The Best Photography Spots Along the High Sierra Trail
Sequoia National Park, California
When I’m backpacking, I usually enjoy doing little-to-no work once I’ve reached and set up camp. Because of this, there were times during my once-in-a-lifetime High Sierra trip where I didn’t even go out and shoot during the golden hours, usually using the excuse of being too tired to wander around. While that usually was true, it was only a piece of why I didn’t shoot – I also didn’t necessarily know where to go from camp. Some spots were pretty obvious, such as Moraine Lake or Hamilton Lake where my tent was 100 feet lake’s edge, but other camps were located in fairly dense forest. Since I didn’t know where to go to get the shots from those camps, I just didn’t even bother. Now, looking back at the trip, that was a real shame since some were oh-so-close by.
So I figured I’d put a guide together to help other backpackers find the best photography spots along the High Sierra Trip and maybe give someone else the motivation to wander from camp a bit, even after a real long day.
Of course this list is very far from comprehensive – These are just the spots that I found and shot, wish I found and shot, or wish I could get back to and shoot during the golden hours and good light. And make sure to click into the other posts where I have a ton more pictures!
(Also, bear in mind that I like to pursue the wide-open, grand vista shots so that’s mainly what’s outlined in this post. I’m not necessarily a “details” guy so I don’t go into any of that. All the camps we stayed at were beautiful, but ‘beautiful’ doesn’t translate to ‘photogenic.’)
Trail Section: Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw Camp
- We passed it by during the early afternoon, but Mehrton Creek looked like it would have been a beautiful spot to experience a sunset or sunrise. If you do camp there, you’d have a real short first day (6 miles) from Crescent Meadows, but if that’s what you’re looking for, I’d definitely recommend staying there for a night, especially if the creeks really flowing.
- Approximately a half-mile before Nine Mile Creek, where we intended on camping, there were beautiful vistas of Sugarbowl Dome, Little Blue Dome, and the Great Western Divide.
- Bearpaw – From the Bearpaw backpacker camp, there is a trail near the northeast corner that will take you right to the wide-open views of Bearpaw High Sierra Camp. This is the one I missed out on… fiery skies at sunset, garbage light at 11am…
Trail Section: Bearpaw Meadow to Hamilton Lake
- Just past Bearpaw High Sierra Camp, maybe half-a-mile up trail, the views of the Great Western Divide and Hamilton Creek REALLY open up. If you’re staying at the HSC or the meadows, this would absolutely be worth the extra mileage to shoot at sunset. OR, get up and on-trail for sunrise or early morning here. This whole section of trail was incredible.
- The shores around Hamilton provide plenty of opportunities.
- Once you’re at Hamilton Lake, you can continue up the HST for another 5 minutes or so to quickly gain elevation above the lake. This also gets you views back down valley and overlooking Valhalla. If you still have some energy, head up for even longer, about an hour and you’ll be well-above the lake with views to the west back down valley. (See the sunrise shot in the next section.)
- Even if the lake’s choppy from wind, there are small pools located where Hamilton Creek leaves the lake on the west end that created some opportunities for reflections.
- Part of me wishes I had doubled-back on the HST to shoot above Lower Hamilton Lake that we passed on the climb up.
Trail Section: Hamilton Lake to Moraine Lake
- You should be able to find some good compositions from anywhere on the trail above Hamilton Lake looking back down valley.
- Eventually, the trail passes above a lower lake before you get to Precipice. Looking west, the early morning light over that was gorgeous.
- Precipice Lake, naturally. Don’t rush by this lake either – if the weather seems like it might cooperate, chill and wait for some reflection shots.
- Our original intention was to make it to Precipice for sunrise, but we didn’t make it. However, I think I’m glad that didn’t happen. Unless you have some amazing clouds directly above the lake, the lake itself didn’t seem like the best composition in the area.
- There are a bunch of small glacial ponds above Precipice as you climb the pass. These provided some great opportunities for reflection shots and had we actually made Precipice in time for sunrise, I would have actually preferred to shoot these ponds.
- Kaweah Gap – The Gap provides great views northeast towards Nine Lakes Basin as well as back at Lone Eagle Peak.
- Big Arroyo Valley – This was a beautiful section of trail, but wouldn’t top any of my list of places to get back and shoot.
- I didn’t look around the Big Arroyo camp too much and although it was nice, it seemed “meh” for photo ops. It looked like it was just entrenched in trees.
- Climbing up Chagoopa had some great views back towards the Great Western Divide. If you stay at Big Arroyo, try hiking another 30-ish minutes or so past camp (left at the junction) and you could get some amazing views west at sunset. This would be a big effort to capture in golden light if you’re camping at Moraine and not worth it since…
- Moraine Lake was beautiful, both sunrise and sunset. The best part was the lake was literally steps from my tent.
- If you have the energy when you’re at Moraine Lake, continue on trail a little ways and you’ll find some pretty beautiful meadows looking north towards Mt Kaweah.
Trail Section: Moraine Lake to Junction Meadow
- For me, this section of trail definitely fell into the category of beautiful, but not necessarily photogenic.
- If you get an early-morning start from Moraine, you’ll quickly find yourself in some beautiful meadows (Sky Parlor) looking north towards Mt Kaweah, which could be stunning in the early-morning light.
- There are some amazing overlooks of the southern end of Kern Canyon as you drop into the switchbacks down into the canyon.
- Depending on the Kern River water levels, there could be some great water-flow shots to be had all along the canyon floor section.
- With Junction Meadow, heavily wooded, I didn’t see too many opportunities to shoot right from camp (so I didn’t…), but I regret not heading up trail another 10-minutes or so. After the junction with Colby Pass, the HST starts climbing and gives way pretty quickly to some beautiful views back to Kaweah peaks Ridge and south down Kern Canyon.
- Junction Meadow is also right on the Kern River so I’m sure there are some opportunities there… I was lazy and opted to sit at camp.
Trail Section: Junction Meadow to Guitar Lake
- Again, from camp at Junction Meadow, continue on the HST for another 10 minutes or so to gain some quick elevation over the valley floor. The higher you go, the better the views of the Kaweahs Peaks Ridge are.
- From camp at Crabtree if you head southeast through the woods and scramble up a rocky ridge for approximately 5-10 minutes, you’ll reach a cliff-band overlooking Crabtree Meadows and Mt Chamberlin. This was far from a favorite shot for me, but it was better than sitting at camp and I didn’t see any other opportunities. I’m also a snob…
- All around Guitar Lake provides plenty of various compositions.
- My favorite spots I found were from a side-trip over to Hitchcock Lakes (south) from the tarn above Guitar Lake that we were camped at. There were a bunch of smaller ponds to play around with and Hitchcock Lake and Mountain are just spectacular.
- I didn’t do this, but from Guitar Lake, you can follow Whitney Creek up to Arctic Lake. I read that was beautiful.
Trail Section: Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal
- Just get your ass up well-before sunrise and get hiking. This whole route was spectacular… Sunrise from the summit, sunrise behind Keeler Needles, sunrise over Guitar Lake basin, ect… You can’t go wrong as long as you’re on trail and up for the good light. Actually, you don’t even need to be on trail if you don’t want to… shoot all over Guitar Lake Basin again like you did the night before!
- As I’ve already written, the view from the top of the switchbacks looking north with Owens Valley to the east was easily one of my favorites of the trip. Had I known about this spot, I might have actually foregone my sunrise summit push in order to shoot this view with the best light.
- After descending the 99 switchbacks, Trail Camp Pond looking west at Mt Muir is awesome. I’m not necessarily envious of hikers staying at Trail Camp because it’s a shit-show (literally and figuratively), but I’m a little jealous of the photography opportunities they get camping there.
- Consultation Lake… Mirror Lake… Lone Pine Lake… so many lakes!
- And the Alabama Hills on your way into Lone Pine!
Again, this is not a comprehensive list, but more of the places that stuck out to me that would provide opportunities for great photos! Happy hunting.
General Information & Planning:
- The History of the High Sierra Trail
- Planning for the High Sierra Trail
- Packing List & Tips
- Photography Spots & Tips
- Day 1: Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw
- Day 2: Bearpaw to Hamilton Lake
- Day 3 (Part 1): Hamilton Lake to Kaweah Gap
- Day 3 (Part 2): Kaweah Gap to Moraine Lake
- Day 4: Moraine Lake to Junction Meadow
- Day 5: Junction Meadow to Crabtree Ranger Station
- Day 6: Crabtree Ranger Station to Guitar Lake
- Mt Whitney: The Tallest Peak in the Lower US
- Day 7: Guitar Lake, up Mount Whitney, and out to Whitney Portal