Sequoia National Park: Hiking to Pear Lake (The Lakes Trail)

 Sequoia National Park. Pear Lake

 

Most folks visit Sequoia National Park to see its giant sequoia trees, the largest living things on the earth!  That's a great reason to go and there are wonderful hikes through these amazing forests of giants and the meadows that surround them.  But Sequoia National Park also provides access to the high Sierra Mountain range comparable to what you find in the high country of Yosemite National Park (like around the Tioga Pass Road), and that's the setting for today's "hike of the week".

 

Sequoia National Park. PearLake

 

When I lived in Southern California, Pear Lake was one of my favorite places to go backpacking, having made five separate trips there (two with my oldest son when he was just a boy, and one with my dear friend Dr. Gary Schwartz, the best oncologist in southern California).  The trip can be done as a long day hike but it's best if you can to spend a few nights at Pear Lake to enjoy the beauty of this cirque and the stark rocky environment of the High Sierra.  I've seen several of the most beautiful sunsets in my life here, the otherwise gray granite of the cirque glowing pink and orange as the sun set --  it was absolutely amazing!  Wish I'd had my camera at hand, but there's times in life when it's just best to enjoy a beautiful thing, rather than obscess about photographing it.

 

Topokah Valley, The Lakes Trail, Sequoia National Park

(Topokah Valley viewed from the Lakes Trail, Sequoia NP) 

 

The Lakes Trail begins by the Wolverton Parking Lot, not far from the facilities at Lodgepole.  The first four miles of the trail involves a lot of uphill climbing mostly through thick forest, the trail never leaving the Tokopah Valley.  Views in this section are mostly limited to forest with occasional glimpses of the hills and granite outcroppings across the Tokopah Valley.  

 

The trail switchbacks through forest and leads you to a branchpoint.  One arm of this branch is know as the "Watchtower", wherein you hike on trail that takes you through the forest to an exposed area in the valley and across a fairly narrow trail (it's carved from the rock of a cliff, maybe 3-4 feet wide, with ice and snow lingering well into summer); your reward for doing this is great views of the Watchtower, a colossal granite spire to the south, and expansive view of Tokopah Valley and Falls.  The other option is to take "the Hump"; harder, more forested and less scenic, but a lot safer (especially when hiking with kids).  That was always my option.  I don't like hiking along sheer drops, especially when carrying a heavy backpack and there's a chance you might encounter slippery rock.  Besides, the best scenery on the Lakes Trail doesn't come until after the two trails re-join and you're walking among the glacial lakes near the treeline, with splendid views for endless miles.

 

Sequoia National Park. Heather Lake

(Heather Lake, Sequoia NP)

 

At 4.1 miles you leave the forest behind and reach subalpine Heather Lake, named for the shoreline shrubs (beautifully colored in the fall).   From here, the trail climbs a ridge separating Emerald Lake (to the south, the second lake you encounter on this trail) and Aster Lake (to the north).  Another half-mile takes you to Pear Lake, tucked into a beautiful cirque and at the end of the developed trail.    You'll get some views of the Watchtower and Tokopah Falls from this high vantage of the trial.

 

Sequoia National Park. Emerald Lake Basin

 (Emerald Lake, Sequoia NP)

 

Both Emerald and Pear lakes are exposed and you'll be camping on rock, not in the forest.  Camping is in designated sites (permit required and available at the Lodgepole station).  Bear boxes are provided for your food and other scented items (eg. sunblock) and actually are more effective at keeping marmots out of your food than bears, of which I never saw none.

 

It's a fairly difficult but very scenic hike into another world of sheer granite and water.  A beautiful place to visit.  

 

Trail length:  5.8 miles (9 km) one way

Altitude gain:  2,270 feet (690 m)

Rating:  First part is difficult; from Heather Lake to Pear Lake, moderate but rocky

 

(for legends to these photos, scroll and hold your mouse over the image or click on the thumbnails below).

 

Sequoia National Park. Backpacking with dear friend, Dr. Gary Schwartz

Kaweah River, Topokah Valley, The Lakes Trail, Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park. Tehquitz River

Sequoia National Park. Trail to Pear Lake. Dr. Gary Schwartz

Sequoia National Park. Pear Lake

Sequoia National Park. Moonrise over Pear Lake

Sequoia National Park. DrFumblefinger at Pear Lake

Sequoia National Park. Pear Lake

Sequoia National Park. Tehquitz River viewed from above

 

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Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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Comments (5)

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Spectacular views and sequoia's - what more does one need?? A wonderful article that really brought to life this wonderful national park.

JP Chartier

I've never hiked in the Catskills, though would like to some day.

 

My suggestion:

1) Go to your local library.  They definitely will have hiking books on areas of interest (or request them in advance so they can be delivered from other branches).  Check out some trails that are convenient and look doable.  Most hiking books give great details. 

2)  If you find a great book, it's worth buying to have as a reference at home and take with you on the trail.  For example, though I haven't read it,this one looks promising.  Remember to buy these books through the Amazon link below.  It doesn't cost more and it helps support this website.

3) Do some online research.  Lots of hiking organizations have good websites that will help you pick out trails.

 

Good luck, and happy hiking!

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

Last edited by DrFumblefinger

My knees are part of my concern; they love walking (helps them!) but don't do well twisted or weighted.

 

Have you any suggestions for the Hudson Valley/Lower Catskills area?

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

The challenge of this particular trail is getting up to the lakes.  Once there, the trail is not that hard, although rocky so you have to watch your footing.

 

There are easier places to get into the subalpine zone of some great mountains, PHeymont.  Both in California and in the Rockies.  When you're ready, we'll pick one and head out there.  Likely for a day hike.  My knees don't like the weight of a full backpack anymore.

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

You get closer each time to getting me into non-urban hiking...but how difficult is a hike like this for someone used to that kind of distance, but in (sometimes hilly) cities, but not to much off-path hiking?

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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