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Splendor Hiking The High Sierra

Take the finest mountains in the world, add high-country meadows, glacial valleys, alpine lakes, pine-and-hemlock forests, and what do you have? A recipe for backcountry bliss.

12. Dumbbell Lakes

Kings Canyon National Park

35 miles (MOT); 4 to 6 days

First surveyed in 1903, this off-trail route combines rugged country with a spectacular section of the John Muir Trail as it winds below some of the Sierra’s most vertiginous peaks, the Palisades. For a quick but powerful sample of the Sierra’s finest and most challenging terrain, tackle the Southfork Pass, a rugged, snowy off-trail saddle.

From there, descend along the Muir Trail to Deer Meadow, then take a trail up Cataract Creek to Amphitheater Lake and an easy cross-country pass into the basin. Another option is to hike up Taboose Pass, travel down the South Fork Kings River to a side trail heading north toward Lake Basin, then troop past Venacher Needle via circuitous cross-country travel to Dumbbell and vicinity. Longer western access options include the Crown Valley Trail from Wishon Reservoir and a few trails exiting Cedar Grove.

Getting there: For the east-side options, take Glacier Lodge Road out of Big Pine or Taboose Creek Road just south of Poverty Hills. Maps: Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park; USGS Split Mountain, North Palisade. Contact: Inyo National Forest.

13. Sugarloaf Trail/ Deadman Canyon

Kings Canyon National Park

35 miles out and back, or a loop of about 45 miles (T); 3 to 5 days

For a mellow, rolling, exquisitely forested trail unlike anything else in this list, hike out, then back, as far as you care to go along the Sugarloaf Trail. Start with the Marvin Pass Trail, then head east on Sugarloaf. About 16 miles of pleasant strolling takes you to the Scaffold Meadows Ranger Station. Chances are you’ll have the trees and flowers to yourself.

To loop, take the Elizabeth Pass Trail up Deadman Canyon and over to the High Sierra Trail. Follow this back toward Giant Forest, then follow various trails over J.O. Pass and back to the Marvin Pass trailhead. Making a loop of this hike changes its character radically, tossing you, albeit gently, above timberline as you thread Deadman Canyon and cross Elizabeth Pass. Forested trails eventually lead back to the trailhead. Little Sugarloaf (8,000 feet) provides a delightful, though highly challenging, scramble.

Getting there: From Generals Highway, turn onto the Big Meadows/Horse Corral Meadow Road and proceed 4.2 miles past Horse Corral Meadow to the Marvin Pass trailhead. Maps: Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park; USGS Cedar Grove, Mt. Kaweah. Contact: Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.

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