By Vincent Ribeiro & Jocelyn Chuang
Rae Lakes Loop
Distance: 41.2 miles roundtrip
Duration: 2-4 nights
On June 13 2018, Jocelyn and I completed the 42 mile Rae Lakes Loop, located in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Forest, California. We began on June 11th, and undertook the trek in 3 days, 2 nights, and encountered bears, rattlesnakes, many mosquitoes, sunburn, 11,926 foot Glen Pass, and a couple of washed out bridges which meant a bit of bushwacking to find safe sections for river crossings. Below you’ll find a breakdown of what we found helpful to know going into the hike, and what we wish we had known.
Rae Lakes Loop Hike NPS Site
Wilderness Permits required, reserve-able up to two weeks in advance as well as walk up first come – first serve availability.
Distance – 41.2 miles
Length – 2-4 nights
2 at an average of 14 miles a day
5 at an average of 8 miles a day
Direction (clockwise vs anti-clockwise)
We decided to complete the hike anti-clockwise. We heard differing opinions about which direction is best, and obviously it is up to personal preference and whatever you feel comfortable with. Here are some pros and cons of what we experienced:
- Most of your elevation gain happens in the first 15 miles – or first third of your hike, leaving the remaining two thirds (pretty much after Glen Pass) entirely and steadily downhill, which is nice on your knees with proper footwear, posture, and hiking poles. Also – the final two thirds are shallower than the first third’s incline, meaning, that if you took this trek clockwise instead, you have to worry about a steeper decline after the pass, which is worse on your knees than a shallower downhill.
- Mosquitoes on the north side of the pass, towards the lakes, were pretty treacherous. Since we were headed anti-clockwise, it meant that the entire lakes section was downhill, so we had a pep in our step and were able to walk fast and stay ahead of them. Had we hiked clockwise, we would’ve been half as fast and incredibly slow, meaning the mosquitoes would swarm around us during any break we took. We met a couple of hikers headed clockwise around the lakes region, and they were covered in mosquitoes since they were traveling uphill at a slower pace.
- When the views open up towards the Sphinx valley (once you turn South past the Paradise Campgrounds) you are facing these spectacular views, as opposed to heading clockwise, in which the valley views are behind you.
- Most of your elevation gain happens in the first 15 miles – like I mentioned above – so you can take this as a pro or a con. Get it out of the way early (anti-clockwise) and you benefit from getting through mosquito territory while trail blazing downhill but at the expense of a heavier pack at the start of your trip…
Late Spring or Early Fall
We chose June 11 – June 13, 2018
Time of year plays an important role in anyone’s trip planning, but is especially important when there are tons of factors to consider in terms of precipitation, snow, and temperature that can make or break your hike. Any earlier in the spring, we heard that the snow at Glen Pass would have been a bit more challenging and the mosquitoes a bit less feisty. Any later in the summer and the temperature might be unbearably hot (especially at the climbs approaching the pass from either side, where water sources are a bit far between), and the melting snow levels means heavier, faster and deeper water flow at the rivers. It seemed like early spring or late autumn might be the best time of year for this hike.
- Mosquitoes. Bring a mosquito net and bug spray.
- Bears. This loop requires a bear canister and Wilderness Food Storage techniques. Familiarize yourself with them here. Remember – we are visiting their territory, so treat wildlife with respect. Bear canisters are available for rent at the ranger station at the trailhead; if you finish your loop after the station closes, there are locked boxes where you can drop off the canister (they have your serial number registered so they make sure you return it because those carbon fiber ones are expensive!)
- Minimum Impact Restriction. Otherwise known as LNT – Leave No Trace. Familiarize yourself with them here (e.g. campsite selection, sanitation, water safety, wildlife safety, food storage, campfire)
- Sun. The sun at high elevation is very strong. Wear long sleeves or bring strong sunscreen and reapply frequently.
- Brush. Some sections of trail are thick with foliage (especially earlier in the season), wear pants to avoid bugs, snakes and any risk of rash on your legs.
Day 1 – GPS Log
Roads end to East Lake Trail; 11.24 miles, 3,177 feet elevation gain
Day 1 opens up eastbound on a sandy section of trail that your feet sink into, partially exposed to the sun. You might run in to a garter snake, which gives you a good prologue of the days to come. We passed some “controlled fires” sections so don’t be alarmed if you smell smoke and see small fires in the charred woods around you.
The first, and rather intense, surprise was the crossing at Bubb’s Creek, which took a little bit of analysis to find where the driest section to cross was. But if you continue walking east, you’ll find a clearing with strategically placed stepping stones, and if you look straight across the creek, you can find the continuation of the trail built with white stone cobbles. It is easy to miss, but once you see it you’ll find that it is the cleanest section to make your creek crossing.
Steadily increasing in elevation once you reach the giant white stone steps, be sure to fill up your bottle beforehand and take breaks in the shade. My partner and I were eager to walk quickly since it was our first day and we had fresh legs, but take your time. The more coverage from the sun you have, the better you’ll feel. That means head and neck protection from the sun, long sleeves, etc. Pants are probably also a smart idea since we did run into one rattlesnake that startled us with its close proximity to the trail. Remember, don’t poke into any holes and use your hiking poles, they say the vibration of the poles hitting the ground is enough to get a snake to move away from the trail, likely feeling your presence before you even get a chance to startle or get them nervous.
East Lake Trail to Glen Pass to Dollar Lake; 12.47 miles, 3,387 feet elevation gain – 2,388 loss
We took off towards Glen Pass and heard different opinions from different people we crossed paths with coming in the opposite direction. Some told us it was smart to hit the pass early, since the snow is stiffer; others told us mid afternoon was better, since the snow would be less stiff and less slippery. We ended up going with the mid afternoon crossing since it just made sense logistically for us – we knew we would be post-holing on a well marked foot path.
Another extremely hot day, and at 1:30 in the afternoon we summited Glen Pass, got a little sunburnt, took some photos and began our descent. We were in awe of the formations and views, the lakes, it was truly a spectacular experience to be that high up in Kings Canyon.
The remainder of the day was very chill, the ground turned from rock to grass and dirt, all downhill, and we were relieved to have a little bit of soft ground to walk on. We stopped to chat with a couple of hikers heading towards Glen Pass but spending a night at camp at the bottom before summiting in the morning. Every time we did stop, we were eaten alive by the mosquitoes, especially in this lakes region. Luckily we had our mosquito nets over our heads, but it was insane to stop to refill water or eat, you had to keep moving. This is a main factor in deciding it was smarter to hike counterclockwise, since this downhill section for us meant we were able to move quicker than the bugs, but anyone coming in the opposite direction, uphill, we noticed were being swarmed by bugs, since their pace was slower than ours.
We camped past the lakes to get away from some of the wetlands on a breezy rock just off the trail, and saw some other hikers camping a few dozen yards away from us. Jocelyn looked out at the stars at one point in the night and saw a bear cruising along the rock outcropping minding its own business. I missed it as I am an early snoozer and couldn’t get my eyes to adjust quick enough.
Day 3 – GPS Log
Dollar Lake to Roads end; 18.28 miles, 4,310 feet elevation loss
Finally, we had a big day ahead of us since we wanted to spend a night in Fresno on the way to San Francisco and eat some special burgers (since us East Coaster’s don’t know much about that). We started at 6:30 and knew it was all downhill. This last day really flew by. We had a pep in our step thinking about those burgers and ate all the food we had left in our packs.
The roaring falls and the views down south into the Valley were breathtaking, and we were glad we had that view as a final note to end on before converging onto Kanawayers trail back to the parking lot.
The burgers were delicious.