Backpacking Rae Lakes Loop
BOOK NOW More Info The Rae Lakes Loop is an incredible 50+ mile journey that climbs over 12,000 vertical feet in 6 days, offering endless granite vistas, ample swimming holes, and plenty of solitude away from the popular John Muir Trail. Not to be confused…
The Rae Lakes Loop is an incredible 50+ mile journey that climbs over 12,000 vertical feet in 6 days, offering endless granite vistas, ample swimming holes, and plenty of solitude away from the popular John Muir Trail. Not to be confused with the 40 mile loop accessed from Roads End on the west side of the Sierra, this loop will begin and end at the Onion Valley Trailhead at an elevation around 9,500 feet.
Note: We are closely monitoring how the record breaking snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is going to impact conditions for backpacking trips for the Summer of 2023. We anticipate snow travel to be necessary and abundant on higher elevation trails for most or all of the Summer. Choosing trip dates later in the Summer in August, September or even October will help to decrease the amount of snow travel necessary for your trip.
Summer 2023 Dates:
Your first day will take you up a moderate climb on excellent trail to the top of Kearsarge Pass around 11,700 feet. After soaking in the views of the Great Western Divide and the Kearsarge Pinnacles, you’ll begin your descent past Bull Frog and Kearsarge Lakes before reaching the Bubbs Creek junction near Videttte Meadow. The following days you continue your descent while paralleling Bubbs Creek before the forest opens up again, offering views of granite domes and spires before a steep set of switchbacks guiding you to the South Fork of the Kings River. The beautiful Mist Falls, crystal clear waters of the Kings River, and ample swimming holes will provide a nice reprieve before regaining all those vertical feet lost on the forested descent.
Your climb begins up the Woods Creek Trail where you’ll pass the Castle Domes before reconnecting with the JMT via a masterfully crafted suspension bridge over Woods Creek. Your efforts are rewarded with stellar views of granite peaks and clear alpine lakes once you reach the namesake of this backpacking loop, the stunning Rae Lakes with the beautiful and unique Painted Lady Peak in the background. The final days of this journey will challenge your fitness as you climb out of the Rae Lakes Basin up the steep and rocky switchbacks to the top of Glen Pass at 11,926 feet. You’ll then descend back into the familiar territory of Bull Frog and Kearsarge Lakes, nearly completing the full lollipop as you regain Kearsarge Pass before the moderate descent back to the trailhead. Come join our world class backpacking guides on this incredible bucket list journey through heart of the southern Sierras.
The Rae Lakes Loop is an incredible 50+ mile journey that climbs over 12,000 vertical feet in 6 days, offering endless granite vistas, ample swimming holes, and plenty of solitude away from the popular John Muir Trail.
The dates we have scheduled here need a minimum of 2 participants to run and a maximum guiding ratio of 6:1. This trip can also be scheduled as a Custom Private at our Custom Private rates.
Day 1: Expect a moderate climb on excellent trail as you leave Onion Valley and hike just over 2,000 vertical feet in 4.5 miles to gain Kearsarge Pass, which offers stunning views of the Kearsarge Pinnacles and the Great Western Divide as a reward for your efforts. From the pass, you’ll descend into the heart of the Sierra, passing Kearsarge and Bull Frog Lakes on your way to the Junction of the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. You’ll continue your descent into the old growth forest until you reach Bubbs Creek near Vidette and Lower Vidette Meadow. (8.5 miles).
Day 2: Keep your eyes pealed for good swimming holes, as you continue your descent through the thick forest while paralleling Bubbs Creek, and periodically catching glimpses of granite domes towering above the trail before reaching Sphinx Junction. (9.5 miles).
Day 3: Steep switchbacks and sweeping granite vistas will start your day off as you continue your descent towards the crystal clear waters of the South Fork of the Kings River, passing the beautiful Mist Falls, on your way to Upper Paradise Valley. (10 miles).
Day 4: Tricky route finding across the Kings River (due to a bridge that was destroyed in a previous flooding event) connects you with the Woods Creek Trail and you’ll begin climbing up canyon past the beautiful Castle Domes on the northern side. Just as you connect with the John Muir Trail again, you’ll find a masterfully constructed suspension bridge that will aid in your crossing of Woods Creek, should waters remain high. From there, you’ll head south on the JMT until you reach Dollar and finally Arrowhead Lake. (10 miles).
Day 5: Today you will finally reach the namesake of the loop, Rae Lakes, which is arguably among the best alpine scenery the Sierras have to offer. The Painted Lady is the centerpiece of the Rae Lakes cirque as it towers over all three lakes and is the muse of many photographers passing through (due to its range of color that sets it apart from other granite summits in the area). After a quick dip in a one of those refreshing alpine lakes, you’ll make your way to the top of Glen Pass at 11,926 feet, a steep and rocky climb that offers incredible views in every direction. After descending the steep switchbacks on the other side of Glen Pass, you’ll make your way back towards Onion Valley, gaining elevation yet again, before making your way to camp near Kearsarge Lakes. (11 miles).
Day 6: After yesterday’s ascent of Glen Pass, climbing Kearsarge Pass will feel like a piece of cake due to long, moderate grade of the climb, your light backpack, and incredible views of the Sierras just over your shoulder. You’re back in familiar territory and will make your way back to the car from Kearsarge Pass in 4.5 miles and just over 2,000 vertical feet. (~7 miles).