Seen during most ascents from the east, Mount Bago appears as a small fifteen hundred foot rise above Charlotte Lake in Kings Canyon National Park, bounded to the north and south by peaks one to two thousand feet higher. The peak’s popularity arises from the excellent scenery and lakes encountered en route via Kearsarge Pass, its proximity to the nearby John Muir Trail, and its inclusion on the Sierra Club’s Sierra Peaks Section SPS List
The normal route is an easy class 1-2 walk up the eastern slopes, amply rewarded with a terrific view down Kings Canyon to the west, Kearsarge Pass to the east, and twelve to thirteen thousand foot summits in all other directions.
Though usually climbed as a walkup from the east, Mount Bago also has quality technical routes on its southern aspect and appears much more mountainous from this perspective. The typical day or weekend visitor often visits other nearby summits along with Mount Bago, including Mount Rixford
, Mount Gould
, and a half dozen other options.
Mount Bago Summit Vista (click to view labeled peaks)
Storm over Mount Bago Route Map
The summit of Mount Bago is best approached via Kearsarge Pass from Onion Valley in Inyo National Forest unless climbing as a short side trip from the nearby John Muir Trail. An alternative is to approach from Roads End in Kings Canyon National Park, but this adds quite a bit of distance and elevation gain (and the route from Onion Valley is the more scenic alternative).
(36.77247° N, 118.34091° W)
Turn west off Highway 395 in the center of Independence onto Onion Valley Road (also labeled Market Street). Follow Onion Valley Road 13 paved miles to reach the trailhead at the end of the road.
(36.79616° N, 118.58342° W)
Turn east off Highway 99 in Fresno onto Highway 180 towards Kings Canyon National Park. Simply follow the highway 92 miles all the way to Roads End in the back of the canyon (37 miles past the park entrance). Take care not to miss the left turn 21 miles from Highway 99 to stay on 180. If coming from the south, Highway 180 is best reached by using Highway 137 or 198 to connect to Highway 63 northbound in Visalia.
Mount Bago from the East
The routes to Mount Bago include mostly class 1 travel with about a mile of easy cross-country class 1-2 travel to the summit. Mileages and descriptions listed here are for the East Slopes. The south summit is the highpoint.
If climbing Mount Bago while backbacking the nearby John Muir Trail, the East Slope route entails only 2.5 miles round trip with 1100 feet elevation gain.
Trip statistics for East Slopes from Onion Valley:
8.0 miles one-way, 4000 feet total elevation gain out plus another 1400 feet on the return.
Most visitors will use this approach unless making a side trip from the John Muir Trail. Onion Valley offers the shortest distance, the highest trailhead, and the best scenery. The trail is well marked at the junctions encountered. From Onion Valley follow the trail over Kearsarge Pass. From Kearsarge Pass, drop down towards Bullfrog Lake and continue west to Charlotte Lake. As you begin to drop to Charlotte Lake, traverse cross-county through open forest into the bowl east of Mount Bago. The East Slope can be climbed just about anywhere, though earlier in the season a snow cornice will make it advantageous to head first to the north summit, then follow the ridge south to the higher southern summit.
Trip statistics for East Slopes from Roads End:
14.6 miles one-way, 7000 feet total elevation gain out plus another 200 feet on the return.
The route from Roads End is very straightforward, with no major obstacles and bridges over Woods Creek two miles into the route. The scenery is nice but not as spectacular as over Kearsarge Pass, however, as 10 miles of the route simply follows Bubbs Creek through a canyon from Kings Canyon to Vidette Meadow. Follow the signs to Bubbs Creek, pass Junction Meadow, and turn left (north) at Vidette Meadow onto the John Muir Trail. From the John Muir Trail turn west towards Charlotte Lake and follow the description above for the East Slopes.
Though the vast majority of visitors reach Mount Bago from the East Slopes, it also offers a couple of existing technical routes on the much steeper face to the south. Both of these routes are approached out of Junction Meadow immediately south of Mount Bago.
|South Arête||IV||5.7||September 1, 1974 by David Boyd and Paul Hurd|
|The Parapet||III||5.8||May 1982 by Rick Nolting and Fred Beckey|
The South Face of Mount Bago from East Creek
There are no fees if starting from the Onion Valley Trailhead in Inyo National Forest. Roads End lies in Sequoia National Park, however, and an entrance fee is required. The Sequoia and Kings Canyon fee page
has full details.
No permits are required for day trips but overnight trips require one throughout the year. For trips out of Onion Valley in Inyo National Forest permits can most easily be picked up at the White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop or the Mt. Whitney Ranger Station in Lone Pine. Quotas
are in place May 1 through November 1. Check the Inyo National Forest wilderness permit website
for the most current information and reservation availability. There is a high quota for this trail, but reservations are still recommended as this is a popular PCT and JMT resupply point. In Kings Canyon National Park, the Bubbs Creek Trailhead has quota of 25 people per day in place from late May through late September each year. Outside the quota season permits can be self-issued anytime at the Roads End Permit Station, otherwise they must be obtained from the same location during open hours. Check the Sequoia and Kings Canyon Wilderness Permit page
for full details on hours, the reservation process, and reservation availability.
Bear canisters are required, both in Onion Valley and this area of Kings Canyon National Park. There are bear boxes in the area
in Kings Canyon National Park, but they are for PCT and JMT through hikers only.
Fires are prohibited everywhere in Onion Valley and above 10,000 feet in Kings Canyon National Park.
|Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit Office|
351 Pacu Lane, Suite 200
Bishop, CA 93514
Wilderness Information Line: (760) 873-2485
Permit Reservation Line: (760) 873-2483
|Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks Office |
47050 Generals Highway
Three Rivers, California 93271
When to Climb
The roads to the trailheads are not plowed in winter, consequently spring through fall are the most realistic times for a visit. In early season snow is present at higher elevations, but those familiar with snow conditions should not have any difficulties. As in the summer, Onion Valley would have the better approach in winter.
Sunset at Golden Bear Lake in Center Basin
Backcountry camping options are abundant at the many lakes or streams from either trailhead. Excellent options include Kearsarge Lakes and Charlotte Lake. Many other options are also available nearby if visiting other attractions in the area.
If starting in Onion Valley there are many scenic dispersed camping options along Onion Valley Road. Roadside camping is not allowed at Roads End, but dispersed camping is permitted not far away outside the park in Sequoia National Forest if approaching from the west.
There is an established campground in Onion Valley, as well as Upper Grays Meadow and Lower Grays Meadow on Onion Valley Road. Reservations are available and recommended. The Inyo National Forest Camping page
has further details.
In Kings Canyon there are four established camping locations (Sheep Creek, Sentinel, Canyon View, and Moraine) with over 300 total sites available. All but Sentinel are open on an as needed basis, making it sometimes difficult to spread out even when usage is low. Each campground has full amenities, costs $18/night, and all sites are first-come, first served. The Sequoia and Kings Canyon Campgrounds page
also lists other sites in the area.
"The namer and the origin of the name are not known. Bolton Coit Brown and his wife Lucy climbed the peak in July 1896, as did J. N. LeConte and W. S. Gould. Brown described it as 'the red peak south of the lake' (Charlotte Lake). On top, 'a fine thunder-storm, growling over in the Mt. Williamson region, sent electricity at us. The invisible something passed with tingling prickles and a thin, squeaky, crackling sound through our outstretched fingertips; and Lucy's front hair streamed out towards the storm like the pictures in the high-school books on physics, and ‘buzzed,’ as she said.' (SCB 2
, no. 1, Jan. 1897: 20.) The name must have been applied soon thereafter, since it appears on the 1907 Mt. Whitney
30' map.” – Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada (2004)