Treadmill Rating (out of 10):
Distance: 8 miles (to Heather Lake)
Max Elevation: 9,500 feet
Elevation Gain: 2,500 feet
I gave this hike a pretty high treadmill rating of 9 points only because we hiked it in the dead of winter with snowshoes on. There was a lot of soft snow and we had full multi-day packs on in case we got stuck and had to spend the night. A good general rule for us when hiking in snow is to assume you will be spending a couple of days in the field even if its just a day hike. That way you are prepared for most issues that can arise, specifically a storm that might snow you in.
This hike was very tough because of the weight of our packs combined with the elevation gain in soft deep snow. I’m sure it would be more of a level 6 hike in the summer.
You’ll park in the Wolverton parking lot and the trail head is clearly marked, making this a very accessible hike to drive to. I think we parked our car perhaps 10 feet away from the trail head. See the below map from the NPS to plan your route to the Wolverton parking area.
HOW TECHNICAL IS THE HIKE?
Even in the snow this hike was not very technical. It was mostly a matter of watching for the trail boundary markers put up by the National Park Service. These are basically metal markers nailed to trees to help you stay on the trail. However, it was very strenuous. With over 2,000 feet in elevation gain, you should be in pretty good shape for the overall 8 mile round trip to Heather Lake and back.
WHO CAN DO THIS HIKE?
In summer I would think that anyone who can hike 8 miles round trip should not have a problem hiking this trail to Heather Lake and back. In winter, with snow on the ground, you should be an experienced outdoors person and in top shape. I was pretty much at my limit toward the end of this hike, and I would rate my physical conditioning at above average. Again, I was hiking a full 4 day load in snow, so that made a huge difference.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
It was very pretty when we went in mid-winter and there was quite a lot of snow on the ground. I have been to Sequoia NP in the summer as well, and its a different type of beauty. My suggestion is that for the average day hiker, the late spring and early summer would be optimal. The winter, with snow, was quite a challenge and one you should be in top shape for and well trained in what to do if you get snowed in or lost. We saw very few people on this trail in winter (making a potential rescue even more remote).
Hiking moderate to steep hills for several miles would be the best training for this hike. The treadmill at the highest setting you can tolerate would be a good substitute. If you are going in Winter, I highly suggest you carry a multi-day pack with sleeping and cooking gear and train carrying that weight before setting out in snow. Carrying a pack is hard enough, then when you add deep snow to the mix, you are using all your energy and slowed down quite a bit. Make sure to alter your turn around time to account for the fact that you will be going much slower than usual.