HIKE TO: Heather Lake, Aster Lake, Emerald Lake and Pear Lake TRAIL: The Lakes Trail MILES: 12.4 miles (15.4 miles according to my tracker) TIME: 1 night (3:30 hr in, 3:45 hr out) DATE I WENT: 10/13/18 - 10/14/18 DIFFICULTY: moderate ELEVATION: 9629 ft ELEVATION GAIN/ LOSS: 2625/423 ft HIKE PERMIT: yes for overnight camping LOCATION: Sequoia National Park, California
Yes, only walk-up permits are available – first come first serve at the visitor center.
The Lakes Trail to Pear Lake is the only overnight backpacking trail within the heart of Sequoia National Park boundaries, but the wilderness of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks has hundreds of hiking trails including (but not limited to) Rae Lakes Loop, High Sierra Trail to Mt Whitney, and Mineral King Valley area.
Both are great options! Overnight camping permits can be harder to obtain because it’s walk-up permits only and there’s designated campsites but the entire trail can easily be done as a day hike, just give yourself a full day. If the trail is too long for a day hike for you, hiking just to the Watchman Tower is worth it in itself.
The Lakes Trail is a popular trail in Sequoia National Park which can be done as a day hike or a quick overnight backpacking hike. Permits are available at the Lodgepole Visitor Center by walk-ups only and there are no online advanced permit reservations in place for this trail. There are also bear lockers around the campground so you do not need to bring your bear canister.
*2021 update: permits are reserved online at recreation.gov now for Lakes Trail in SEKI
We started from the trailhead at Wolverton Picnic Area/ Alta Peak Trailhead at 1 pm and the dirt trail is very clear and well-shaded. There is a gradual incline on the trail and at 1.5 miles you reach the junction for the Alta Peak trail, but you’ll continue on the left to stay on the Lakes Trail to see four lakes. At 2 pm we reached the junction for The Watchtower Trail and The Hump Trail and at 2:45 pm, we reached the Watchtower.
From the beginning to the Watchtower, it’s only 3.2 miles; this is only an additional 0.3 miles compared to the Hump Trail to reach Pear Lake. The views at the watchtower of the valley below were gorgeous but the trail continues along a ridge for another 10-15 mins so you’ll get these views for awhile. The watchtower trail is supposed to be closed in the winter months in which you’ll have to take the alternative Hump Trail instead.
After the trail heads back into the wilderness, you’ll quickly make your way to the first of four lakes. We reached a trail sign just 20 mins after leaving the Watchtower which is also just before Heather Lake, 4.1 miles from the trailhead. From here, Emerald Lake and Aster Lake are 1.1 miles (5.3 miles from the trailhead) and Pear Lake is 2 miles away (6.2 miles from the trailhead).
The trail will start to head down as you approach Aster Lake and there is a bathroom and campsites between Aster and Emerald Lakes. It was very crowded when we came in Fall so we continued on to Pear Lakes.
The trail begins to incline again for the remainder of the trail as you leave this camp area, hiking along another short ridge before heading through more wilderness and finally reaching Pear Lake.
We arrived at Pear Lake in the evening at 5 pm just in time for sunset and the lake reflection was simply breathtaking. The campsites are numbered and there are bear lockers and another bathroom here. After taking a bunch of photos, setting up camp, watching the sunset, we enjoyed some homemade chocolate cupcakes as a surprise birthday treat for Alice… and it tasted like heaven in the mountains!
The next morning was a beautiful, sunny morning with a low of 59 deg and high of 75 deg. We packed up, headed out and were off the trail in under 3 hrs… where we had more cupcakes waiting in the bear lockers of the parking lot.
Don’t forget to remove all food & scented items from your car and leave them in the bear locker – Sequoia National Park is an active bear area! & remember, LEAVE NO TRACE