Kearsarge Pass Trail is one of the easiest and shortest ways to connect Inyo National Forest to Kings Canyon National Park in the Sierra Nevada Range. This extremely popular trail is only 4.7 miles long and gains about 2,660 feet in elevation. The mountain views along the trail are spectacular and the camping options on the first half of the route are plentiful. Kearsarge Pass itself is the gateway to many peaks, lakes, rock pinnacles and a rock dome in the back country. In addition, this pass is an excellent way to connect with the famous and much sought after John Muir and Pacific Crest Trail. Many parties traveling on the Pacific Crest Trail use the Keasarge Pass to Onion Valley Trail for resupplying and resting before they continue on their journey.
Onion Valley Trailhead:
From the town of Independence, along Highway 395 in California, drive some 13 miles west on Market Street that soon becomes Onion Valley Road to the trailhead. There is a running creek, a campground, many bear lockers and bathroom facilities near the trailhead. Stay safe and enjoy your hike.
The trail begins at Onion Valley, elevation 9,185 feet. Shortly after the trailhead the trail to Golden Trout Lake separates from the Kearsarge Pass Trail marked by an old wooden sign. The main trail rises gently for some one and a half miles to the first lake, Little Pothole Lake. Another one half of a mile brings you to Gilbert Lake with many campsite possibilities. After a short walk, you will see a sign for Mattlock Lake with an arrow pointing toward a visible lake. That is not Mattlock Lake, it's Flower Lake. Flower Lake is another great location to camp, especially for people getting a late afternoon start from Onion Valley.
Flower Lake may very well be your last source for water until you get well into the west side of the Pass. The trail to Kearsarge Pass continues with a sharp turn to the right before turning back toward your destination. Some distance before reaching the next major lake, you will be passing by some steep rock buttresses. Looking downhill from this point, you may see a running creek and a small pond. This small pond is easily accessible from the trail. It's best not to count on this water source as the location may be difficult to find. Climbing rather steeply, the trail will give you an awe inspiring view of Heart Lake. This lake is not easily accessible from the trail.
Continue hiking past Heart Lake to a long traversing part of the trail heading west and your first view of Kearsarge Pass. Enjoying the views of the mountains will make this section of the trail feel less tedious. The last major landmark is Big Pothole Lake deep below your feet before reaching Kearsarge Pass some 4.7 miles from Onion Valley.