Aug 3, 2020

Rae Lakes Loop

A Trail Report of the Rae Lakes Loop

Yu Chen Hou
Yu Chen Hou

Rae Lakes is a gem of Kings Canyon, and we were lucky to be able to visit it as part of our backpacking trip in the summer of 2020. We hiked the loop clockwise, going towards Mist Falls and ending at Bubbs Creek.

Day 0

Since the trailhead is so far away from San Francisco, we car camped at Sunset Campground in Sequoia National Park the day before, and got to check out General Grant grove, and we were able to get an early start for our trip the next day.

Tall trees
Tall redwood trees!
General Grant Tree
The General itself

Day 1

The trail started off in a dry wash at Roads End for the first half mile or so. So we walked on a pretty sandy trail through a pine forest.

Mist Falls was the highlight of the day, and we had lunch there. We saw many day trippers here taking a dip in the many pools around the waterfall, and even saw a bear foraging on a tree on the other side of the stream. This would be the first of many bears we would run into in this day.

Mist Falls
Mist Falls
A black bear along the trail

Continuing from the falls, the trail meanders through the forest along the stream as we slowly gain elevation. We would run into two more bears along this stretch of the trail, and one got pretty close to us! The bear was walking in the trail towards us, so we were quick to start making noise. Luckily the bear had interest and wandered off the trail after seeing us.

Human for scale

We reached our planned campsite at Upper Paradise Valley by 4pm, but since we still had plenty of energy and time until sunset, we opted to go straight to our second day camp. Fording the river at X was a little challenging and I got my boots wet.

Upper Paradise Valley
Hiking up towards Upper Paradise Valley

One tricky part of the day was fording the South Fork King River, as the bridge was washed out many years ago. I slipped and got wet, as the rocks are covered in slick moss.

South Fork King River
South Fork King River meets washed away bridge

Eventually we made it to camp at Woods Creek and set up for the evening!

Woods Creek
Woods Creek

Day 2

Our second day was going to be the most challenging one. The plan was to hike south towards Rae Lakes, and make it over Glen Pass in time for our camp at Charlotte Lake. We would be gaining elevation almost the whole day until after the pass.

Rae Lakes
The crystal blue waters of Rae Lakes
Rae Lakes
Another view of the lakes
Rae Lakes Meadows
Views of some meadows, too

Rae Lakes has got to be the prettiest place I’ve been in the sierras. What made it stand out was not just the lakes, but the meadows surrounding the area was teeming with wildlife. The mountain peaks in the background made it hard to take a bad picture. We bumped into a park ranger who has been stationed there for months and was blissfully unaware of the latest developments in the ongoing COVID pandemic at the time.

We also saw plenty of fish in the lakes, and even a few campers trying their luck at catching one.

Our campsite was on the other side of Glen Pass, so after an hour break at the lake, we pressed on. Climbing up Glen Lake late afternoon was absolutely a slog, and the harsh summer sun and the loose gravel took a toll on us. One of my buddies experienced knee pain and we had to take the downclimb very slowly for safety.

View from Glen Pass
View from Glen Pass
View from Glen Pass
Another view from Glen Pass
View from Glen Pass
Taking a break from climbing
View from Glen Pass
Time for sunset

But eventually we made it to Charlotte Lake in pitch dark, and set up our final camp of the trip.

Day 3

Waking up next to a lake is always nice, and we were glad that we had finished all of the climb for the trip. Even with nowhere to go but down now, it would still be a knee scorching 13 miles until the comfort of the car.

Charlotte Lake
Charlotte Lake in the Morning

However, as the sun got up in the morning, the trail got more and more warm, and it felt pretty uncomfortable at times.

The final descent near the Bubbs Creek trailhead was the most discouraging of them all, as the parking lot was in plain view as we descended more than a dozen switchbacks on sore legs.

Creek, almost the end
Nearing the end


Backpacking California
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