Best Backpacking Hikes in Sequoia National Forest

Best Backpacking Hikes in Sequoia National Forest

There are many natural wonders in California. Sequoia National Forest ranks near the top. Its namesake trees are the 6th tallest species in the world. Sequoia NF is also home to General Sherman, the world's largest tree by volume. Even more special, these majestic trees are only found in the western Sierras. It's hard to truly appreciate them without seeing one in person.

The best time to visit this forest is June through August. Some areas do require a free permit, so be sure to check the NPS page before your visit. It is also highly recommended that campers bring bear-resistant food containers. Dispersed car camping is allowed on backroads if you want to spend a night before heading out on the trail.

Whether you're looking for a moderate overnight stay or a challenging week-long backcountry trip, this list will inspire your next adventure in the Sequoia National Forest.

Featured Photo: Painted Lady at Sunset

Freeman Creek Trail

Looking for a short, but scenic, overnight? The Freeman Creek Trail is a great choice. This 8.9-mile out-and-back trail is rated as moderate, making it a good option for beginners too. The trail is all downhill the first day, heading to explore the bottomlands of SQNF. (Hopefully, you get some good rest overnight because it's up, up, up back to the trailhead the next day. Consider bringing some trekking poles!) Enjoy the open meadow view before heading deeper into the forest. The creek offers several nice camping spots. It's also known to be good for fishing, so bring your backcountry pole. You'll also come across some small waterfalls. Another highlight is the Freeman Creek Giant Sequoia Grove. This is the largest unlogged grove outside of a national park with some 800 sequoia trees. It's also near the large President George Bush Tree. The Freeman Creek Trail is well-maintained and shaded. It's also worth noting it's a popular mountain biking spot, so be prepared to share the trail.

Middle Fork to Redwood Meadow

This 26-mile out-and-back trek is rated as moderate. This is mostly an uphill hike, traveling from shrubby manzanita forest to towering sequoias. You'll follow along the Kaweah River much of the way too. This and plenty of creeks means water sources won't be hard to find. You can also try your hand at fishing in the river. But, go too early in the season and the creek crossing can be impossible or a very bad idea at best. During summer, though, the swimming holes provide good areas to cool off. This is especially true after hiking through the exposed areas of the trail!

If you feel like spending a couple of nights, there are some nice sites near Panther Creek. These offer views of the river canyon and its waterfalls. Continue further and you can camp at Redwood Meadow. (If you prefer an overnight and don't mind hiking 13 miles in a day.) Redwood Meadow houses the most remote grove of old-growth sequoias. What could be cooler than spending a night surrounded by these towering giants?

Breckenridge Mountain via Mill Creek Trail

The Mill Creek Trail to Breckenridge Mountain is 20 miles out-and-back. It's rated as moderate to hard, but the elevation gain is fairly even. The well-maintained route starts in exposed hillsides. These are lovely in the spring when wildflowers are in bloom. Start to enjoy some shade after a couple of miles in. You'll come across several creek crossings. They shouldn't be anything to worry about, though. Keep an eye open for the salamanders that like to hang out near the cool pools in these creeks. The hike provides many sprawling views of the surrounding mountains. Finally, a beautiful redwood forest awaits you near the turn-around point. Pitch your tent at the Breckenridge Campground for the night after taking in the sights atop Breckenridge Mountain. Watch out for rattlesnakes and free-range cows along the route!

Rae Lakes Loop

We've talked about this hike on the blog before, but it's so good it's worth mentioning again! This difficult 42-mile loop highlights much of the greatness of the John Muir Trail (JMT). This is a great option for backpackers who don't have 2+ weeks to spend on the JMT. The Rae Lakes Loop features serene waterfalls, glacier-carved valleys, wildflower-filled meadows, and craggy peaks overlooking pristine alpine lakes. The trail offers tons of biodiversity. It is known as one of the quintessential Sierra Mountains hikes. With so many travelers, the trail is well-maintained. Make sure you secure permits asap. This is one of the most popular hikes in the Sequoia National Forest area. Check out the NPS page as well as there are limits on how many nights you can stay at certain camping areas. For more information, check out our full write-up.

 Rae Lakes Loop

PCT: South Fork Kern River Section

This section of the Pacific Crest Trail is located within the popular Golden Trout Wilderness area. The moderate to hard 46 miles transitions from chaparral to a towering spruce forest. Plenty of cool forests, gurgling waterfalls, mountain meadows, and granite peaks can be found along the way. Don't forget your fishing pole for this trip either. The Kern River is a favorite of backcountry fishermen. A sizeable section of trail parallels the waterway. Kennedy Meadows is another highlight along the way. You can stay at the campground there before really getting underway. Or, spend one last night there before completing the trail. (This depends on which way you're heading, of course.) There is also Chicken Spring Lake Camp near the northern trailhead.

High Sierra Trail

Have a week to spare and looking for an epic journey in the Sierras? Look no further than the 72-mile High Sierra Trail. Needless to say, this route is rated as difficult, both for its length and the terrain. Unlike most of the hikes on our list, this trail travels west to east. You'll get a big dose of all these awe-inspiring mountains have to offer. Highlights include Big Arroyo's expansive views, passing over the Great Western Divide via Kaweah Gap, and the Kern River Canyon. Most hikers end their journey near the Mt.Whitney Portal. If you're feeling extra adventurous, you could tack on a climb to the top. (After resting and refueling at the bottom, of course.) Mt.Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States. So, there's that temptation to add to your bragging rights. Be sure to secure permits early. For some help with route planning, check out this itinerary from the National Park Service.

High Sierra Trail

Source: Flickr

Read Next

If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our "Best West Coast Mountain Backpacking Trips" round-up post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other nearby hikes.

Hike of the Week: Thousand Island Lake Loop
Hike of the Week: Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail
Hike of the Week: Lost Coast Trail

For even more amazing backpacking trips visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.

The Trailhead - Interactive Map of Backpacking Trips

Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.

Hike Roundup USA West


  • Sam

    Freeman creek trail was very nice, but it suffered some severe fire damage recently…some sporadic greenery is left.

  • Martha Hernandez

    I love to go camping I go every year

  • Alan Lau

    Ooops didn’t finish the comment. We followed the HST, then instead of ascending to Wallace Creek, turned west and went over Colby Pass, then at the Roaring Forks jct went into Deadman Canyon, over Elizabeth Pass, then hooked back up with the HST. It was about 90 miles. There was Verizon service at the top of Elizabth Pass, believe it or not.

  • Alan Lau

    We did a loop in loving the High Sierra trail: started at Crescent meadows, followed the HST

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