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California: Dusy Basin via Bishop Pass Trail

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This moderately strenuous trail takes you through some pristine mountain scenery in both the John Muir Wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park.

Bishop Lake

The view north from just below Bishop Pass, looking at Bishop Lake and Saddlerock Lake. The trail is just visible in the bottom of the frame.

This is a trail that I normally never would have thought to hike on my own, but I was on a mission to resupply some hikers on the John Muir Trail, and they would be waiting for me in LeConte Canyon.  The only way in was via the 11,972′ Bishop Pass Trail, through Dusy Basin, and on into LeConte Canyon.  It was a tough trip carrying 55 pounds of supplies!

The trail, starting at South Lake near Bishop, California, is approximately 9 miles one-way into Dusy Basin, depending on where you intend to set up camp in the basin.  If you continue into LeConte Canyon, the one-way mileage becomes 12 miles.

From Bishop, take West Line Street and follow the signs towards South Lake.

chocolate peak

Emerging from the forest into the Bishop Creek basin, on the way up to Bishop Pass.

Most of the trail is I’d say of medium difficulty, until you get to the final 600 feet of climb up Bishop Pass.  Here, the steps become steep, the trail rocky, and the many switchbacks completely exposed.  In fact, the only part of this trail where you’ll get any kind of shade at all is the first 3 miles from South Lake, and it’s spotty shade at that.

You’ll pass through typical Sierra Nevada pine forest for those first three miles, then you’ll enter the Bishop Creek drainage with a starting elevation of about 10,700′.  There are a number of very scenic lakes here, first passing Long Lake, then Spearhead Lake, and finally Saddlerock Lake.  Bishop Lake will be below you as you make your way up the pass.  There are some great camping spots throughout this entire drainage.  The basin is surrounded by impressive rocky spires.

long lake

Looking north at Long Lake.

spearhead lake

Hiking north back down to South Lake, about to pass Spearhead Lake and Long Lake.

Once over the pass at the 6-mile mark, it’s a gradual descent into Dusy Basin.  This is also good news for your return trip over the pass, as the climb isn’t as strenuous as it is from the north.  Dusy Basin is very scenic and also offers camping over the spread of a few square miles.  The terrain is rocky, with granite slabs sticking up out of the grass and wildflowers, along with a number of lakes and streams cutting through.  This basin is also surrounded by rocky spires that look like they were created in Hollywood.  There are no campfires allowed in Dusy Basin due to dwindling wood supplies.

dusy basin

Looking down into Dusy Basin from Bishop Pass, with LeConte Canyon in the background and some smoke from the Rough Fire.

dusy basin

One of the lakes towards the bottom of Dusy Basin, still smokey from some nearby wildfires.

If you do decide to continue into LeConte Canyon, be prepared for a steep descent.  Once leaving Dusy Basin, you’ll drop down 2,300′ in the span of approximately 2 miles, but the views are tremendous.  A ranger station sits at the bottom of this trail in LeConte Canyon.

LeConte Canyon

Sunlight peeks through the clouds and illuminates smoke from the nearby Rough Fire, looking into LeConte Canyon from Bishop Pass Trail.


Two bucks on the Bishop Pass Trail after heading down into LeConte Canyon.

Permits are required for overnighting in the John Muir Wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park.  You can check availability and book online at  You’re looking for the Bishop Pass-South Lake JM21 trail.

bookFor more information about this trail and others in the Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness areas, check out Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: Your Complete Hiking Guide.

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Thursday 31st of March 2016

Looks like an awesome hike! Plan on planning a trip there!

John Peltier

Friday 1st of April 2016

Even covered in smoke, it managed to be an amazing trip...I'm looking forward to doing the Dusy Basin again.