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Pets allowed
No
Elevation Gain
?
Trail type
Loop
Distance
42.00 mi (67.59 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Rae Lakes loop is a scenic Sierra multiday loop and truly a backpacking trip that has it all. Stunning lake basins, rushing waterfalls, and splendidly carved canyons envelop your being for the three to six days necessary to complete the circuit in Kings Canyon National Park. The mountainscapes encountered here will entice you to begin scheduling your John Muir Trail permit and scouring the High Sierra maps for your next multiday excurions. For these reasons and more, the parking lot at Road’s End in King’s Canyon is large enough to accommodate a small amusement park. The loop is one of the most popular in the Sierra, often requiring permits to be reserved in advance. Odds for the greatest solitude are best if you schedule your trip for midweek or wait until autumn. And don't forget that a bear canister is required for this trip. 

The loop can also be completed from the east side of the range using the Onion Valley Trailhead, but the majority of backpackers will begin at Road’s End, which also affords the opportunity to drive the incredible Kings Canyon Highway/180.

Although hikable in either direction, looping north to south affords a more gradual elevation change. The trip starts with just more than a mile along the dry soils of the valley floor, but it quickly changes once you enter the lush scenery that approaches Mist Falls. This area, due to the water and shade of the canyon wall, remains shrouded and damp year round. Once past Mist Falls the trail ascends into lower Paradise Valley, where the first campsites are found. This area would be an ideal first night for the late starter or a traveler more inclined to leisurely days.

The weaving rise into Upper Paradise provides a more expanded view as steep canyon walls give way to glimpses of the approaching alpine terrain. Upper Paradise is where most hikers choose to spend the first night. There is an incredible private creekside campsite tucked away about 100 yards past the main sites.

The suspension bridge crossing and junction with the JMT signals the ascent through Upper Woods Creek to Dollar Lake. The grade is perfectly pitched to take in the golden valley walls and stunning foxtail pines without stumbling or missing a step. It’s easy on this portion of trail to plan for your JMT hike or next adventure without a missed step or errant stride.

The glimpse of Fin Dome is your signal that the final ridge to the Rae Lakes Basin has been cleared. Perfect campsites surround the three lakes in the basin, and the trail to the alpine Sixty Lake Basin leaves from the eastern shores. Take your time at this incredible destination. Breathe deep, be rejuvenated by where you are, what you’ve accomplished, and all that lies ahead. Glen Pass is up next!

On this meticulously maintained, gradually climbing loop, Glen Pass is the lone major steep obstacle. Yet even on the 2,000-foot ascent, switchbacks are smooth and the trail is not overly abusive. The climb reveals the ridges of the Great Western Divide, among other alpine basins and 13,000-foot peaks. Descend past Charlotte Lake and descent into Bubbs Creek, clearly marked with a quick left at the Charlotte Lake junction.

The descent to Vidette Meadow is an unexpected highlight of this trip, winding along the headwaters of Bubbs Creek with tantalizing views into a myriad of alpine valleys and the High Sierra Crest. Bid farewell to the JMT at Vidette Meadow and turn west for the descent of Bubbs Creek and, for most, the final night of camping. Watching the alpenglow creep across the spires above this valley will make both the casual packer and wilderness expert rethink ending their trip the next day.

The remaining 12 miles from Upper Bubbs to Road’s End is, once again, mostly perfectly graded trail with only one section of switchbacks to navigate. The Sphinx is your backdrop as you follow the rushing water to your destination. At the valley floor and junction of Bubbs and Woods creek various streams braid together to form the headwaters of Kings River. Take your time and make noise in this area to avoid startling any local bear. It's not a surprise party!

Upon departing the area by car, you'll see Kings Canyon Lodge just after Highway 180 leaves the curves of Kings Canyon proper, and this is an excellent stop to have a beverage and snack before the journey home.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

National Park Pass

Pros

Beautiful lakes. Great High Sierra scenery. Well maintained trail.

Cons

Summer crowds. Heavily used campsites.

Trailhead Elevation

5,035.00 ft (1,534.67 m)

Net Elevation Gain

6,943.00 ft (2,116.23 m)

Address

CA-180
CA 93633
United States

Features

Backcountry camping
Waterfalls
Bird watching
Wildlife
Big Game Watching
Big vistas
Wildflowers
Fishing
Big Game Watching

Suitable for

Horseback

Location

Field Guide + Map

Comments

08/24/2017
The higher elevation portions of this trail are shared with both the JMT and PCT. For those less certain about snow travel, this shared route means more people will be around. It also means without new snow fall there is a packed snow path to follow. As always, it is recommended to travel in a group, have basic snow travel and route finding skills. However, it is always nice to have someone else pack down the route for you!
08/15/2017
My daughter and I just finished this loop, and it was fantastic. There are a lot of tough parts, with quite a bit of elevation gain/loss over the loop, but the views are fantastic, and so is the company. We enjoyed talking to some JMT hikers nearing the end of their trek, as our loop overlapped with their trail for about half the time. Note: The bridge at Upper Paradise is OUT, but people have been either wading across the river, or crossing over a tree that lodged across the river.
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