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North Lake to South Lake Loop

 5.0 (2)
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55.0 Miles 88.5 Kilometers

9,037' 2,755 m


-8,492' -2,588 m



Avg Grade (3°)


Max Grade (24°)

11,905' 3,629 m


8,104' 2,470 m


Shared By Bruce Hope



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A loop through the heart of the Sierra Nevada from North Lake, through Evolution Basin, to South Lake.

Bruce Hope

Dogs No Dogs

Features Lake · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Commonly Backpacked

This trail crosses both the John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park so both usual federal wilderness and park regulations and restrictions apply here. Practice Leave No Trace (LNT) backcountry skills and ethics; camp 100 feet from fragile areas, bury human waste at least 200 feet from water, trails, and campsites. This trail is usually closed by snow between November and May.


This 54-mile route is entirely on trails, and is one of the most iconic loops in the range as it makes an almost complete loop into the very heart of the Sierra Nevada. It runs between North Lake and South Lake (but it can be done in either direction), with the majority of campsites located at or above tree line. This loop goes from the abrupt escarpment of the east side of the Sierra Nevada down to the floor of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River, then up and into the magnificant Evolution Basin - renowned for rugged peaks, endless granite, dramatic vistas, and refreshing lakes. From there, it crosses Muir Pass, descends into LeConte Canyon, climbs over Bishop Pass, and finishes with a descent of the stunning South Fork of Bishop Creek to South Lake.

Need to Know

If you start from North or South Lake, the rules for the John Muir Wilderness apply. Wilderness permits are required with year-round daily trailhead quotas. Forty percent of the quota is available on a walk-in basis. Reservations are accepted (via reservation.gov) up to one year in advance, but permits must be picked up in person. It is strongly suggested that you try to reserve in advance, especially if you have a large party. No campfires are allowed above 10,000 feet. Dogs on a leash are allowed in the John Muir Wilderness, but not in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.


As noted, this loop can be done starting at either North Lake or South Lake. This trip can be done in anywhere from one long day to several days depending on personal preference and abilities. However, this exquisitely beautiful area really deserves a few days, if you can spare them, for contemplation. Water and campsites exist all along the route, giving you considerable flexibility as to how long to hike each day and where to camp. Below is one possible itinerary for this loop - though many other variations are possible.

North Lake to Hutchinson Meadow. From the parking area near the pack station, make your way through the campground to the Piute Pass Trail (9,400 feet), ascend the Piute Pass Trail, entering the John Muir Wilderness 0.4 miles after leaving the trailhead. Going up, you'll pass several lakes to arrive at Piute Pass about 4.2 miles from the trailhead. Here there are great views into Humphreys Basin. From the pass, continue on down the Piute Canyon Trail along Piute Creek, camping at or near Hutchinson Meadow, about 11 miles from North Lake.

Hutchinson Meadow to Evolution Meadow. From your camp spot at or near the meadow, continue down the Piute Canyon Trail to its junction with the John Muir Trail (JMT). Take a left onto the JMT to head southeast along the South Fork of the San Joaquin River and enter Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park. Take the JMT south, climbing to a camp in Evolution Meadow along Evolution Creek about 22 miles from North Lake.

Evolution Meadow to Evolution Basin. From your camp spot, continue south on the JMT along Evolution Creek, passing through McClure Meadows at around 24 miles from North Lake. There is also a seasonal ranger station at McClure Meadows. Continuing on you'll pass Colby Meadows, ascend a steeper grade to Evolution Lake then continue climbing through Evolution Valley to Evolution Basin and Wanda Lake, 32 miles from North Lake. Continue climbing to the 11,955-foot crest of the Muir Pass and the iconic Muir Hut. Descend from the pass, past Helen Lake and camp at or near Big Pete Meadow, about 40 miles from North Lake, along the Middle Fork of the Kings River in Upper Le Conte Canyon.

Big Pete Meadow to Dusy Basin. Continue descending glacier-carved Le Conte Canyon on the JMT until you reach the junction with the Bishop Pass Trail, near the seasonal ranger station in LeConte Canyon. Head east on Bishop Pass Trail, and begin ascending the seemingly endless switchbacks up into stunning Dusy Basin, some 44 miles from North Lake. Make your final camp near one of the unnamed lakes in the Basin.

Dusy Basin to South Lake. On the last day (or segment if you're a superhero who's running this), continue east on the Bishop Pass Trail, cross Bishop Pass (11,970 feet), 47 miles from North Lake, and descend past a series of sparkling lakes along the South Fork of Bishop Creek to the South Lake Trailhead - for a final distance of about 54 miles. Take your waiting shuttle car (or hitchhike) to return to North Lake. Note that parking at South Lake can be quite limited during the summer months, particularly on weekends.

History & Background

The John Muir Memorial Shelter (Muir Hut) is on the National Register of Historic Places. Located on Muir Pass at the proximate mid-point of the John Muir Trail (JMT) section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), it is the only building conceived and erected by the Sierra Club to honor its first President and co-founder, John Muir. The JMT was established through the Club's lobbying efforts in 1915, a year after Muir's death, and thus it was named in his honor. Muir is regarded by modern environmental historians as the most influential American conservationist in the nation's history, and the father of the National Park Service.


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Your Check-Ins


Sep 16, 2018
Meghan West
Jul 2, 2018
Christina Aiello
Oct 21, 2017
Robert Bocalan
Sep 1, 2017
Completed with Kurt, Patrick and Andrew, 56mi

Trail Ratings

  5.0 from 2 votes


in Bishop Basin


  5.0 from 2 votes
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in California


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Mark Friis
Redlands, CA
Mark Friis   Redlands, CA
Just got back from doing this loop. WOW! First backpacking trip in 12 yrs so I pick a tough one. Did the loop in 3 days and can feel it. Lots of snow at Muir Pass. For the rest of the trip I kept on giving reports to PCT hikers. Left at noon st start Piute Pass. There was no one on the trail and the trail is not marked well. The Maps.me app worked perfect for keeping me near the trail. Found perfect area to camp about 2 miles down from summit. Second day made my way on to PCT/JMT #5 and finally started seeing all the traffic for the thru hike. Not as much as I thought there would be. Evolution Valley was amazingly beautiful but infested with mosquitoes. Prepare to get eaten. The next day was Muir Pass, even more stunning. Still quite a bit of snow so it was slow going. The last 1/4 mile is step and was slick. Coming down the south side was challenging too as finding the path was often difficult with so much snow as you froggered between exposed rock piles. Things were fine after dropping below 11,000'. The campground at the Bishop Pass trail was nice but wasn't spending another night getting eaten. So headed up a mile to get clear of the skeeters. Has lots of company most of the evening as a bunch of deer decided to hang around. The next morning was chilly as I said bye to the deer and headed up yet another stunning pass. If you can make it up to the lake to camp I'd recommend doing so. Incredible. THe descent was something else with the snow. Though most of it was clear, there was one section that one misstep on the icy surface, death would be almost certain. A herd of deer met there fate along the trail so there were some carcasses being picked at by scavengers. After a few days on the feet the last few miles took longer than I thought they would. LOL. All in all, a perfect long weekend hike for those wanting a challenge. Jun 18, 2018
Ron Stohler
Indianapolis, IN
Ron Stohler   Indianapolis, IN
This was by far the best week-long backpacking trek I have ever taken. We started at South Lake and traveled 55 miles to North Lake. The trails were tough, but worth it. I have never experienced the Sierra's like this in my life. Living in Indiana, this was a real treat. Every turn revealed another breath-taking vista. Every peak blew my mind. If you are planning to go, these are a few tips. Make sure... 1) your boots are well broken in. Mine were not and I got brutal heal blisters. 2) your tent is well sealed. I got stuck in a 3-hour rain and hail storm. My borrowed tent leaked like a sieve. 3) you bring effective bug spray. The mosquitoes were a bitch in certain sites. 4) you bring a detailed map. There were certain places were the trails were washed out due to storms. I used the Hiking Project map on my phone and it was awesome! 5) you bring a bear can and get a permit. Both are required for this hike. Happy hiking! Jul 31, 2018

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