Horseshoe Meadow to Onion Valley 8 days

Trip Details

Duration: 8 days

Group size: 4-12 participants

Trip Rating: Moderate/Difficult

Price: $3525.44 including fees

Date: September 4-11, 2024

  5. MAPS
Trip Overview:

This trip is focused on summiting Mount Whitney, but also takes you through a starkly beautiful area of Sequoia National Park. We will cover 23 miles following the Pacific Crest Trail over three days to stage at Guitar Lake for the ascent to Mount Whitney. From the top of Mount Whitney, we follow the JMT north enjoying views of the Kaweah Range to the west and the Sierra crest to the east before crossing over Forester Pass, the highest pass on the John Muir Trail. Dropping into a U-shaped valley we will follow Bubbs Creek to Vidette Meadow. We leave the John Muir Trail via Kearsarge Pass to the Onion Valley Trailhead.

This trip description covers the seven moving days most groups require to hike from Horseshoe Meadow to Onion Valley, including summiting Mount Whitney. A layover day at Bubb’s Creek is included. Side trips can be added to maximize your time spent in this beautiful section of the Pacific Crest/John Muir Trails.

Hikers should be able to walk 12 miles, 3,000’ elevation gain/loss. You should acclimate to at least 8,000’ to 10,000’ for 1-3 days prior to the trip.

Trailheads: Begin: Horseshoe Meadow
End: Onion Valley RCPS will pick you up at the Onion Valley Trailhead, returning you to your vehicles at Horseshoe Meadow.

Day 1: Horseshoe Meadow over Cottonwood Pass to Chicken Spring Lake

4.5 miles, 1,400’ gain, 120’ loss

The day will start at the corrals by the Cottonwood Pack Station. Arrive by 7am. You will meet your crew, who will provide breakfast and a sack lunch while they weigh your gear. You will start your hike toward Chicken Spring Lake while the crew loads the mules. The walk begins as a gentle ascent beside the meadow for a mile before entering the open forest to climb steadily to 11,160’ Cottonwood Pass by mile 3.8. Turn north onto the Pacific Crest Trail, walking another half mile before leaving the trail to follow the creek a short distance up to Chicken Spring Lake.

There is no reliable water beyond Horseshoe Meadow until Chicken Spring Lake.

Day 2: Chicken Spring Lake to Rock Creek

9.8 miles, 600’ gain, 2,320’ loss

Returning to the Pacific Crest Trail, the path climbs briefly, gaining 300’ in the first mile and then undulates along the side of the mountain with good views of Big Whitney Meadow to the left. The trail enters Sequoia National Park in three miles and then drops to the Siberian Pass junction in another mile. The route goes straight, following the spine of a wide ridge for couple of miles with some views to the right of Mount Langley and Miter Basin. The trail then drops steadily through open forest the rest of the day, passing the Rock Creek Trail junction at mile 8.6. The route will finally cross Rock Creek and then leave the trail to follow a use path down the north side of the creek to our camp alongside a beautiful meadow edged by the creek. The creek crossing might be tricky if there has been recent rain.

Most of the seasonal streams in this area will be dry with no reliable water until we approach Rock Creek at the end of the day. Leave Chicken Spring Lake with plenty of water.

Day 3: Rock Creek to Guitar Lake

9.6 miles, 2,980' gain, 1,040’ loss

The day starts with a steady climb out of the Rock Creek drainage to Guyot Pass gaining 1,400’ in 2.5 miles. Dropping down from the pass, the trail traverses the hillside on a sandy trail. Twisted foxtail pines frame views of Red Spur across the Kern Canyon. There is a brief climb into the Whitney Creek drainage, before dropping 400’ to the Whitney junction near the creek at mile 5.9. Turn onto the trail to Mount Whitney, follow Whitney Creek and pass the ranger station before joining the John Muir Trail in 1.2 miles. Turn up canyon toward Mount Whitney, passing out of the trees at Timberline Lake and finally stopping at our camp above Guitar Lake. Mount Whitney towers 3,000’ above us to the east.

There is fairly reliable water about a mile out of camp, with the next reliable water at Whitney Creek, 6 miles from the Rock Creek camp.

Day 4: Mount Whitney

9.3 miles, 3,110’ gain, 3,110’ loss

Mount Whitney provides several hours of shade after sunrise making the long climb to the top in the treeless landscape less daunting, so plan to leave camp at dawn. The trail starts off to the southeast for about a mile before starting to climb the steep wall on long switchbacks. Look across Hitchcock Lakes to Mount Hitchcock to gage your progress up the mountain, as Trail Junction, at 13,484 feet, is only 300’ above Mount Hitchcock. Go left at the junction to follow the fairly narrow trail cut into the rock on the west side of the pinnacles. There are several “windows” providing stunning views to the east. Another 1.9 miles and 1,000’ elevation gain takes you to the top. Enjoy your time at 14,496.811 feet before leaving the gathering crowd at the top and returning to your wilderness camp at Guitar Lake.

There is no reliable water between Guitar Lake and the top of Mount Whitney.

Day 5: Guitar Lake to Tyndall Creek Frog Ponds

10.5 miles, 1,800’ gain, 2,240’ loss

We retrace our path 2.6 miles down the trail past Timberline Lake to the junction to Lower Crabtree Meadow, but this time we follow the John Muir Trail to the right for 0.8 miles to merge with the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail soon skirts the east side of Sandy Meadow with views two the west of Red Spur. The path climbs a low ridge before dropping down to Wallace Creek, which can usually be crossed on rocks. The creek runs through an open meadow surrounded by pines and the crossing is a pleasant lunch spot at 6.8 miles. Continue north past the Kern River junction to climb up a ridge to meadows of Wright Creek with stunning views to the east of the Sierra crest including Mount Whitney. The 1,000’ ascent out of Wallace Creek tops out at the treeless Bighorn Plateau with views of the Kaweah Range and the Kern River Basin to the west before dropping down to our camp at the frog ponds near Tyndall Creek.

There is reliable water at Wallace Creek and Wright Creek.

Day 6: Tyndall Creek Frog Ponds over Forester Pass to Bubbs Creek

11.8 miles, 2,350’ gain, 3,150’ loss

Wel drop ½ We drop ½ mile down through open forest to the Tyndall Creek crossing and then start the 2,300’ climb over 4.4 miles to the top of 13,180’ Forester Pass, the highest pass on the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails. The trail begins through alternating forest and meadows. The landscape becomes more austere as the trail approaches and is cut from the headwall of the Kings Kern Divide. The last mile switchbacks up the right side of the pass before crossing over to the left side with tight switchbacks over the final grade. One is rewarded at the top with spectacular views of the Great Western Divide, the Kaweah Range, and the tall peaks north of Mount Whitney. Turning north, the trail enters Kings Canyon National Park, dropping down steep switchbacks. The rocky terrain gives way to forest with the final few miles a pleasant walk along Bubbs Creek to Vidette Meadow.

There is reliable water at mile 4.4 below the Forester Pass and at mile 7.2 on the north side of the pass, with fairly regular access to water for the rest of the day.


Day 8: Bubbs Creek over Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley Trailhead

9.8 miles, 2,350’ gain, 3,150’ loss

The trail continues down Bubbs Creek for 1.4 miles to the lower meadow before turning north to climb 1,200’ in 1.1 miles through thinning forest to the Bullfrog Lake/Kearsarge Pass Junction. The route continues through mostly open forest past Bullfrog Lake, climbing steadily to the junction with the upper trail at mile 4.8. The trail ascends through open rocky terrain to 11,835’ Kearsarge Pass in ½ mile. Stop to enjoy the expansive views before dropping 2,645’ in 4.5 miles to the Onion Valley trailhead. The rocky trail reenters open forest as you approach the lakes. The pack station will arrive by 3:00 to convey you and your gear from the Onion Valley Trailhead back to Horseshoe Meadows.

There is no reliable, easily accessed water in the four miles between Bullfrog Lake and Gilbert Lake.

Location Daily
Horseshoe Meadow 0.0 9,940
PCT Junction at Cottonwood Pass 3.8 11,130
Chicken Spring Lake Camp 4.54.5 11,260
Siberian Pass Trail Junction 8.7 11,090
Rock Creek Trail Junction 13.1 9,950
Lower Rock Creek Camp 9.8 14.3 9,540
Guyot Pass 16.8 10,940
Crabstree Meadow Junction 20.2 10,330
John Muir Trail Junction 21.4 10,710
Guitar Lake Camp 9.6 23.9 11,480
Trail Crest Junction 26.7 13,430
Mount Whitney 28.6 14,500
Crabtree Meadow Junction 20.2 10,332
John Muir Trail Junction 21.4 10,708
Guitar Lake Campsite 9.7 24.0 11,484
Trail Crest 26.7 13,432
Mount Whitney 28.6 14,504
Trail Junction 30.5 13,430
Guitar Lake Campsite 9.3 33.2 11,480
Crabtree Meadow Trail Junction 35.8 10,710
Pacific Crest Trail Junction 36.6 10,770
High Sierra Trail Junction 39.9 10,410
Tyndall Creek/Frog Pond Camp 10.5 43.7 11,040
Tyndall Creek Junction 44.2 10,920
Upper Kern Cut-Off 44.5 11,050
Forester Pass 49.0 13,150
Upper Bubbs Creek Camp 11.8 55.5 9,990
Lower Vidette Meadow Junction 56.9 9,560
Bullfrog Lake Junction 58.0 10,530
Upper Trail Junction 60.3 11,320
Kearsarge Pass 60.8 11,700
Onion Valley Trailhead 9.8 65.3 9,190
*Distances based on Guthook’s PCT Guide

Chickenspring Lake. Chickenspring Lake
Overlooking Siberian outpost going from horseshoe meadow to Rock CreekOverlooking Siberian outpost going from horseshoe meadow to Rock Creek"
Crabtree Sunset Crabtree Sunset
Guitar Lake.Guitar Lake
Day 6
Chance for wildlife viewing at Soldier Lake...Chance for wildlife viewing at Soldier Lake...
Past Trail Crest
Just past Trail Crest.
Looking Southwest from Mt. Whitney.Looking Southwest from Mt. Whitney..
What you need to know…for hikers on pack stock supported trips

Dunnage limit is 30 lbs. per person (this includes sleeping bags, fishing equipment, liquor, etc.)

You may bring your own tent up to 10 pounds that is in addition. The PCT 28-30 day trips allow 35 pounds of duffel.


Bring belongings in stout canvas or nylon duffels; side zipper recommended, ideal size approximately 14" x 32". It is a good idea to use a large plastic bag INSIDE of the duffle to protect contents from external moisture.

Sleeping bags can be in separate duffels --again, line the inside of the duffle against rain. Place all cosmetics, soaps, medications, etc into small plastic containers with close-fitting caps, THEN into sturdy resealable plastic storage bags. If anything breaks or bursts from altitude changes, the plastic bag contains the spill. When possible, it is a good idea to transfer alcoholic beverages to sturdy plastic bottles with well fitting caps - it will save weight and protect against breakage.


  • Footwear. For this trips a medium-weight pair of hiking boots. We do not recommend lightweight hikers or tennies since they give little ankle support and the soles are often thin.
  • Camp Shoes. A lightweight pair of tennies or Tevas to wear in camp. This will reduce vegetation damage at our campsites.
  • A day pack. It should be large enough to take water, extra clothing, rainwear, camera, etc during the days.
  • Sleeping Bag. Most summer trips are warm and a bag rated to about 25°F will be plenty warm enough. We much prefer down bags, and good quality ones at that. Your bag should weigh in around 3 pounds.
  • Sleeping pad. A 3/4 or full length closed cell foam or Thermarest. If you bring a Thermarest also bring a repair kit to fix pesky holes!
  • Coffee mug (plastic for camp)


  • 2 pair synthetic liner socks.
  • 2 pair heavier synthetic or wool blend socks.
  • Long underwear top. Capilene, some other synthetic or the new pure Merino wool types.
  • Long underwear bottom.
  • Warm pants. Tights or Expedition Weight Capilene.
  • Warm shirt. Synchilla or R2 weight works well.
  • Another fuzzy sweater top or pile jacket of some sort
  • GoreTex Jacket and Pants. A lightweight set is sufficient and heavy bulky clothing is unnecessary. Side zips on the pants should be long enough to slide over boots. Jacket must have a hood. Do not skimp on your rain gear. Nylon ponchos are not acceptable.
  • Shorts for on the trail
  • Tee shirt for on the trail
  • Lightweight capilene or similar gloves.
  • Warm hat. Synthetic or wool.
  • Sunhat


  • Sun glasses.
  • Water Bottles. Two quart (1 liter) wide mouth bottles and/or a hydration system holding up to 50oz. (2 liters). Don’t bring bike bottles or any bottle that doesn’t have a wide opening.
  • Headlamp. --and a spare set of batteries!
  • Pocket knife. Swiss army style.
  • Personal toiletries. It is not necessary to smell like a rose each day so do not over do it.
  • Ear plugs are great to have in a noisy tent.
  • Personal Medical Kit. The guide will carry a large kit so yours will predominately consist of foot repair items, mild pain killer such as Advil and bandaids.
  • Sunscreen and lip screen. SPF 30+. A 1oz. bottle will be enough. Make sure the lip stuff actually contains a sunscreen.
  • Bug repellent.
  • Camera. A spare battery and card are good backups
  • Ski/trekking poles. These are not essential, but can be handy on the trail. It is your choice, but they do save wear on the knees.
  • Plastic trash bag. Handy for keeping gear in outside the tent should it rain.
  • Optional reading material, etc.


We provide the all meals on scheduled trips. You can bring your favorite "on-the-trail" snacks.


  • Small notepad and pencil
  • Collapsible plastic wash basin (optional)
  • Solar shower (optional)
  • Water filtering pump (optional)
  • Liquor (be sure to check in with the packers to see that your liquor is packed safely)
  • Fishing equipment (optional)
  • Rod/reel/line (a rod that breaks down into 3 or more pieces is recommended)
  • Compact metal rod case to carry on saddle
  • Canvas creel (no tackle boxes)
  • Leader material (1-3 lb.)
  • Flies: black gnat, mosquito, grey hackle, brown hackle, & royal coachman (No. 12-14 hooks)
  • Bait: worms & Pautzke red eggs
  • Egg hooks, worm hooks (No. 10-14)
  • Split shot
  • Lures (personal choice)
  • Pliers
Tom Harrison Maps (some can also be downloaded onto an tablet or smart phone):
  • Mt. Whitney High Country and John Muir Trail, maps 1-3
  • or Mt. Whitney High Country and Kings Canyon High Country (last day) National Geographic Map: 205 Sequoia Kings Canyon National Parks Halfmile PCT Maps California Section G. Download free from https://www.pctmap.net Apps for Smartphone/Tablet:
  • Guthook’s Hiking Guides, PCT Hiker
  • National Geographic National Park Maps, download HD map
  • Gaia GPS, download area we will cover
Click on the map to see a larger detailed map

You can purchase quality topo maps at TOM HARRISON MAPS.