About this TrailThe Rae Lakes Loop is justifiably one of the most popular backpacking trips in the High Sierra. From Road's End on the valley floor of Kings Canyon--arguably the deepest gorge in the U.S.--the trail ascends alongside the South Fork Kings River to reach Paradise Meadows and the sublime Rae Lakes, set amid spectacular 12,000- and 13,000-foot peaks. From the lakes, the trail ascends Glen Pass, affording jaw-dropping views north and south to many of the highest peaks in the Sierra Nevada, before descending Bubbs Creek back down to the floor of Kings Canyon to close the circle at Road's End.
Directions to TrailheadFrom the Bay Area, take Interstate 5 south to State Route 180, then east to Fresno. From Los Angeles or San Diego, take Interstate-5 North to U.S. Route 99, then north to Fresno.
From Fresno, take State Route 180 east to the end of the road at Road's End in Kings Canyon National Park. Wilderness permits can be obtained by phone or e-mail, or in person at Kings Canyon Park headquarters or at Road's End station.
Notes on Difficulty RatingHikers in exceptionally good shape can complete this trip in two 23-mile days, but I prefer a more leisurely pace. If you have more than four days to spend, all the better; opportunities for side trips abound, and a layover day (or two) at the Rae Lakes will allow you to explore the remote Sixty Lakes Basin and Gardiner Basin on day hikes.
No matter how you cut it, the ascent of 11,978-foot Glen Pass and the loop's total elevation gain and loss of nearly 14,000 feet make this a strenuous trip. Note that a small stream must be forded about 6 miles into the trip (going counter-clockwise, up the South Fork Kings River). Depending on the season and the amount of snow melt, this crossing can be challenging. A morning crossing may be barely ankle-deep, but an afternoon crossing, when the creek runs fuller, may be closer to knee-deep, with swift-running waters.