The hike to Pear Lake in Sequoia National Park is a challenging 13 mile trek featuring stunning vistas of rocky mountain peaks and numerous clear alpine lakes along the way, including Heather Lake, Emerald Lake and Aster Lake. While Sequoia National Park is best known for the Giant Sequoia trees after which its named, there is more to the park than just General Sherman and the Giant Forest. Of course, the trees are incredible and you have to stroll through the Sequoia groves while you are visiting, there is way more to see in the park! If you want to explore the park beyond the most popular sights, the hike to Pear Lake is the perfect choice!

Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!

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    Sequoia National Park

    The creatively named Sequoia National Park is best known for being home to the Giant Forest, which includes five of the ten largest trees in the world, including General Sherman, the largest tree anywhere on earth. And while you must admire these towering feats of nature, there is so much more to Sequoia National Park.

    With over 400,000 acres of pristine forest and rugged alpine terrain, Sequoia National Park is teeming with epic backcountry adventures. In fact, 84% of the park is designated wilderness – meaning no roads, no crowds, and pure mountain magic. The Sequoia backcountry is the highest portion of the High Sierra and includes Mount Whitney (14,505 feet), the highest point in the contiguous US!

    There are tons of options for exploring the Sequoia National Park backcountry and it can be difficult to figure out which of the many trails to explore. One popular option is the 13 mile hike to Pear Lake, nestled high among the massive granite peaks of the Sierra mountains. Even better, the hike will take you not only to Pear Lake, but to four different alpine lakes, each with their own unique beauty.

    When we visited Sequoia, we made a last minute decision to trek up to Pear Lake and instantly fell in love with the park. We can’t wait to get back!

    Pear Lake hike details

    Hike Stats

    Hiking distance | 13 miles
    Elevation gain | 3,000 feet
    Total time | 6 – 8 hours
    Epic-ness rating | 7
    Difficulty | hard

    On the hike to Pear Lake, you’ll get to see four of Sequoia’s alpine lakes – Pear Lake, Emerald Lake, Heather Lake and Aster Lake. To get to Pear Lake, you will hike along the Lakes Trail starting at the Lakes trailhead, located just five minutes from the trailhead for General Sherman.

    The entire hike is about 13 miles and 3,000 feet roundtrip, but with beautiful mountain views and several stops along the way, the journey to Pear Lake isn’t as difficult as it may seem!

    Pear Lake Hike Map

    The map below displays the trail to Pear Lake, including several stops along the way.

    Note the two trail options in the middle of the hike. It’s possible to do the hike as a simple out and back along either the Watchtower Trail or the Hump Trail (the Hump Trail Route is shorter). However, we recommend hiking out via the Watchtower Trail and return via the Hump Trail, as both feature amazing views that are worth seeing.

    Beware that a large portion of the Watchtower Trail follows along a ledge with sharp drop-off that is not ideal for those with a fear of heights. However, as a person with fear of heights myself, this one did not bother me, as the trail fairly wide and the ground is sturdy.

    Map of the Lakes Trail in Sequoia, including the Watchtower, Hump Trail, Heather Lake, Aster Lake, Emerald Lake and Pear Lake

    Getting to the Lakes Trailhead

    The hike to Pear Lake starts from the Lakes Trailhead, located just a few minutes from the General Sherman parking area. There is a ton of parking available here, but the parking lot is shared for several trailheads, so make sure you are on the right trail when you get going.

    Starting the hike

    To start the hike, find the Lakes Trailhead located on the northern side of the parking lot. The first 2 miles of the hike are a fairly leisurely stroll through a heavily wooded forest of pine trees covered in lush green moss.

    Fun fact: You won’t see any Giant Sequoias on this hike – they are more heavily concentrated at lower elevations, as they need deep soil to grow.

    The Watchtower Trail

    After about 2 miles into the hike, you will reach an intersection. Both directions will ultimately get you to Heather Lake, Emerald Lake and Pear Lake, but we recommend turning left on the Watchtower Trail on the hike out.

    The Watchtower Trail offers some of the most impressive views of the entire trek. When the snow is melting, you can trace a waterfall that flows from the area around Pear Lake all the way down to the valley floor, creating an incredible sense of depth and allows you to appreciate the shear magnitude of the Sierras.

    Closer towards the intersection with the Hump Trail, the Watchtower Trail becomes very narrow and follows along a very steep cliff with a sharp drop-off. We didn’t find the trail too scary, but if you have a fear of heights, you might want to stick to the Hump Trail instead.

    Note: The Watchtower Trail closes during the winter, as snow and ice make the trail even narrower and slippery, creating quite the dangerous situation. When the trail is unsafe, a sign will usually be posted at the intersection or you can check with a ranger before you start the hike. We hiked in early May and the Watchtower Trail had just opened that morning. You can see the snow had just receded enough to make the trail passable in the picture below.

    The Watchtower

    After a little more than a mile past the start of the Watchtower Trail, you will reach the Watchtower, a massive granite rock face with sheer drop into the valley, after which the trail is named. If you are feeling brave, you can walk out to the edge of the Watchtower for some incredible views looking down the valley.

    Heather Lake

    Continue past the Watchtower for half a mile until you reach another intersection. Take the trail to the left and you will descend down to Heather Lake in about a quarter mile. Once you’ve reached Heather Lake, take some time to explore its shores and take a break while you enjoy the beautiful views of the surrounding rocky ridges high over the lake.

    Aster Lake

    You may have a hard time pulling yourself away from the views at Heather Lake, but don’t worry because you’ve still got three more beautiful lakes to see and the views only keep getting better! You’ll only have to hike another half a mile from Heather Lake before you come upon a magnificent view of Aster Lake.

    Unlike Heather Lake, Emerald Lake and Pear Lake, you can’t actually get down to the shores of Aster Lake, but you can take a moment to enjoy the views from above.

    Emerald Lake

    Another resting spot is awaiting you at Emerald Lake, which is located only half a mile past Aster Lake. The shores of Emerald Lake are lined with huge boulders that are perfect for lounging in the sun while you take a break and eat some lunch.

    On a calm day, the surrounding mountains cast a reflection over the calm waters, making for an absolutely stunning sight! Hike earlier in the morning for the best shot at seeing a reflection on Emerald Lake

    Pear Lake

    As you’ve already visited 2 incredible lakes, you may be tempted to think “Is Pear Lake really worth the extra 2 miles?” Yes, it is! Pear Lake is the largest and most impressive of the lakes on this hike, so don’t give up now! We promise it’s worth the extra push, even though you may feel a little like this once you arrive…

    resting on the shores of Pear Lake in Sequoia

    The return hike

    Once you’ve spent enough time soaking up the views at Pear Lake, return back the same way you came. You will again pass by Emerald Lake, Aster Lake and Heather Lake. Then, when you reach the intersection of the Watchtower Trail and the Hump trail, this time veer left and continue along the Hump trail.

    The Hump Trail

    The Hump Trail route is a bit longer than the Watchtower trail but is worth taking for its majestic views looking down over the valley. The best viewpoint is located about a quarter mile past the intersection with the Watchtower Trail. After this view point, you will enter back into the pine forest and it’s all downhill for the remainder of the trail.

    Planning your Pear Lake hike in Sequoia

    In the following section, we’ll help you plan your trip to Sequoia National Park, from where to stay to when to visit and what to pack.

    How to get to Sequoia

    The Lakes Trailhead for the Heather Lake, Emerald Lake, and Pear Lake hike in Sequoia is located in central California. Fresno is the closest major city to the trailhead, located about an hour and 30 minutes away. The next closest in Visalia, which is just under 3 hours away.

    If you are flying in to visit Sequoia, Fresno is likely your best bet, as the larger airports in Los Angeles and San Francisco are around 5 hours away.

    Lodgepole Campground

    Given that lodging options are limited around Sequoia, you may consider camping at the nearby Lodgepole Campground the night before the Pear Lake hike. The Lodgepole Campground is located just a few minutes from the Lakes Trailhead. However, this is a popular campground and spots fill up months in advance, so be sure to plan ahead if you want to camp.

    Reservations can be made up to 1 month in advance of your stay on recreation.gov. For more information on other campgrounds in the park, visit the Kings Canyon and Sequoia NPS website.

    Reflection on Heather Lake in Sequoia National Park

    When is the best time to hike to Pear Lake?

    The best time to hike to Pear Lake in Sequoia is May through October. The trail reaches an elevation of 9,500 feet, so there will be snow during the colder months. It is possible to hike during the winter but you will likely want snowshoes, or at least some good snow boots.

    Keep in mind that the Watchtower Trail closes during the winter due to dangerous icy conditions along the narrow ridge. While it’s always possible to sneak past the closure, it’s definitely not worth the risk during the winter. Typically the trail officially opens for the season in mid-May, but exact timing will vary by weather conditions and snowfall amounts each year.

    Pear Lake as a backpacking trip

    If the idea of sleeping in the Sequoia backcountry along the banks of Pear Lake sounds appealing to you, you’re in luck! Backcountry camping is permitted at both Emerald Lake and Pear Lake, but you will need to get a wilderness permit before you go.

    During peak season (late May to early September), advance reservations are released in late November and may be reserved up to six months in advance. During the off season (late September through mid May), reservations are not required but you must pick up a self-serve permit from a permit station in the park before you begin your trip. The closest permit station to the trailhead for Pear Lake is the Lodgepole Visitor Center.

    For more information on wilderness permits, visit the Sequoia NPS website.

    What to pack for hiking to Pear Lake

    Before taking off on your hike to Pear Lake make sure you are prepared with the following essentials:

    • GPS Device | The trail to Pear Lake is generally easy to follow, but carrying a GPS device can give you some peace of mind in case you go off trail or have trouble finding the trail after exploring one of the lakes.
    • Bear spray | There are black bears in Sequoia National Park, so it’s best to carry bear spray just to be safe.
    • Water filter | Since there is no shortage of water along the trail, you can reduce the weight you carry by packing a water filter (we love our Katadyn BeFree – lightweight and couldn’t be easier to use) and refilling along the way.
    • Bathing suit | If you’re brave enough to take a plunge in the freezing waters of Pear Lake, it can be a great way to cool off after a long climb.
    • Compact towel | PackTowl is great for carrying on hiking trips for drying off after said plunge – lightweight and folds up small.
    • Hiking poles | We both use Black Diamond trekking poles and can’t imagine hiking without them!
    • Warm layers | If you’re hiking in the spring or fall, it’s likely to get chilly once you stop moving and settle down to relax at Pear Lake. Make sure you’ve packed warm layers even if it feels warm at the trailhead.
    • Hiking boots | This is a long hike – your feet will thank you for wearing a pair of hiking boots. I (Sarah) love my Danner Mountain 600’s – comfortable, lightweight, and even a bit stylish! Matt wears the Salomon Ultra 4 Mid GTX, which are more like trail running shoes with additional ankle support.

    Other useful resources

    If you enjoyed this article, we think you may also be interested in the following:

    For all things California: California Travel Guide

    Questions about hiking to Emerald Lake, Heather Lake, and Pear Lake in Sequoia National Park? Leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to help!

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