Lower Soldier Lake Trail Sequoia

Lower Soldier Lake lies at 10,800 feet on the eastern edge of Sequoia National Park. This is a favored place for backpackers to bed down, and for good reason. A host of trails and off-trail targets make this a prime base camp. The nearest trailhead is Horseshoe Meadow in the Golden Trout Wilderness, which offers two routes to Lower Soldier Lake. About half a mile separates the start of the two trails so they can easily be combined to form a loop.

From Cottonwood Pass: The shorter trail also requires less elevation gain. Leave Horseshoe Meadow and hike 3.5 miles up the 1,200-foot climb to Cottonwood Pass. Turn right at the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail in the direction of Rock Creek. Pass Chicken Spring Lake, and continue northwest along the trail through a rugged alpine forest of ancient foxtail pines. These trees can grow north of two thousand years old, and the golden red trunks are an everlasting source of beauty along the trail.

Pacific Crest Trail
Big Whitney Meadow

The trail switches up a rocky mound east of Chicken Spring Lake to a scenic spot that overlooks the lake in one direction and Big Whitney Meadow in the other. From here, the Pacific Crest Trail sets a course for Sequoia National Park, wrapping over slopes and around high meadows. The trail rises to a high point of 11,440 before descending to Siberian Outpost in Sequoia National Park.

Pacific Crest Trail
Siberian Outpost

At 3.6 miles from the pass (and 7.1 from the trailhead), turn right at the junction with the Siberian Pass Trail and continue 1.6 miles to the creek that flows from Lower Soldier Lake. Along the way, you will pass through a mostly level forest of Lodgepole and Foxtail Pines, and cross a creek that parallels New Army Pass Trail. Go through this junction. When you come to a T-junction at a second creek, make a right and travel a tenth of a mile along the meadow’s edge to reach Lower Soldier Lake.

Lower Soldier Lake Trail
Lower Soldier Lake

From Cottonwood Lakes: The Cottonwood Lakes – New Army Pass route to Lower Soldier Lake is a mile and a half longer with greater elevation and greater scenery. From Cottonwood Lakes trailhead at Horseshoe Meadow, take the main trail past Long Lake and High Lake to New Army Pass. This 7.5-mile stretch climbs to 12,300 feet (from 10,040), before descending off the back of the pass for 2.3 miles down to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Turn right on PCT and hike the last mile to the junction 0.1 miles below Lower Soldier Lake. Turn right again to arrive at the lake.

Lower Soldier Lake Trail
Lower Soldier Lake

As a loop: Those hiking out to Lower Soldier Lake as a loop may prefer to return via New Army Pass. The climb to the pass is gradual on the national park side. From the pass, returning hikers are treated to seven and a half miles of mostly downhill hiking past beautiful lakes, forests, and meadows.

Camping at the lake: Remember to observe park regulations by tenting at least a hundred feet from the water. Campfires are prohibited. If Lower Soldier Lake seems crowded, there are other sites to camp at around the meadow and farther down Rock Creek. A permit is needed for all overnight excursions. Review Cottonwood Pass Trail or Cottonwood Lakes Trail for more information about permits and quotas.

Lower Soldier Lake Trail
Camping above Lower Soldier Lake

To get to the trailhead: From the city of Lone Pine on Route 395, turn west at the traffic light on Whitney Portal Road. After three miles, turn left on Horseshoe Meadow Road. Drive twenty miles up mountain switchbacks to road’s end at Horseshoe Meadow. Cottonwood Pass trailhead is at the east end of the campground. Cottonwood Lakes trailhead is at the end of the paved road to the right. If you hike to Lower Soldier Lake as a loop, the two trailheads are half a mile apart and can be connected through the pack station trail or by passing through the campground and hillside that separate the trailheads.

Trailhead address: Horseshoe Meadows Road, Inyo National Forest, Lone Pine, CA 93545
Trailhead coordinates: 36.448075, -118.170644 (36° 26′ 53.07″N 118° 10′ 14.31″W)


Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.
Trail Map

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These photos were taken in July of 2009. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
sierra hiking trailLower Soldier Lake to New Army Pass
This trail ascends from Lower Soldier Lake to New Army Pass at the top of Cottonwood Lakes Trail.
sierra hiking trailCottonwood Pass
This 7-mile round trip trail ascends 1,200 feet to an 11,200-foot pass and a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, with access to Golden Trout Wilderness and Sequoia National Park.
sierra hiking trailCottonwood Lakes
This scenic trail through a lake-filled basin provides a 10-mile round trip day hike to Long Lake and a 7.5-miles one-way trek to New Army Pass on the border of Sequoia National Park near Mount Langley.
Sky Blue LakeSky Blue Lake
This hike extends beyond Lower Soldier Lake up Miter Basin to a deep blue lake surrounded by towering peaks.
Sequoia primrose lakePrimrose Lake
This sidetrek visits a lake between Miter Basin and Mount Pickering en route to Sky Blue Lake.
Mount PickeringMount Pickering
This 13,485-foot summit rises above Sky Blue Lake to offer sweeping views of the Sierra.
sierra hiking trailOld Cottonwood Creek Trail
This 8 to 9-mile day hike follows a secluded trail through mountain meadows to the South Fork Lakes and Cirque Lake.
sierra hiking trailMount Langley
This 22-mile trek travels past Cottonwood Lakes Trail over New Army Pass to a 14,042-foot summit with towering views of the Sierra.
sierra hiking trailOld Cottonwood Creek Trail
This 8 to 9-mile day hike follows a secluded trail through mountain meadows to the South Fork Lakes and Cirque Lake.
hiking trails sequoiaMore trails in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Explore other destinations in Sequoia National Park and the rest of the range.
sierra hiking trailHorseshoe Meadow Campgrounds
This pair of campgrounds offer 40 sites and serve as a great base for the Cottonwood Pass and Cottonwood Lakes trails.
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Tagged with · Backpacking · Free Trails · Golden Trout Wilderness · Lakes · Lone Pine · National Parks · Pacific Crest Trail
Distance: 19.2 miles · Elevation change: 2350 feet

5 Comments on Lower Soldier Lake in Sequoia National Park

  1. […] from the nearest trailhead. Those making the hike typically stay overnight in the area, and nearby Lower Soldier Lake offers great camping for backpackers. From Horseshoe Meadow in the Golden Trout Wilderness, one […]

  2. Rachel says:

    If you had a choice to volunteer for a conservation research project in either Mulkey or Big Whitney Meadow, which one would you choose?

  3. […] You’ll be hiking from Horseshoe Meadow campgrounds in the Sierras over Cottonwood Pass, and on to Lower Soldier Lake. It will be 5 chicks, 1 dude, and a whole lot of […]

  4. […] take Cottonwood Pass – both will get you to the same place). The camping area we wanted by Lower Soldier Lake was supposedly just on the other side of the pass, and we were ready to go (HA! Idiots.)! There […]

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