Highway 395, the scenic road which gives you access to the Eastern Sierra, stretches from Palm Springs to Mount Shasta. This old trade route has now become the land of adventure and camping spots for many reasons. The famous black and white photographer, Ansel Adams, main body of work is based throughout the Eastern Sierra. Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental US can be gawked at from the highway. For those you who wish to have your own experience in these mountains, below are a few of my recommendations (and be sure to check for backcountry permits and closures before heading to the trail):
1. Temple Crag Trailhead: South Fork of Lone Pine
Why this spot: This spot is GORGEOUS! From the morning light touching the tips of Temple Crag to the glacier fed lake, this spot holds magic.
Time Needed: The hike, with a fully loaded pack to stay the night from the parking lot, will take an average human roughly 5 hours. Be ready to grind uphill.
Gear Recommendation: Shovelhead Jacket has become a go-to for adventures for the warmth, packability, and the little bill on the hood!
Additional Notes: Temple Crag, the awesome peak in the back, is home to several climbs on my tick list. While I have not climbed any yet, I am excited for the day! The rock is supposed to be average to a bit loose in comparison to the Palisades, just behind. If rumors hold true, the rock is probably still good.
2. North to South Lake Loop
Why this spot: Seclusion. Out here, a couple of days into the backcountry, the amount of people is limited.
Time Needed: A couple of days.
Gear Recommendation: Skyline UL Chair, especially for the anglers who like to enjoy a cold one while their line floats in the water waiting for dinner to bite.
Additional Notes: The camping in the area is limited as there is a large lake, a talus slope, and little room to put a tent. We arrived in the middle of a storm, so setting up our tents and hiding as quickly as possible was key. However, once the storm had past and the sky cleared, the stars came out in full force. Actually, I was able to see comet Neowise with my naked eye, now that was an experience!
3. Below Isosceles Peak and the Palisades Trailhead: Bishop Pass — South Lake
Why this spot: Easy access to the highest concentration of 14,000 foot peaks in the lower 48. Aka a peak baggers dream!
Time Needed: A full day, the push past the pass can be a thigh burner.
Gear Recommendation: Lost Ranger UL 3N1 is going to be critical for a trip like this as the elevation changes drastically. If you want to bivvy, bring the full system so you can have the diversity of sleeping warmth.
Additional Notes: The Palisade Range is home to the most 14,000 foot peaks in the lower 48. This range is the perfect training ground for bigger objectives, so I have been told. I have summited several of these peaks, but have not been to any of the greater ranges, like Alaska, Andes, Dolomites, or Himalayas. However, these peaks alone are enough for those looking for a challenge. The best part, once you start, there are games you can start to play within the community. From speed records to first ascents, the possibilities are left to your imagination.
4. Kearsarge Pass Trailhead: Kearsarge Pass
Why this spot: While this is a popular trailhead to access the Rae Lakes Loop when the Kings Canyon-Sequoia National Park permits are taken, this spot doesn’t not have many camping. Most people skip these early lakes and make their way over the pass.
Time Needed: A couple of hours, 2-3, to get to one of the many lakes.
Gear Recommendation: Imapassable 20L would be my go to pack for this outing. As a sleek day-pack, this thing packs a punch! Bring your water, a couple of layers, a snack, and, oh yeah, a head lamp so you can enjoy a full day out!
Additional Notes: Make sure to stop here on your way in, or out. This spot has wonderful views, good camping, and easy access. If you are leaving your car late, this spot is great. If you are coming out and can stay one extra night, you are only a couple of miles from your car, so take the extra night and head out early the next morning.
5. Rae Lakes Area Trailhead: Kearsarge Pass
Why this spot: Come on, just look at that view! You have towering mountain peaks surrounding lakes holding in crystal blue water.
Time Needed: A couple days to get here.
Gear Recommendation: Fly Creek HV UL2 Solution Dye would be my ideal tent choice to cut some weight without sacrificing durability! As I love exploring with others, this will allow ample room for a second as well a keep the environmental impact low, as the solution dye is eco-friendly.
Additional Notes: Rae Lakes loop has exploded over these last few years. The reason, it is freak’n gorgeous! As backpackers escape to the woods, it is important to easy the impact on trails—hence the quota system. So, if you are desperate to get back here, you can make the trek up and over Kearsarge pass into the Rae Lakes basin. From here, do the loop and head on out!
Looking back upon this list, I recognize these spots are along similar paths and close to the JMT. If you want an epic adventure, try to visit all five in a single trip! That would be incredible. More over, if you are looking for an adventure of your own, use this as a reference guide to start from. I’m sure you can find places of your own, and I would love to hear about them. There are plenty more trailheads to explore, so please get after it!
If you find something you like, I’d love for you to share it with me! Shoot me an email or DM me on social media.
About the author: Dalton Johnson is an award-winning commercial and editorial storyteller focused on the human experience in our natural world. From oceans to deserts to mountains, his ability to apply meaning to this natural world has lead to contributions of numerous galleries and written essays for outdoor brands, magazines, and NPOs. His ultimate goal is to rewrite the American Dream by inspiring others to design their lifestyles through rigorous introspection to consciously consume experiences instead of things.