photo of Evolution Valley, Kings Canyon National Park, CA

North Lake to
South Lake

Kings Canyon National Park

McClure Meadow, Evolution Valley

North Lake to South Lake, Through Evolution Valley and over Muir Pass

photo of Big Pete Meadow, Kings Canyon National Park, CA

Big Pete Meadow

The 54-mile loop from North Lake to South Lake passes through some of the most rugged terrain and spectacular scenery in Kings Canyon National Park. Beginning at North Lake in the Eastern Sierra near Bishop, the trail crosses Piute Pass and descends to meet the John Muir Trail before turning south into beautiful Evolution Valley.

Then hikers climb to almost 12,000 feet over Muir Pass before winding down along the headwaters of the Middle Fork Kings River in LeConte Canyon. Another challenging hike leads up to magnificent Dusy Basin and then over nearly 12,00-foot Bishop Pass. The final miles past a series of alpine lakes conclude at South Lake.

photo of Dusy Basin, Kings Canyon National Park, CA

Dusy Basin

North Lake to South Lake
Key Facts

Location: Kings Canyon National Park
Trailhead: North Lake, elevation 9,347'
Piute Pass: 11,460' (2,113' climb)
Muir Pass: 11,955' (3,885' climb from Piute Cr. bridge)
Bishop Pass: 11,975' (3,256' climb from LeConte Ranger Station)
Hiking Distance: 54.4 miles
Best seasons: Mid-summer to early fall
Best Campsites: south of Piute Creek bridge, McClure Meadow, Big Pete Meadow, Little Pete Meadow, LeConte Ranger Station area, Dusy Basin

sign to South Lake, 54. miles

Editors' Suggestions

The arduous hike from North Lake to South Lake is best spread over a week of hiking. Even then, the ascent of three high passes with deep descents between them is a serious challenge for most backpackers. Carry what you need to camp safely in inclement weather at elevations above treeline, but otherwise try to keep your pack as light as possible. Divide uphill approaches for both Muir Pass and Bishop Pass into at least two days. Hiking poles are invaluable on sections of the trail.

Highlights of the trip include McClure Meadow in Evolution Valley and Dusy Basin. If you can, plan your itinerary so that you spend at least one night in each of those places. Big and Little Pete meadows are also favorite camping areas.

The trip, of course, can also be done from South Lake to North Lake. By road, the two trailheads are about 13 miles apart. Having two vehicles is the easiest way to solve connection problems. Otherwise consider the pricey East Side Sierra Shuttle or the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority, which may be continuing its service connecting South Lake to the foot of the North Lake Road (leaving a 1¾-mile walk up to the parking lot or 2 miles to the trailhead).


Bears in Kings Canyon have learned that hikers use bear canister and bear boxes to protect their food. Consequently, although you may see bears in the some of the lower elevations along the trail, they are not likely to be a problem. Deer are prevalent in the popular camping areas along LeConte Canyon. They wander in and out of camps and will attempt to drag away unattended items to lick the salt on them. Rattlesnakes are usually not encountered above 10,000 feet, but hikers should always be wary. Off-trail travelers should be especially vigilant.

Mosquitoes are pesky early summer through mid-August. By late August and through September they are usually not a problem. Meadow areas such as Evolution Valley and Big and Little Pete meadows can often have mosquitoes through mid-summer. Watch for marmots sunning on the rocks on approaches to the passes. Martens are rarely seen but may be spotted among the rocks on the east side of Bishop Pass.

Fishing is good in many of the lakes and in the South Fork of the San Joaquin River as well as the Kings River around LeConte Canyon.