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The western United States is home to more natural beauty than one can experience in a lifetime. Hiking is one of the best ways to experience as much of it as possible. One of the shining stars for backpacking is Sequoia National Park. With dense forests, towering mountains, and stunning lakes, there is a lot to take in.
The Lakes Trail provides one such opportunity to backpack on Sequoia. It provides incredible hiking opportunities. As it swings by the Watchtower your eyes feast on the monolithic spire and Tokopah Valley below.
A short hiking distance later you are presented with three equally impressive alpine lakes along with others if you venture off the beaten trail. So, where can you backpack in Sequoia?
Backpacking in Sequoia is best done on the most popular trail in Sequoia. The Lakes Trail, with Heather, Emerald, and Pear Lake, tops the list. Of the three main lakes, Pear Lake provides the most picturesque views, incredible camping, and plenty of great hiking. This trail allows you to push yourself and experience a unique part of California.
We will be breaking down the trail to Pear Lake and how you can enjoy the natural beauty. Here is everything you need to know to backpack to Pear Lake in Sequoia on the Lakes Trail!
Picturesque hiking in Central California
Sequoia National Park is located in central California. The Park is slightly offset toward the eastern border. It is about four hours from Los Angeles, five hours from San Francisco, and six hours from Las Vegas, Nevada.
In the Park and surrounding areas sit Lippincott Mountain, Midway Mountain, and Mount Whitney. You also have the world-famous Sequoia trees that tower above everything else in the area and are hundreds of years old.
Pear Lake’s trail sits well above the Kaweah River. Mount Silliman clearly visible in the distance. The peaks and ridges lining the northern side of the Marble Fork Valley are a visual treat as you get closer to Pear Lake. The trailhead for the Lakes Trail and system of trails that Pear Lake is a part of begins near the Lodgepole Campground and Visitors Center.
At the most specific level, Pear Lake is a true sight to behold. The lake itself was carved out from a glacier, and the granite slabs that remain are stunning. Alta Peak looms high above. This area of California is truly unique and beautiful.
Pear Lake Trail is the last of the three lakes
From the trailhead to Pear Lake, and back to the trailhead, you are looking at a 12.8-mile trek. This is the roundtrip distance, so it will be just over six miles one way.
Pear Lake is the final lake of the three in the sequence. Heather Lake sits 4.2 miles from the trailhead, then Emerald Lake is another 2.4 miles after that.
Pear Lake is at the very end of this trail system. Obviously, there are many other hiking locations in the area, especially if you hike off-trail. Most importantly, this specific Sequoia trail system is great for backpacking and hiking.
After making it to Emerald Lake, you take a turn north and follow a rocky and beautiful trail along some pretty easy terrain. There is a bit of elevation gain between the two, but a majority of that comes before you even hit the first lake. To see this for yourself, check out this video of the landscape.
Not a hike for beginners
Based on the distance and a few other factors that we will talk about shortly, Pear Lake trail is a moderate-to-strenuous hiking opportunity. The trail itself is not too difficult. However, the altitude at which you will be hiking is a key factor contributing to the overall difficulty.
If you are starting from the main trailhead, it is a steady climb in elevation until you get to Pear Lake. Pear Lake sits at about 9500 feet. So, the hiking itself is not all that strenuous, but the altitude definitely makes things more difficult. Breathing becomes much more difficult at higher elevations.
The trails are well-maintained. However, challenges can still arise. With uneven granite slabs, be sure to watch where you step. Decomposed granite makes sure footing difficult.
In addition, granite rocks and boulders dot the trail at the higher elevations. Getting a sprained ankle on the trail is easier than you may think. This can derail an otherwise wonderful hiking adventure.
You also need to keep wildlife in mind. Bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, mosquitoes, and ticks are found along the way. In addition, deer and marmots frequent the area, so keep that in mind. Ensure that you leave wildlife alone and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Be Aware of The Elevation Gain to Pear Lake
As we hinted at above, the altitude at which you are hiking can make things difficult. When you are at the trailhead, you are sitting around 7300 feet. By the time you make it to Pear Lake, you have gained nearly 2500 feet in elevation. The serious gain comes between the trailhead and Heather Lake, and after that, it levels off slightly. So, if you want to jump around between the lakes, it is easy and quick to do so.
Obviously, you will lose that elevation on the way back. For the easier trip, going to the first lake would be best, but going all the way out to Pear Lake will provide you with the best experience, as long as you can handle the elevation gain.
As we mentioned under difficulty, it is important to understand how this elevation gain will affect you. This is why the trail to Pear Lake can be difficult for some hikers. When you are gaining this much elevation in a day, it is extremely important to stay hydrated and take your time. Hiking and backpacking is not a race.
Extreme Weather Contrast Between Summer and Winter
This is a unique area of California in terms of seasonality and weather patterns. When people think of California, most automatically think of the southern part of the state that has palm trees and 80-degree weather year-round. This is not the case when backpacking in Sequoia.
In the summer, highs will typically be in the 70s to low 80s with lows dropping into the 40s and 50s at night. This is significantly different from temperatures in southern California.
Due to both elevation and mountainous terrain, significant weather changes often take place. Summer thunderstorms can dampen trails and snow and sleet can ever occur.
During the summer, camping is much easier. There is a Ranger cabin with a full-time ranger in the summer. They are there in case anything goes wrong or you need information about certain aspects of your trip.
In addition to backpacking in Sequoia, you can stay at the Lodgepole Resort or campground. This makes a great base camp for day hikes on the various trails in the summer.
In winter the area is generally snowed in. The weather can be quite extreme. Any time you are talking about an area over 9000 feet in elevation, things can be rough.
Temperatures will drop into the teens and 20s during the day and into the single digits and below at night. Snow is deep and heavy. This creates a unique wonderland for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing during the offseason.
Although you will need reservations well in advance, the Pear Lake Winter Hut is available to stay in. This caters to cross-country skiers and snowshoers who want to take advantage of the beauty that comes in the winter.
The Generals Highway through Sequoia National Park from Highway 180 is typically closed for the winter. However, Highway 198 access to the Generals Highway remains open and maintained throughout the winter, so you are not completely cut off.
What About Permits to Backpack in Sequoia?
Backpacking permits are required to enjoy Sequoia National Park. Because of the sheer volume of visitors accessing the park in peak season, a reservation in addition to a permit may be required.
Every year there is a quota system for high-use trails and backpacking campsites. From May 28th to September 28th backpacking permits are required. The park service limits access to high-use areas so that they are not adversely impacted.
A nominal cost is charged for each reservation. Although having to buy permits can be annoying, it ensures that the natural beauty can be preserved for future generations by not overuse of the area.
In order to backpack in Sequoia, it is crucial to follow all of the rules and regulations. This ensures that the next generation can enjoy the same sites as you. Leave no trace is required. Pack it in – pack it out! Leave only footsteps.
Permits can be purchased in five different areas. The closest to where you will start for Pear Lake Trail will be at Lodgepole in the Giant Forest Museum. The Lodgepole Resort is a great starting point since you have to pick up your permit anyway.
Review the National Parks permit page to backpack in the Sequoias.
Do I really need a permit to backpack in Sequoia?
Yes, you really need a permit to backpack in Sequoia. The quota season is May 28-September 28, so you will need to pay a fee to enter. Permits cost $15 and an additional $5 per person during the quota season.
Is there water available on the trail?
Although there is no potable water on the trail, you can use any of the lakes and streams to filter your own drinking water. Unless you can carry all your water, be sure to carry a water filter with you. It is important to stay hydrated to avoid heatstroke.
Can I bring a dog on the trail?
You cannot bring a dog or any pet on a trail in Sequoia National Park. This includes all paved trails as well as the natural ones. Pets are allowed in the parking lots and campgrounds, but the National Park Service recommends keeping pets at home anyway due to wildlife and other factors.