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Hike to Precipice Lake

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Precipice Lake is by far my favorite alpine lake. I discovered this beauty on my 2018 hike of the High Sierra Trail and it was the highlight of entire 72-mile trek.

Precipice Lake is seriously stunning. It made such an impression that I hired an illustrator to draw the lake from a photo and it became the featured image on my High Sierra Trail hiking sticker. Just thinking about the lake still brings a smile to my face. I loved the lake so much that I’m actively planning another backpacking trip to the lake, because it is just that beautiful!

If you want to see Precipice Lake for yourself it will take a bit of planning and a lot of leg work- about 40 miles of strenuous hiking. (I promise all the effort is worth it!) Here’s everything you need to know to plan your hike to this gorgeous alpine lake.

Precipice Lake and the peaks that surround it.

Hiking to Precipice Lake

At 10,300 feet, Precipice Lake in Sequoia National Park is nestled deep in the park’s backcountry between high mountain passes and towering granite peaks. The prismatic lake is tucked into a bowl of sheer granite that sits just below Boy Scout Peak and high above Upper Hamilton Lake.

An aerial view of Hamilton Lake in Sequoia National Park

The lake sits in front of a dramatic sheer cliff of white and black striped granite. On a clear day, the glassy water reflects the granite wall and it is difficult to tell where the water begins. In the jagged peaks above the lake there are several glaciers that hold snow year-round, and the lake itself often holds ice and snow well into the summer. If you’re lucky enough to see the lake free of snow you’ll be treated to the lake’s many colors. The water seems to change color from an inky black to brilliant aqua blue, bright green, rust orange, and even a faint yellow. It looks as if a painter dipped their brush into a giant palette of watercolors.

The map below shows the High Sierra Trail from Bearpaw Meadow to Precipice Lake.

Map showing the High Sierra Trail from Bearpaw Meadow to Precipice Lake

I imagine that Precipice Lake looks the same now as when Ansel Adams photographed the lake while on an outing with the Sierra Club in 1932. That’s partly because the lake is a 20-mile one-way hike from Crescent Meadows.

Hikers begin their hike at the Crescent Meadows Trailhead, just south of the Lodgepole Visitor’s Center. The first few miles of the hike pass by giant Sequoia trees and through thick forests. After a few miles you’ll be treated to your first views of the Kaweah River Valley and the dramatic granite peaks. After hiking 11.5 miles, hikers come to the Bearpaw High Sierra Cabins where they can take a break on the small covered deck and take in the sweeping views of the Great Western Divide. The hike from Bearpaw to Precipice Lake features some of the most beautiful scenery in all of the Sierras. Luckily the awe-inspiring sights distract you from the brutal climb, and there are several good stopping points along the way to rest and catch your breath.

Views along the High Sierra Trail

Camping in Sequoia National Park

Not many people can manage to hike 40-miles in a single day, so most hikers visit the lake as part of a High Sierra Trail hike. If you have the time and desire to hike 72 miles through the Sierras this is the way to do it! If you need further convincing, check out my High Sierra Trail trip report to see photos of all the stunning stops along this hike. My blog post about the High Sierra Trail permits and planning goes into detail about how to plan a High Sierra Trail backpacking trip.

An alternative is to visit the lake as part of a 51-mile backpacking trip to the Nine Lakes Basin. Since this backpacking trip starts and ends at the same trailhead, the logistics and planning is easier than planning a High Sierra Trail hike. Just like the High Sierra Trail you’ll need to get a permit to backpack this trail too.

But, if sleeping on the ground and eating dehydrated food isn’t your idea of a good time, it is possible to visit the lake as a day hike from the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp. Bearpaw is glamping at its finest. The camp sits on a granite saddle with stunning views of the Great Western Divide. The Bearpaw cabins are simple canvas tent cabins furnished with two twin beds and colorful down comforters. Guests have access to a central bathhouse with hot showers. And I’ve heard that the freshly cooked homestyle breakfasts and dinners are out of this world! Check out the fees and permits section below for more information on booking a Bearpaw cabin.

Best Time to Hike to Precipice Lake

This hike is best done in the summer and early fall, usually June-October. But, the hiking season is dependent on snowfall. Some years the trail isn’t clear of snow until August, and other years hikers are able to start their hike in May. Be sure to check trail conditions before starting your hike. Especially, because the section of trail between Hamilton Lakes and Precipice Lake can be quite treacherous if snow is still on the trail.

Late August until the end of September is my favorite time to hike in the Sierras. In September the nights can be a little cool, but there are fewer mosquitoes. Early season hikers are treated to bright green alpine meadows and colorful wildflower displays, but the mosquitoes can be relentless. I always find myself hiding in my tent just to escape the blood-thirsty buggers!

Hikers pass Hamilton Lake on their way to Precipice Lake along the High Sierra Trail

Fees and Sequoia National Park Wilderness Permits

If you manage to score a reservation at the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp, you can do this trek as a day trip and you won’t need to secure any additional hiking permits. Bearpaw is usually open from June-September, depending on the season. However, the cabins book up quickly and reservations should be made at least 6 months in advance. Reservations can be made online or via phone beginning January 2nd. If you want to hike to Precipice Lake you’ll want to book at least two nights at the Bearpaw cabins.

If you are visiting Precipice Lake as part of a larger backpacking trip you’ll need to get a wilderness permit. Permits are required year-round for all overnight trips into Sequoia and Kings Canyon. If you plan to backpack in the summer you’ll need to apply for a permit in advance or try your luck at getting a walk-up permit.

Me on my High Sierra Trail backpacking trip in September 2018.

For the best chances of scoring a permit for hikes within the summer quota season (May 22nd to mid-September) submit your wilderness permit application on March 1st. There is a $10 permit application fee, and an additional cost of $5 per person. My blog post about the High Sierra Trail permits and planning goes into detail about how to plan a High Sierra Trail backpacking trip.

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How are you going to hike to Precipice Lake?

Extended backpacking trips or long hikes are great ways to escape the crowds and enjoy the amazing beauty of our national parks. If you're wondering what to pack for your trip, check out my High Sierra Trail gear list. Or, if you're just venturing for a day hike from the Bearpaw Cabins my essential gear list for day hikers may be helpful.

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