The trail starts at Wolverton and ascends a lateral moraine to high alpine country in a mere four miles. Along the way are magnificent views from the Watchtower—a soaring pinnacle of granite towering nearly 2000 feet above the Tokopah Valley floor—along with a breathtaking hike along a trail blasted out of the cliff. Many backpackers rate this one of the best weekend hikes in the Sierra Nevada, so overnight permits are at a premium.
The trail starts in the Wolverton Parking Lot. Turn right at the first trail junction and climb nearly 1,000 feet along to the Panther Gap Trail junction at 1.8 miles. Turn left and continue climbing to a meadow lush with knee-high summer grasses fed by a boisterous cascade flowing down the mountainside. On the meadow’s far side, the trail switchbacks upward toward the Watchtower.
Beyond the Watchtower, the trail traverses a narrow but solid path blasted out of the cliff, then ascends to Heather Lake. No camping here. The trail then climbs a ridge and descends to Emerald and Aster lakes. The first designated campsites are at Emerald Lake. Continuing along the mountainside, the path reaches a junction with the side trail Pear Lake Ranger Station. Take the right fork to reach Pear Lake, tucked into a classic granite cirque. Bear boxes and pit toilets are provided at both Emerald Lake and Pear Lake. Adventurous hikers can climb beyond Pear Lake into the Tablelands—a vast expanse of pleasant granite country above treeline.