John Muir Trail Section 4: Edison Lake to Onion Valley

In this 86-mile section, hike through Kings Canyon National Park into a series of JMT favorites.

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Trail Facts

  • Distance: 86.5


Location: 37.405216, -118.942368
Ferry landing
Location: 37.280918, -118.874649
Outlet of Heart Lake
Location: 37.270134, -118.876549
Outlet of eastern of Sally Keyes Lakes
Location: 37.253551, -118.864647
Senger Creek
Location: 37.202965, -118.800537
Cross metal bridge
Location: 37.193016, -118.794968
Bridge over the south fork san joaquin; good camping in this river bottom area
Location: 37.110615, -118.604897
Campsite at Big Pete Meadow
Location: 37.054501, -118.514702
Deer Meadow campsite
Location: 36.969433, -118.441170
High water log crossing at South Fork Kings River
Location: 36.873432, -118.436966
Wooden suspension bridge over Woods Creek and bear locker
Location: 36.849800, -118.412430
Crossing at South Fork Woods Creek
Location: 36.811218, -118.400650
Spur to Rae Lakes Ranger Station
Location: 36.806583, -118.398048
Bear box
Location: 37.382450, -118.910080
Trail to Bear Ridge trailhead and foot access to Vermillion Valley Resort; continue on JMT/PCT southbound
Location: 37.368252, -118.888016
Climb up alongside Bear Creek
Location: 37.412334, -118.925201
R for climb up relentless switchbacks to Bear Ridge
Location: 37.118668, -118.659866
Muir Pass (11,955 ft.) features a conical hut constructed of tightly packed stone. Built by the Sierra Club, the hut serves as shelter for wayward backpackers on this lonesome, exposed stretch of trail. No overnighting allow, but it makes for a great break spot as the only man-made structure actually on the JMT. Descent follows the contours of a few unnamed tarns and passes Helen Lake before dropping into the densely forested confines of Big Pete and Little Pete Meadow.
Location: 37.113251, -118.633163
Helen Lake outlet, descent continues
Location: 37.225868, -118.861504
Stay with JMT (Road access @ Florence Lake if you need a bail out or are planning a short trip)
Location: 37.225117, -118.832817
Bridge over South Fork San Joaquin River. Leave Sierra NF into Kings Canyon National Park
Location: 37.273335, -118.875900
Location: 37.345367, -118.876137
Lake Italy Trail; stay with JMT
Location: 37.289867, -118.872780
Small notch at Selden Pass (10,900 ft.) reveals the sprawling southern territory of the Sierra NF. Begin mellow descent through small basin of Heart Lake, high walls shelter snowy patches.
Location: 36.773132, -118.376564
Kearsagre Pass (11,760 ft.), leaving Kings Canyon NP into Inyo National Forest for descent to Onion Valley
Location: 36.773682, -118.381714
Head E toward Kearsarge Pass; nice climb over yet another lake basin. Kearsarge Pinnacles rise to the S, framing the view into the southern reaches of Kings Canyon
Location: 36.775269, -118.343201
Last push downhill to trailhead
Location: 36.801815, -118.403198
Rae Lakes. Follow JMT through the island-dotted lakes that make up this rocky basin. Plenty of camping and bear boxes. Popular for a reason: the mountains here are some of the finest in the southern Sierra.
Location: 36.772533, -118.341202
Onion Valley Trailhead (9,180 ft.): camping, food storage, parking lot.
Location: 37.187855, -118.745514
Find a nice, flat camp a few hundred yard past Ranger Station on McClure Meadow’s N side. Soak up views of The Hermit and Evolution Peaks (named for famous theorists, including Goddard, Huxley, and Darwin). Worthy alpenglow spot, with ample photo ops once dusk approaches
Location: 37.111984, -118.670914
Final push to Muir Pass past Wanda Lake
Location: 37.195465, -118.781670
Rejoin new PCT @ crossing of Evolution Creek; this area is notorious for swift water. Use caution during crossing.
Location: 36.834499, -118.408119
Spur to Baxter Pass; stay with JMT
Location: 36.814632, -118.404999
Bear box @ Lower Rae Lakes and good camping; alpine lakes galore with stunning peaks surrounding the basin
Location: 37.330166, -118.866882
Return to JMT/PCT at normal crossing of Bear Creek
Location: 37.321884, -118.868286
Leaving PCT to cross Bear Creek at Three Forks section; use caution at dangerous ford; stay with JMT into basin of Marie Lake. Climb to Selden Pass through intermittent pines past a few lakes
Location: 36.773285, -118.417564
Spiderweb junction of many trails; continue on JMT S
Location: 36.807266, -118.397903
Bear box
Location: 36.789600, -118.412003
Glen Pass (11,978 ft.): slim ridge offers scant protection from winds. sweeping views over Rae Lakes to the N and a small tarn on the trail below.
Location: 37.375702, -119.012451
Vermillion Valley Resort ( first beer and one-night stay in platform tents free for thru-hikers; meals in diner are on the spendy side, but filling for the trail-weary traveler who subsides on dehydrated fare.
Location: 37.242100, -118.871696
Spur to Florence Lake trail, Blayney Hot Springs, and Muir Trail Ranch (good resupply spot, if needed)
Location: 37.173683, -118.712540
Start climb to Evolution Lake
Location: 36.771935, -118.413681
W to Charlotte Lake; ample camping; ranger station
Location: 37.172432, -118.699272
Pass along rocky shores of Evolution Lake
Location: 37.054474, -118.501686
Start of the Golden Staircase, last section of the JMT to be completed. Massive trail work project that ascends a sheer gully with switchbacks stacked on top of one another like wacky Jenga blocks. It’s a slow plod of 1,700 ft. in 3 miles, but the cascades of Palisade Creek offer respite from the dusty path
Location: 37.031715, -118.460098
Mather Pass (12,100 ft.): sweeping vista over the wide and flat Upper Basin, and the long sloping terrain that leads into the South Fork Kings River watershed.
Location: 37.052799, -118.579369
Middle Fork Kings River Junction; follow signs for JMT into Palisade Creek drainage
Location: 37.195133, -118.775017
This area is notorious for swift water. Use caution during crossing
Location: 37.092117, -118.593880
Bridge; spur trail to LeConte Canyon Ranger Station
Location: 36.873283, -118.439346
S past camp; bear box and bridge
Location: 36.827351, -118.409653
Location: 36.902515, -118.400414
Sawmill Pass trail junction. Stay with JMT
Location: 36.970333, -118.444153
Continue through basin
Location: 36.936165, -118.412613
Pinchot Pass (12,130 ft.) leads down into basin below the red-striped summits of Mt. Wynne and Crater Mtn.
Edison Queen
Location: 37.376602, -118.981209
The ferry across Edison Lake to Vermillion Valley Resort © David Taus
Location: 37.376602, -119.012314
Andrew Matranga prepares to hit the trail after spending a (free) night in the platform tents at Vermillion Valley Resort. © David Taus
Edison Lake
Location: 37.378284, -119.013153
View across Edison Lake to Volcanic Knob and Recess Peak, two features on the Mono Divide. © David Taus
Fire pit at Vermillion Valley Ranch
Location: 37.377441, -119.012314
The fire pit where thru hikers sit and share stories from the trail. © David Taus
Big Pothole Lake
Location: 36.772091, -118.366096
This turquoise tarn sits in a deep bowl below Kearsage Pass. © Andrew Matranga
Entering Kings Canyon National Park
Location: 36.774616, -118.374504
The sign that marks the boundary between the Inyo National Forest and Kings Canyon NP. © Andrew Matranga
Kearsarge Pinnacles
Location: 36.774616, -118.380386
This rocky wall rises above Bullfrog Lake. © Andrew Matranga
East Vidette from near Bullfrog Lake
Location: 36.776295, -118.392159
The sharp tip of East Vidette hulks in front of a group of southern Sierra peaks. © Andrew Matranga
Tarn near Bullfrog Lake
Location: 36.776295, -118.396362
Two small pools reflect early morning sunlight with West Vidette rising in the background. © Andrew Matranga
East Vidette
Location: 36.772934, -118.412338
Dawn streaks the conical summit of East Vidette. © Andrew Matranga
Muir Hut
Location: 37.111805, -118.670998
© Andrew Matranga
Sign @ Muir Hut
Location: 37.111912, -118.671211
© Andrew Matranga
Inside of the Muir Hut
Location: 37.111805, -118.670883
© Andrew Matranga
Evolution Basin
Location: 37.118805, -118.683159
The last rays of day turn the pools in Evolution Basin a reflective copper. © Andrew Matranga
Dusk in Evolution Basin
Location: 37.122032, -118.688652
© Andrew Matranga
Wanda Lake
Location: 37.119343, -118.682732
© Andrew Matranga
Sign @ VVR
Location: 37.377106, -119.012077
The famous Canada to Mexico sign outside VVR store. © Andrew Matranga
Road sign for Vermillion Valley Resort
Location: 37.375370, -119.014008
© Andrew Matranga
Muir Trail Ranch
Location: 37.247055, -118.884087
Semi-secure room where numerous re-supply buckets are kept to keep from bears. © Andrew Matranga
Muir Trail Ranch
Location: 37.247288, -118.884773
© Andrew Matranga
Kearsarge Pass into Kings Canyon National Park
Location: 37.224758, -118.833054
© Andrew Matranga
John Muir Wilderness
Location: 37.224758, -118.831673
© Andrew Matranga
Trail sign Sierra National Forest
Location: 37.224300, -118.832588
© Andrew Matranga
On the trail
Location: 37.248436, -118.885002
© Andrew Matranga
Hiker feed
Location: 37.247517, -118.883858
Getting a resupply @ Muir Trail Ranch. © Andrew Matranga
Descent to Evolution Lake
Location: 37.292576, -118.872589
David Taus pauses during the hike from Sapphire Lake to the shores of Evolution Lake. © Andrew Matranga
Big valley and bigger clouds
Location: 37.289585, -118.871902
© Andrew Matranga
Crossing Evolution Creek
Location: 37.194183, -118.775810
© Andrew Matranga
Waterfall on Evolution Creek
Location: 37.194416, -118.789604
© Andrew Matranga
The Hermit and Mount Mendel
Location: 37.187286, -118.745926
Looking east along Evolution Creek in McClure Meadow. © Andrew Matranga
Into Evolution Valley
Location: 37.171886, -118.700638
David Taus drops down the many switchbacks into the lush, wide valley below Evolution Lake. © Andrew Matranga
Pack and Mt. Spencer
Location: 37.153496, -118.697418
© Andrew Matranga
Up to Helen Lake
Location: 37.116714, -118.662704
David Taus traverses the snow fields en route to Helen Lake. © Andrew Matranga
Deep in the mountains
Location: 37.119701, -118.656960
Yet another day surrounded by towering Sierra peaks. © Andrew Matranga
In Muir Hut
Location: 37.112118, -118.670753
Andrew Matranga takes a break and does some journaling inside the wind-protected walls of the Muir Hut. © David Taus
Muir Hut sign
Location: 37.111889, -118.670982
© David Taus
Muir Hut and Mt. Solomons
Location: 37.111198, -118.672592
At the high lonesome spot on Muir Pass sits the Muir Hut, backed by Mt Solomons. This peak was named for the Theodore Solomons, an explorer and early member of the Sierra Club. In the late 1890s, he explored and named the Mount Goddard, Evolution Valley and Evolution Basin region. He was instrumental in the creation of the John Muir Trail.
Up to Muir Pass
Location: 37.117863, -118.661095
While climbing to Muir Pass from the south, we passed deep snowpack that often clings late into the season. © David Taus
Palisade Lake
Location: 37.059704, -118.487305
Andrew Matranga skirts the shores of Lower Palisade Lakes en route to the Golden Staircase. © David Taus
Location: 37.060623, -118.485237
These blooms stripe Colby Meadow until August. © David Taus
Crater Mountain
Location: 36.931431, -118.411446
The peaks that encircle the south side of Pinchot Pass are a series of crenelated, burnt-amber summits. © David Taus
Mount Wynne
Location: 36.935799, -118.412132
Wisps of cumulus curl around the rugged features of Mount Wynne. © David Taus
North from Mather Pass
Location: 36.935799, -118.413742
The high cirque backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park. © David Taus
Rock stack and vermillion mountains
Location: 37.023842, -118.456963
As the JMT winds through the Upper Basin, the surrounding cliffs and peaks change from hues of ashen granite to auburn-streaked tones. © Andrew Matranga
At the pass
Location: 37.031887, -118.460182
David Taus surveys the next section from Pinchot Pass © Andrew Matranga
Creek crossing
Location: 36.990738, -118.447998
David Taus cautiously fords one of the myriad streams that course through the Upper Basin. © Andrew Matranga
Reaching the pass
Location: 36.789593, -118.412132
David Taus surveys the terrain above treeline and Rae Lakes before the descent off Glen Pass. © Andrew Matranga
Painted Lady
Location: 36.804306, -118.399033
The iconic headwall to the south of Upper Rae Lake. © Andrew Matranga
JMT sign @ Rae Lakes
Location: 36.802006, -118.402710
This signs at a junction below Glen Pass features the face of the legendary John Muir. © Andrew Matranga
Wildflowers at Rae Lakes
Location: 36.809593, -118.399033
Multicolored blooms frame the Painted Lady, Dragon Peak and Mt. Rixford. These peaks encircle the southern end of the Rae Lakes Basin. © Andrew Matranga
Arrowhead Lake
Location: 36.811890, -118.402023
A good spot to camp if Rae Lakes is crowded, plenty of good sites and bear boxes. © Andrew Matranga
Fin Dome
Location: 36.812580, -118.403633
This monolithic cap of exfoliated granite rises above the Rae Lakes basin. © Andrew Matranga
View north through South Baxter Creek
Location: 36.855339, -118.416504
See Castle Domes, Window Peak and Pyramid Peak when looking north through the large canyon cradling South Baxter Creek. © Andrew Matranga
Crossing Woods Creek
Location: 36.873501, -118.437881
© Andrew Matranga
Bridge over Woods Creek
Location: 36.873959, -118.437424
This tall bridge avoids being swept away by torrential spring runoff. © David Taus
Trail sign for creek crossing
Location: 36.968441, -118.440872
© David Taus
View south from the Upper Basin
Location: 36.925224, -118.396042
This is one of the most-remote sections on the JMT, when the trail passes through a large basin surrounded by towering peaks and canyons. © David Taus