Backpack the Little Five & Big Five Lakes Loop

Sawtooth Trailhead, Three Rivers, California, United States

  • Activities:

    Camping, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Advanced

  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:

    Loop

  • RT Distance:

    26.5 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    10000 Feet

Lake
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers

Breath-taking 26.5 mile hike past 10 apline lakes through Sequoia's High Sierras. 

Day 1: A long, rewarding day. Over the course of 11.5 miles you will complete around 10,000ft of elevation change.  To start, park the car at the Sawtooth-Monarch Trailhead (7500ft) and begin on the trail, immediately ascending to Timber Gap (9500ft).  Once at the gap, the trail makes it's way down in to a Valley as it follows a series of endless switchbacks.  After crossing creek, you will begin ascending once again.  Through high elevation meadows, past waterfalls, and rising from one Valley to the next the trail finally reaches Pinto Lake-- there is a nice shady spot for lunch next to the river.  From here, the trail continues to climb gaining 3,000ft in 3 miles, as it makes it's way up to Black Rock Pass (11,600ft).  From the pass a steep 1.5 mile decent lead will lead you to the first of the Little Five Lakes (10,000ft).  Find a protected area near the shore of the lake and you'll have yourself a great campsite for the first night on the trail.  

Day 2: (9 mile day) Wake up to the sunrise over the lake, and enjoy the views a bit before heading back onto the trail.  A short decent will bring you to the second lake, and from there the trail winds through the forest and eventually end up at the first of the Big Fives Lakes.  Continuing on, there is a pond that makes a great lunch spot.  With warm temperatures and crystal clear waters, the very cold water makes for a nice mid-day cooldown.  After lunch, the trail will take you to an incredible Valley that surroundeds you with touring peaks.  Finishing off the day's hike with an uphill section, you will switchback your way out of the Valley until Columbine Lake (10,500ft) comes into view.  After finding a perfect campsite for the night, I suggest hangout out by the lake and if someone in your group has a fishing rod I suggest getting a permit so you can catch some trout for dinner-- best fish tacos I've ever had.

Day 3: (6 mile day) The final morning in the wilderness starts with a beautiful sunrise.  Back on the trail, cairns will lead you up the final uphill section which ends at Sawtooth Pass (11,700ft), which is the highest point during the hike.  From the pass a gnarly decent down loose rocks takes you down to Monarch Lake where you can empty your shoes of rocks and have a snack.  A gradual 4.5 miles downhill finishes off the hike, ending back where you started at theSawtooth- Monarch trailhead.

If I did this hike again, I would break it up into 4 days instead.  The lunch spot at Pinto Lake would instead become a campsite for the first night, and then the second day would be shorter, ending at the campsite we stayed at on the first night of the original trip.

Pack List

  • Wilderness permits
  • Tent or hammock
  • Warm layers
  • Hiking boots and sandals
  • Food
  • Headlamps
  • Water (2 liters and a water filtration system)
  • First-aid kit
  • Camera
  • Fishing pole (need permits to fish in the lakes)
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This adventure sounds awesome and i wish my sister didn't do such cool things without me.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Breanne McNitt Explorer

Smile. Laugh. Live a good story. Love unconditionally. And Adventure hard.

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