Want to get away - without having to get so far away?
Tucked in the Sierra National Forest just north of Huntington Lake, the Kaiser Wilderness comprises 22,700 acres of pristine meadows, granite-speckled lakes and rugged peaks.
Perhaps the most popular destination within the wilderness area, Upper Twin Lake offers postcard Sierra scenery and bountiful fishing. All within a 75-mile drive of Fresno.
To reach Upper Twin Lake, follow Kaiser Pass Road for 4.8 miles from the Eastwood Ranger Station at Huntington Lake. A small parking lot and pit toilet on the right (south) side of the road mark the trailhead.
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The Potter Pass trail is on the left (north) side of the road, directly across from the parking lot. For the first mile, the trail climbs gradually through mixed coniferous forest of Jeffrey pine and red fir before crossing the first of many creeks and meadows. Wildflowers, especially lupine, primrose and red heather, flourish in the early summer.
Soon the trail traverses into the Potter Creek drainage, offering views of snow-capped Red Mountain. At Mile 2, the trail arrives at 8,990-foot Potter Pass, passing an unsigned trail heading back down the hill to Huntington Lake.
A sign welcoming hikers into the Kaiser Wilderness is dwarfed by the expanse. To the northeast, 13,157-foot Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak and the Minarets shimmer proudly on the horizon.
From the pass, the trail descends steeply down a hillside that is dusty in late summer but was still covered in snow on Memorial Day weekend. When snow is present, this stretch is best crossed before late afternoon.
At 2.7 miles, after dropping nearly 500 feet, the trail reaches another intersection. Go left toward Twin Lakes. Lower Twin Lake, backed by a headwall of crumbling granite, is reached at 3.3 miles. Continue another 0.3 miles to the shores of Upper Twin Lake (elev. 8,601 feet).
On the rocky shelves above the lake, numerous campsites and picnic spots can be found, as well as some spooky caves. Just don't expect solitude at Upper Twin Lake, especially on weekends. The lake is much too accessible (and pretty) for that.
For those with extra wanderlust, follow the east shore of Upper Twin Lake to an intersection at the upper end. Head left, up a short hill and toward the pronounced saddle on the Kaiser Ridge. Then follow a spotty, unmaintained trail another mile to picturesque George Lake.
Any of these lakes are ideal for day hikes or easy backpacking trips. Permits are required for all overnight stays in the Kaiser Wilderness, and trail quotas tend to fill up fast.
Originally published in The Fresno Bee and on fresnobee.com on June 6, 2002