Day Hiking Across the Sierra Nevadas

Notes by Lorenzo Casaccia

Schedule || Trail Notes & Practicalities || Pictures
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Day-hiking across the Sierra Nevadas is possible with a couple of pretty epic trails.
One of them leads from Roads' End (near Cedar Grove, in Kings Canyon) to Onion Valley (in the Inyo area). Roads' End / Cedar Grove (~1500 m) is east of Fresno. Onion Valley (~2800 m) is west of Independence. The trail crosses the Sierras at Kearsage Pass (~3600 m).
This is a one-way hike of 36 kms, with over 2000m of elevation gain.

- A map of the Sierra area.
- Two maps of the Kings Canyon area (including Cedar Grove): map1, map2 (zoom)
- A map of the Independence / Onion Valley area.

- A map of the hike in four parts (overview, p1, p2, p3)
- Another pre-hike info page from the friend of ours who gave us the idea.

The following is a collection of notes based on this trail, hiked from west to east, by Annelie, Colby, Matteo & Lorenzo on July 17th, 2004.

Area Intermediate Point Altitude Distance Time (including breaks)
Bubbs Creek Roads' End Trailhead 1534 m 6.05
1st Footbridge ~1550 m 3.2 km 6.50
Sphinx Creek Junction 1914 m 6 km 8.05
Charlotte Creek ~2100 m 10 km 9.55
East Creek Junction (Junction Meadow) 2490 m 17 km 11.25 - 11.55
John Muir Trail Junction (Lower Vidette Meadow) 2900 m 21.5 km 13.15 - 13.45

Kearsage Basin

Charlotte Lake Junction 3220 m 24 km 14.35
Bullfrog Lake ~3250 m 25 km 14.50
Kearsage Pass 3650 m 28 km 16.35
Onion Valley Gilbert Lake ~3200 m 31.5 km 17.35
Onion Valley Trailhead 2810 m 36 km 18.35
  12 hrs 30 mins


Trail Description (from west to east)

  • The two miles from Roads' End to the first footbridge are completely flat. The real hike actually starts from the footbridge over Bubbs Creek.
  • From km 2, the hike follows Bubbs Creek for ~20 km, and intersects a number of small creeks. There is a lot of natural running water until the Charlotte Lake Junction.
  • At km 17, The panel for East Creek Junction is placed in a nice area by Bubbs Creek, but that is actually at least 1 km before the actual Junction. If you are tracking your time, keep into account that the Junction is further away (you will recognize the "Meadow")
  • At km 21.5, the hike intersects the John Muir Trail. You have to take the left side of the fork ("John Muir Trail"), and not the right one ("Forrester Pass"). You will stay on the John Muir Trail for 2.5 km only.
  • At km 24, you can choose to reach Kearsage Pass directly (right side of the fork), or through Charlotte late (left side of the pass). The latter option is 1-2 km longer.
  • The hike is continuously uphill for ~25 km, with flat strecthes of varying length. The steepest portions are before Sphinx Creek Junction and before Kearsage Pass.
  • At km 27, the last km before Kearsage Pass is quite brutal. Look upside: you will see the typical shape of the fort on the ridge. That is Kearsage Pass. Also look at the valley behind you: the panorama is amazing (Kearsage Lakes, Bullfrog Lakes, Sierra peaks & glacial valley).
  • At kms 28-36, The downhill slope towards Onion Valley is quite steep. Depending on your knees, it can be done in a couple of hours.
  • Mosquitos vary from being quite annoying to really annoying, so bring a lot of repellent.
  • This is a one-way hike, where the toughest part (the climb of the Pass) is towards the end. As all such hikes, you cannot afford mistakes: you have to make sure you can finish it.

The trail from east to west is much easier as it is mostly downhill.


  • Campgrounds in the Cedar Grove area: there are four choices (Sentinel, Moraine, Sheep Creek, Canyon View) and they do not accept reservations. There campground are very well equipped (flush toilets, shower, etc).
  • Campgrounds in the Onion Valley area: there are three choices (Independence Creek, Grays Meadow, Onion Valley). The last two accept reservations ( You can look up a map of the area here. The campground in Onion Valley is at the trailhead but it also pretty basic: no water after sunset (the pump is powered by solar energy) & basic restrooms.
  • If you want to break the day hike in two parts, there is a camground around East Creek Junction.

Our hike 2004

  • The typical problem of one-way hikes is: how to go back to your car/campground.
  • We solved this problem by forming two groups. Group A hiked west to east. Group B hiked east to west. The groups met, swapped car keys, and at night used each other's camping gear (which had been left in the cars).
    • Group A: Matteo Iannacone, Annelie Klefmann, Colby Sellman, Lorenzo Casaccia
    • Group B: Nachiket Bapat, Christopher Brunner, Pinar Ormeci, Raghavendra Adharapurapu.
    • (Since west-to-east is more difficult than east-to-west, you have to pick up who's in the "lucky" group)
  • Two more groups joined the fun.
    • Group C camped at Cedar Grove for the whole time and welcomed Group B at the end of their hike.
    • Group D hiked Kearsage Pass roundtrip from the Onion Valley side, and then waited for the arrival of Group A. (Group D features Paolo Minero, see also the rim-to-rim
  • Group A, B and C from San Diego. Group D from Berkeley. (See the animation).

Bubbs Creek

Sierra Flowers

Group A at East Creek Junction

Junction Meadow

Meeting Group B

A nice plan working out

Waterfalls at Lower Vidette Meadow

Bullfrog Lake

Kearsage Lakes

The Kearsage Basin

The fort

Kearsage Pass

Paolo's Group D message

Onion Valley

A view from Onion Valley
A trusted hiking companion