Kings Canyon National Park: Sierra Palisades

This 34-mile, four-day loop straddles Muir's namesake wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

The trip A wrong turn on any hike is a headache. But at elevations above 12,000 feet, where you’ll find most of the passes on this loop through the southern Sierra’s Palisades, navigation missteps can be onerously time-consuming, exhausting, and downright dangerous if the weather turns. But the reward on this high route is well worth some trip-planning homework: You’ll traverse lake-filled cirques in the shadow of razor peaks, camp on granite slabs amid meadows and pockets of delicate alpine wildflowers, and see the Range of Light much as John Muir did–in solitary splendor. The route Our 34-mile, four-day loop straddles Muir’s namesake wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park. Follow the popular Bishop Pass Trail into Dusy Basin. Leave the path where it swings sharply west at 11,000 feet and head southeast to Knapsack Pass (see Waypoints below), crossing into Palisade Basin. (For a more direct route to a higher pass, leave the trail sooner, at 11,700 feet, and bear southeast for Thunderbolt Pass. Either way, continue east over Potluck Pass into the Glacier Creek drainage. Turn northeast for Scimitar Pass, a difficult scramble between Mt. Jepson and Palisade Crest. Descend to Elinore Lake in the South Fork Big Pine Creek drainage, then cross Contact Pass to Big Pine Lakes. From the fifth lake, head up the inlet stream, following its north fork to Jigsaw Pass. A steep scramble down Jigsaw’s west side returns you to the Bishop Pass Trail. Recommended side hikes: 12,662-foot Columbine Peak from Knapsack Pass; 13,390-foot Mt. Jepson from Scimitar Pass; and 14,153-foot Mt. Sill from Glacier Creek. Editor’s Note: Our author hasn’t hiked this trip. To learn more about this trip and how to use new tools like map software and GPS to plan trips, check out our iHike feature from the June 2008 issue.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 52.5



Location: 37.171055, -118.566041


Location: 37.084074, -118.54321

Knapsack Pass


Location: 37.095269, -118.525074

Thunderbolt Pass


Location: 37.087614, -118.491978

Scimitar Pass


Location: 37.120388, -118.534222

Jigsaw Pass

Trending on Backpacker