meadow (Day 1) and Middle Rae (Day 2) was an ass-kicker, about 7,500’ total. All trails are clearly marked and moderately trafficked. We never went more than an hour or two without seeing someone. Especially on the John Muir/PCT portions of the hike, the east and north side of the loop, there are lots of PCTers this time of year with great information. Bear boxes are easy to spot and plentiful, and we never carried more than 2L of water at a time. We had two different filter systems: a Katadyn flex bottle for on-the-move filters when we came across creeks, and a Platypus 2L gravity system for camp. The water crossings are fine if you’re careful. Out of maybe two dozen creek crossings, there are only 3 or 4 that are truly worrisome. Log jams and rocks are plentiful though, and careful treading and good trekking poles will get you across. PLAN FOR MOSQUITOS. The mosquitos are relentless this time of year. Especially on the south side and in the Rae Lakes area. We had less trouble in Woods Creek and Paradise Valley. Bring several modes of mosquito repellent and perhaps a face net if you’re sensitive. The water is chilly but refreshing after a long day. We took dips every day and rinsed clothes. If you fly-fish, bring a set up. Brookes and browns are everywhere and they’re ready to feed. We will definitely be doing this loop again!

4 months ago

A lovely summer week in the Sierra - one of the best! The lakes were glassy in the mornings and reflected the surroundings flawlessly. We did the loop clock-wise. There were lots of rattlesnakes up to Paradise Meadows.

4 months ago

absolutely amazing one of the best things iv ever done

4 months ago

An super awesome trail, I can remember seeing a reflection of the Milky Way in Littel Rae lake Along side of Fin Dome!!!! In2000 Can’t wait to get back there this summer!!!

9 months ago

Had a great trip here on an unusually warm and clear weekend in late October. We did the clockwise loop from Road's End in 3 days / two nights. All told I would've enjoyed having another day or two to spend up by the lakes. The total mileage for the loop from Road's End is more like 42 and of the few other parties we saw it seemed like 4 or 5 days was the more common outing. This is a really fine bit of the sierras!

10 months ago

Hiked Sept 26-30th, stayed at Middle Paradise, Woods Crossing, Rae Lakes, and Junction Meadow. Bear boxes at parking lot and each camp site (except at Junction Meadow).

Perfect time of year to visit, since not crowded but still beautiful. Got cold enough at night at Rae Lakes to freeze the hose of our Camelbak. Some ice on trail up to glen pass at 11 am. Barely any snow on glen pass, and was easy enough to hike over the one patch at the top after noon in regular shoes/boots.

Wildlife highlights: lots of warblers including Hermit and Townsend's in Paradise Valley, Northern Saw-whet owl tooting at Middle Paradise, Lewis's woodpecker just past Paradise Bridge, lots of Clark's nutcrackers, marmots near Rae lakes ranger station, lots of pikas between Rae lakes and glen pass, large flocks of evening grosbeaks and band-tailed pigeons below junction meadow, and an inquisitive marten right above sphinx creek.

11 months ago

First backpacking trip was amazing at this loop. Spectacular views, river crossings, and suspension bridges. just be prepared for any weather at any time!

11 months ago

Walk-up permits available starting the day before at 1pm. Get them at Road's End permit station. But seems like only 5 available per day.

Allocate 3-4 days to complete the loop. Bear canisters are required, as this is an active black bear area, even though we didn't encounter any. Mosquito headnets are highly recommended as there are miles of trail thru swarms of gnats and mosquitos. Water sources abound, so no need to carry more than 2 liters at a time; bring a water filter, though.

Going clockwise along the loop is recommended, and pretty much what everyone does. First night in Upper Paradise Valley. Second night at Middle Rae Lakes. Third night at Junction Meadow.

Still some snow around Glen Pass, but there's none of the trail. Temperatures were mild. +40 degree sleeping back was enough for me.

Wildlife we encountered: Deer, marmots, chipmunks, rattlesnake.

11 months ago

Fun times. Glen pass ain't bad at all!!!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

This is an amazing backpacking loop. I did it in July of 2016 and loved it. Here is my trip report with a bunch of pictures and logistical info: https://backpackersreview.wordpress.com/trip-reports/rae-lakes-loop/

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Fantastic loop. Especially at Rae Lakes and the campsites before and after your night at Rae Lakes. Spectacular views. It will make you sweat and work for it but well worth it!

Sunday, July 02, 2017

I did this loop with 3 others back in 2012. We did go counterclockwise and glad we did. It puts you into the back-country the very first day. Meaning, at the foot of high peaks. It would take almost 3 days before you got that if you go the other way. We hiked from roads end to a spot along Bubbs creek just before Junction Meadow. That was about nine miles for the first day with full packs. That was enough. Had a big bear walk right thru our camp that evening right as we were getting in our tents. He never even looked at us, just kept going. The next day we connected with the PCT and went up out of Vidette Meadow. We took a detour for one night over to the Kearsarge Lakes. Very well worth it. It is really beautiful in here. The next day we took the trail from the lakes upwards towards Kearsarge pass, and then hung a left on the high trail that reconnects to the PCT. The views from this trail are some of the best I have seen anywhere in the Sierra. Once back on the PCT, it was up and over Glen Pass and down to the Rae Lakes where we spent 2 nights. On our down day the next day, we did a day hike up towards the 60 lakes basin. We went over the pass and down a short distance but did not go all the way into the basin. Had a short lunch break with an awesome view up and down the 60 Lakes area. Then back down to our camp spot for our last night. A nice refreshing swim in Upper Rae Lake felt good after that day hike too!! That evening the mosquitoes zeroed in on us and we were forced into our tents sooner than we wanted. Heard a massive rock fall up by Dragon Lake as we sat in our tents kicking back. That was really something. Wasn’t sure what it was at first, then there was no mistaking that sound. Mother Nature unleashed. The next morning we packed up while being totally harassed by tons of mosquitoes. The worst I have seen on all my trips. Couldn’t wait to get walking. It was pretty much all downhill from there back to the truck over the next 3 days. We camped one night at Woods creek Jct. And then another at lower Paradise. Then had an easy hike out the last day. The water in the Kings that year was unusually low. Went swimming right by our camp site in lower paradise. Don’t think you’d be doing that this year (2017), or on any normal year. 2012 was a very lackluster winter for the Sierra. In fact, we did this hike in mid-June that year. It is one of the best loops in the Sierra, and it is also one that’s on everyone’s list, as it is heavily used. Lots of people on these trails.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

I did this trail last year (2016) and I loved it so much, I was really looking forward to doing it again. However, I just got off the phone with the wilderness office about the washed out bridge. Even by my permit date (7/18) he wasn't sure if the water would be low enough to rock-hop/cross. Counter-clockwise is intense, so not sure if I want to do an in-and-out (assuming I could even get permits). Anyone recommend a good five day hike?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Most incredible hike of my life. The scenery is just incredible.

We did the hike in 4 days / 3 nights (10 miles per day). The hike is strenuous. If you want to spend a day chilling by the lakes, I recommend 5 days.

Only down side was mosquitos - they were extremely dense and biting. I recommend head nets and thick clothes so you don't get eaten alive!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

We're doing counter clockwise starting 7/2. Since the bridge is out, we were planning on doing an out and back to Rae Lakes. Has anyone been over Glen Pass lately? Is it safe?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Headed out from Woods Creek on 7/3, wondering if the river will be passable ?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

061017 Trail update: Bridge is still out at Paradise Valley South Fork of Kings River. However, we did the out and back for this route (20 miles). Stunning views and great hike!!!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Most amazing views... vast Valley scenes to walking thru lush Meadows. The lakes were absolutely amazing, we stayed at Arrow head lake b4 proceeding over the pass. Not a super rigorous hike overall and well worth it for the views. we did the trip in 4 days which made it quite easy going, 1 of the days we spent entirely at the lakes. been on several trips and this by far was the best experience for me.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The immense snowfall and the subsequent melt from this winter has washed out the bridge crossing the South Fork above upper Paradise and the suspension bridge before the JMT. That being said, it was gorgeous and the trails were super gnarly. You can scale massive boulders or slog through waist-deep flood water. Epic. Bears (plus two cubs) and rattlesnakes abound. Check when they have those bridges fixed (who knows when) and have at it! Was told by numerous sources there were still ~15 ft of snow at Rae Lakes. The counter-clockwise route is very steep, but you may be able to get up further. I turned around after heading clockwise and went up the first two miles to Sphinx Creek Junction the other direction. Two rangers passed by with skis to suss things out. I presume you could get much higher going that way with skis or snowshoes! Views and falls were astonishing. Cannot wait to return.

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