Sky Blue Lake Trail Sequoia

A remote and picturesque basin on the west side of Sequoia National Park rises to a large lake with waters so deep and blue you will think you are staring up at the heavens.

The trek up Miter Basin begins at Rock Creek Meadow, nine miles 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 may get to this backcountry basin via two different trails, crossing into Sequoia over either Cottonwood Pass or New Army Pass to reach Lower Soldier Lake.

Rock Creek Meadow
Looking down on Rock Creek Lake

Descend east along the Soldier Lake Fork of Rock Creek. The trail drops 500 feet to a good-sized meadow with a lake at the north end, named Rock Creek Lake. At the meadow, bear right and head up the path following Upper Rock Creek. The track is well worn at the start, but becomes segmented farther up.

To avoid dropping all the way to the meadow only to hike back uphill again, an alternative is to traverse the rocky forest between the two creeks. Doing so reduces the amount of elevation hikers sacrifice before heading up to Miter Basin.

The trail makes its way up the right bank of Upper Rock Creek for some distance and then disappears. Worry not. Continue along the creek until you find a good spot to cross. On the other side, the track reemerges and climbs up the ridge on the north side of the creek.

Miter Basin
The path along Rock Creek

The mosquitoes can be quite savage here in the month of July. Pack bug spray and hurry up the trail. Once you leave the forest, the mosquitoes disappear.

The trail climbs through a narrow stretch and opens on a large almost tree-less basin. The views are wide and breathtaking. To the right, the Major General stands tall at 12,300 feet. Behind it is Mount Langley, the ninth tallest mountain in California. North of Langley a line of sawtooth pinnacles stretches to Mount Le Conte. To the left, Mount Pickering and Joe Devel Peak hide behind three tall finger-like ridges with two elevated lakes in between (just out of sight). Straight ahead, the basin rises to Sky Blue Lake, to the left of a rock named the Miter.

Miter Basin
Miter Basin

Continue up the basin following the course of the creek. Use the path when it is available and make your own when it is not. You will come to a last patch of trees where Rock Creek cascades down the mountain. Hike up the rocks alongside the creek until you reach its source, Sky Blue Lake.

Sky Blue Lake
Sky Blue Lake

This celestial body of water is large and beautiful. An ice shelf typically prevents travel on the west side of the lake, but a worn path goes along the eastern edge. Cross the creek and take a stroll around the rugged alpine lake at 11,550 feet.

Hikers who want a higher view may climb to Mount Pickering, or use Crabtree Pass or Arc Pass to reach a number of nearby summits including Mount Whitney. This hike from Lower Soldier Lake to Sky Blue Lake is roughly 3.5-miles long in one direction. If you would like to see another lake off Miter Basin, consider making a side trip to Primrose Lake.

To return to Lower Soldier Lake without descending all the way to the trail junction in the meadow, hikers may explore a shorter route. Cross the creek at the wide part of the basin, and chart a course for the forest along the ridge between Soldier Lake and Rock Creek. Use the mound at the south end of Lower Soldier Lake as a beacon and cross through the fairly level pine forest. When Lower Solder Lake comes into view, select a good path down. A short, steep drop separates the top of the ridge from the lake. Once down, stroll along the water’s edge and back to camp. This route is about 2.5-miles long from lake to lake.

Sky Blue Lake
Sky Blue Lake

What to know before you go: Permits in the Sierra are stipulated by your point of entry. A trail quota is in force at the Horseshoe Meadow trailhead from the end of June to Mid-September. A permit may be booked in advance for a five-dollar fee or picked up the day of the hike at the ranger station in Lone Pine. To be safe, backpackers must carry a bear canister, which can be rented at the ranger station for five dollars.

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. The Cottonwood Pass trailhead is at the east end of the campground.

Trailhead address: Horseshoe Meadows Road, Inyo National Forest, Lone Pine, CA 93545
Trailhead coordinates: 36.44834, -118.17065 (36° 26′ 54″N 118° 10′ 14.3″W)

Trail Map
View Eastern Sierra in a larger map
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.

You may also view a regional map of surrounding Sierra Nevada trails and campgrounds.


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These photos were taken in July of 2009. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Mount Pickering Mount Pickering
This 13,485-foot summit rises above Sky Blue Lake to offer sweeping views of the Sierra.
Sequoia primrose lake Primrose Lake
This sidetrek visits a lake between Miter Basin and Mount Pickering en route to Sky Blue Lake.
sierra lake Lower Soldier Lake
This 19.2-mile loop crosses Cottonwood Pass and New Army Pass to visit a beautiful lake that is an ideal camping spot for backpackers heading higher and deeper into the Sierra.
sierra hiking trail Cottonwood 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 trail Cottonwood 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.
sierra hiking trail Old 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 trail Mount 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 trail Old 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 sequoia More trails in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Explore other destinations in Sequoia National Park and the rest of the range.
sierra hiking trail Horseshoe 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 · Creeks · Lakes · Lone Pine · National Parks · Off Trail · Pacific Crest Trail · Waterfalls
Distance: 26 miles · Elevation change: 2350 feet

7 Comments on Upper Rock Creek to Sky Blue Lake in Sequoia National Park

  1. C H Bender wrote:

    If you take this hike I strongly recommend continuing north from Sky Blue Lake to the top of Crabtree Pass, the views are awesome.

    C H Bender's ratings for this hike: C H Bender gives a rating of 5C H Bender gives a rating of 5C H Bender gives a rating of 5C H Bender gives a rating of 5C H Bender gives a rating of 5
  2. Snook wrote:

    I’m going do this this summer! thanks for sharing :D

  3. Tyler wrote:

    There is a third way to access the Miter Basin that is preferable for strong hikers with some technical skill. Old Army pass above Cotton Wood Lake #4 cuts out a lot of extra milage and offers a bit more solitude as not as many people use it. Just watch for the cornice at the top that sometimes lingers into July. From there you can more efficiently summit Langley or avoid dropping down too far before hiking back up to the Miter Basin. When you reach Old Army Pass you can go North toward Langley and drop down into the second gully to an unnamed lake north of the main trail.

  4. Don Koepp wrote:

    My wife and I have made the trek several times to Sky Blue Lake from the Rock Creek trail. From Sky Blue over lightly identifiable trail to Crabtree Lakes. After camping at Crabtree Lakes we then would go to Guitar Lake. Then to Mt. Whitney and end our trip. Great hike the sunsets from Crabtree Lakes are one of the most memorable experiences of our Backpacking trips. We have also done the hike in reverse. We are now in our mid-seventies and sleeping on the ground has less appeal to us. But the memories of this hike the are some of the best after treking over the High Sierras for some 25 years.

  5. Richard Knight wrote:

    I am looking to follow in Don Koepp’s footsteps this summer. What is the mileage from Middle Crabtree Lake to Guitar Lake, via Crabtree Meadow?

    • Terry Halvorson wrote:

      Middle Crabtree to Guitar Lake is about 6 miles. The use trail dead ends into lower Crabtree Meadow. Cross the meadow and you hit the PCT and then hike north to the JMT junction to Guitar.

  6. Randy wrote:

    How’s the fishing at Blue Sky, Primrose, Lower Soldier lakes?

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