Backpack to Mount Cotter

Rate this Adventure Yosemite Onion Valley Campground

Added by Jacques Lamoureux

Vast mountain vistas spanning high above Rae Lakes and across the mountain ridge to Gardiner Lakes towards western King's Canyon area.

This trip is roughly a 32-35 miles out and back trek with extreme drops and gains in elevation. The trek starts at Onion Valley on the Kearsarge trailhead. The trail immediately starts climbing. The Pass is about 4.5 miles and it is all steady to steep uphill hiking. You pass four beautiful mountain lakes along the way to the pass. A gem at this point is to climb the rocks at the top of the pass and pose for a great photo and simply enjoy the view as a rest is necessary.

Next, you drop quickly for half a mile and then it levels out to a very steady almost flat hike for a few miles. Once you pass by Bullfrog Lake you hit the junction for the PCT/JMT. Heading north here brings you by Charlotte Lake and great views. (note: during my trek with friends, water was scarce during this stretch so fill up when possible) This trek is a steady uphill climb toward Glen Pass. We were lucky to come across a mountain lake as many prior to this were dry due to the lack of precipitation. Glen Pass was a steep climb up to 11,978 feet. Atop the pass was amazing views of the Rae Lakes and mountains ridges and valleys in all directions. Descending Glen Pass is pretty steep all the way down to the lakes that are at roughly 10,300 feet or so. At this point you can set up camp and relax. This is a full day of tough hiking and it will be needed.

The next day is when you can go for Mount Cotter. The length and trail is dependent on your camping location. Regardless, you start your way up the Sixty Lakes Basin Trail. This trail takes you upwards past Fin Dome (prominent peak in the area due to its uniqueness) and a number of beautiful lakes. The lakes are unnamed but once you reach the end of the trail you sit at the base of Mount Cotter. At this point the ascension is up to each person. The experienced rock climber can pick a more vertical route, but I am not that and took a different path.

The best path is to head south along the lake below the peak to the deep saddle. The ridgeline from the peak slopes down to this saddle. You begin ascending the southeast face of this area and begin bouldering and hiking back towards the peak gradually working your way up to the ridgeline. From the final lake this ascent and path will take a very fit and experienced hiker about 4-5 hours plus the hour hike to and from your campsite. The gem of this part of the trip is the vast views that Mt Cotter provides in all directions. The dramatic peaks and valleys span in all directions and you feel amazing sitting atop this peak.

The Rae Lakes are extremely beautiful and early risers will experience wonderful photo opportunities at sunrise upon the lakes.

Upon completion the hike back is some up and down and the relaxation that night is needed. The trip itself can be done in 2 to 4 days/nights depending on experience time available. The total elevation gain is roughly 9,623 feet over the course of the whole trip.

Pack List

  • Permit
  • Tent
  • Water purification
  • Sleeping bag
  • Food for 3-4 days
  • Hiking boots
  • GPS or map and compass (for scramble to Mt Cotter)
  • Book (if desired)
  • Fishing gear (if desired)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
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Backpacking, Camping, Chillin, Fishing, Hiking, Photography, Rock Climbing, Swimming

Skill Level:



Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:



35 Miles

Elev. Gain:

9623 Feet


Easy Parking

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Added by Jacques Lamoureux

I am a Contracting Officer in the USAF. I have always loved the outdoors but only until recently have been ventured out to truly explore any place I am able to get to. Nature brings a calming sense to our being and striving for synchronicity with it is my goal. Most times I travel alone and find ways to capture the beautiful places I am able to visit. The military has afforded me the opportunity to see many parts of the world and exploring these different places has become my passion!

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