Route: Bear Creek Trailhead to Seven Gables, out & back
Distance: 12.2 miles
Including Seven Gables Summit: 28.4 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 5,592 feet
It almost goes without saying that the best trails are those less travelled. If I have to, I'm happy to make some sacrifices to be on a trail where I see little to no people outside of the group I’m traveling with. And California’s John Muir Wilderness offers such solitude, if you know where to look. Err, hike. On a recent long weekend, aside from several miles on the PCT seeing a fair amount of traffic, the majority of the trail we chose was uncrowded. In fact, once we got up to the Seven Gables area we only saw two other people.
The hike to Seven Gables can either start out of Lake Thomas Edison or you can trim some elevation and a few miles by starting at the Bear Diversion Dam, which is what we opted for, leaving us just over a six mile hike in. Mind you, if you opt for a Bear Division Dam start, be prepared to drive a couple of miles on a pretty legit granite lined OHV trail—proceed with caution.
We hit the trail at 1:30 AM, hiking for a few hours before pitching tents and crashing among unseen surroundings. Doing an approach at night is such a treat. You end up painting a picture of your environment solely based on sounds and smells. I actually find it to be a great way to connect with nature. Once the sun rises and reveals the true landscape it always tends to be more spectacular than could have been imagined.
We set up base camp just below Seven Gables along the East Fork of Bear Creek. While pitching tents, a thunderstorm accompanied by hail welcomed us with a literal bang. Thankfully the moment soon passed and we were left in peace among a stunning, barren rock landscape.
(Pro tip: the immediate area below Seven Gables has a fair amount of established campsites but the most comfortable seem to be about a mile before you get to the Seven Gables Lakes.)
The following day was spent meandering further up the canyon to Seven Gables Lakes where we made our way up to Seven Gables peak for an afternoon summit. From the top, the view catches various granite peaks with little foliage—a classic Sierra Nevada scene. The serrated mountain tops are a reminder of how the beautiful mountain range formed by uplifting granite and eroding glaciers some four million years ago.
In total, we spent three nights on the trail and four days hiking, totalling 28.4 miles with 5,592 feet elevation gain. The lack of switchbacks and mellow grade make it manageable for beginners but the elevation and some undeveloped trails in the final two miles require a bit of backcountry expertise.
Overall, this trail has beautiful views, amazing swimming holes, unique geological aspects, and some challenging peaks to add if you’re feeling confident. Get after it! But do your research first and prepare accordingly, as always.