Alta Peak’s name comes from the Spanish word for “High,” standing at 11,200’. Alta Peak rises far above the towering Sequoia treeline giving expansive views of the park. This long ridge of 12,000+ peaks divides the Kaweah watershed from the Kern watershed while also forming an amazing background of alpine wilderness. Alta Peak is one of only two spots above 11,000’ from roads in the Giant Forest area. The rest of Sequoia’s high country is only accessible via day hike from either the eastern side of the range at Whitney Portal or New Army Pass, or from the eastern portion of Mineral King Valley. Alta Peak has astounding views that include the entire western side of the park, including most of Mineral King. To the east, the Great Western Divide is beautiful solid rock of the Sierran high country visible. You can see the summit of Mt. Whitney from the summit of this hike. To the north, a lot of Kings Canyon’s land can be seen. And immediately to the south lies the deep and gaping Kaweah Canyon dropping over 9,000 feet to its base at the park’s Ash Mountain headquarters.
Miles: 14 miles (roundtrip)
Elevation: 3800 ft gain
Type: Out & back
Time: 8 hours
Season: Summer & fall
Alta Peak Trailhead
The trailhead is at the Wolverton picnic area using the same parking lot as that picnic area. The parking lot is big and has ample parking as well as bear lockers to leave your food and toiletries not in your car but in the lockers provided by the park in the parking lot.
From Visalia, take Highway 198 (Generals Highway) through Three Rivers, through the Ash Mountain entrance, up the side of the mountain and through Giant Forest. Turn right at the side road indicating Wolverton and follow it to the Wolverton parking lot. The trailhead will be in the first parking lot to the left.
You will exit Generals Highway onto Wolverton Road coming north from General Sherman Trailhead area. The trailhead is shown in the map below.
Wilderness permits are required year-round for all overnight trips in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ wilderness. You do not need a permit if you are making this a day hike (which is what I did).
This is a long and difficult hike that most people take as an overnight backpacking trip. There are three options for backpacking, including Panther Gap, Mehrten Meadow, and Alta Meadow. Backcountry permits can be secured in advance by faxing a request to Sequoia’s backcountry permit office and then picking up the reserved permit at either the Ash Mountain or Lodgepole backcountry offices. Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks have recently revamped their permit system. Instead of the old “spend the day waiting for your fax to go through” system. The new system I have laid out below in how to make a permit reservation.
This handy webpage allows you to see what kind of availability remains at each of Sequoia-Kings Canyon’s trailheads.
Make a Permit Reservation
There is a new 3 step process to simplify the antiquated process before:
- fill out the application and then email it to the park. You can then attach it as a .pdf to an e-mail addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org. This can be done no sooner than March 1, at 12:01am PST and at least 2 weeks ahead of when you wish to start your hike. Quota limits are solely based off of the entrance point on a given day so please provide alternate start dates and trailheads to increase your chances. Include a daytime phone number to avoid delays. Duplicate applications may result in duplicate, non-refundable charges. Please, indicate in the body of your e-mail if you wish to reserve more than one trip and be sure to fill out a separate application for each trip. Faxed applications are no longer accepted; e-mail and U.S. postage are the only accepted methods for application.
- Pay: The park will e-mail you a link to their pay.gov payment form. Wilderness permits cost 10$ plus 5$ per person within the quota season. In the e-mail you will be given a Permit ID number that you will use to pay for your reservation. Do not copy and paste this number, you must type it in with no spaces for it to work.
- Pick up permit: Your confirmation letter is not a wilderness permit and cannot be used for overnight travel. Bring your pay.gov confirmation letter to pick up your wilderness permit at the start of your trip. Your confirmation letter will include details of where to pick up your permit. Wilderness permits are only issued during Permitting Desk Operating Hours by trailhead rangers who provide important area information. There are no, “night drops”. You may pick up your wilderness permit as early as the afternoon prior to your entrance date after 1:00 pm or no later than 9:00 am on the morning of your entry date. If you need to pick up your permit later than 9:00 am on the morning of your entry date, simply notify the Wilderness Office at (559-565-3766) or e-mail at email@example.com of time. If you do not make arrangements for a late pickup, your reservation will be canceled at 9:00 am and your spot(s) may be given to people waiting for walk-up permits.
The trial starts from the Wolverton Parking lot at the same trailhead for Alta Peak and the Lakes Trail. They will share a trail for the first 1.8 miles of the trail. After that there will be a junction with the trail leading back to Lodgepole to the left. Turn right, which will lead to a junction with the Lakes Trail. At this portion of the trail there will be a thick forest of red fir, with a few white firs, sugar pines, and Jeffrey pines. On the right side of the trail is a narrow ravine with Wolverton Creek. Keep your eyes peeled here as this is the most likely place to spot bears and deer. I saw several bears on this trail and was thankful for my bear spray I had on me. Be careful!
The trail will goes up a bit before coming to another junction with the Lakes Trail steering off to the left. Stick to the right, which becomes Panther Gap and Alta Peak. As the trail goes up, you will see lodgepole pines and more red fir everywhere.
There will be several open meadows made by spring-fed streams coming down the slope on your left. Crossing these streams is easy. The trail will become drier and a thinner section of forest. The trail will have a few steeper switchbacks before opening up to an open space revealing views south over Kaweah Canyon and the Castle Rocks formation. This is Panther Gap, where the trail junctions with the Alta Trail that goes between the Giant Forest Museum and the summit of Alta Peak. Panther Gap is a beautiful spot for dry camping, that has amazing views of the mountains. There are not many spots and better water access at Mehrten Meadow.
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Alpine meadows on the ascent to alpine wilderness 🙂 felt like I was in the sound of music beautiful!! #sequoianationalpark #ontheroadagain #findyourpark #findyourpark #westcoastbestcoast #neverstopexploring #sheroams #andshesdopetoo #outdoorwomen #theoutbound #radgirlscollective #adrenalist #alpinebabes
Turn left onto the Alta Trail. The trail opens up on a south-facing slope with mainly chaparral and every now and then a Jeffrey pine or white fir. There is a large outcropping that looks like a grizzly bear’s head in the rock. The trail will re-enter red fir forest and come to small meadow with some campsites at the north end called Mehrten Meadow. This has water access and is the most convenient access by the trail to camp overnight.
After passing Mehrten Meadow, there’s a junction between Alta Meadow and Alta Peak. Alta Meadow is a gorgeous area with amazing views that if you are a day hiker you may pass but it is worth a water break stop to take in the view. This is also a nice place to camp overnight if you are staying overnight. The trail to Alta Meadow is off on the right before immediately crossing a creek and then heading to the Meadow. You will see a large meadow filled with firs and pines with the Great Western Divide as a gorgeous backdrop behind it. This is my favorite views on the trail that I think are even better than the summit in a quiet beautiful little meadow with wildflowers. This is a great place to stop for a break before finishing the last hike to the peak.
The summit climb to Alta Peak is a grueling last section. The elevation on the trail goes up in a dramatic shift here climbing. The last 2,000 feet of the hike happens above 9,300’, which really makes you start to feel the altitude. The meadow is a great spot to evaluate how you are doing and if you should rest and call it a day there and make camp or if you can continue on.
The trial will begin to have beautiful Western white pines as well as foxtail pines. The foxtail pine is a relic species that is closely related to the ancient bristlecone pine. The trees are gnarled and twisted that are artistic beauties against the mountain and sky backdrop of the alpine area. I had never seen this type of tree before coming to Yosemite in the high country and in Sequoia and they are some of my favorite in the area.
Alta Peak Summit
The Great Western Divide from the summit is astounding geology and mass of rock and rugged mountain face. There are glacial canyons and fins with sharp summits . Below to the south are Alta Meadow and Kaweah Canyon with the peaks of Mineral King just beyond Timber Gap on the other side of the canyon. Mt. Whitney is visible past the Great Western Divide. The jagged wilderness of the Kings County High Country lay to the north, and the smoggy San Joaquin Valley is in the distance. Moro Rock juts out from the Giant Forest plateau looking small from 5,000 feet up. This truly is a gorgeous view from this peak and I stayed up to enjoy the view of the alpine lakes for around an hour and a half before making the trek back. There were cute marmots running all over the top that wanted to share my lunch with me. I had to watch my food closely which was hard because the marmots were so chubby and cute.
3 Alpine Lakes Basin
You can climb up onto one of the rock piles marking the mountain’s northern escarpment. From here, you can go down into the Lakes basin and into upper Tokopah Valley. Four lakes can be seen below, and a huge glacially-carved granite wilderness stretches out for many miles. You can take the Lakes Trail to see the alpine lakes up close that connects with Alta Peak trail. The Lakes Trail also has beautiful backpacking spots, and can be included in the Alta Peak and the Lakes Trail into a two-night trip with both spots. I did not have time on my trip to add on the lakes but next time definitely will. I loved getting a view of the alpine lakes from above!
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High Sierra alpine wilderness, 3 alpine lakes. Cloud coverage came in and I shared my lunch with a lot of marmot friends unwillingly 😉 hahahaha. Yesterday was my first 16 miler hike in one day. I saw 3 black bears one 20 feet away staredown. Yesterday was beauty❤️🌲🗻🙌💚 #sequoianationalpark #ontheroadagain #findyourpark #westcoastbestcoast #neverstopexploring #sheroams #andshesdopetoo #outdoorwomen #theoutbound #radgirlscollective #adrenalist #alpinebabes
Marmots at the summit
Be careful of your food at the summit! There are many marmots who live in the rocks at the top of the peak and would love to sneak over and steal a bite from you. They are so cute but definitely greedy little creatures.
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Calling the Eastern Sierras their home. These yellow-bellied Marmots can be found congregating around Sequoia NP westside trailhead, but don’t be fooled by their cuteness because they will chew right through your tent and packs to get your food 🐿 #wilderness #animals #marmots #sequoianationalpark #findyourpark #wildlife #outdoors #natgeowild #wildlifephotography #rei #optoutside #exploremore #wildernessculture #neverstopexploring #followme #hiking #climbing #mountaineering #camping #backpacking #intothewild #naturegram #explore #california #nationalpark #iphone #portrait #photography #animalsofinstagram
This is the closest campground to the trailhead to this epic alpine hike in High Sierra. Lodgepole Campground, which is open from early spring through late fall. The campground is open for tents, RVs, and trailers. Reservations are recommended. Lodgepole is 214 sites at $22 a night.