Let others jostle for permits on the John Muir Trail. Get fit for a true alpine test, then set your sights on the 210-mile Sierra High Route. It passes through Muir’s favorite landscape, like his namesake trail, but it sticks to the high ground, making it one of the country’s toughest backpacking routes. Knuckle-busting scrambles over at least 33 granite-filled passes headline the list of cruxes, while the ensuing descents will make your hammies cry uncle. Oh, and the Sierra High Route is often trailless, meaning you’re likely to add extra distance to the claimed mileage anyway (serious navigation skills required). So why’s it worth the effort? Among other reasons: psychedelic alpine meadows, cobalt lakes, granite spires, and enough solitude to make you talk to your boots.
The Sierra High Route connects Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks by way of the granite ribs in between. Set aside at least two weeks to do it, and plan on a resupply at Red’s Meadow Resort (they’ll fetch your package from Mammoth for a small fee). You may have second thoughts when humping a week’s worth of food and a bear canister over 12,000-foot peaks on day eight, but once those legs of steel deposit you to camp in Bear Lakes Basin (pictured), you’ll know the lunges were worth it.
Trailhead Road’s End (36.7962, -118.5838) Season July to September Permit Required ($10 + $5/person); obtain from Kings Canyon National Park. Contacts: Sequoia and Yosemite
Photo: Reach Bear Lakes Basin near mile 100 of the Sierra High Route.