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.
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.
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.