Gaining Elevation & Views at Kearsarge Pass

We just hiked a trail in the Eastern Sierras, not far from the Whitney Portal but far less crowded. Kearsarge Pass hike is a day hike that offers huge rewards. We did the hike in spring (late May) & there was still a lot of snow up there (2016 had a bit more snow in the Sierras than previous years). This made the trail a bit more interesting & probably led to the lack of people on the trail (not sure how busy this gets in summer).

The trail is accessed through Independence, CA by taking the Onion Valley road. This road is a series of switchbacks climbing elevation to the trailhead access. The road alone offers great views.

Finally, you get to the trailhead. There is a small parking lot. We actually found this trail by looking for somewhere to camp the night before. We camped down below in the foothills. It was not the most secluded campsite we’ve ever had, but it was free & close. So, we made it to the trailhead pretty early in the day.

It begins with a mild ascent on several switchbacks as the parking lot becomes a distant sight. Once we got high enough there were fast-flowing waterfalls & beautiful lake views. Eventually, the trail leveled off & there was a magnificent view of a still lake, offering some of the best mountains reflections Ive ever seen!

Lakes of Kearsarge Pass Hike
Lakes of Kearsarge Pass Hike

Then, we entered a region with a decent amount of snow. We were able to walk on it though, so it wasn’t too bad to traverse. Next, we noticed a backpacker that we’d seen in the parking lot who was attempting a very steep ascent up to the next part of the trail. At this point none of the trail was visible & we were making our own path. He had crampons ice axes, & trekking poles. We decided to try to find a less aggressive approach but continued upwards. We wanted to make it to the pass! Climbing up through the snow was slightly sketchy but do-able even with the pooch. We made it up to a point where we found the actual trail; however, we still decided to cut some of the switchbacks to avoid so many snow crossings. Finally it levels off again & we were in the rocky slopes just below the pass – it was in sight! The pooch was getting a little tired but we only has a little more to go. We scrambled through the talus to a point where there was a very narrow trail along a steep slope full of snow. A fall here would mean a very long slide down so it was a little dangerous. We clipped the pooch & prepared for the last trek to the pass.

Steep Snowy Slopes to the Pass
Steep Snowy Slopes to the Pass

Finally, we made it to Kearsarge Pass. At the top, the view is more than we imagined it would be. We could see into the Kings Canyon region, which included many sharp peaks & carved lakes that are probably colored beautifully in the summer (for now, these lakes were still iced over). This is, without a doubt, one of the most magnificent views a day hike has ever awarded us. It goes on the top of the list.

On the way back down, we had to descend on the steep snow-covered slopes. We decided skiing down on our feet was way more fun. Pooch loved this idea, too! This made for a really fast descent (about half the time as climbing to the pass). It took us about 4 hours to ascend & 2 hours to descend the trail! We do stop quite a bit to take in views & have snacks by the beautiful lakes on these trails.

Bonus: This is a dog-friendly trail, as it offers views into Kings Canyon National Park but does not actually go into the park until after the Kearsarge Pass.