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Onion Valley/Kearsarge Pass Trailhead

Hiking Trail or Trailhead
Fall colors blanket Onion Valley, which is just below the John Muir Wilderness Area. – Paul Fretheim

A lovely, albeit steep drive up the Onion Valley Road out of the town of Independence follows Independence Creek past two Forest Service campgrounds and a very steep, switch-back section (if you think you can pedal a bike, give this route a try and see if your legs deliver or turn to Jello). As you gain altitude, views of the Owens Valley floor spread out below. You’ll be traveling from the valley floor though various stages of Alpine ecosystems, with definite changes in vegetation and temperature. Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep also call this area home, so be on the watch and keep the dogs close.

The road delivers hikers to one of the quickest access points to the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, making Onion Valley a favorite spot for multi-day hikers to come out of the hills to re-supply. Kearsarge Pass also is the quickest way to go “over the top” of the Sierra Nevada, from east to west, in the region.

The Kearsarge Pass Trail takes you past a number of scenic lakes and in 7 miles over the pass to the John Muir Trail, which meanders for 23 miles through the John Muir Wilderness. This is stunning High Sierra country, with peaks, meadows and lakes to explore. A popular day hike (5 miles round trip) is to Golden Trout Lake, which takes you past a waterfall, through a high-country canyon, and along a stream bed. A good taste of what the high country has to offer in a fairly short trek.

Check the Inyo National Forest website for information on permits and regulations.

Vertical Gain or Loss

The valley floor is 4,000 feet; the drive to the trailhead ends at 9,200, then it's all uphill from there.

Nearby Places