Hiking the Kearsarge Pass Trail

Lone Pine, CA

When we came to Lone Pine we planned a one week stay.  But we found so much to do and see that we have been here for just over two weeks.  We would enjoy staying a bit longer but the weather is beginning to change and the temperature is beginning to drop, so it is time to head south for warmer climates.  But before we go we had one more hike on our radar.

Beginning at Onion Valley Trailhead, the Kearsarge Pass Trail travels through the John Muir Wilderness.  The trail climbs through forest and alpine tundra and past several lakes, on its way to 11,760 foot Kearsarge Pass.  Beyond the pass, the trail enters Kings Canyon National Park, where it joins the John Muir Trail.  The trail is eight miles long, but we planned a hike of two and a half miles to Gilbert Lake at an elevation of 10,417 feet.

Onion Valley Road heading into the Sierras

Lichen growth colors the mountains along the Onion Valley Road

To get to the trailhead we drove north from Lone Pine to the little town of Independence.  In the center of town we turned west on Market Street, which soon turns into Onion Valley Road.  The road twists and turns for thirteen miles as it gains elevation from 3,700 feet in town to 9,200 feet at the parking area for the trail.

The parking area in Onion Valley

The pass was named after the nearby  Kearsarge mine, which was named by its owners after the Union ship USS Kearsarge, a ship that destroyed the Confederate CSS Alabama during the Civil War. The Alabama Hills were named after the Confederate ship and the mine was named in reaction.

The Kearsarge Trailhead

It was cold and very windy at the trailhead so we anticipated even colder temperatures as we gained elevation on the trail.  We could see snow blowing around the tip of nearby University Peak (13,589′).

Snow on University Peak

The Kearsarge Pass Trail is a well-maintained trail that goes up on a series of long switchbacks.

As we gained elevation the views we had of the mountains surrounding us were impressive.

A tree needs to be rugged to survive in these conditions

Temperatures overnight were well below freezing in this area, so we saw a bit of ice along the creek near the trail and in one spot a puddle had frozen solid along the path.  We think this ice will stay here until late spring.

A patch of ice on the trail

Ice along Independence Creek

At one point the trail went right through a large field of crushed rock.  It appeared the mountain to our north had suffered a rock slide some time far in the past.

Looking west through the rock field

Looking east, the green patch in the distance is the town of Independence

The slide area

Along the way we passed Little Pot Hole Lake

Soon we came to the beautiful Gilbert Lake, our destination.

Gilbert Lake

Lunch with a view

We had just set the clocks back an hour the night before so the sun was going down pretty early.  Since we were on the east side of the mountains, it wasn’t very long before we were hiking in the shadows.  With the wind still quite strong and being at a high elevation, the temperature began to drop and a couple of hikers became a bit chilled!

Hiking down through the cold

We returned to the Jeep where the temperature read 48 degrees and quickly warmed up as we headed for home.  It was 75 down in Independence with no wind.  Driving back down the mountain we could see the road winding around below us.

We haven’t seen much wildlife in our trip down the east side of the Sierras, so we were happy to see two sentinels keeping an eye on us as we drove back into the Owens Valley.

Well, that wraps up our tour down US-395 along the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  It has been a month since we left Nevada and began this journey and we have enjoyed every minute.  While there are still places we would like to explore here, it’s time to head to warmer locations.  Next up is a stay in Desert Hot Springs in the Coachella Valley of southern California.

More on that later . . .

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28 Responses to Hiking the Kearsarge Pass Trail

  1. Sue says:

    Fantastic pictures in the blog, guys! I’m glad you’re last hike from Lone Pine was a memorable one, you’re leaving on a high note. We’ve had a great time here too and are looking forward to more good times and warmer weather.

  2. Dave & Skruffy (GoingRvWay.com) says:

    Sure have enjoyed your posting for that area of California that I am not very familiar with…such a big, beautiful state and I have seen much of it over the years but not much in that area at all. And yes, I think you are getting out at the right time with this badly needed weather front going through Northern and Central California yesterday and today.

  3. explorvistas says:

    Wow! I love those deep blue skies at the high elevations. Just beautiful. How much water do you each typically carry on a hike like that?

  4. Gay says:

    I just can’t keep up with you guys…had two posts to read. It has been so much fun traveling with you through your photos. You have certainly peaked my interest for making this a possible route to take one day. It is really a beautiful area to explore.

  5. heyduke50 says:

    yep, that snow and ice would send me southerly as well…

  6. Woohoo! Thanks for taking me to a spot I’ve always wanted to go (and I didn’t have to be out in the cold)! Love those high alpine settings!

  7. Janna says:

    What a gorgeous spot!

  8. Box Canyon Blogger Mark says:

    a fine day for a hike 🙂 nice that someone cleared all those boulders out of the way.
    Box Canyon Mark

  9. Zsuzsa Klush says:

    I sure enjoyed your journey of the eastern Sierras ! Which rv park are heading in DHS ? We are at Sam’s Family Spa maybe we could meet one day…. Safe travels . Z

  10. Lenore says:

    I’ve really enjoyed your trip down 395 too. We miss the clear blue skies and spectacular views. Nothing like that here in Little Rock where we are now!

  11. pmbweaver says:

    I got the chills just seeing that snow blowing.

    Another outstanding hike. The mountains and the lakes are gorgeous. I bet it felt real good getting back in that Jeep. Enjoy your stay in Desert Hot Springs. We really like that area.

  12. Jodee Gravel says:

    That ice in the creek pic is amazing! Weren’t your legs cold??? Love the large rocks over the lake, such a beautiful area waaaaay up there 🙂 Glad you got in another hike, and such a pretty one too.

  13. That’s one trail we didn’t get to when we were there. Looks like a good one, although I think we’d like it to be just a bit warmer!

  14. That’s a trail we didn’t get to while we were there, but it looks like a good one. We’d like it to be a bit warmer, though!

  15. Maxxtrails says:

    I think Sunday is the last day you would have been able to hike at those elevations. We had to forego Alabama Hills and head straight to Desert Hot Springs because of the cooler weather. Good thing you got there earlier. We have book marked your series to refer to when we make it back in the spring. Thanks for sharing 😊

  16. Jeff says:

    Enjoyed reading of your adventures in the Sierra, sorry to see you leave 🙂 But looking forward to your new adventures and hiking in the Joshua Trees and desert

  17. Sherry says:

    Love that you came for a week and just kept staying until the temperatures pushed you on. Great pictures especially that first one of the road and those of the lake. What a beautiful spot you hiked to.

  18. Laurel says:

    We hiked that trail many years ago and loved it! Your photos are great. Looks like you’re getting out just in time — enjoy some well-deserved time soaking and relaxing in those hot springs. 🙂

  19. LuAnn says:

    Kearsarge Pass Trail has been one of my favorites. I remember how cold it was at the top of the pass, with snow swirling around us. Even wearing gloves didn’t keep our hands warm.

  20. Being located in the High Desert of S. California, that part of the Sierras that you have been enjoying is kind of in our backyard. Nevertheless, we will be following in your footsteps in the near future as we go out again on one of our pre-full-time 30 day excursions. We have always loved that area all the way up to Mono Lake and beyond. Happy Trails.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Ed! Glad we could add to your plans:) I think you will enjoy searching for arches using the book you downloaded. I carried the Arches book with me as I was climbing around. It isn’t the best with written direction but the best we found:) The maps were great once you figure out where that section is!

  21. Jim and Barb says:

    What a beautiful lake! I was wonder who maintains those trails and how much work it had to be to clear the trail where the rockslide was. Thanks for being so detailed on your directions to the trailhead, I saved it and will review it when we get to that area.

  22. Nancy says:

    Oh the views! That water shot and the deer and the mountains… OH MY!
    I love all the info you give us with each post!

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