The Highlight Lakes Tour travels within the outskirts of the Golden Trout Wilderness, a small portion of the Sequoia National Park, and a small portion of Sequoia and Kings Canyon Wilderness. The trail is approximately 60 miles long with an average hike of 8.6 miles a day! It is one giant loop to see almost every lake near a trail within the Golden Trout Wilderness.
Day 1 – Summit Trailhead to Maggie Lakes (9.0 miles)
The Summit Trailhead begins at 8,265 feet elevation and is located near the end of Forest Service road 21S50. The trails starts off by going downhill for about 0.75 miles to South Mountaineer Creek. The creek is the first dependable water source on the trail while the other source is another 7 miles away. The trial now begins to ascend up to the ridge line that divides the flow from the Tule River and Kern River. Enjoy some great views once at the top of the ridge line.
Proceeding north from the ridge line, the trail descends down into Jacobsen Meadow. An old trail, called the Jacobsen Trail, is seen to the west and is no longer maintained. The trail ascends to Mowery Meadow and meets up with the Mountaineer Trail. Mowery Meadow is approximately the “half way point” for day 1. The trail continues to ascend to Alpine Meadow, Neva Point, and to a vista point looking into Pecks Canyon.
Once you enjoy the view of Pecks Canyon, the trail turns west towards Maggie Lakes. This stretch of the trail is rocky and hasn’t been maintained for sometime. Watch your footing while trekking down to an unnamed creek crossing. This is the other dependable source of water and a good spot for a break or refill. Continue an additional mile to arrive at Maggie Lakes (9,020 feet).
Day 2 – Maggie Lakes to Wet Meadows (7.8 miles)
The trail begins with a small climb and a relatively flat walk for 1.9 miles. About 1 mile along the trail Frog Lakes will be on the left. Another 0.9 miles and a view of Twin Lakes is seen. This would be a dependable place to get some water. The trail now ascends up towards Sheep Mountain. Once along the ridgeline the trail now enters Sequoia National Park. Head downhill a short distance and make a right at the trail junction going northeast.
The next 2.1 miles treks within the South Fork of the Kaweah River watershed to Windy Gap. In fact the trail crosses through some of the headwaters. Windy Gap is the next junction point at 9,500 feet elevation. Continue heading straight and ascend up past Green Meadow to the Park and Forest boundary (9780 feet). The trail returns to the Golden Trout Wilderness. A quick 1 mile downhill descent into Wet Meadows is all that remains.
Day 3 – Wet Meadows to Silver Lake (7.8 miles)
The trail goes east and northeast staying relatively close to a stream that flows out of Wet Meadows and down to the Little Kern River. Once out of the trees, the trail is on a south facing slope and surrounded by brush. The trail wraps around and proceeds north with a continual descent towards the Little Kern River. Once across the river, keep going north and make a right at the trail junction. The trail ascends to a nice look out point, about 0.8 miles up, and one can see Farewell Gap to the north-northwest. Now continue east for another 1.2 miles and the trail intersects Shotgun Creek. An old trail follows the west side of the creek. Take that trail as it ascends from 8900 feet to 10,545 feet in about 2.5 miles. Silver Lake sits at the end of the 2.5 miles. The trail does continue on to go over Shotgun Pass. If time and weather allows, hike up to Shotgun Pass for a breathtaking panorama view. There is also fish at Silver Lake!
Day 4 – Silver Lake to Coyote Lakes Trail Junction (8.0 miles)
Take the trail back down for 2.5 miles. At the junction, take a left (east) and continue on towards Coyote Pass. Make sure to refill water bottles at this point at Shotgun Creek. Pistol Creek is about 1 mile ahead, but may not have water at certain times of the year. The Tamarack Fire indirectly impacted some parts of this trail. Whitethorn has grown in some of the trees places so be careful as you ascend about 5 miles to the pass (10,160 feet).
Coyote Pass is an historical route backpackers and packers would use to get to the Kern River from Visalia and Mineral King. In the late 1800’s hundreds of people would come this way for various reasons. Primarily it was to get to Mt. Whitney once it was labeled as the highest peak within the contiguous U.S. A good book to read for historical information is Mineral King Country: Visalia to Mount Whitney by Hentry McLauren Brown.
Now at the pass and a lower extent of the Great Western Divide, the trail enters into the Sequoia and Kings Canyon Wilderness. continue down the trail for another mile. The trail meets up with the Coyote Lakes Trail junction. Make camp nearby or wherever water access is available.
Day 5 – Coyote Lakes Trail Junction to Kern Lake (7.7 miles)
Beginning at 9,331 feet elevation, the trail descends down towards the Kern River at 6,300 feet for 4.7 miles. Water should not be a problem as the trail crosses and is close by Coyote Creek most of the way down. Prior to arriving at the Kern River the Kern Canyon Ranger Station is at mile 4.5. Beyond the ranger station there are several small trail junctions. Keep making a right and the trail will head south along the Kern River and back into the Golden Trout Wilderness. Enjoy the next easy 3 miles as the trail slowly descending downhill towards Kern Lake. Fishing should be great along the river and in the lake.
Day 6 – Kern Lake to Little Kern Bridge (9.2 miles)
Continue south along the trail and enjoy the roaring Kern River and Canyon. Ascend uphill a short ways and quickly descend into Little Kern Lake. One more climb up an old landslide knob provides another great view of the canyon. Descend down Devils Staircase towards Grasshopper Flat. The trail passes by Leggett Creek were a landslide in 2008, as a result from the Grasshopper Fire, rerouted the channel. An old trail sign stating “Leggett Creek” remains where the creek used to flow.
Near Angora Creek is a trail junction. Stay right and ascend out of the canyon towards Willow Meadows for the next 3.2 miles. Once at Willow Meadows, there is a spring to refill water bottles. Proceed down the trail another 0.15 miles and a cow camp is seen on the right. Here is where one needs to look carefully and the Willow Meadows Cutoff Trail is visible on the right. Take this trail up into the forest area. Approximately 1.5 miles later the trail comes to an intersection. Proceed straight another 1.7 miles as the trail descends down to the Little Kern River Bridge.
Day 7 – Little Kern River Bridge to Summit Trailhead (10.6 miles)
The last day is the longest. Beginning at 5,760 feet elevation the journey ends where it began (8.265 feet elevation). Hydrate well and top off the water. Depending on when one leaves and the time of year, it can be a hot and miserable 3.1 miles up to Grey Meadow.
Proceed across the bridge and go to the right for 0.3 miles. At the trail junciton, make a right. Another 0.3 miles and the trail meets up with a cutoff trail. Continue straight towards Grey Meadow. Approximately 2.5 miles later the trail arrives at Grey Meadow. There is a US Forest Service Admin cabin and a private cabin. A creek flows from the south. If there is no water, proceed on the trail going north-northeast of the Forest Service cabin and at trail junctions go left until the trail crosses Clicks Creek. Here water should be available all year long.
Once across Clicks Creek, continue west and cross it once more. The trail goes uphill 2.2 miles climbing 1500 feet in elevation towards the Wilderness and Giant Sequoia National Monument boundary. From the boundary, continue 0.8 miles to Forest Service Road 21S50. Make a right (west) and follow the road back to the Summit Trailhead for another 3.5 to 4 miles.