Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: Evolution Valley Loop

Hike cross-country through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to a pocket of dreamy lakeside camps on the John Muir Trail.
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Hike cross-country through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to a pocket of dreamy lakeside camps on the John Muir Trail.

During my summer as a volunteer wildlife technician in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, I spent my days trekking with a pack full of tracking equipment to survey animal populations. After my work was done, I’d jump in the nearest river, cook, then bear-proof my camp. At night, I’d comb through maps by headlamp, creating my ultimate ticklist for the parks. At the top was Evolution Valley—as a wannabe biologist, I fell in love with the name. It was also one of the last areas explored by early park pioneers.

Theodore S. Solomons and E.C. Bonner explored this area in 1895 while scouting a hiker’s route along the crest of the Sierra (it would eventually become the John Muir Trail). They came across a congregation of stunning peaks lining the South Fork of the San Joaquin River, and they altered course to the glaciated valley beneath them, finding clear lakes, dwarf meadows, and jagged sky-stabbing peaks. Solomons christened these mountains the Evolution Group because “I could think of none more fitting than the great evolutionists, so at-one in their devotion to the sublime in Nature.”

I never made it that deep into the backcountry that summer. But the Reader Leader contest was all it took to get me planning again. Here’s how I did it:

Day one Take the Piute Pass Trail from North Lake Campground, 20 miles west of Bishop, and hike six miles gaining 2,000 feet to make camp near Upper Golden Trout Lake (no camping within 400 feet).

Day two Continue on Piute Pass to reach the JMT (and enter the national park) at mile 17.4. Reach a footbridge over Jeffrey pine-lined Piute Creek, and camp on designated pads nearby.

Day three Descend 7.3 miles on the JMT into Evolution Valley, then add an easy 1.2 miles to camp by Evolution Lake.

Day four Rest and explore. Get surefire solitude in McGee Canyon (south about .5 mile back). Or bag flattopped Mt. Darwin via the class 3 West Ridge.

Day five Leave the JMT, taking the switchbacks above Evolution Lake to access Darwin Canyon and a class 2 scramble up and over Lamarck Col to Upper Lamarck Lake, 2,100-feet below. Camp, or finish the last 2.7 miles to the trailhead.

Map Mono Divide High Country ($10, tomharrisonmaps.com)

Contact (559) 565-3766; nps.gov/seki

-Text and mapping by Madelyn Rios

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 57.7

Waypoints

EVL001

Location: 37.227218, -118.627392

This loop begins and ends at the North Lake trailhead. On day 1, take the Piute Pass Trail from North Lake Campground, and hike six miles gaining 2,000 feet to make camp near Upper Golden Trout Lake (no camping within 400 feet).

EVL002

Location: 37.232097, -118.647323

A switchback climb below the Piute Crags, followed by traverse leads to Loch Leven.

EVL003

Location: 37.23108, -118.65376

The trail skirts the northern shore of Loch Leven.

EVL004

Location: 37.235898, -118.66848

Piute Lake

EVL005

Location: 37.23887, -118.684187

Crest Piute Pass, then drop down toward Summit Lake.

EVL006

Location: 37.2444, -118.712953

Campsite 1: Upper Golden Trout Lake. Day 2: Continue on Piute Pass to reach the JMT (and enter the national park). Reach a footbridge over Jeffrey pine-lined Piute Creek, and camp on designated pads nearby.

EVL007

Location: 37.244113, -118.716549

You'll find other good campsites on this knoll.

EVL008

Location: 37.26227, -118.76431

Continue straight at the 3-way. The trail on the left leads to Lower Honeymoon Lake.

EVL009

Location: 37.266915, -118.780446

Continue straight at this 3-way in Hutchinson Meadow. The trail on the right leads north into French Canyon.

EVL010

Location: 37.260528, -118.795509

Cross Pinnacles Creek.

EVL011

Location: 37.251374, -118.806882

Cross Pemmican Lake's outlet creek.

EVL012

Location: 37.244132, -118.817697

Cross West Pinnacles Creek.

EVL013

Location: 37.239554, -118.827524

Cross Turret Creek.

EVL014

Location: 37.225715, -118.833447

Cross a bridge over Piute Creek.

EVL015

Location: 37.225369, -118.832425

Campsite 2: Just past the footbridge over Piute Creek, set up camp on these designated pads.

EVL016

Location: 37.225284, -118.832295

Day 3: From camp, descend 7.3 miles on the JMT into Evolution Valley, then add an easy 1.2 miles to camp by Evolution Lake.

EVL017

Location: 37.217897, -118.825132

John Muir Rock rises directly to the east.

EVL018

Location: 37.213583, -118.816624

Hike through Aspen Meadow.

EVL019

Location: 37.192801, -118.795252

Turn left and cross the South Fork San Joaquin River.

EVL020

Location: 37.183685, -118.72855

Campsite 3: Colby Meadow. Day 4: Rest and explore. Get surefire solitude in McGee Canyon (south about .5 mile back). Or bag flattopped Mt. Darwin via the class 3 West Ridge.

EVL021

Location: 37.177336, -118.707514

Leave the JMT, and follow the drainage up to Darwin Canyon.

EVL022

Location: 37.18448, -118.704856

There are possible campsites on Darwin Bench.

EVL023

Location: 37.187744, -118.689585

Campsite 4: Darwin Canyon. Ahead, tackle a class 2 scramble to Lamarck Col.

EVL024

Location: 37.18692, -118.68777

Killer campsite

EVL025

Location: 37.190345, -118.667564

Crest Lamarck Col, then drop down the backside.

EVL026

Location: 37.19933, -118.659811

Turn right and hike east.

EVL027

Location: 37.205278, -118.646121

Turn left and descend to Upper Lamarck Lake.

EVL028

Location: 37.212285, -118.645992

Pick up the trail on the eastern edge of Upper Lamarck Lake. Follow it 2.1 miles back to the trailhead.