Sierra High Route - Guided Backpacking Trips

Sierra High Route

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Group Size
up to 6 guests

Sierra High Route

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Becca George
Becca George

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(800) 231-4575
Enjoy the alpine country traveling on and off trail through class II and class III terrain
Experience the "freedom of the hills" traveling this classic cross-country route through the High Sierra
Follow sections of Steve Roper's published route, away from crowded trails

National Geographic Adventure Magazine chose the Sierra High Route as one of the Best New Trips for 2010 in their October issue. SYMG is the first company to offer guided departures on sections of the 195-mile extreme trek from Southern Kings Canyon to Northern Yosemite. The Sierra High Route is an official name for an unofficial trail that runs mostly above timberline through the heart of the High Sierra. It is rumored that more people attempt and climb Mt Everest each year than attempt and complete the Sierra High Route.

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Trip Itinerary

Meet at the Tuolumne Campground in Yosemite National Park (8580’) at 5:00pm. We’ll have a brief orientation with the group, followed by a welcome dinner prepared by your guides and a final gear check before we start hiking tomorrow. Details will be sent to you upon registration.

After an early breakfast we’ll relocate our vehicles to the Lembert Dome Parking area where we will meet our private shuttle to drive into the famed geological wonder of Devil’s Postpile National Monument where we will begin our hike. We will pick up the trail that soon crosses the San Joaquin River on a narrow footbridge and then bid farewell to the JMT after ¾ of a mile. We’ll then ascend the Beck Lakes Trail as it switchbacks up then drops slightly to our first destination: Superior Lake.

6 miles, Elevation +2593'/-756'

On Day 3 the Sierra High Route leaves the idyllic camp and ascends 600ft to Nancy Pass (10,200’), the conspicuous gap west of Peak 10,531. The view from this pass is one of the finest on the entire High Route. We’ll then descend into the lush meadowlands below Deadhorse Lake and then contour to Minaret Lake. We will become familiar with the imposing skyline formed by Rieglhuth, Clyde Minarets and many others. . We’ll ascend a rough path to reach Cecile and then Iceberg Lakes. Before reaching Ediza Lakes we’ll ascend the glacial path heading directly towards the col between RItter and Banner camping at an unmarked tarn.

5.3 miles, Elevation: +3015' /-2298'

Today we’ll ascend 700’ to Whitebark Pass standing on the divide between Shadow Creek and Garnet Lake. We’ll then contour to yet another pass between Garnet and 1000 Island Lakes. Easy walking from this pass leads down to an isthmus where we’ll follow a creek Southwest towards North Glacier Pass (11,877’). We’ll wrap around the northern side of Lake Catherine staring up at the snowfield feeding into it. We’ll follow stable talus to the granite benches beyond it. We’ll then continue west and follow the main creek south working our way to the southern end of the Twin Island Lakes.

5.9 miles, Elevation: +2798' /-3073'

The next three to four miles traverse one of the most untrammeled sections of the entire High Route. We’ll follow a gentle valley to a grass covered pass offering an extensive view into the glacier-carved valley of the North Fork. We’lll climb several hundred feet before traversing along the long ridge radiating south from Peak 11,596. From there we’ll ascend diagonally into Bench Canyon. Ascending Bench Canyon will bring us to Blue Lake where we’ll surpass and move up to Blue Lake Pass beyond it (11,250’), standing on the southern shoulder of Foerster Peak. From this pass we’ll absorb the extensive view with the Kaweah Peaks visible 90 miles south and the Clark Range to the west. From there we’ll stroll through the idyllic landscape before we join with a trail leading to the Lyell Fork. We’ll camp on the northern side of Lyell Fork on the open granite benches.

7.7 miles, Elevation: +3126'/-3862'

On day 6 the Sierra High Route connects with established trails through massive Junipers with Mount Florence to our North. We’ll catch views of Half Dome to our West as we make our way to Lewis Creek which follow to its headwaters and ascend Vogelsang Pass (10,700’). We’ll cross over the rocky pass descending to Vogelsang Lake and then pass through the High Sierra Camp before stopping at Boothe Lake just below Tuolumne Pass (10,003’).

11.4 miles, Elevation: +3327'/-2547'

We’ll follow the Sierra High Route up and over our last pass of the trip (Tuolumne) and drop into the headwaters of Rafferty Creek which we’ll follow all the way until it reconnects with the John Muir Trail just before the (North) Lyell Fork and Tuolumne Meadows. We’ll enjoy a celebratory meal and beverages at the Tuolumne Grill before saying our farewells.

6.8 miles, Elevation: +315'/-1496'

What's Included


  • 1st night's stay at Tuolumne Meadows Campground
  • 5 nights of wilderness tent camping (permits included)*


  • All group gear including stoves, cookware, water filters, group first aid kit, etc.
  • Personal backpacking gear provided by request: backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, trekking poles, and tents


  • Day 2 private shuttle from Tuolumne Meadows Campground to starting trailhead


  • Starting with dinner on Day 1 and ending with lunch at Tuolumne Meadows Grill on Day 7
  • Backcountry gourmet meals including trail snacks
  • Hot tea or coffee served each morning

A Few More Notes

Sections of the Sierra High Route

The Sierra High Route spans 195 miles roughly paralleling the John Muir Trail. Author Steve Roper details the trail breaking it into five sections. We also approach the trail in a similar manner and will offer a different section depending on group interest in that particular year. The sections of the sierra high route are as follows: 

  1. Cirque Country: Kings Canyon to Busy Basin. 39 miles
  2. Whitebark Country: Dusy Basin to Lake Italy. 42 miles
  3. Lake Country: Lake Italy to Devils Postpile. 39 miles
  4. Headwaters Country: Devil's Postpile to Tuolumne Meadows. 47 miles
  5. Canyon Country: Tuolumne Meadows to Mono Village. 28 miles
Travel & Logistics

Your trip begins and ends at Tuolumne Meadows Campground in Yosemite National Park. We recommend driving your own vehicle to Tuolumne Meadows on Day 1. Plan to arrive at the campground by 5pm so you can meet your guides and group for your trip orientation. If you're driving to Tuolumne Meadows, you can leave your car at Lembert Dome parking lot for the duration of your trip. We will return to Tuolumne Meadows on the last day and enjoy a celebratory meal as a group around 12-1pm.

Terrain on the Sierra High Route

The Sierra High Route occurs at elevations between 9,000 and 11,500. About a third of the route follows maintained hiking trails. The remaining portion of the route travels off trail on cross-country routes that include granite slabs, scree fields, on loose talus and through meadowlands.

Training for the Sierra High Route

Hike, hike and hike some more. The Sierra High Route is a committing trip where you have minimum mileage each day. Endurance is the key to your enjoyment. Participants should have experience on long backpacks such as the John Muir Trail, Trans Sierra Trail or on other significant undertakings. You should be aerobically and cardiovascularly fit, and should train by working out, carrying weight (up to 40 lbs), and hiking stadium bleachers up & down. Examples of getting prepared include: Hiking on and off-trail immediately prior to the trip; participating in longer backpacks along the JMT, TST or along other high country trails. Reading “The Guide to the Sierra High Route” by Steve Roper may also be helpful.

Looking for more tips? Check out our blog!

Prior Experience

We strongly encourage having recent backpacking experience or practice before embarking on a section of the Sierra High Route. The most successful people on these trips have completed several backcountry trips carrying a fully weighted pack (35-40lbs) for 3-5 days. If you do not have this experience, we recommend joining us on a "shake-out" trip prior to joining the Sierra High Route trip.

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