Hiking the Sierra High Route: A Guide to Exploring the High Route.

The Sierra High Route is a well-known hiking trail that runs for nearly 200 miles through California’s High Sierra region. This trail is well-known for its challenging terrain, breathtaking scenery, and unrivaled wilderness experience. Hiking the Sierra High Route is hard for the faint of heart, but the rewards are enormous for those ready for the task.

This post will examine the history, description, transportation options, hiking specifics, accommodations, food and water, potential hazards, and helpful hints for hiking the Sierra High Route.

Photo by Marcus Helburg

Brief History

The Sierra High Route is a challenging rural trail that traverses California’s High Sierra region, passing through some of the state’s most remote and rugged wilderness areas. Steve Roper and Allen Steck pioneered this route in the 1970s, and it has since become a popular hike site for experienced hikers and backpackers.

Sierra High Route is not an official and unmarked road. As a result, hikers must rely on maps, compasses, and GPS devices to navigate their routes. The trail is about 195 miles long, crosses several mountain ranges, and includes many high passes, steep climbs, and rough terrain.

Despite its challenges, the Sierra High Route offers breathtaking vistas of the High Sierra landscape and is a rewarding adventure for those up for a challenge. This route has a rich history of discovery and adventure, and it continues to attract hikers and backpackers worldwide. 

Description of the Sight

Photo by Marcus Helburg

The Sierra High Route is known for its breathtaking scenery and breathtaking views of the High Sierra landscape. The trail passes through various landscapes, including alpine meadows, alpine passes, and rugged granite peaks. Hikers can expect to see crystal-clear lakes, multi-tiered waterfalls, and towering mountain ranges.

One of the highlights of the Sierra High Route is the view of the Sierra Nevada range, which can be seen from many points along the trail. The range includes several prominent peaks, including Mount Whitney, the summit in the contiguous United States. Hikers on the Sierra Highway can also expect to see various wildlife, including deer, marmots, and black bears. The trail passes through several designated wilderness areas, including the John Muir Wilderness and Ansel Adams Wilderness, which provide essential habitats for rare and endangered species.

Overall, the Sierra Highway is an awe-inspiring sight for hikers and backpackers, offering some of the most breathtaking views of California’s High Sierra landscape. 

Ways to Get to Sierra High Route

By Aircraft

You have several alternatives. Most persons fly into Bay Area airports: Oakland, San Jose, and San Francisco, then rent a car to drive to Sequoia National Park’s western terminus.

The nearest airport is Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT), a popular fly-in option. You can hire a car at the Fresno airport or take a bus, Lyft, or cab to Visalia. You can take a shuttle from Visalia to Sequoia National Park after you arrive.

Take the Eastern Sierra Transit bus from Reno to Lone Pine if you’re hiking the HST westbound (which is uncommon). It’s a short ride from there to the Whitney Portal trailhead.

By Car

Drive from Visalia to the town of Three Rivers to access the Sequoia National Park Ash Mountain entrance. Continue up the steep mountain road past the Foothills Museum to the Giant Forest Museum, 16.4 winding kilometers away. Take the paved road 2.6 miles to Crescent Meadow (you’ll even get to drive through a gigantic sequoia along the way).

Shuttle Services

The Sequoia Shuttle Bus is a shuttle from Visalia to Sequoia National Park. Take the accessible Route 2 (Grey Route) bus to Crescent Meadow once you enter the park. Free shuttles run throughout the park from 8:00 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. & are entirely ticketless, so jump on and off at any stop.

You can also park at the Giant Forest Museum and take Route 2 to the Crescent Meadow trailhead for free.

On the way back, the East Side shuttle can transport you from Whitney Portal to your car at Crescent Meadow. It’s a 6-hour journey. People who are shuttling should travel in groups of five to reduce the cost per passenger.

If you use the shuttle from Visalia and don’t have a car or rental car parked someplace, your return is simple. Take the Eastern Sierra Transit bus from Lone Pine to Reno Tahoe International Airport. You can then travel back home.

Details on hiking Sierra High Route

When to Go: Weather and Season

The Sierra receives a lot of snow during the winter, and mosquitoes are a problem in the early summer. Temperatures drop, and winter conditions are typical in the fall, limiting the optimal trekking season. Hiking is ideal in June, July, and August. However, expect a lot of bugs in June.

Photo by Marcus Helburg

Summer days are hot, bright, and dry, with few rainstorms. Temperatures can drop below freezing at night. At the end of our journey, we encountered some snow.

While hiking on the JMT portions, many people will be encountered, and approved campsites are frequently busy. This is in stark contrast to the off-trail portions, where you are unlikely to meet another person.


There are numerous excellent accommodations for hiking trails in the Sierra Nevada. The season, which walks you want to do, whether you like a big city or a small village, what other things you want to do, and, of course, prices and availability all influence where you should stay. Spending a few days in two distinct locations allows you to visit two towns/villages and explore different portions of the highlands.

The larger hotel chains are only found in Granada and the Pradollano ski resort. Still, there are many independently-run hotels, “hostales” (basic hotels that generally do not serve breakfast or other meals, though some do), “pensiones” (equivalent to a guesthouse or B&B), and self-catering apartments.

Food and Water

To save extra kilometers and hitchhiking into town, the best replenishment option is to bring only enough food to go to Reds Meadow. Reds Meadow is around 119 miles into the walk if hiking northbound and 76 miles into the hike if hiking southward.

Because the Reds’ Meadow store only sells a limited number of expensive food and drinks, it’s best to pre-pack items and mail yourself a package. You can also use the on-site bathroom and laundry facilities, and there are cabins for rent and a restaurant.

Hitchhike or take the seasonal shuttle from Reds’ Meadow into the full-service town of Mammoth for resupply and town stops.

Another option is to hike from Dusy Basin to the North Lake trailhead, from which you may hitchhike into the little town of Bishop. However, this adds additional travel and, in my opinion, unnecessary difficulty.


Swimming on the Sierra Highway can be refreshing and enjoyable, but taking precautions is vital to stay safe. Before swimming, climbers should assess the water to ensure safety, considering depth, temperature, and currents. If the water is too deep, cold, or has strong currents, it’s best to avoid swimming.

Climbers should wear life jackets when swimming to stay afloat and reduce the danger of drowning. It is also important to avoid jumping or diving underwater, as the depths and conditions underwater may not be visible. Hikers should only enter the water from safe entry points.

Swimming with a friend is another vital safety measure. This can help provide additional support and assistance in an emergency. Even in hot weather, the water can be cold enough to cause hypothermia. Therefore, hikers should limit their time in the water and get out if they feel cold or numb.

Staying hydrated is also essential while swimming, as it can be strenuous. Climbers should drink plenty of water before and after swimming to avoid dehydration.

By following these tips, hikers can enjoy swimming on the Sierra Highway while minimizing the risk of drowning and other hazards. 

Tips to know when hiking Sierra High Route

  • Mosquitoes and other flying insects can be particularly bothersome in the early summer. A good head net is also advised.
  • Ice Axe and Micro Spikes: Because there are always some unknowns on this type of expedition, carry microspikes and an ice ax. You may not use them, but having them on hand was reassuring.
  • Bear Canister: Bear canisters are required in most areas of the Sierra. They’re heavy, but they’re a necessary evil.
  • The Emergency Messenger is highly recommended. When not on the John Muir Trail, the Sierra High Route can be exceedingly remote, and the rocky terrain increases the likelihood of injuries and accidents.
  • GPS/Maps/Apps: Using pre-loaded waypoints in the Gaia app can be beneficial. But, just in case, you can also bring paper maps and a compass.

Potential Dangers

The Sierra High Route is a wilderness trail; therefore, hikers should be cautious of potential hazards. These are some examples:

Ranging Rivers

We hear about hikers who disregard the warnings every year and venture into a roaring river. A few of these folks are washed away by waterfalls or rapids yearly. They perish. Do not allow this to happen to you. Believe the rangers when they say the rivers are dangerous.

A single slip in the water can knock you downstream. And if you hit your head on a rock, you’re not going anywhere, which is NOT a thoughtful gift for your trekking partners. Be cautious out there, and remember that you only get one chance to make a foolish mistake.

Altitude Sickness

In the Sierra, altitude sickness is a legitimate concern. Spend at least a night sleeping near the Roads’ End trailhead (5500 feet) before commencing your hike; this can help you to acclimate. However, If you begin to feel ill, it is recommended to descend until you feel better and, if possible, try again the next day.


Another consideration is the harshness of the cross-country journey and the area’s remoteness. Traveling through steep mountain passes with no track and loose talus should not be taken carelessly. It is best to hike with a partner or in a small group.


The air in the High Sierra is so dry and thin that you don’t notice how much sweat evaporates from your skin. It’s gone before you realize it. (If you’re wearing a pack, the back of your shirt may be wet, but the rest of your body will be dry. Pay attention to your clothes, not your entire body.)  Because it is critical to keep your body hydrated.

Preparation is the solution. Before you tackle the path, make sure you have enough water. Bring plenty of water with you on the journey. Plan your journey to know where you can buy water and fill up. Throughout the day, drink until you need to pee. 

Getting Lost

Getting lost on the Sierra Highway is a serious danger because the trail is unmarked. To avoid getting lost, hikers should carry a detailed map and compass, use GPS and navigation apps, pay attention to landmarks, stay on track, go with a group, and know when to return. 

Getting Drowned

When crossing water on the Sierra Highway, hikers should assess water levels, remove heavy equipment, use hiking stakes, cross in groups, wear appropriate footwear, and Consider an alternative route if the water is too dangerous to cross. These tips can help hikers stay safe and avoid the risk of drowning. 


Fires can be a severe hazard when hiking the Sierra High Route, especially in dry weather. To prevent fires and stay safe while walking on the Sierra Highway, hikers should check for fire restrictions, use a fire pit or set up a stove, reduce fire, put out Turn off cigarettes and matches completely, note weather and wind conditions, and report any fires. 


Hiking the Sierra High Route is a rewarding and demanding experience for those ready for the challenge. The walk provides breathtaking scenery, an unrivaled wilderness experience, and an opportunity to connect with nature. Hikers should be prepared to face trail challenges such as off-track navigation, steep terrain, and unexpected weather. Hiking the Sierra High Route may be a wonderful experience with adequate preparation, navigation skills, and a sense of adventure.

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