Kings Canyon Backpacking – Rae Lakes Loop

Trip Length 5 Days
Group Size 4–6
Activity level
Starting from
$1,899 for REI Members
$2,049 for non-members

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Experience California’s spectacular Kings Canyon and High Sierra landscapes on a guided 5-day mountain backpacking trip.

Our adventure begins like directions on a treasure map: Drive to Road’s End, then trek to Paradise Valley. From Fresno, head for Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, winding down to the canyon floor through a mythic landscape of crags, snow-fed rivers and cloud-scraping sequoias hundreds of feet tall. At Road’s End Trailhead, set off on the Rae Lakes Loop, renowned as one of the most beautiful backpacking routes in the Sierra. Expect steal-your-breath scenery around basically every bend. Think topaz-blue lakes and dew-kissed wildflower meadows, all cradled by John Muir’s beloved "Range of Light."

Hike through fairytale woods, beside soaring rock walls and the rollicking Kings River. Cool off in a burbling creek—perhaps while being serenaded by mountain chickadees. Climb up into the alpine realm of jewel-like lakes and snow-dusted peaks. Our guides not only lead the way and whip up impressive meals, they also share natural and human history to deepen our connection with this magnificent place. As every sublime sunset and sunrise remind us, this truly is the high country of our dreams.

In addition to providing access to Kings Canyon’s spectacular scenery, our challenging trail includes some long ascents and descents and river crossings.

Trip Highlights

  • A 5-day backpacking adventure deep into John Muir’s "Range of Light"
  • Explore the spectacular backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park
  • Enjoy breathtaking alpine views on one of the Sierra’s most scenic backpacking routes
  • Learn about the natural history of this storied mountain range from exceptional guides

Activities

This trip is rated Strenuous [5]. Participants will be carrying backpacks weighing 35–45 pounds for up to 10 miles each day. You should be prepared to hike over steep, rocky and sometimes exposed terrain, with constant and dramatic elevation gains and/or losses of up to 4,000 feet per day. We strongly recommend training with 30–45 pounds loaded in the backpack you intend to use for the trip and making sure your hiking boots are broken in before departure. This is not a beginner backpacking trip. Previous experience is highly recommended​ and we ask you to review your personal health and preparation plan with your medical physician prior to traveling.

  • Backpacking

What's Included

Professional guide leadership; round trip transportation from host hotel in Fresno; meals as noted on the daily itinerary; tents; group cooking gear; group first aid kit; water filter; campsite, national park and permit fees.

Accommodations

Backcountry camping, 4 nights

Your Adventure Itinerary

Itinerary map for Kings Canyon Backpacking – Rae Lakes Loop
Day 1

Journey to Road’s End and Junction Meadow

Our trip begins today in Fresno, California. Meet your guides and fellow backpackers early this morning at our host hotel. After introductions, load the van, and set out for King's Canyon National Park. After entering the park, we make a quick stop to check out a grove of majestic Giant Sequoia trees, then continue on to Kings Canyon itself. The dramatic relief of the canyon and change in biomes keeps us riveted as we descend toward the canyon floor. At canyon bottom, we drive to the Road's End Trailhead where the real adventure begins. After a gear check and group gear distribution, we hit the trail. As we ascend, the flora and fauna changes and we keep our eyes out for bears foraging for berries and rattlesnakes basking in the midday sun. Ascending along Bubbs Creek, we pass many beautiful waterfalls and take in expansive views of Kings Canyon. We pitch our tents at the Junction Meadow Campsite and enjoy our first dinner prepared by our guides. Lunch and dinner included.

Backpacking: 7-10 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +3,500'/-400'. Transfer: 2 hours.

Day 2

Cross a mountain pass and fully behold the "Range of Light"

We begin the day by watching the tops of the peaks turn from grey to pink to red as they greet the sunrise. Our objective today is to cross over the highest point of our route, Glen Pass, at 11,926 ft. above sea level! Along the way, we take a spur trail to Bullfrog Lake. This postcard-perfect lake is closed to camping to allow for restoration, and we reap the scenic benefits of this pristine backcountry gem. When we reach the lofty perch of Glen Pass, we look down on blue snow-fed lakes and miles of craggy peaks all around us. After absorbing the views, it’s almost all downhill along the famous John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails. After setting up camp at Middle Rae Lakes, we have time to explore the beauty of the Rae Lakes Basin and experience a lakeside sunset that will remain etched in our memories forever. All meals included.

Backpacking: 7-9 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +4,000'/-1,800'.

Important note: Should there still be snow at the higher elevations, we may begin today with an alpine start (as early as 3am) to take advantage of hiking before the sun hits the snow. Although waking at such an early hour can be challenging, it will quickly become apparent that sunrise on the trail is a more than ample reward! Our guides will keep you fully informed of each day’s schedule once your trip begins.

Day 3

Discover high peaks, blue waters, and sunset bliss

After a hot breakfast, we break camp and head downhill, out of the alpine. The trail begins descending immediately and we quickly enter the trees. Our route is breathtaking, revealing amazing views of the "Range of Light" as we follow the trail through a meadow and lake-filled landscape. Midway through the morning, we arrive at Dollar Lake, a perfect spot for a rest and a swim. We end our day just ahead of a suspended swinging bridge, where we can take a refreshing dip in the cool waters of the creek before dinner. All meals included.

Backpacking: 7-11 miles, Elevation loss: -2,400'.

Day 4

Backpack through meadow and forest into the Sierra Nevada wilderness

After a night under the Sierra stars, we cross the swinging bridge, leaving our camp on the other side. Our trail wanders through Paradise Valley, a mix of thick stands of trees and wildflower meadows. After crossing the river, we begin descending through Woods Creek Canyon. The trees begin to thicken, concealing the dramatic granite peaks we have just conquered. We continue our way, identifying wildflowers and watching for bears, frequent visitors to the lower-elevation sections of this trail. After a long descent, we drop into a beautiful meadow. Reaching Middle Paradise Valley, we pitch our tents and enjoy a final dinner in this legendary wilderness. All meals included.

Backpacking: 7-8 miles with -2,300' of elevation loss.

Day 5

Savor wild swimming and a bittersweet canyon farewell

This morning, we break camp for the last time, but the show isn’t over just yet. From Paradise Valley, the trail is flanked by soaring granite walls and peaks as it follows Kings River down. As our trail bottoms out, we stop for a swim in the mighty Kings River. We reflect on all that we’ve seen during the past five days as we sit alongside the blue river, rimmed with white granite boulders and towering trees. The final few miles are familiar as we return to the Road’s End trailhead, marking the end of our adventure. We plan to arrive back at our host hotel in Fresno at approximately 6:30pm this evening. Please do not schedule any departing flights from Fresno prior to 8:30pm. Breakfast and lunch included.

Backpacking: 7-9 miles with -1,700’ of elevation loss. Transfer: 2 hours.

Itinerary map for Kings Canyon Backpacking – Rae Lakes Loop

Gear List

The key to staying comfortable while on an active trip is layering.  To obtain maximum comfort with minimum weight, you need versatile layers that mix and match to create the right amount of insulation, ventilation and weather protection.  This gear list has been created to help you choose equipment for the trip.  Try to bring only what is necessary - this will help you and the field staff. 

What to pack

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 1 (800) 622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales ( 1 (800) 426-4840 ) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.