Friday, September 5, 2014

Overnight Hike To East And Reflection Lakes: Kings Canyon

Dale Matson

35 miles and 6,400’ gain overall

I first saw a photograph of Reflection Lake on the cover of a Kings Canyon hiking guide by Mike White. From that day on, I have wanted to visit. I believe East and Reflection Lakes are two of the most beautiful lakes in Kings Canyon National Park. I had been as far as East Lake on a day hike but this would require an overnight since it was 35 miles round trip. The sign in Junction Meadow really is twelve miles from Road’s End. After the early morning 2.5 hour drive from Fresno, I picked up my wilderness permit at Road's End and was on the trail about 7:30am.

 Click On Photographs For A Larger image
 Bailey Bridge Just Past Mist Falls Trail
One Of A Close Grouping Of Bridges Before The Dreaded Switchbacks

I have been on the Bubb’s Creek trail enough times to anticipate the steep climb of over 1,000’ on the switchbacks. One chronic problem is the swarms of gnats and mosquitoes that add to the misery of the climb. There is a good view up and down the canyon and one can see the Sphinx most of the climb. There is another section with lots of stairs that climbs another 1,000’ before Junction Meadow.

 Canyon View From Switchbacks
Bubbs Creek

At Junction Meadow I headed south about 2pm on the trail that follows East Creek upstream.
I was a bit surprised that even in the beginning of September in another drought year, Bubb’s Creek crossing could have taken me off my feet had I not been careful. It was another 3 miles to East Lake with over 1,000’ of additional climb. The trail is distinct and well traveled with good access to water. There is even a nice creek that crosses the trail for water resupply past mid way that comes from an unnamed lake.

 Bubb's Creek Crossing
 East Creek Crossing

 East Lake
Mt Brewer Left Of Center

There is a sign on the trail to indicate that you are at East Lake. At that point, there is a use trail leading down and to the right that will take you past excellent camping sites and a bear box. You can also drop down to the lake for a good photograph location. The trail continues past the sign and along the lake there are additional camping locations and a bear box on the south end of the lake also.

East Lake Looking Back On Climb To Reflection Lake

After the south end of East Lake there is a small stream crossing. This steam comes from the east. At this point you follow the “trail” up the canyon on the east side of East Creek. I believe that calling it a trail does not make it one. The 500’ two mile climb is across large sections of bare granite and two large boulder fields. I lost the trail most of the way up and down for at least a mile. Just keep in mind that East Creek is to your east. Ascending you can see East Lake as a reference point.

 Reflection Lake

Mt Jordan
I arrived at Reflection Lake at 5:30 pm and had intended on staying the night at Reflection Lake. The light was not the best for photographs and there did not appear to be any campsites. I headed back to East Lake and got there about 7 pm to set up camp. I broke camp and left at 7am. 20 miles the first day made the second day of 15 miles not seem so long and I arrived at Road’s End at 2:30 pm the following day. The sights were well worth the effort but maybe a four day three night trip would suit others better.

 East Lake At Sunrise
 Getting Ready To Break Camp Following Morning Coffee
There are more graphics on YouTube here:


  1. Based on the page views of this article, it seems like lots of folks are considering this hike for 2016. Because we have had an above average snowfall (2015/2016) I would urge extreme caution at Bubb's Creek. I have been there twice when I opted NOT to cross it because it was too deep and fast to ford. Consider this trip for the fall of 2016 and that is still not a guarantee of a safe crossing

  2. Im planning to do the hike to reflection lake out of onion valley next week. Have you heard anything recently about bubbs creek crossing? Too dangerous to cross?

  3. Hi Dawn,
    Here is the latest report from SeKi.
    They recommend NOT crossing at this time. It is narrow at the location where the trail crosses Bubb's Creek. For your safety heed the park service advice. My recommendation for a possible plan "B" would be Center Basin.

  4. Here is my article on Center Basin.

  5. With Snowpack at about 200% of normal, all of you folks considering this hike for this summer (2017) may want to consider a different destination this year. I can't even imagine crossing Bubb's Creek or Evolution Creek until fall if even then. Only the PCT folks with mountaineering skills will have a chance to navigate the JMT portion this year since they usually arrive about June. My younger adult son was nearly swept away crossing Evolution Creek in late June 2011. That was a high snow year but not as high as this year.

  6. I am thinking of doing this with my son in the fall when the water has come down. I cannot figure out if it's shorter to get there from Road and or onion Valley? Do you know

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      I see two advantages to the Onion Valley route versus the Roads End route. The Onion Valley trailhead at 9,000' is a much higher trailhead than Roads End and the route is shorter. Additionally, The view is much better along the route that starts from Onion Valley. You do have a higher initial climb but that is more than offset by the other advantages.

  7. The latest trail conditions still regard the crossing as "Impassable" where the trail crosses Bubb's Creek. Please see details.