How to Get One of America’s Best Backcountry Campsites

By Michael Lanza

Precipice Lake sits in a granite bowl at 10,400 feet along the High Sierra Trail in Sequoia National Park, about a half-mile before 10,700-foot Kaweah Gap. Below the north face of 12,040-foot Eagle Scout Peak, with the nearest tree at least a couple of trail miles below it, the lake’s glassy, green and blue waters reflect a white and golden cliff with black water streaks that embraces the lakeshore across from the trail.

A ribbon-like waterfall, originating in a remnant glacier above the lake, pours down the cliff. Walking up to Precipice Lake reflexively triggers the part of our frontal lobe that’s responsible for the word: “Wow.”

Our small party reached Precipice Lake in late afternoon on the third day of a 40-mile backpacking loop from the Mineral King area of Sequoia; within minutes, we realized that we’d stumbled upon one of the prettiest wilderness campsites any of us had ever seen—and one of my 25 favorite backcountry campsites ever (and I’ve slept in many hundreds over more than three decades of wilderness wandering, including many years running this blog and formerly the Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine)—so there was no reason to hike a step farther that day.

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A young girl at Precipice Lake in Sequoia National Park.
My daughter, Alex, at Precipice Lake in Sequoia National Park.

We found tent sites among the granite slabs a short walk above the lake, and my then-12-year-old son and I threw our air mats and bags down on one slab and slept out under a sky riddled with stars.

You can also enjoy a night at Precipice Lake by backpacking the 40-mile loop described in my story about that family trip, which featured a few outstanding campsites (including a second that made my list of 25 all-time favorites), a mystical grove of giant sequoia trees in the wilderness that we had to ourselves, passes reaching over 11,000 feet—and miles of hiking through an incredibly photogenic landscape of razor peaks and alpine lakes so clear you could stand on the shore and read a book laying open on the lake bottom.

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A young girl backpacking past Precipice Lake in Sequoia National Park.
My daughter, Alex, at Precipice Lake, Sequoia National Park.

If you want to plan that trip, now is the time. Starting Feb. 9, Sequoia National Park will issue backcountry permit reservations up to six months in advance of a trip starting date for a trip taking place during the trailhead quota period, generally the Friday before Memorial Day through the second Saturday after Labor Day, or May 28 to Sept. 18, 2021. Given the popularity of the High Sierra Trail—which passes by Precipice Lake—you should apply for your permit on the earliest date possible.

My story about that Sequoia trip also describes how to get a permit for that hike, lays out our hiking itinerary, and provides other details for planning it yourself. Like many stories about trips at The Big Outside, reading the entire story requires a paid subscription, which costs just pennies over $4/month for a year—which gets you a free or discounted e-guide—or as little as five bucks for one month.

I can also help you plan out every detail of this trip or any trip you read about at my blog. See my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how.

Don’t miss my story “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites,” where I share photos and short anecdotes from the prettiest places in the wilderness where I’ve pitched a tent (or slept under the stars) over three decades of backpacking all over the U.S.

That story includes links to existing stories at The Big Outside about the trips on which I enjoyed those special campsites.

See all of my stories about family adventures and national park adventures at The Big Outside.

I’ve helped many readers plan an unforgettable backpacking trip in Sequoia and elsewhere. Want my help with yours? Find out more here.


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