Hiking the Lakes Trail in Sequoia National Park
This hike into the high Sierras of Sequoia National Park makes for a spectacular day of beautiful trails, mountain vistas, and alpine lakes.
Hike Date: August 16, 2021
|0 mi||0 mi||Start at Lakes Trailhead – Wolverton Parking Lot|
|2.3 mi||2.3 mi||Lakes Trail to Watchtower Trail|
|2 mi||4.3 mi||Watchtower Trail to rejoin Lakes Trail|
|2 mi||6.3 mi||Lakes Trail to Pear Lake|
|2 mi||8.3 mi||Lakes Trail back to Watchtower Trail|
|2 mi||10.3 mi||Watchtower Trail back to rejoin Lakes Trail|
|2.3 mi||12.6 mi||Lakes Trail back to the parking lot|
Note: The total tracked milage of 13.1 miles includes 0.5 miles on side trails to access lakes along the way.
Hiking into the high Sierras was one of the highlights of our trip to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. It included everything we love: giant moss-covered trees, alpine lakes, towering mountains, dirt trails, and also rocky terrain. That said, the trail begins at around 7,000 feet and all of the lakes are at about 9,000 feet, which are pretty high, especially for those like us who live at sea level. We had already been hiking at this elevation for a few days, so we felt okay, but the elevation is something to note as you plan your trip!
The hike to Pear Lake begins at the Lakes Trailhead in Sequoia National Park in the Wolverton parking lot (really large lot with bathroom facilities). We started before 7am alongside just a few other hikers and had the trails and lakes pretty much to ourselves the entire way in. There were plenty of hikers heading up as we descended, so start early if you’re seeking backcountry solitude. Or make this an overnight by camping at Emerald Lake or Pear Lake. Overnight backpackers can get wilderness permits online here. Day hikers do not need permits.
Lakes Trail to The Watchtower
The Lakes Trail begins at an easy grade through a nice forest. The dirt path meanders through tall trees and lush greenery. After a couple miles, bear left to stay on the Lakes Trail – the right fork leads to Alta Peak, another popular day hike to a backcountry high point. Shortly after that, the trail splits again. This time, both routes meet up later, just before Heather Lake. We took the left fork on Watchtower Trail and loved it. This trail includes long switchbacks and leads to The Watchtower, a rock outcrop perched over the valley, and traverses some really cool exposed sections. It is not recommended in winter, but on a nice summer day like we had it was the perfect choice. The right fork follows the Hump Trail and is the recommended route in winter and bad weather.
It gets a bit steeper on Watchtower Trail with some long switchbacks to climb, but nothing overly strenuous. As we approached The Watchtower, we could tell that this would be a special hike. The morning sun lit up the rock and we took a nice break here to enjoy the scenery. It was just unfortunate how much wildfire smoke there was in the area. There was a haze over the entire area and it made the air more difficult to breathe and somewhat obscured the still magnificent views throughout the day.
Hiking to The Watchtower would make for a great short hike on its own, but we like longer miles and really wanted to get into the high Sierras and swim in an alpine lake. Past The Watchtower, the trail completely transformed. We headed up the valley into the high country over some exposed sections of the rocky mountainside and left the dirt tree-lined paths behind. When we reached Heather Lake, the first of a few gorgeous lakes along this route, we took a long snack break in the beautiful setting.
Aster and Emerald Lakes
The trail past Heather Lake continued to impress with graded switchbacks and big open views. We hiked over a rise and were greeted by a granite landscape that was otherworldly. From here to the end of the trail at Pear Lake, the open rocky landscape provided a sharp contrast to the lush tree-filled greenery from the first half of the hike. The trail eventually descended and crossed between Aster and Emerald Lakes. There are outhouses and campsites at Emerald Lake that would make for a great overnight backpacking trip. We spent some time admiring Emerald Lake before continuing on to Pear Lake.
The last section of trail to Pear Lake was the toughest and also the most scenic of the hike. For a brief moment at Emerald Lake I considered ending the hike there because it had already been so great, but I’m so glad that we continued to Pear Lake. It is a highlight that is not to be missed. The trail climbed the exposed granite around a mountain spine and provided more views of Aster Lake before dropping down into the basin to arrive at Pear Lake.
At Pear Lake, the scenery was spectacular! We took a swim in the frigid alpine lake and dried off in the warm sun on the hot rocks. This type of experience is precisely what keeps me returning to the outdoors. A long strenuous hike that rewards with views, solitude, and backcountry recreation fills me with endless joy.
There are also toilets and campsites at Pear Lake. If it were to plan this trip again, I might prefer to make this an overnight and backpack to Pear Lake. I would have loved even more time in this incredible place!
From Pear Lake Back to the Lakes Trailhead
After soaking in as much backcountry splendor as possible, we headed back the way we came to return to the trailhead. Sometimes, an out and back can become boring as you hike the same trail in reverse. This was not the case with the hike to Pear Lake – the way back was just as amazing, maybe even more so with great views all the way back to The Watchtower. We took the Watchtower Trail back also because we loved it so much on the way in.
We said hi to a new chipmunk friend by The Watchtower and then bounded through a glowing forest with the moss on the trees catching the afternoon sun gloriously. That feeling at the end of a great day spent in the wilderness is something truly special.
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