Lesser known than the famous John Muir Trail, the High Sierra Trail (HST) is in many ways just as historically significant as it’s longer and more famous brother. In 1928, Sequoia National Park was expanded from the western section famous for the giant Sequoia Grove all the way to the Eastern Sierra and Mt. Whitney. At that point, park officials had to decide how to travel from West to East, as there were currently no trails or roads. The decision was made not to build roads, but instead to build a trail. This project – the High Sierra Trail – would be a grand five-year national project of incredible engineering and trail building…one of the last such projects ever.
It is incredibly well documented in a short video done by a retired Sequoia National Park Ranger:
If after watching this video, you don’t want to immediately go backpack this trail, watch it again!
Why hike the High Sierra Trail? It’s a great way to get views like these!
High Sierra Trail Map & Elevation Profile
Here’s what the route looks like. You can click and zoom or expand the map to full-screen to see additional detail. You can download the GPX file for use with your GPS app.
Getting to the Trail
As with all Sierra thru-hikes, the first challenge is figuring out transportation. With the High Sierra Trail, you start at Crescent Meadow on the Western edge of Sequoia National Park in the giant tree grove. You finish at Whitney Portal. The two locations are a six-hour drive apart.
Here was our solution:
- Rent a car from Enterprise – one-way rental – to Visalia, CA airport.
- Take the Sequoia Shuttle ($15 for two people/one-way) to Sequoia National Park.
- Pickup our permits at the Lodgepole Visitor Center (open 7am to 3:30pm daily) and stay the night in Lodgepole Campground. Reservations are recommended and campsites run $22 per night.
- Take the free in-park shuttle the next morning from Lodgepole to the trailhead at Crescent Meadow (the first shuttle leaves at 8 a.m.).
- Use Eastern Sierra Shuttle to take us from Whitney Portal to Lone Pine hotel upon completion.
- Get our son to come pick us up in Lone Pine and drive us home to Los Angeles (the KEY element).
We departed on a Friday, spending the night in Lodgepole. On Saturday morning at approximately 9 a.m.we began our 72-mile adventure to Mt. Whitney across the entire width of Sequoia National Park.
Eight Day Itinerary for the High Sierra Trail
The HST is the perfect length for a week-long trip with nine days (five weekdays and two weekends). Here is our itinerary:
Editor’s Note: Detailed photos, maps and narrative for each day will be published, one-per-day. As each day goes “live” the itinerary below will link to it.
- Day 0 – Travel to Lodgepole, pick-up permit
- Day 1 – Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw Meadow
- Day 2 – Bearpaw Meadow to Big Arroyo Junction
- Day 3 – Big Arroyo to Upper Funston Meadow via Moraine Lake
- Day 4 – Upper Funston Meadow to Junction Meadow
- Day 5 – Junction Meadow to Crabtree
- Day 6 – Crabtree to Guitar Lake
- Day 7 – Guitar Lake to Trail Crest to Mt Whitney to Outpost Camp
- Day 8 – Outpost Camp to Whitney Portal
When to Hike the High Sierra Trail
The high passes on the High Sierra Trail hold snow sometimes even year round. In the spring, they can be practically impassable. Most HST trips are taken in July and August, but you’ll find smaller crowds in September after school starts.
Getting Permits for the HST
About 75% of the permits can be reserved in advance, with the remainder reserved for walk-in permits. You can check for permit availability here. Permits cost $10 plus $5 per person (so a permit for two people would cost $20). It’s important to remember that your permit reservation is not a permit. You’ll still need to pick it up at the Lodgepole Visitor Center either the day before you begin your hike (after 1:00 pm) or on the morning you begin your hike (before 10:00 am). To get a permit reservation, you will need to fax your application following these instructions.
High Sierra Trail Weather
Weather on the High Sierra Trail can be difficult to predict. If you’re hiking in the summer months, expect some cold nights and warm days. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the Sierra Nevada, and you can even get a surprise snowstorm.
Your best bet is to check with the ranger before you pack for your trip for the latest forecast and conditions. For planning purposes, use Mountain Forecast. The high point on this trek is Mt. Whitney, so it’s a good reference point for the weather extremes.
Ready for More?
Next up: Day One on the High Sierra Trail.
Got questions about the High Sierra Trail? Join our HST discussion forum.
Awesome! I cant wait to read the rest of the trip reports for this trip! I went this past June, when were you there?
You can see my pictures here: http://www.cattywampur.com/2016/06/11/high-sierra-trail-to-mt-whitney-introduction/
Nancy R says
So inspiring… someday!
Greg Glass says
Thanks Mike! Our trip was July 8-16. If you were there in June, you must have encountered some snow/ice on the Hamilton Gorge and some pretty deep water in crossings like Wallace Creek! I’ll check out all your photos!
Marty Elliott says
Yolanda Nowicki says
I just received my lottery permit for the HST 2017! WhooHoo! I’m going mid-July, so there probably will be snow and river crossing issues, but epic nonetheless! I appreciate your day by day posts. I will use them as a tentative guide for my trip. Thank you! Happy Trails ~SoloYolo
Greg Glass says
Yolanda – congrats on getting your permit. Mid-July 2017 should have some snow and water crossing challenges, so be prepared! I suggest Microspikes in your backpack, as well as 50-100′ of rope, and a good plan for changing shoes/socks/clothes if the stream crossings are deep. Keep an eye on the SEKI website for updates on the trail. Have a great trip!!
Scott Brown says
Awesome post, great resource. My trip this year is late July / early August. I am somewhat hesitant with the first half of the trip to plan very aggressive with the snow/ice that will most likely still be lingering because of the crazy snow year. That would put us at Big Arroyo for night 3 with 3 nights left in the trip. When you look back on your trip was the day you went from Big Arroyo to Upper Funston Meadow hard for you in anyway? I’d like to continue to Kern Hot Springs but not sure if all our group will be on board for that if this day is pretty taxing. But we may need to, seems like a good day to get some extra miles in considering the elevation that day.
Greg Glass says
Hi Scott – big arroyo to upper funston doesn’t have a huge amount of climbing – just at the beginning from the arroyo to the plateau. Then it’s flat and then a big 3000 foot descent into kern canyon. With an early start, You could most definitely have plenty of time to go another two miles up the canyon to the hot springs – that would be no problem if you’re fit. But that downhill can take your legs out LOL! Also if you stay on trail instead of going to moraine lake like we did, you save another mile and a half. But moraine lake is super beautiful – so I recommend it.
Play it by ear – the ascent to the Kaweah gap may not be that bad. Check with ranger station just before you go to get a read on the conditions and join the high Sierra trail Facebook group too for updates. But if it’s snowy and icy, take the proper gear and climb safely!
Have an amazing time!
My brother and I did this hike in August and it was our first backpacking trip ever. We did the entire trail in 4 days and 3 hours. If you are interested in how we did it, please feel free to reach out to me. Also here is a link to a little video we made along the way(it is kind of funny too):
Stephen Smith says
Thank you for publishing this guide. The photos and maps were very helpful. I used it to help find the way to Angel Wings.
Awesome post here. Love the image of Guitar Lake. My friend brought up wanting to do the High Sierra Trail next year. We’ve gotta decide what we’re doing, but seems like it’s calling to me.
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I had a question about permits. Do you need a separate permit to hike Whitney or does the HST wilderness permit cover it? Thanks!
Joe Dawson says
HST covers it.
Greg Glass says
Christine – if your HST permit has you exiting Whitney Portal, it covers you summiting Whitney and spending one night in the Inyo NF (Trail Camp, Outpost Camp).
Did you require to carry a bear canister or can you use the bear containers at designated sites?
Not all sites have bear containers. They tend to be really full in July and August. I have always carried mine to be safe.
Great post, thanks for all the good info.
Paul, this website has a listing for all camp locations with bear boxes, not sure if it is 100% accurate, maybe someone who has hiked it could verify for the group.
I have permits for June 26th of 2018. Has anyone hiked HST yet this year? How were the streams and ice?
Also I may have two extra permits.
Hi, does anyone have information on resupply option?
Greg Glass says
Tre – the trail is only 72 miles and most complete it in 5 to 8 days, so you really don’t need a resupply. Simple carry a full week of provisions and you will be fine start to finish.
Greg-Thank you, but I only have a BV450 and can’t carry more than 5 days of food. My friend and I wanted to do it in 7.
Greg Glass says
Tre – the High Sierra Trail has bear boxes all along the trail at almost every campsite. You can use the bear boxes every day except in the Whitney Zone on the last day or two when you can use the BV450. That’s all I carried on my 8 day and only used it at Guitar Lake and Outpost Camp. The rest of our days/nights we stored all our food in the bear boxes – so you are good to go with no resupply.
Greg-great, thank you. That would work!! Any water issues? How many liters were you carrying? We were looking at August, do you think we would need to bring any crampons or snow gear?
Greg Glass says
Tre – plenty of water everywhere – read through the entire 8 day blog here and you will see all of the camp sites we used and all of the water sources. Snow will not be an issue in August – you will not need traction devices.
Looking for comments regarding the cliff side exposure on Kaweah Gap section.
I have hiked Whitney and the JMT.
Biggest challenge was coming down south side of Forrester if you can provide comparison.
How long is the exposed section?
Any input helpful!
Clouds Rest in Yosemite would be another one I’ve done for comparison; thanx again.
Greg Glass says
Lee – thanks for the question. There is very little exposure on the route over Kaweah Gap. The main points of exposure are from the Lone Pine Creek bridge to Hamilton Lake – crossing the waterfall is slightly exposed. Then from Hamilton Lake to Precipice Lake there is a bit of exposure on the Hamilton Gorge trail section and just above it where the trail washed out last year. Both of these points are not nearly as exposed as forester pass or the ‘windows’ on Whitney trail. From Precipice Lake to Kaweah Gap there is no exposure. Hope that helps.
Thank you; I’ve really wanted to do this hike but other posts have left me feeling like there’s a lot of exposure. Hopefully we get our trails open for this season. Thanx again.
Lee Wheat says
First time coming across your post. Read it from start to finish and the HST is now at the top of my bucket list! Do you have a gear and provision list for this experience? I am going to set a goal for early September 2022 to make the trip—with planning starting now. Thank you for post.