Sequoia National Park

The 20 Best Backcountry Lakes: Precipice Lake

Sequoia National Park, California

Sure, Precipice Lake is a beauty—Ansel Adams agreed when he made it famous in his iconic photograph. But location counts a lot, too, and icy Precipice, which sits at 10,300 feet inside a bowl of sheer granite, couldn’t be better situated: at the end of a 19.5-mile trek through the hot and dusty Sierras. Ice can persist on the 44-acre pool’s surface into summer, making it an ideal site for a cliff-jumping polar plunge (get safety tips on page 70). And, since it’s so remote, you can expect it to be as pristine as it was when Adams was there in the 1930s. Take the High Sierra Trail 19.5 miles from Crescent Meadows, across miles of cliff-edge trail and through a natural tunnel. Smart itinerary: Divide the hike into two days, stopping in Bearpaw Meadow (mile 11.3) the first night, then searching for the perfect campsite along the cliffs above Precipice the second night. Dave Miller, owner of California Alpine Guides, says the best campsites face away from the lake. “Take a quick jaunt west off the High Sierra Trail, and you’ll find campsites on bare granite with massive views of the Valhalla Cirque of granite domes below.”

Trailhead Crescent Meadow (36.554884, -118.749207) Season Late summer (after the snow has melted) through October Permits $20 park entrance fee per vehicle, and you’ll need a wilderness permit ($15 per group).