The High Sierra Trail runs approximately 70 miles from its western end at Crescent Meadow in Sequoia National Park to Whitney Portal on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. The trail passes through breathtakingly scenic terrain that varies from wide sweeping vistas of peaky mountains and high alpine lakes to shaded forests and rushing rivers. As the trail wanders up and over ridges and through valleys, there are no roads or signs of civilization - one must carry everything they need for the hike on his or her back.
The trail wiggles up and over the Great Western Divide and descends as low as 6800 feet in Kern Canyon before climbing up to its high point at the summit of Mount Whitney (14,508 ft by the latest measurements).
The High Sierra Trail takes approximately a week to hike from end to end (not including shuttle time), so this guide is broken down into seven segments. While seven days is a normal amount of time to hike the HST, a large portion of the Trail is spent above 10,000 feet with steep climbs and descents, so when planning this trip make sure to take your backpacking experience and fitness level into account. Possible camp locations throughout each segment are described in each of the guides so you can plan accordingly.
Snow covers the trail most of the year, and on an average year one can expect the trail to be clear of snow from mid-July through September. As always, conditions vary from year to year so it is wise to research current conditions and the forecast before heading out - it can snow every month of the year in the Sierra!
Perhaps the biggest headache for HST hikers is the shuttle. There are no roads that cross the Sierra through here and the drive time between the two trailheads is significant, approximately 7 hours without stops. People arrange shuttles with paid services ($$$), have good friends drop them off, stage cars, switch keys with hikers going the other direction, or hitch. Figure out what works best for you, but make sure to include the shuttling time in your planning - it can easily eat up 2-3 days.
Permits are required for the High Sierra Trail. Mount Whitney's permit system is extraordinarily complicated; this is just one of many reasons to start at the West end of the HST where the permit situation is much clearer and easier to navigate. See the provided links for more information about obtaining your permit.
Regulations on the following vary throughout the year - it is your responsibility to know the current status when hiking the trail:
There are bears on the trail and proper food protection is required by law.
Campfires are allowed on certain parts of the trail, but this can be restricted at any time depending on conditions. Inquire about it when picking up your permit.
There are some excellent fishing opportunities on the High Sierra Trail. Pack your pole, your permit, and check the regulations before heading out.
Camp at least 100 ft from water when terrain permits.