Friday, July 31, 2015

Twin Lakes Trail - Sequoia National Park, CA

Of all the overnight trips this weekend warrior has done, the trail to Twin Lakes is one of the prettiest trails I have trekked on. It wasn't just about the beautiful destination (mind you, the lake was beautiful!) but the journey to it was so laden with enough trees, wildflowers, greenery and rocks laid out so strategically perfect that only Mother Nature can claim to its art.

The Twin Lakes Trail is one of the many jump off points to get deeper into the wilderness of Sequoia National Park and National Forest. Or, in our case, a perfect lake destination for a quick weekend getaway. Though longer in mileage for some folks in the group has ever backpacked before, this trail has a good balance of incline, for a good workout, and flat spots, to help catch your breath.

This trail is not as popular as the Lakes Trail in the Wolverton area (and not to be confused by it), but it still gets its fair share of foot traffic. On our visit, we had a good balance of solitude and social interaction with other hikers and other backpackers. There were parts of the trail that it was just us walking, then we'd occasionally leap frog with a group or come across one or two day hikers.

Trail Stats

  • Miles: 14 miles round trip to Twin Lakes (9,419 feet)
  • Elevation gain/loss: 2,719 feet 
  • Type: Out and back
  • Trail head: Lodgepole Campground (6,700 feet)
  • Location: Sequoia National Park
  • Permit: Lodgepole Visitor Center; Wilderness Desk hours are 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; Required permits for overnight trips but not for day hikes
  • Notes: Open air pit toilet; 2 bear proof boxes located separately in camp; No campfires allowed
  • Weather Forecast via NOAA: Twin Lakes Area Weather


Permits can be reserved in advance by filling up this PDF form: Wilderness Permit Application, then mailed or faxed.  A permit costs $15.00 each group, payable to the National Park Service by check, money order or credit/debit card.

About 25% of the trail head's daily quota are available for walk-up, if you plan not to reserve your permit or were not able to obtain one in advance. The price for the wilderness camping permit stays the same, $15.00.

If you have reserved a permit, a confirmation will be sent via email (if provided) but you will still need to pick up your actual permit at the wilderness desk at 1:00 p.m. the day before your entry date or when the desk opens on the day of your entry.


The parking lot is located inside the Lodgepole Campground, beyond the visitor center and market place. Passing the ranger's kiosk, continue straight on the paved road, skipping 3 campground loops (2 on the right and 1 on the left), you'll arrive at a huge space of parking lot meant as camper's overflow and trail head parking.

Leave your vehicle here, after emptying it for any scented items. There are a few bear proof lockers on the edge of the lot (mostly labeled "EXTRA") that you can use to store your extra scented items so you don't leave those in your car for the bear to sniff around for.

Heads up: these are a community lockers, do not leave your valuables.

Ready to get on the trail?

Well not yet, you still need to walk up to the trailhead :)

Trail Head

From the parking lot, follow the paved road and walk towards the log bridge located past the restroom structure.

Cross the bridge and you'll first come across the Tokopah Falls Trail head on the left, a 1.7 mile day trip to a beautiful waterfalls with the Watchtower looming above it. Skip that for when you get back, if you have the time.

The Twin Lakes is the next trail head over, with just a few more steps, immediately right next to the first camp site of Camp Loop 151-214, also after crossing the bridge.

The Hike

(For reference purposes on how the trail looks like on the following pictures, the hike was done on July 18-19, 2014, one of California's drought years.) 

Now your feet touches dirt!

The hike starts gradually climbing out of the Lodgepole Campground and then through the trees. It won't be long till you're up above the campground and eventually lose sound and sight of the car campers.

The trail occasionally would open up and be exposed. The sun would beat down on you if it's out shining and it's midday. But eventually, you'll be back shaded by the trees again.

At 1.6 miles, you'll arrive at the first trail junction on this hike that connects the trail you started with at Lodgepole Campground, to a trail that will lead you to, or chose to start from, the Wuksachi Lodge.

A little less than a mile after, you'll arrive at a creek crossing with a very well signed distance mileage.

At this point it is 4.7 miles to Twin Lakes. Be aware of the sign right next to the creek, there is no camping, picnicking or swimming. It is apparently used  as direct water source for the residents/structures below that need it. Which was kind of a bummer, for a little bit of rock scrambling upstream, saw some really awesome pools to dip and wade in.. perfect on a hot weather.

But we're headed to a lake anyways.. so off we go!

Immediately after the creek crossing, the trail continues on a few staircase-like steps before eventually going back to its usual inclined walk up. The trail got cut-off on a few places because of a few large downed trees but it doesn't totally disappear.

At about mile 3, the trail flattens out by Cahoon Meadow. On the NPS website's trail description this is the first area you can camp. We didn't stop in this area for fear of mosquitoes swarming us if we do, so we didn't get to check out possible sites in the area to note for future reference. The only suitable spot for camping we found on passing though, was a small clearing between the trail and the meadow's edge. No bear proof box.

Climbing out from the meadow, the trail continues on to a ridge, opening up to a beautiful vista of the valley with Cahoon Meadow, that you just came from, off to the left of the view.

After that moment of open view, the trail continues to gently climb on, back through the trees and shade.

 A little over a mile from Cahoon Meadow, you'll arrive at Cahoon Gap at 8,645 feet elevation. A nice midway spot we chose to stop for a long lunch to refuel and regroup the crew.

As we noticed a few clouds roll in the distance in the general direction we were headed, we contemplated camping out at Clover Creek then just make a quick visit to the lake the following morning. But everyone was dead set in camping by the lake. Who wouldn't be? It's a lake!

The next 0.6 miles from Cahoon Gap to Clover Creek is all downhill.

We rolled into Clover Creek in no time with a bit of sun still shining. The sky has not poured just yet.

After crossing a creek, we spotted 1 of the 2 bear proof boxes in this area just to our right. There were a lot of good flat even spaces to pitch your tent, well shaded by the trees. Though with all the plantation and the creek, I could just imagine what it's like the "golden mosquito hour".

After spotting the first bear proof box, it was another 0.2 mile where we found the other box tucked away amongst the trees. This is also where the next trail junction is.

The trail forks to continue on to Twin Lakes to the right, while the left fork takes you to J.O. Pass accessing the Jennie Lakes Wilderness/ Belle Canyon/ Big Meadows area. We hopped on the right fork.

Not long after leaving the junction, we.. actually just me.. spotted a a beautiful blonde colored black bear strutting his stuff gracefully around. I called out to Kari who was hiking in front of me, but I think that scared the bear away and sent him scurrying the other direction. We kept looking for him to catch another glimpse but a downhill hiker just confirmed how far he scurried on along. Oh well. At least I got to see him --- this earned me a jealous piercing look from Kari *insert sheepish grin here*.

The first 0.5 miles of the next 1.7 miles was relatively flat.

After crossing another small creek, the trail started climbing back up again. The trail passes along a small cascade of water on a "staircase like" sculpture of rocks. This must have been a sight to see after a wet winter season.

This part of the trail is a series of switchbacks commonly seen in the sierra trails, going up all the way to Twin Lakes.

And this is the point we finally got up close to the rolling dark clouds we saw earlier in the distance. And mother nature started her rhythmic base musical ensemble. Thunder was booming one after the other but no sign of lightning. We inched our way on the last leg of the hike making it just in time before the sky opened up. Though without at least drenching some of us.

Arriving at camp, Big Lake is the first of the two lakes you'll see after spotting the sign marking you've arrived (No camp fires!). A bear proof box is on the left along with the sign pointing to where the pit toilet is tucked away.

Yes, there's an open air pit toilet here. Some folks might say it's a luxury but I personally kinda prefer a cat hole than holding my breath though.

A couple of big groups were already settled in but the area has lots of space to choose from.

The camp area is between the two lakes, aptly named Big Lake and Little Lake (makes you smile, no? Someone must've ran out of lake names). Twin Peaks can be seen towering above on the Little Lake side.

There is another bear proof box further along the trail that goes through the camp.

The clouds quickly shrouded the lake.. and the entire camp. And it poured. But the rain let up in time for us to have dinner and filter water for breakfast.

The following morning we explored more in the area. Giving it a good guess that because of the still ongoing drought years, Little Lake is divided into 3 sections and in between them are bogs or marshes (squishy.. watch your step!).

It was a cloudy morning but the sun fought long and hard and eventually won over the clouds and we saw the lakes against blue skies for a bit.

We packed up and left camp glad that the sun is still out and shining. The hike back was a bear-less event.

We took a break at Cahoon Gap again but this time a shorter break, our radiant sunshine hike was short-lived. In the distance, towards the direction we were headed, those same thick dark ominous clouds were waiting for us... again.

Sure enough, we ended with a wet weekend. Even the entire drive home to Los Angeles.

1 comment: