Skip to Content

Conquer the Sierra: A Trekker’s Guide to the High Sierra Route

High Point

High Point:
Reaches up to 14,505 feet (4,421 meters) at Mount Whitney

Total Ascent

Total Ascent:
Approximately 60,000 feet


Very Difficult


195 miles (314 km)

Route Type

Route Type:
Point to Point

Skyblue Overland may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article.

Embark on a 195-mile adventure through the High Sierra Route. Traverse rugged terrain, enjoy pristine alpine settings, and experience long stretches of solitude, all while navigating cross-country paths and challenging Class III scrambles.


The Sierra High Route (SHR) is an awe-inspiring, 195-mile trekking route that spans the Sierra Nevada Range, traversing some of the most remote and scenic landscapes in California. Unlike the more popular John Muir Trail (JMT), the SHR offers a rugged, off-the-beaten-path experience for seasoned hikers seeking solitude, challenge, and adventure. This trail guide provides an in-depth look at what it takes to conquer the SHR, from preparation and essential gear to detailed segment descriptions and tips for a successful journey.


  • Length: 195 miles (314 km)
  • Elevation: Reaches up to 14,505 feet (4,421 meters) at Mount Whitney
  • Elevation Gain: Approximately 60,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Extremely challenging, requiring advanced navigation skills and experience in Class III scrambling and cross-country travel
  • Best Time to Hike: Late July to early October

The SHR runs north-south through Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, John Muir Wilderness, Ansel Adams Wilderness, and Yosemite National Park. Unlike the JMT, which follows well-established trails, the SHR involves about 100 miles of cross-country travel, including numerous Class III scrambles and extensive boulder hopping. Hikers are rewarded with pristine alpine settings, long stretches of solitude, and a true sense of adventure.


Physical Conditioning

The SHR demands peak physical fitness due to its challenging terrain and high elevations. Training should include:

  • Cardiovascular Endurance: Engage in activities like running, cycling, or swimming.
  • Strength Training: Focus on building leg and core strength.
  • Hiking Practice: Undertake long hikes with a loaded backpack, preferably in mountainous terrain.
  • Technical Skills: Gain experience in off-trail navigation, rock scrambling, and boulder hopping.
Permits and Regulations

To hike the High Sierra Trail, you must obtain a wilderness permit. Specifically, a High Sierra Trail permit is required between Seven Mile Hill and Kaweah Gap. Note that a permit for the Alta Trail does not grant access to this segment of the High Sierra Trail.

Health and Safety Considerations

Altitude Sickness: This condition can occur above 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) and includes symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, and rapid heart rate. The best treatment is to descend to a lower altitude.

Preparation: Make sure to prepare adequately with proper gear, sufficient food supplies, and knowledge of the terrain. Always inform someone of your itinerary.

Gear Essentials
  • Navigation Tools: Topographic maps, compass, GPS device, and a reliable map app.
  • Shelter: Lightweight, durable tent or bivy sack.
  • Sleeping System: High-quality sleeping bag (rated for cold temperatures) and sleeping pad.
  • Backpack: Comfortable, with a capacity of 50-70 liters.
  • Clothing: Layered clothing system for varying weather conditions, including a waterproof jacket and pants.
  • Footwear: Sturdy, well-fitted hiking boots and gaiters.
  • Food and Water: High-calorie, lightweight food, and a reliable water filtration system.
  • Safety Gear: First aid kit, multi-tool, headlamp, emergency beacon, and bear canister.

Detailed Day-by-Day Itinerary

Day 1: Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw Meadow (11.4 miles/18.2 km)

Trailhead: Crescent Meadow, southeast edge of the Giant Forest.

Trail Description:

  • Terrain: Shady forests transitioning to a warm, south-facing slope.
  • Highlights: Eagle View, offering views back to Moro Rock and the glaciated peaks of the Great Western Divide.
  • Challenges: Potentially hazardous creek crossings in early summer.
  • Camping: Bearpaw Meadow Camp offers campsites and a tent hotel (reservations required).

Summary: Start your hike in the dense forests of the Giant Forest, moving through varied terrain to reach the scenic Bearpaw Meadow.

Day 2: Bearpaw Meadow to Big Arroyo Junction (11 miles/17.6 km)

Trail Description:

  • Terrain: Steep ascents, switchbacks overshadowed by Angel Wings, and alpine zones.
  • Highlights: Hamilton Falls, Big Hamilton Lake, Precipice Lake, Kaweah Gap (10,700 feet/3261 meters).
  • Challenges: Significant elevation gain and alpine conditions.

Summary: This day involves a steady climb into the Great Western Divide, culminating in stunning alpine scenery and a descent to Big Arroyo Junction.

Day 3: Big Arroyo Junction to Moraine Lake (8 miles/12.8 km) or Upper Funston Meadow (12 miles/19.2 km)

Trail Description:

  • Terrain: Moderate ascent, plateau crossing, and steep switchbacks.
  • Highlights: Chagoopa Plateau, Sky Parlor Meadow, and the descent into the Kern Trench.
  • Camping: Options include Moraine Lake for a scenic detour or Upper Funston Meadow for a more direct route.

Summary: A relatively easy day compared to the previous two, offering a chance to rest at picturesque Moraine Lake or push on to Upper Funston Meadow.

Day 4: Upper Funston Meadow to Junction Meadow (9.7 miles/15.5 km from Upper Funston)

Trail Description:

  • Terrain: Marshy areas, forested paths, and steady ascents.
  • Highlights: Kern Hot Springs (with a 115°F/46°C soaking tub), glimpses of Chagoopa Falls.
  • Challenges: Hot and dry conditions in the Kern River canyon.

Summary: A day of steady hiking along the Kern River, with the opportunity to relax at the Kern Hot Springs before reaching Junction Meadow.

Day 5: Junction Meadow to Crabtree Meadow (8.9 miles/14.2 km)

Trail Description:

  • Terrain: Rocky slopes, manzanita and currant vegetation, steep climbs.
  • Highlights: Views of the Kaweah Peaks and the junction with the John Muir Trail.
  • Camping: Crabtree Meadow or Guitar Lake for a final water source before Mount Whitney.

Summary: Climb out of the Kern Canyon, joining the John Muir Trail and reaching the scenic campsites at Crabtree Meadow.

Day 6: Crabtree Meadow to the Summit of Mount Whitney and Whitney Portal

Trail Description:

  • Terrain: Traverses, switchbacks, rocky paths.
  • Highlights: Summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States.
  • Challenges: Long and strenuous day (19.1 miles/30.6 km) if descending to Whitney Portal.

Summary: An exhilarating climb to the summit of Mount Whitney, with the option to camp at Trail Camp or Outpost Camp on the descent to Whitney Portal.

Day 7: Return to Giant Forest via Kern Hot Springs (14.5 miles/23.2 km) or Upper Funston Meadow (18.5 miles/29.6 km)

Trail Description:

  • Terrain: Retrace your steps along the High Sierra Trail.
  • Highlights: Kern Hot Springs for another relaxing soak.

Summary: Retrace your route back, making use of familiar campsites and taking time to enjoy the trail anew.

Day 8: Return to Big Arroyo (12 miles/19.2 km from Kern Hot Springs; 8 miles/12.8 km from Upper Funston)

Trail Description:

  • Terrain: Retrace your previous route.
  • Highlights: Enjoy the return journey through the varied terrains of the High Sierra Trail.

Summary: Continue your return journey, reflecting on the adventure and beauty of the trail.

Day 9: Explore Nine Lakes Basin and Return to Hamilton Lakes (4.8 miles/7.7 km plus side trip)

Trail Description:

  • Terrain: Unmarked trails, requiring navigation skills.
  • Highlights: The serene and beautiful Nine Lakes Basin.
  • Challenges: Off-trail navigation.

Summary: Take a rewarding side trip to Nine Lakes Basin before returning to the familiar Hamilton Lakes.

Day 10: Hamilton Lakes to Crescent Meadow (15.5 miles/25 km)

Trail Description:

  • Terrain: Retrace your route back to the trailhead.
  • Highlights: Enjoy the final leg of your journey with views and landscapes you experienced on the way in.

Summary: Complete your trek by returning to Crescent Meadow, completing the full circuit of the High Sierra Route.

Summiting Mount Whitney – Hikers on their way to the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States.

Alternative Campsites and Distances

For hikers with more time, alternative campsites and distances between key points are provided to allow for a more leisurely trek:

  • Nine Mile Creek: 8.8 miles/14.1 km from Crescent Meadow.
  • Big Hamilton Lake: 16.6 miles/26.6 km from Crescent Meadow.
  • Sky Parlor Meadow: 30.8 miles/49.3 km from Crescent Meadow.
  • Kern Hot Springs: 36.8 miles/58.9 km from Crescent Meadow.
  • Guitar Lake: 56.6 miles/90.6 km from Crescent Meadow.
Summary of distances along the High Sierra Trail (source: NPS)
Site Distance from Previous Point Distance from Crescent Meadow Distance from Whitney Portal
Crescent Meadow 72.2 mi./115.5 km
Nine Mile Creek 8.8 mi./14.1 km 8.8 mi./14.1 km 63.4 mi./101.4 km ***
Bearpaw Meadow 2.6 mi/4.2 km 11.4 mi/18.2 km 63.4 mi/101.4 km ***
Lone Pine Creek 1.7 mi/2.7 km 13.1 mi/21.0 km 59.1 I/94.6 km ***
Big Hamilton Lake 3.5 mi/5.6 km 16.6 mi/26.6 km 55.6 mi/89.0 km ***
Big Arroyo Junction 5.9 mi/9.4 km 22.5 mi/36.0 km 49.7 mi/79.5 km ***
(Moraine Lake * 8.0 mi/12.8 km 30.5 mi/48.8 km 41.7 mi/66.7 km ***)
Upper Funston Meadow 12.0 mi/19.2 km ** 34.5 mi/55.2 km 37.7 mi/60.3 km ***
Kern Hot Spring 2.3 mi/3.7 km 36.8 mi/58.9 km 35.4 mi/56.6 km ***
Junction Meadow 7.4 mi/11.8 km 44.2 mi/70.7 km 28.0 mi/44.8 km ***
Wallace Creek Junction 4.7 mi/7.5 km 48.9 mi/78.2 km 23.3 mi/37.3 km ***
Crabtree Ranger Station 4.2 mi/6.7 km 53.1 mi/85.0 km 19.1 mi/30.6 km ***
Guitar Lake 3.5 mi/5.6 km 56.6 mi/90.6 km 15.6 mi/25.0 km ***
Mt. Whitney Summit 4.9 mi/7.8 km 61.5 mi/98.4 km 10.7 mi/17.1 km
Trail Camp 4.2 mi/6.7 km 65.7 mi/105.1 km *** 8.3 mi/13.3 km
Outpost Camp 3.0 mi/4.8 km 68.7 mi/109.9 km *** 6.5 mi/10.4 km
Whitney Portal 3.5 mi/5.6 km 72.2 mi/115.5 km *** 3.5 mi/5.6 km

* If you take the side trip to Moraine Lake, add .8 miles (1.3 km) to all subsequent distances.

** From Big Arroyo Junction, excluding the trip to Moraine Lake

*** The climb to the summit includes a 2.4-mile (each way) spur trail. These distances include the 4.8 mile side trip to the summit.
****Hikers may not access the High Sierra Trail eastbound between 7 mile creek and Kaweah Gap with an Alta trailhead permit.

Tips for a Successful SHR Hike

  1. Plan Your Resupplies: Given the remoteness of the SHR, resupply points are limited. Plan your resupply strategy carefully, using Mammoth Lakes and Tuolumne Meadows as key resupply locations.
  2. Stay Flexible: Weather in the Sierra Nevada can be unpredictable. Be prepared to adjust your itinerary in case of storms or other adverse conditions.
  3. Practice Leave No Trace: The SHR passes through pristine wilderness areas. Follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment.
  4. Be Self-Reliant: Due to the route’s remote nature, help may be days away. Ensure you have the skills and gear to handle emergencies independently.
  5. Monitor Water Sources: Water availability can vary, especially in late summer. Carry a water filter and be aware of reliable water sources along your route.

Wildlife and Safety

The Sierra Nevada is home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes. While encounters with dangerous wildlife are rare, it’s essential to be prepared:

  • Bear Safety: Use bear-resistant food containers and store all scented items securely. Make noise while hiking to avoid surprising bears.
  • Snake Awareness: Watch where you step, especially in rocky areas where rattlesnakes might be hiding.
  • Mountain Lion Precautions: Avoid hiking alone at dawn or dusk, when mountain lions are most active. If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, make yourself appear larger and back away slowly.

Scenic Highlights

  1. Dusy Basin: A serene alpine basin offering stunning views of the surrounding peaks and pristine lakes.
  2. Palisade Basin: Known for its dramatic granite spires and remote, untouched beauty.
  3. Evolution Basin: A high-altitude basin featuring a series of breathtaking alpine lakes and impressive mountain vistas.
  4. Lake Italy: A secluded, high-elevation lake surrounded by towering granite cliffs.
  5. Thousand Island Lake: Named for its numerous small islands, this lake is one of the most picturesque spots on the route.
  6. Yosemite Valley: The iconic valley known for its towering granite cliffs, waterfalls, and historic landmarks.


The Sierra High Route is not for the faint of heart. It demands physical endurance, advanced technical skills, and a spirit of adventure. However, for those who are up to the challenge, it offers an unparalleled wilderness experience through some of the most spectacular landscapes in the Sierra Nevada. With careful preparation and respect for the rugged terrain, the SHR can be a transformative journey, providing lifelong memories and a deep connection with the natural world.

Popular Articles:

Best Hiking and Backpacking Trails in Sequoia National Park, California

Best Alpine Scrambles in Rocky Mountain National Park

Skyblue Guide to Renting a Backcountry Forest Service Cabin

Explorer’s Guide to the Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow National Scenic Byway, Colorado

Hiking To Black Lake Via The Glacier Gorge Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Enroll With Global Rescue Prior To Embarking On Your Next Adventure.

When a travel emergency arises, traditional travel insurance may not come to your aid, and a medical evacuation can cost up to $300,000.

The cost when you have a Global Rescue membership? $0. That’s why when the unexpected happens, you want the leader in rescue, evacuation and medical advisory behind you. You want Global Rescue.

Learn More!

Terms of Use: As with each guide published on, should you choose to these routes, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While taking a trail, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. SKYBLUE OVERLAND LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individuals following this route.