Over Labor Day weekend we once again headed into the Sierra for a backpacking trip. This trip was built around my desire to see Benson Lake (the picture in this entry) with its giant sandy beach and trout fishing. We started off from Twin Lakes (out of Bridgeport), headed through Hoover Wilderness, down Matterhorn Canyon, by Smedberg and Benson Lakes, and back up Kerrick canyon. It took us 3.5 days to cover the ~50 miles, with a long, 20 mile final day when we decided to forgo our last campsite and hike all the way out.

In researching this trip, I learned that most people do this loop counterclockwise, but I chose to go clockwise and am happy with that choice. With our itinerary and direction, the hardest part of each day’s hike was at the beginning of the day when we were fresh. I was really happy to have relatively easy hiking during the second part of each day. A clockwise approach is definitely recommended.

Hoover Wilderness

Day 1: Twin Lakes Trailhead, up Robinson Creek, camp at Crown lake
8.38 miles, 2700 feet of gain

Day 2: Over Mule and Burro Passes, and down Matterhorn Canyon
12.78 miles, 2700 feet of gain

Day 3: Over Benson Pass, by Smedberg Lake, and camp at Benson Lake
10.81 miles, 2300 feet of gain, 3300 loss.

Day 4: Over Seavey Pass, up Kerrick Canyon to Peeler Lake, then back to the trailhead
19.19 miles, 2600 feet of gain, 3000 loss.

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Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Mountain sports addict. Dog Mom. Craft beer drinker. Tech nerd. The best days are those spent above 10k ft. Meet me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +


Shark · April 1, 2015 at 11:35 am

It’s hard to find adequate details online to plan this 50-miler. Do you know of a good map or other useful info?

    Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd · April 6, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    I find that the tom Harrison Maps (the Hoover Wilderness/Northern Yosemite one is good for this) are great. I also use caltopo.com for interactive trip planning on Topo and Satellite maps.

    The Hefty Hiker · July 24, 2016 at 9:42 am

    I know I am replying to this way after the fact, but you can download the GPX file and upload it to a service like Gaia GPS, thats what I do and it works great.

Libby · June 16, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Hi Rebecca (or others),

I’m planning on doing this trip soon, but I’m wondering what wilderness permits my group will need. I’m having trouble figuring out which to get.

Thanks for any information!


    Scott · July 30, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    Hi. I just got back from doing the loop. Permits are no problem…just drop by the Bridgeport ranger station just outside of town on 395. They have quotas but they are virtually never filled, no need to call ahead. The paperwork takes two minutes and is free. Tell them you’re entering at “Robinson Creek” which is really Mono Village at northern Twin Lakes. You will need bear canisters for your food…not because there are bears but because it’s the law and if you run into a ranger on the trail they will check. On the other side of town there’s a sign for Twin Lakes…make a left and drive for 15 minutes out to the lakes. When the road ends you’re there…can’t miss it. The resort has a rather large parking lot and a convenience store for last minute odds and ends . They will charge you $10 to keep your car there. I definitely recommend a clockwise approach, particularly if you enjoy fishing. Plan around a 5 night/6 day hike. Day 2 is the most difficult because you go over 2 passes, Mule and Burrow. I also recommend incorporating Rock Island Pass/Snow Lake into your itinerary. Recommended camp sites: Crown Lake, Matterhorn Canyon, Smedberg Lake, Seavy Pass, Snow Lake via RI pass. You can get a Hoover Wilderness Map at most REI’s that covers the trail. Email me if you have any questions. Happy trails.

Marvin · February 10, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Looks like a great 50 mile loop. I was wondering how the mosquitos are in June and early July?

    Libby · February 10, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Hi Marvin,

    I did this loop last year (2015) in late June with a buddy. Overall it was an amazing 7 night loop half on the PCT (so lots of meeting new people, trail talk) half very low-traffic (we went a whole day without seeing anyone, over the weekend!). It was fun to go from the PCT (“you guys are only out here for a week? Have some ice cream for me!”) to non-PCT hike out from Peeler to Twin Lakes (day-hikers “you guys have been out here for 7 days?! have some ice cream for me!”).

    Mosquitos were terrible at times and relatively non-existent at others. We went counterclockwise (Peeler Lake –> Arndt Lake –> Benson Lake –> Matterhorn Canyon –> Crown Lake –> back out via Twin Lakes). Peeler lake was the worst, with hundreds of mosquitos even during the heat of the day and hours past sunset. Definitely bring a mosquito hat/ long sleeves. Hikers we passed also said that the lake further down the PCT (Wilson’s lake maybe??) was even worse, but we turned off the PCT up Matterhorn Canyon before that. Once you get to Benson the mosquitos were much better (biting flies become a bit annoying, but the onshore breeze was enough to keep them away). It was really only that first night that was bad.

    It’s hard to say though what it will look like this year with El Niño. Last year was mega-drought, so take that into account. Not sure if this will make mosquitos worse overall or push the peak earlier/later.

    Unrelatedly, I highly recommend popping off the trail to spend a night at Arndt Lake between your nights at Peeler and Benson. It’s a small lake nestled south of the trail, but easy to find with topo map use. Beautiful and we were the only pair there on a Friday night!

    Hope this helps,


Bob Engberg · September 9, 2016 at 1:14 pm

We did the backpack mentioned above but not as a loop. We dropped our car off in Tuolumne Meadows (actually spent two nights there acclimating to the altitude) then had friends shuttle us to Twin Lakes. We left around 1:00pm and spent the night at Barney Lake. Day 2 took us pass Peeler and down Kerrick Meadows. There’s a delghtful pace to camp near the area where the trail begins its climb up to Peavey Pass. Day 3 we hiked over Peavey and spent a windy afternoon at Benson Lake. Pleasant camping and we shared the lake with only two other backpackers. Day 4 was up to Smedberg Lake where we camped above the lake on the West end. It’s very scenic and is the featured photo on the National Geographic map of the area. (The map’s mileage notations are clearly wrong in this section. It’s a full 10+ miles from Smedberg trail junction to Matterhorn Canyon, not “7.8”). Day 5 we went over Benson Pass for the long 12-13 mile hike to beautiful Miller Lake. Day 6 was another 13 miles to our last night at Glen Aulin, where we stayed in the backpackers camp. Day 7 was the 6 mile hike up and out to Tuolumne. This western area of Tuolumne is gorgeous. We did our trip the week before Labor Day Weekend. No bugs, no bears, few people, and one NPS Ranger on horseback ( who asked to see our permit). Great time of year to see the end-of-season wildflowers without battling mosquitos. You’re in very remote areas so be prepared. We forgot moleskin (or second-skin) and had too few band aids. But at age 73 we made it, a tired but happy “older couple”, he led by our newly determined efforts to “go light”. REI Dash tent (3 1/4 lbs), REI and Deuter 65+10 litre backpacks, and good food. My packed weighed it at 32 lbs and my wife’s at around 26 and most if that was good. We managed with one bear canister and one critter-proof bag. It was memorable. As Muir would say, “Go, go and see”.

Thomas L. Cox, Sr · January 28, 2017 at 12:45 pm

Glad to hear that another couple at age 73 was able to make that trek! I have been to all places that you mentioned except down Cold Canyon from McCabe Creek to two miles above Glen Aulin. I have twice completed the Twin Lakes, Peeler, Kerrick Canyon, Seavey Pass, Benson, Lake, Smedberg Lake, Matterhorn Canyon, Burro Pass, Mule Pass, Snow Lake, Twin Lakes Route twice and rates as the best on trail loop Ihave experienced in 60+ years of backpacking. The only superior experience was off-trail following the Sierra High Route paralleling the John Muir Trail on the Sierra Crest, but this route is a little too rugged for someone in their seventies (last section accomplished at age 68.)

Regarding bugs, in heavy snow years such as 2017, I would recommend going late summer, the week before or just after Labor Day Weekend. The mosquitoes were frightful in this area in late July in the heavy winters of 1995-1997. Instead of peaking around July 1st, in heavy snow years they peak a month later at 9,000 to 10,000, Some stream crossings will also be difficult in 2017 until mid-August.

If you undertake this loop, I would recommend planning two layovers and hiking counter- clockwise. If you like to fish, be sure to make one at Benson. Fish the west side of the lake towards the outlet though it is a very difficult scramble to get around it. The fishing is worth it with rainbows to 20 inches. Another good layover is either Rodgers or Smedburg. An off-trail day hike to beautiful Doe Lake will be memorable and only a very few people ever see that lake. I suggest camping on Matterhorn Creek 1 1/.2 to 2 miles up the creek and fly fishing for brook trout. Small but arguably the best eating trout in the Sierra.

Leilani · February 5, 2017 at 9:53 am

Mosquitos are generally bad in the Sierras until about August. Always take a headnet at the very least (they are very lightweight) and maybe some packets of repellent also.
Try to camp above and away from any water; camping above may get you a breeze.

TJ · September 24, 2017 at 10:06 pm

Just wanted to drop a note of thanks for your recommendation to do this awesome loop counter-clockwise. DEFINITELY the way to go.

Just back from a mid-September trip and was blown away by this trail. A taste of most everything the Sierra is known for. You do need to earn the views and have your act together given the remoteness and weather. We went from perfect conditions to 70 MPH gusts and about six inches of snow on our last night. But the “feeling” of this trail is special. Pure eye candy every step of the way.

What was totally surprising was the solitude. Especially off the PCT. So if being alone is your thing I’d give a strong nod to September.

And an even stronger nod to the Burger Barn in Bridgeport. I can’t say for sure but I think they take good care of hikers there. Get the large fries. Seriously.

Thanks again for the great advice. .

TJ · September 24, 2017 at 10:08 pm

Uh…oops. I meant CLOCKWISE! 🙂

Climbing the Sierra Nevada's Matterhorn Peak (12,279) | Calipidder · November 5, 2014 at 5:36 pm

[…] August of 2008 I did a gorgeous backpacking trip through Hoover Wilderness and the Northeastern corner of Yosemite National Park. One of the highlights of that trip was getting a look at Sawtooth Ridge and its highest point, […]

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