Pacific Crest Trail: Best Month - High Sierra, CA

Every hiker's life list should include the 270 miles between Mt. Whitney and Sonora Pass. It may take a month, but it's a trivial sacrifice to make for the most unrelenting wilderness eye-candy you'll ever feast on.

Some things are so inevitable there's no sense disputing them: death, taxes, and the unrivaled beauty of the Sierra. Following the John Muir Trail much of the way, the PCT rambles through dozens of scenes suitable for framing—13,000—and 14,000-foot granite skyscrapers, canyons a mile deep, and thousands of lakes in beds of polished rock. You'll walk the longest strip of roadless trail in the nation and bump into civilization just twice. The best campsite is...virtually anywhere, though an enduringly classic spot to pitch nylon is Vidette Meadow, below the soaring Kearsarge Pinnacles. If you absolutely can't spare more than a week, knock off the 76 miles from Tuolumne Meadows to Sonora Pass; here, the PCT ventures beyond the popular JMT into remote northern Yosemite and the Emigrant Wilderness. And leave your umbrella at home: The Sierra in summer is reliably sunny and mild.
LOCAL WISDOM Flatlanders should hike this stretch north to south to acclimatize before reaching the higher elevations of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.
-Mike Lanza

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 387.8



Location: 36.587287902832, -118.238288879395

From Whitney Portal, head W on Mt. Whitney Trail to Trail Crest.


Location: 36.5613250732422, -118.292762756348

Trail Crest; drop packs and head along crumbling spine of scree past Mt. Muir


Location: 36.5786170959473, -118.291984558105

Summit Mt. Whitney, highest point in lower 48; enjoy views of the Great Western Divide, the central Sierras, and the Owens Valley below


Location: 36.5733489990234, -118.314651489258

Campsite by stunning Guitar Lake; great basecamp for Whitney attempt. Even if you decide not to summit, enjoy camping in this high-alpine cirque


Location: 36.5636177062988, -118.349433898926

Crabtree Ranger Station and bear box; John Muir Trail to Mt. Whitney across creek


Location: 36.5588493347168, -118.361869812012

Rejoin PCT/JMT; from here to Red's Meadow, the PCT and JMT are the same trail. Follow all JMT signs until Devils Postpile NM.


Location: 36.5941314697266, -118.371116638184

Wallace Creek and High Sierra Trail junction and bear box


Location: 36.5989151000977, -118.374153137207

Wright Creek


Location: 36.6201438903809, -118.380638122559

Bighorn Plateau


Location: 36.6350173950195, -118.385467529297

Bear box


Location: 36.6397171020508, -118.388046264648

Spur to Tyndall Creek Ranger Station


Location: 36.6409339904785, -118.387397766113

Shepard Pass trail


Location: 36.6421318054199, -118.387413024902

Tyndall Creek


Location: 36.6430015563965, -118.387451171875

Bear box


Location: 36.6450500488281, -118.388130187988

Lake South America trail


Location: 36.6945343017578, -118.37353515625

Forester Pass: highest point on PCT and entrace into Kings Canyon NP


Location: 36.7309150695801, -118.372833251953

Center Basin Creek


Location: 36.7515182495117, -118.395286560059

Bear box


Location: 36.7593002319336, -118.405830383301

Vidette Meadow campsite and bear box


Location: 36.7602157592773, -118.407165527344

Camp in Lower Vidette Meadows


Location: 36.7602996826172, -118.412101745605

Bubbs Creek/PCT Junction; head uphill


Location: 36.76806640625, -118.411415100098

Bullfrog Lake Trail junction. Not the PCT, but spur trail to Independence for a necessary resupply


Location: 36.773681640625, -118.381713867188

Kearsage Pass Tral Junction


Location: 36.7731323242188, -118.376564025879

Kearsage Pass, leaving Kings Canyon NP into Inyo National Forest to Onion Valley


Location: 36.7752685546875, -118.343200683594

Golden Trout Lakes Junction


Location: 36.772533416748, -118.341201782227

Onion Valley Trailhead


Location: 36.77294921875, -118.413650512695

Trail junction


Location: 36.7732849121094, -118.41756439209

Resume PCT


Location: 36.7896156311035, -118.412101745605

Glen Pass


Location: 36.801815032959, -118.403198242188

Rae Lakes, Sixty Lakes Basin trail junction


Location: 36.806583404541, -118.398048400879

Bear box


Location: 36.8112182617188, -118.400650024414

Spur to Rae Lakes Ranger Station


Location: 36.8146324157715, -118.404998779297

Bear box @ Lower Rae Lakes and good camping


Location: 36.8344993591309, -118.40811920166

Spur to Baxter Pass


Location: 36.8498001098633, -118.41242980957

Crossing at South Fork Woods Creek


Location: 36.8734321594238, -118.436965942383

Wooden suspension bridge over Woods Creek and bear locker


Location: 36.9025497436523, -118.400550842285

Sawmill Pass trail junction


Location: 36.9362182617188, -118.412483215332

Pinchot Pass


Location: 36.9694328308106, -118.44116973877

High water log crossing at South Fork Kings River


Location: 37.0317153930664, -118.460098266602

Mather Pass


Location: 37.054500579834, -118.514701843262

Deer Meadow campsite


Location: 37.0526466369629, -118.578674316406

Middle Fork Kings River Junction; follow signs for JMT N into LeConte Canyon


Location: 37.1106147766113, -118.60489654541

Campsite at Big Pete Meadow


Location: 37.1132507324219, -118.633163452148

Helen Lake Outlet, climb continues


Location: 37.1186676025391, -118.659866333008

Muir Hut on Muir Pass


Location: 37.1119842529297, -118.670913696289

Crossing at Evolution Lake inlet


Location: 37.1878547668457, -118.745513916016

Nice, flat camp on Mc Clure Meadow with sublime views of The Hermit and Evolution Peaks


Location: 37.1949996948242, -118.773170471191

Old PCT junction @ Evolution Creek; high-water crossing can be swift


Location: 37.1954650878906, -118.781669616699

Rejoin new PCT @ crossing of Evolution Creek


Location: 37.1930160522461, -118.794967651367

Bridge over South Fork San Joaquin River and Goddard Canyon trail junction


Location: 37.2029647827148, -118.800537109375

Cross metal bridge


Location: 37.2252502441406, -118.832748413086

Bridge, leaving Kings Canyon NP into Sierra National Forest


Location: 37.2258987426758, -118.860786437988

Florence Lake trail junction


Location: 37.2420997619629, -118.871696472168

Spur to Florence Lake trail and Muir Trail Ranch


Location: 37.2535514831543, -118.864646911621

Senger Creek


Location: 37.270133972168, -118.87654876709

Outlet of eastern of Sally Keyes Lakes


Location: 37.2809181213379, -118.874649047852

Outlet of Heart Lake


Location: 37.2899169921875, -118.872802734375

Selden Pass


Location: 37.3218841552734, -118.868286132812

Leaving PCT to cross Bear Creek at three forks section; use caution at dangerous ford


Location: 37.3301658630371, -118.866882324219

Return to PCT at normal crossing of Bear Creek


Location: 37.3680000305176, -118.888153076172

PCT leaves Bear Creek to climb ridge


Location: 37.3825340270996, -118.910369873047

Trail to Bear Ridge trailhead and foot access to Vermillion Valley Resort


Location: 37.4125175476074, -118.924369812012

Leaving PCT for ferry across Edison Lake to Vermillion Valley Ranch at this junction


Location: 37.405216217041, -118.942367553711

Ferry landing


Location: 37.3757019042969, -119.012451171875

Vermillion Valley Resort ( first beer and one-night stay in platform tents free for thru-hikers; meals in diner are pricey, but filling


Location: 37.4701652526856, -118.923233032227

Silver Pass


Location: 37.5013008117676, -118.924835205078

Bridge over Fish Creek


Location: 37.5273170471191, -118.94913482666

Outlet of Purple Lake; no camping allowed


Location: 37.5393180847168, -118.970970153809



Location: 37.5634651184082, -119.033714294434

Deer Creek; campsites


Location: 37.5911483764648, -119.058486938477

Creek below Red Cones and Mammoth Pass Trail


Location: 37.6099166870117, -119.075347900391

Rainbow Falls trail


Location: 37.6150016784668, -119.074851989746

Red's Meadow Resort: great diner and moderately stocked store; thermal showers at group campsites; shuttles run to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and town bus runs into Mammoth town


Location: 37.6270179748535, -119.085548400879

Bridge near Devils Postpile


Location: 37.6328010559082, -119.088653564453

Resume PCT @ split with JMT


Location: 37.6531677246094, -119.080032348633

Bridge over Middle Fork San Joaquin River


Location: 37.6824493408203, -119.097518920898

Another trail to Shadow Lake


Location: 37.6819839477539, -119.086334228516

Agnew Meadow parking lot


Location: 37.6828002929688, -119.084617614746

High trail trailhead


Location: 37.7232666015625, -119.132484436035

Great camping with view of the Minarets, Banner Peak and Mount Ritter -- the centerpiece summits of the grand Ritter Range


Location: 37.7253494262695, -119.134414672852

Trail to Clarke Lake


Location: 37.7285346984863, -119.171279907227

JMT and PCT merge @ Thousand Island Lake


Location: 37.761833190918, -119.249366760254

Donohue Pass trail; enter Yosemite National Park


Location: 37.777416229248, -119.261833190918

Bridge over Lyell Fork


Location: 37.7943000793457, -119.263000488281

Campsite in grass just off trail along Lyell Fork


Location: 37.8667488098144, -119.322151184082

Bridge and trail junction to Tuolumne Pass


Location: 37.8687171936035, -119.333068847656

Spur to campground and store; not official PCT


Location: 37.8778076171875, -119.338722229004

Nearing Tioga Road; Lembert Dome to N


Location: 37.8742980957031, -119.35710144043

Tuolumne Meadows General Store--fully stocked and package service @ US Post Office; backpackers campsite nearby S of road


Location: 37.8769798278809, -119.353065490723

Turn L @ parking lot and follow the gravel road


Location: 37.8791007995606, -119.366851806641

PCT trailhead sign; here the JMT goes S to Yosemite Valley and the PCT heads to Glen Aulin High Sierra camp. Enjoy the views of Tuolumne Meadows framed by the Cathedral Range while heading northbound


Location: 37.8851089477539, -119.377288818359

Cross Delaney Creek


Location: 37.8884162902832, -119.380668640137

Go L @ Young Lakes trail


Location: 37.9015007019043, -119.412452697754

Multi-section bridge over the roaring Tuolumne River


Location: 37.9064178466797, -119.418251037598

See the rushing cascades of Tuolumne Falls from here


Location: 37.907901763916, -119.420700073242

Go R @ McGee Lake trail junction


Location: 37.9090995788574, -119.420249938965

Bridge below White Cascade


Location: 37.9095840454102, -119.419853210449

Bridge going R to Glen Aulin High Sierra camp (don't cross it)


Location: 37.9535484313965, -119.405700683594

The trail welcomes you into a large meadow in Cold Canyon; in early season mosquitoes can be horrible


Location: 37.9958152770996, -119.378799438477

Go L @ McCabe Lake trail


Location: 38.0049324035644, -119.377479553223

Virginia Canyon creek


Location: 38.0049171447754, -119.377449035645

Virginia Canyon creek; can be a dangerous ford


Location: 38.0065498352051, -119.376731872559

Virginia Canyon trail; go straight, bearing W


Location: 38.0069007873535, -119.390502929688

Cross Spiller Creek


Location: 37.9939994812012, -119.418434143066

N end of Miller Lake


Location: 38.014949798584, -119.413032531738

Go L @ Matterhorn Canyon trail


Location: 38.0140991210938, -119.414520263672

Matterhorn Creek


Location: 38.0198173522949, -119.448280334473

Last ford of Wilson Creek; head up to Benson Pass on well-graded path for fairly easy climb


Location: 38.0151481628418, -119.461196899414

Benson Pass


Location: 38.0121650695801, -119.486618041992

Smedberg Lake


Location: 38.0061340332031, -119.493103027344

R @ junction to Rodgers Lake


Location: 38.0057983398438, -119.497314453125

R @ Pleasant Valley trail junction


Location: 38.0228958129883, -119.52001953125

Cross Piute Creek with Benson Lake Spur trail going L; Piute Creek can be a deep, wet ford in the spring and early summer even though the current is minimal in this wide river. A visit to the "Benson Riviera," a large sandy beach on Benson Lake's N shore is well worth the detour, but the bugs can be bad in this wet, heavily vegetated area.
PIC; roll 112; 1283; A hiker hoists her pack above her head crossing Piute Creek


Location: 38.0391502380371, -119.526863098145

Beautiful sparkling pond nestled amongst granite, which should not be passed quickly. It's well protected from the wind, fairly warm and has great diving rocks. Be sure to camp 100 ft. from shore; no fires


Location: 38.0449485778809, -119.522285461426

Seavey Pass


Location: 38.044750213623, -119.572463989258

Go R @ Kerrick Creek and Bear Valley Trail Junction; Kerrick Creek can be a very dangerous ford.


Location: 38.0592651367188, -119.59008026123

Stubblefield Creek


Location: 38.0629005432129, -119.624382019043

Go R @ Tiltill Valley trail


Location: 38.0641670227051, -119.623718261719

L @ Tilden Lake trail


Location: 38.0692176818848, -119.63990020752

S end Wilman Lake


Location: 38.0734672546387, -119.645896911621

Falls Canyon Creek crossing; can be dangerous


Location: 38.0738487243652, -119.646499633789

Straight @ Laurel Lake junction


Location: 38.0877990722656, -119.634002685547

Straight @ Tilden Lake junction


Location: 38.1337013244629, -119.619529724121

S end of long and beautiful Grace Meadow


Location: 38.1698150634766, -119.601547241211

Straight @ Bond Pass trail


Location: 38.1760330200195, -119.59407043457

Dorothy Lake; exposed camping can be found away from the lake


Location: 38.1947326660156, -119.570846557617

Cross Cascade Creek and reach the 1,000 mile mark from Mexican Border. This area can be very buggy.


Location: 38.1999168395996, -119.568634033203

L @ Y with Walker River trail


Location: 38.223934173584, -119.578567504883

Straight @ Cinko River trail


Location: 38.2257499694824, -119.576736450195

L @ Long Lake trail and bridge


Location: 38.2533149719238, -119.597869873047

Cross creek in Kennedy Canyon


Location: 38.294017791748, -119.637153625488

Cross through a notch on E ridge of Leavitt Peak


Location: 38.3202590942383, -119.643531799316

Potentially dangerous slope if covered in snow


Location: 38.3278350830078, -119.637229919434

Cross CA 108 @ Sonora Pass; turnout and sign explaining history of passes in area. Campground a few hundred feet W; hitch W to the northern Kennedy Meadows Resort for food and relaxation or hitch E down to Bridgeport for a town with more services

The Big Hill

Location: 36.5658912658691, -118.349266052246

Postcard views of Mount Whitney's helmet-shaped crest from the west. ©Jack Haskel

Crossing Whitney Creek

Location: 36.5622253417969, -118.350608825684

A PCT'er negotiates a creek crossing while a fellow hiker balances the log. ©Jack Haskel

Mount Hitchcock Reflection

Location: 36.5673141479492, -118.304595947266

This ridge frames the south end of the Whitney Basin. ©Jack Haskel

Climbing to Trail Crest

Location: 36.5612297058106, -118.298599243164

Still in the shadow of early day, a PCT'er climbs to the turnoff for Mount Whitney. ©Jack Haskel

Summit Push

Location: 36.5758171081543, -118.293853759766

A PCT'er climbs along the block-filled route to Whitney's summit. ©Jack Haskel

Along the Sierra Crest

Location: 36.5727653503418, -118.289733886719

This view over Mount Muir and the tilted ridge south of Whitney reveals a snowy landscape stretching to the Great Western Divide. ©Jack Haskel

Whitney Hut

Location: 36.5794830322266, -118.29224395752

The Mount Whitney Hut and was built in 1909 as a station for meteorological observations and is now a National Historic Landmark. The metal roof of this hut attracts lightning which can be conducted through the building to individuals inside. Do not seek shelter here during a storm. It is unsafe to be anywhere on top of the mountain or any exposed high place during a thunderstorm.©Jack Haskel

Jack at the register

Location: 36.5791282653809, -118.290725708008

Map contributor Jack Haskel stands next to the Whitney Hut with the Kaweah Peaks in the background. ©Jack Haskel

Into the Whitney Basin

Location: 36.5777854919434, -118.293678283691

The iconically shaped Guitar Lake rests in the Whitney Basin, with the Great Western Divide and Kaweah Peaks in the background. ©Jack Haskel

Bighorn Plateau

Location: 36.6156921386719, -118.376556396484

Head-turning views open up on the sparse terrain of the Bighorn Plateau. ©Jack Haskel

Climbing to Forester Pass

Location: 36.6913719177246, -118.373733520508

With the Kaweah Ridge behind, a PCT'er continues the trip north. ©Jack Haskel


Location: 36.680347442627, -118.37964630127

Two PCT'ers traverse a deep snowfield south of Forester Pass. ©Jack Haskel

Steep View

Location: 36.6932525634766, -118.372924804688

Knife-edged switchbacks provide long-range views over the Great Western Divide. ©Jack Haskel

At the pass

Location: 36.6943283081055, -118.372299194336

Three PCT'ers relish in cresting Forester, the highest pass on the PCT. ©Jack Haskel

Jack at the Pass

Location: 36.6951332092285, -118.373558044434

Contributor Jack Haskel sits on the Sequoia-Kings Canyon boundary at Forest Pass. ©Jack Haskel

Long Glissade

Location: 36.6984519958496, -118.370147705078

Coming off of Forester, a PCT'er takes the short way down. ©Jack Haskel

Kings Canyon

Location: 36.7130584716797, -118.368804931641

After Forester, the PCT enters the north end of Kings Canyon, a deep, glacially carved trench.
©Jack Haskel

East Vidette

Location: 36.764217376709, -118.408012390137

Rising above Kings Canyon and Vidette Meadow is the triangular point of East Vidette. ©Jack Haskel

Kearsarge Pinnacles

Location: 36.773868560791, -118.380409240723

Travelling to Kearsarge Pass, the jagged edge of the Kearsarge Pinnacles stand above a lake-dappled basin. ©Jack Haskel

Kearsarge Pass

Location: 36.773193359375, -118.375022888184

A PCT'er stands at the Kings Canyon border at Kearsarge Pass. ©Jack Haskel

Rae Lakes

Location: 36.7993545532227, -118.401931762695

A granite-encrusted lake basin with a narrow isthmus. ©Jack Haskel

Painted Lady

Location: 36.8042030334473, -118.400131225586

The Painted Lady, a dome of varicolored bands, hovers over Upper Rae Lake. ©Jack Haskel

Rae Lakes and Fin Dome

Location: 36.8125534057617, -118.403991699219

Views over the granite domes and craggy tars of the popular Rae Lakes Basin. ©Jack Haskel

Lonesome Path

Location: 36.8386726379394, -118.407402038574

A PCT'er strides into the verdant reaches of Kings Canyon. ©Jack Haskel

Big ford

Location: 36.8274536132812, -118.409202575684

A PCT'er crosses a cold, swift creek in Kings Canyon NP. ©Jack Haskel

Storms approaching Mather Pass

Location: 36.9360618591309, -118.412261962891

A PCT'er big-sticks to Mather Pass, with a storm brewing to the south. ©Jack Haskel

Up to Mather Pass

Location: 37.0308265686035, -118.459854125977

Deep snow on the path to Mather Pass. ©Jack Haskel

Long Slog to Muir Pass

Location: 37.1216316223144, -118.652320861816

High snow blankets the bench leading to Muir Pass. ©Jack Haskel

The Muir Hut

Location: 37.1128921508789, -118.667640686035

Perched on an exposed ridge, the Muir Hut welcomes weary hikers with shelter. ©Jack Haskel

Climbing to Muir Pass

Location: 37.1143379211426, -118.663543701172

The large basin of Helen Lake makes for a long final climb to Muir Pass. Deep ©Jack Haskel

One of the locals

Location: 37.1121711730957, -118.670166015625

A local marmot hangs out in the Muir Hut. ©Jack Haskel

Evolution Basin from Muir Pass

Location: 37.113525390625, -118.671295166016

The snow basin of Wanda Lake opens up once you crest Muir Pass. ©Jack Haskel

Evolution Valley View

Location: 37.1753425598144, -118.701751708984

Looking down from Evolution Lake's bench see far-off views north over the Goddard Divide. ©Jack Haskel

Flooded Meadow

Location: 37.1870574951172, -118.742034912109

Evolution Creek reaches the trail in high water. In low water, the creek flows past the little green clumps in the center of the frame. ©Jack Haskel

Evolution Valley

Location: 37.187328338623, -118.746627807617

Evolution Creek floods McClure Meadow, creating a virtual lake. The Hermit and Mt. Darwin Bench reflect in the glassy watercourse. ©Jack Haskel

Sierra Alpenglow

Location: 37.1861572265625, -118.743743896484

Early stages of dusk paint the Hermit and Mt. Mendel soft-pink against azure skies. ©Jack Haskel

A Raging Shower

Location: 37.1953468322754, -118.781234741211

Contributor Jack Haskel showers under the frigid spill-off from Evolution Creek. ©Jack Haskel

Freaked-out Crossing

Location: 37.194896697998, -118.78556060791

Contributor Jack Haskel stands gape-mouthed at the relentless torrents of Evolution Creek. Be wary: early-spring melt in the Sierras can create dangerous fords. ©Jack Haskel

Fery Landing

Location: 37.4058876037598, -118.941940307617

PCT'ers wait at the Edison Lake boat dock for the ferry to Vermillion Valley Resort. ©Jack Haskel

Edison Queen

Location: 37.3890609741211, -118.955963134766

With the Vermillion Cliffs in the background, PCT'ers rest on the deck of the Edison Queen, Vermillion Valley Resort's ferry shuttle. ©Jack Haskel

Raging Creek

Location: 37.4419136047363, -118.918121337891

A lone PCT'er makes the slippery crossing where Silver Pass Creek tumbles from the bedrock. ©Jack Haskel

Jack at Silver Pass

Location: 37.4704513549805, -118.922584533691

Contributor Jack Haskel gives two thumbs-up to the views at Silver Pass, which span the Cascade Valley, Ritter Range and craggy Silver Divide. ©Jack Haskel

Glissade from Silver Pass

Location: 37.4704513549805, -118.923400878906

PCT'ers line up for a sweet snow slide session. ©Jack Haskel

Silver Pass Glissade

Location: 37.4716491699219, -118.9228515625

A PCT'er shows how it's done on the glissade down Silver Pass. ©Jack Haskel

Lazy bends of Tully Hole

Location: 37.5019569396973, -118.920959472656

©Jack Haskel

The Postpile From Above

Location: 37.6152763366699, -119.087455749512

©Jack Haskel

Devils Postpile

Location: 37.6166381835938, -119.087455749512

One of the world’s finest examples of columnar basalt that towers 60 feet high and display an unusual symmetry. ©Jack Haskel

Banner and Ritter

Location: 37.7337417602539, -119.154396057129

Banner Peak and Mt. Ritter from the PCT. ©Jack Haskel

Banner Peak

Location: 37.7321968078613, -119.183013916016

Snow-clad Banner Peak rises above the iced-over Thousand Lake basin. ©Jack Haskel

Dononue Pass

Location: 37.7580032348633, -119.243179321289

PCT'ers relax after entering Yosemite National Park. ©Jack Haskel

Jack at the Muir Hut

Location: 37.1121711730957, -118.671340942383

Contributor Jack Haskel stands at the doorway to the Muir Hut before the descent into the Evolution Basin. ©Jack Haskel

Inside the hut

Location: 37.1117172241211, -118.670074462891

A couple PCTer's take a break in the warmth of the Muir Hut©Jack Haskel

Jack at VVR

Location: 37.3760223388672, -119.012016296387

Contributor Jack Haskel stands at the VVR Mexico-to-Canada sign that greets thru-hikers. ©Jack Haskel

Piute Creek Crossing

Location: 38.0228500366211, -119.519241333008

A hiker hoists her pack above her head crossing Piute Creek. ©Jack Haskel

Climbing to the county line

Location: 38.2486152648926, -119.614402770996

A hiker climbs towards the Mono/Tuolumne County line in deep early-season snow. ©Jack Haskel