Kings Canyon Backpacking – Rae Lakes Loop

Trip Length 5 Days
Group Size 4–6
Activity level
Starting from
$1,499 for REI Members
$1,649 for non-members
Departures Jul 2021-Aug 2021

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.

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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 a physician’s release is required prior to participating in this trip.

  • 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

Day 1

Journey to Road’s End and Paradise Valley.

Our trip begins today in Fresno, California. Meet your guides and fellow backpackers at 7:45am at our host hotel. After introductions, we load into our van and set out for to Kings 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, starting out flat and sandy as we amble along through conifer forests. Soon, the angle kicks up and we strike out north, following the Kings River under soaring granite walls and peaks. Reaching Paradise Valley, we set up camp under a canopy of trees and dig in to a hearty dinner, prepared by our guides. Lunch and dinner included.

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

Day 2

Backpack through meadow and forest into the Sierra Nevada wilderness.

After a night under the Sierra stars, listening to the rush of the Kings River, we continue deeper into the mountains. Our trail wanders through Paradise Valley, a mix of thick stands of trees and wildflower meadows. After crossing the river, we begin climbing up Woods Creek Canyon. The trees eventually thin out, revealing the increasingly dramatic granite peaks of the Pacific Crest. We continue on our way, identifying wildflowers and watching for bears, frequent visitors to the lower-elevation sections of this trail. After a good climb, we drop into a beautiful meadow, a landmark indicating we’re getting close to tonight’s campsite. Just before reaching camp, we join the famous John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails and cross Woods Creek on a suspended swinging bridge. Our camp lies just on the other side, and we can take a refreshing dip in the cool waters of the creek before dinner. All meals included.

Backpacking: 8.5 miles with 2,300' of elevation gain.

Day 3

Discover high peaks, blue waters and sunset bliss.

After a hot breakfast, we break camp and head uphill, into the alpine. The trail begins climbing immediately and we quickly leave the trees behind. Our route is breathtaking, getting steeper and revealing more and more amazing views of the "Range of Light." Midway through the day, we arrive at Dollar Lake, a perfect spot for lunch and a swim. This is the beginning of a chain of high alpine lakes that are strung across this section of the Sierra like jewels across the neck of the mountain peaks towering above us. After our lunchtime recess, we follow the trail through a meadow and lake-filled landscape out of dream, all the way to our campsite on the shores of Middle Rae Lake. We have time to explore the beauty of the Rae Lakes Basin after setting up camp, and experience a lakeside sunset that will remain etched in our memories forever. All meals included.

Backpacking: 7 miles, Elevation gain: 2,400'.

Day 4

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

We begin the day by watching the tops of the peaks ringing the Rae Lakes 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! From this lofty perch, 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 the rest of the way to tonight’s camp. We descend back into the trees and 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. We return to the main trail and continue to Junction Meadow and Bubbs Creek. Camping along the creek, we pitch our tents and enjoy a final dinner and crackling campfire in this legendary wilderness. All meals included.

Backpacking: 10 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +1,800'/-4,000'.

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 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. Descending along Bubbs Creek, we pass many beautiful waterfalls and take in expansive views of Kings Canyon. As we descend, the flora and fauna changes and we keep our eyes out for bears foraging for berries and rattlesnakes basking in the hot midday sun. As our trail bottoms out, we stop for a swim in the mighty Kings River, just below its confluence with Bubbs Creek. 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: 10 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +400'/3,500'. Transfer: 2 hours.

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 800-622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales (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.