While the border of Kings Canyon Park is at Kearsarge Pass, it is useful to initially talk about the trailhead (9,200’). The trailhead is located in Onion Valley, with the nearest town being a 15 mile drive from Independence. There is ample parking, restrooms and potable water at the trailhead.
The hike in is on a busy trail with a mix of backpackers and day hikers headed to one of the lakes along the five mile trail. Some JMT folks are looking to resupply for the final time southbound, in Independence.
This can be a hot five mile ascent of about 2,500’ and there are only three water sources with easy access. The trail crosses a creek below Little Pothole Lake. The trail passes close to the shore of Gilbert Lake and finally, there is a creek near the trail that heads to Flower Lake. Wherever you decide to resupply, plan on having lots of water when you reach Kearsarge Pass, especially if you are taking the northern leg of the Kearsarge Pass Trail. Once again, be on the lookout for bighorn sheep in this area too.
When you reach Kearsarge Pass, carefully take in the wonderful view. Facing west, Mt Gould is directly above on the right. Joseph LeConte named it for his friend Wilson S. Gould. Behind is the vast Owens River Valley. To the southwest are the Kearsarge Pinnacles and the Kearsarge Lakes. Glen Pass is about five miles from here.
The Kearsarge Pass trail descends as it travels west. After about half a mile the trail splits into two parallel legs. The northern leg continues above the southern leg, which dives down toward Kearsarge Lakes. This section of trail is a gradual downhill as it passes about Bullfrog Lake, there is a great view of Vidette Peak (12,539’) to the south of Bullfrog Lake.
Closer View Of Bullfrog Lake
The trail meets the JMT and turns northward. Near this point, the trail begins to climb again over 11,000’ before passing Charlotte Lake 600’ below. As you pass, if you look carefully, you can see the ranger cabin along the eastern shore near the north end of the lake. You also pass Charlotte Dome west of the trail, with it’s distinctive concave shape.
It is popular for climbers. I passed an all female climbing team headed back toward Kearsarge Pass after their successful ascent.
I don’t know why but it seems like the toughest climb for me of the JMT passes is the last 1,000’ of trail to Glenn Pass. The climb seems relentless and I have to stop and rest in a few places. The view, once again, is wonderful. The view of Rae Lakes to the north is world class.
Looking North Toward Rae Lakes From Glen Pass