When it comes to backpacking opportunity, the Eastern Sierras is second to none. There are several trailheads that allow you easy access to high elevation lakes and peaks. I had a blast on my first solo backpacking trip in Horseshoe Meadows up Mt. Langley, a California fourteener, and I knew that there needed to be many more after.

Just a 10 mins drive up the 395 from Lone Pine to Independence, another popular trailhead is Onion Valley. While Horseshoe Meadows will lead you into the Sequoia part of the Sequoia & Kings Canyon national park, Onion Valley Kearsarge trail will leads you into the Kings Canyon area. This is a great place for beginner backpackers to start. The trail is well marked and it has guarantee water sources all year round, plus the view is incredible!

Bull Frog Lake a mile from Kearsarge pass

Overview

Where: Inyo National Forest; Onion Valley trailhead to Kearsarge lakes via the Kearsarge pass with a side trip to Bullfrog Lake.

Distance: 16 miles round trip (with side exploration), probably just 14 if you’re just going to Kearsarge lakes.

Elevation Gain: about 3,000 up to Kearsarge Pass.

Trailhead: Onion Valley, near the town of Independence.

Highlights: everything! Fishing, several lakes, amazing view

Direction: From LA, you want to take the 395 fwy north. It’s about a 4 hours drive including getting to the trailhead from the main road. Once you’re in Independence, CA, there will be a very obvious sign that says “Onion Valley”. The road is Market Road but then it turns into Onion Valley road. The turn off is right by a Subway. I stopped there for some noms.

GPS coordinate: 36.772799,-118.339406

Usage: crowded, more than Horseshoe Meadows, but not Yosemite crowded. There’s a trail quota at 60 entries per day (that’s 60 people). The place is huge, so i never felt like it was too busy.

Wilderness Permit: 60 entries per day quota, 36 reservable and 24 walk-ins only. Permits are FREE if you walk-in but there’s a reservation cost of $5 per permit. Permits can be picked up from the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center (opens daily 8am – 5pm) just a mile south of Lone Pine, CA (10 ish miles from Independence, CA). Read more about permits in Inyo National Forest here.

Camping: There’s a campground at the trailhead, first come, first serve, if you arrive late or want to acclimate. For backcountry, you can disperse camp anywhere once you’re on the trail.

Nearby Attractions: Manzanar Japanese Historic Internment Camp Museum, Horseshoe Meadow, Mesquite Sand Dune in Death Valley National Park.

View from the kearsarge pass trail

experience

This time i went with a friend, Tanner. He’s from Colorado and knows how to fish! He was nice enough to bring a couple of fishing poles along so we can have some fun at the lake. This was my first time ever actually fishing aside from the sea sick disaster that was in Newport Beach.

We started around 10am. There were so many cars at the parking lot, but fortunately, there were never too many people on the trail and we had plenty of space and wilderness time.

kearsarge pass and hikers
View from Kearsarge pass overlooking Kearsarge Lakes (far left) and Bullfrog lake (furthest lake)
Not tired after a 3,000 feet climb

Our original goal was to get all way to Glen Pass and the Sixty Lakes basin. But i must say that we underestimate the weather a bit. It started hailing with thunderstorms all through the afternoon, luckily, this was right after we came down the Kearsarge pass so we weren’t really at risk.

Me attempting to fish…
Tanner got a big one!

We hid under a tree for a bit after a lighting that strike fairly closed by. We then looked up to where Glen Pass would be and were just amazed by the awful looking dark clouds that was floating over it. Well, needless to say, going up there just wasn’t really an option anymore. Our plan then was to get to Charlotte lake, but on our way there we decided to camp at Kearsarge instead and do a side trip there because we were pretty done carrying our packs.

After a mile of hiking from Kearsarge lakes, we came across Bull Frog lake (which was closed to camping at the time for animal gazing). It was beautiful that we ended up spending a lot of time there. It started hailing a few more times and it just made the most sense time-wise to just fish here instead of going out to Charlotte lake since we already spent so much time hiding up a tree.

Tanner and the dark clouds flying in before it started hailing

Fishing was super fun. It was my first time, so i was pretty excited. I think i’m going to invest in a rod and go out there on my own more often. Tanner caught two beautiful trouts and i got…none! haha on well, better luck next time.

I actually had a lot of bites but I probably hooked too strong or just wasn’t good enough. One even stole my hook! what a beast these trouts are.

At the second lake from the trailhead on the way back

We went back to our camp right before the sun down and we made salmon cous cous for dinner. The next morning, we pretty much stormed down the mountain and got to the second lake really early and had another hour of fishing done before headed back home.

I don’t want to recommend this place to anyone because i’m selfish… haha. it was amazing, and i think all outdoor enthusiasts should get to experience this place at least once. I plan on going back again and actually make it to Glen pass and sixty lakes basin next time and hopefully catch something!

Finally, this is the 3rd lake it’s easy to miss, so keep your eyes out. I think it’s the best one!

Written by Snook

I do one cool thing every weekend!

12 comments

  1. Gorgeous pictures! When did you go? I packed up to Golden Trout Lake this past weekend. No rain but it did get pretty cold in the early morning hours. Our drinking water was half frozen when we got up.

  2. Hi! I wanted to do this trail and try fishign during my backpacking trips. What kind of bait/flies did you guys use? What kind of rod/reel setup? I’m new to fishing while backpacking so any advice would be helpful. Beautiful pictures!!

  3. Beautiful! And beautiful pictures. I have a second home in Independence, but , I, like many towns’ people never hike there , or if they do, go that high . thanks for sharing !

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