The Lakes Trail is easily accessed from the main part of Sequoia and offers expansive views of deep valleys, endless Sierra granite and beautiful subalpine lakes. The trail can be taken as a longer day trip, or backpackers may camp at either Emerald or Pear Lakes. Permits are required for overnight travel. Those seeking a shorter journey may prefer to stop at Heather Lake at about 4 miles, or the Watchtower - a colossal granite pinnacle that overlooks the Tokopah Valley nearly 2000 feet below - at approximately 3.5 miles. The trail is best accessed from June to September, although it is also a relatively popular cross country ski trail during winter months (however, see Restrictions).
From the trailhead, the trail climbs up a small hill where it shortly passes a junction leading downhill to the Lodgepole campground. Almost immediately after, the trail passes another junction on the right for the Long Meadow Loop
. Continue along the main trail through mixed conifer forests as it ascends steadily for 1.9 miles to the Panther Gap Trail
/ Alta Peak
Trail junction. Not far before the junction the trail crosses a small seasonal creek along which an abundance of wildflowers can be found in the early summer.
After passing the junction, continue on the Lakes Trail
for 0.3 miles to the Watchtower Trail
/ Hump Trail
junction. All of the lakes may be accessed via the Hump Trail
, however, the Watchtower route provides less strenuous travel, and spectacular views. Continue ascending along the shady trail crossing a few seasonal creeks. The trail then steepens and switchbacks a couple of times before reaching the Watchtower, a massive granite rock formation with sheer cliffs that overlooks the Tokopah Valley below. This is a rewarding spot to stop for a snack and enjoy the view.
Continue up the trail as it becomes increasingly rocky where it has been blasted out of the granite cliffs. The trail then descends, passing the other end of the Hump trail junction, before arriving at Heather Lake at about 4 miles. The trail skirts the northern shore of the lake before again ascending a few switchbacks to the top of a small ridge. Look for marmots and pikas as the trail again becomes increasingly rocky before descending towards Emerald and Aster lakes. Pass a spur trail to Emerald Lake on the right where it sits beneath sheer granite walls. Camping is permitted but limited, and a permit is required.
The trail continues past Emerald Lake looking down to deep blue Aster Lake on the left before beginning its final ascent to Pear Lake. Look for Alpine Columbine and Indian paintbrush along the rocky trail in mid-summer, and enjoy the view back down the Tokopah Valley into which the water from all four lakes drains to form the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. At 5.6 miles the trail begins to curve to the east and passes a junction to the Pear Lake Ranger Station. Continue along the main trail for another 0.5 miles to reach Pear Lake at 6.1 miles. Camping is permitted at the lake but is limited to 10 sites and requires a permit. Enjoy a swim in this alpine lake or take in the views to the south of Alta Peak
and the expansive surrounding smooth granite slabs and twisted pines before heading back along the same route that you came in on.
Look for corn lilies along lush creek beds, and alpine columbine, Indian paintbrush, and penstemon along the rockier portions of the trail. Enjoy the twisted lodgepole pines at higher elevations and around the lakes. Bears are sometimes seen along the more forested sections of the trail, while marmots can often be spotted along the rockier portions. If you are lucky you may even spot the tiny pika, a rabbit relative that inhabits talus fields at higher elevations.