Excited for spring? So are we. Enjoy 40% off select Outdoor Project gear with our Spring Fever Sale.

Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop

Sequoia National Park, California

Explore in Detail
Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
00

Shares

Advertisement
  • View looking south over Mineral King Valley.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • California corn lilly (Veratrum californicum).- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • The trail to Monarch Lakes with Sawtooth Peak (12,343') rising above.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • The cross-country route to Glacier Pass (11,110'). Empire Mountain (11,550') extends out from the ridgeline. - Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • The east side of Glaicer Pass (11,110') and the cross-country route to Spring Lake.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • The descent from Glacier Pass to Spring Lake.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • Spring Lake with the Great Western Divide looming.  - Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • The Great Western Divide, alpenglow, and a waxing moon rising.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • A backcountry camp at Spring Lake. - Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • View of the Black Rock Pass Trail with its switchbacks barely discernable. Yes, that is coming...- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • The vista from Black Rock Pass looking east to Little Five Lakes and Big Five Lakes basins. Big Arroyo in the distance.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • Lower Little Five Lake with the Kaweah Peaks Ridge behind.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • Indian paintbrush (Castilleja miniata).- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • Pacific onion flower (Allium validum).- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • Middle Little Five Lake reflection.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • A yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris) - a common acquaintance in the Sierra.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • A backcountry camp at Middle Big Five Lake.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • Throwing bugs before breakfast. Middle Big Five Lake.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and red fir (Abies magnifica).- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • Sierra Lupine (Lupinus grayi).- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • Lost Canyon from below.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • Lost Cayon from above.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • Columbine Lake from Sawtooth Pass (11,630'). Mount Whitney (14,505') is the high point on the farthest ridge left.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • A backcountry camp at Columbine Lake.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • Sierra sunset above Cyclamen and Spring Lakes.- Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
  • Signage at the Sawtooth Trailhead. - Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Quick access to the high Sierra. Good Fishing. Nice mix of trail and cross-country travel.
Cons: 
Rough access road. Marmot issues at trailhead in late spring and early summer.
Advertisement
Region:
Southern Sierra, CA
Congestion: 
Low
Preferable Season(s):
Summer
Day-Use/Parking Pass Required:
National Park Pass
Total Distance: 
27.00 mi (43.45 km)
Trailhead Elev.: 
7,820 ft (2,384 m)
Net Elev. Gain: 
3,810 ft (1,161 m)
Trail Uses:
Hiking
Trail type: 
Loop
Dogs allowed: 
No
Current Local Weather:
Powered by Dark Sky

Today

Partly cloudy throughout the day.
48°F
33°

Tue

Partly cloudy throughout the day.
54°F
31°

Wed

Partly cloudy in the morning.
59°F
34°

Thu

Partly cloudy throughout the day.
56°F
35°

Fri

Mostly cloudy starting in the afternoon.
49°F
31°

Sat

Clear throughout the day.
54°F
28°

Sun

Clear throughout the day.
59°F
32°
Advertisement
Hike Description

Hike Description

Team

The Mineral King area of California's Sequoia National Park provides hiking access to some of the most spectacular high country in the southern Sierra. It is well worth enduring the poorly maintained, 25-mile Mineral King Road to access this subalpine glacial valley; you will not be disappointed. There are several day and multi-day backcountry hiking loop options available from the Mineral King Valley. Hiking the Glacier Pass to Sawtooth Pass Loop via Big Five Lakes qualifies at the top of this list. If you are interested in a loop that is approximately 27 miles long and blends cross-country route finding and on-trail travel, stunning alpine landscape, and high Sierra lake fishing, this hike is for you.

Begin the 3,500-foot ascent at the Sawtooth Trailhead following signs to Sawtooth Pass. This lower section of the trail takes you to Groundhog Meadow and across Monarch Creek. Continue on the trail through an old-growth red fir forest before breaking through tree line below Monarch Lakes. Stop for a bite here and soak in the scenery, but keep a watchful eye on your bags as the marmots are anything but shy.

Continue on the trail above Monarch Lakes toward Sawtooth Pass. The official trail tapers off here, and the pitch to Sawtooth Pass and Glacier Pass becomes a steep slog, but it is worth the effort. Continue up one of the approach trails until you are roughly 300 feet below Sawtooth Pass, then head north (turn left) toward Glacier Pass – the low point in the ridge between Empire Mountain and Sawtooth Pass. Glacier Pass is third-class climbing that is easily navigated by those in good shape. (Note: there is an unmaintained trail from Groundhog Meadow that leads to Glacier Pass, but it is steep and isn't likely to save time if you are carrying overnight gear).

From Glacier Pass, descend cross-country through alpine meadows and bristlecone pine to Spring Lake. Choose from a plethora of awe-inspiring backcountry campsites at Spring Lake, along with some decent fishing for small trout. Here you will catch mostly rainbow and California golden trout in the 6-inch range. The National Park Service stocked hundreds of high elevation lakes until 1988, when they decided to change the policy and end their stocking program.

After a night at Spring Lake, continue cross-country to the Black Rock Pass trail and ascend 1,500 feet to the pass. Once you've reached Black Rock Pass you will be standing on the Great Western Divide, the range that separates the westward-flowing Kaweah watershed from the southerly-flowing Kern watershed. Views east look out across Big Arroyo toward the Kaweah Peaks Range where Kaweah Queen, Black Kaweah and Red Kaweah dominate the skyline at elevations well over 13,000 feet. The trail from the pass winds down through rocky outcroppings to the Little Five Lakes and Big Five Lakes basins. Little Five Lakes has a seasonal ranger station with established campsites and bear boxes. At Big Five Lakes you’ll likely be alone. If you have the time and are open to adding a couple of miles to your trip, consider exploring the Little Five and Big Five Lakes area. The fishing can be good in these lakes. Throw a bug or two and see what’s biting.

Departing Big Five Lakes, head southeast along the trail through lodgepole pine and red fir forest as you descend to 9,600 feet at the junction with Lost Canyon. Follow the Lost Canyon trail west and emerge from the forest into the box canyon proper. Steep, glacially carved granite walls form the cradle of meadow and boulders along the floor of the canyon. Ascend the west end of the canyon 1,400 feet to Columbine Lake. At 11,000 feet, Columbine Lake is an ideal setting to spend your final night. Take in the grandeur of this high alpine playground as Sawtooth Peak watches over you. Sawtooth Peak is a classic Class II climb that takes a couple of hours round-trip from Sawtooth Pass.

The final ascent of the loop takes you to Sawtooth Pass. Views of Lost Canyon, Big Arroyo, Kern Canyon and the west side of Mount Whitney (on a clear day) are enjoyed from here. Descend down the climber’s trail approximately 300 feet and reconnect with the same route that you ascended a few days prior on your way to Glacier Pass. Return to the Sawtooth Trailhead the same way you came up.

Additional Notes:

Some important notes about Mineral King:

  • Backcountry permits and bear canisters are required for overnight trips in Sequoia National Park. Both are available at the Mineral King ranger station during peak months (June-September). If you are heading out in spring or fall, self-issued permits can be obtained outside the ranger station and bear canisters can be rented from numerous outdoor gear shops in Visalia, Fresno, and elsewhere. Be prepared to see rangers, as they are out and about on trails.
  • Marmots have posed a serious problem for a few unlucky hikers who park their cars at Sequoia National Park's Mineral King trailheads in the late spring and early summer months. They have been known to crawl up into engine compartments and chew on everything from electrical wiring to hoses, disabling some vehicles. This is thought to occur due to a lack of salt content in the Marmot’s natural food source until later in summer, and the threat seems to decrease after mid-July. Hikers on this Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes loop can avoid this potential issue either by parking near the ranger station a mile from the Sawtooth Trailhead (marmots seem to stay higher up the valley), or by wrapping the lower third of their vehicle in a tarp diaper, which helps prevent marmots from climbing into the engine compartment via wheel wells. For the latter method you’ll need a tarp large enough to drive onto; you then wrap the tarp above the wheel wells around the entire vehicle. Secure in a diaper fashion with lanyard or rope.
Updates, Tips + Comments

Updates, Tips + Comments

Field Guide + Trail Map

Field Guide + Trail Map

Download
Advertisement
Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(16 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(32 within a 30 mile radius)

Advertisement
Related Content

Related Content

Adventure Community

Adventure Community

Who Wants To Do It
161 Members
Who's Done It
14 Members
Submission by
Team
309 Adventures Explored
301 Adventures Published

Newsletter Signup

Join the Outdoor Project Community

Get access to essential planning materials and information for your next adventure. Take a few seconds to join the community. It’s FREE!

Free Field Guides + Maps

Post Updates, Tips + Comments

Organize + Track Your Adventures

Insider Detailed Info, News + Benefits

Custom Driving Directions

Recommended Campsites, Photos + Reservation Info