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Evolution basin and the John Muir Trail: Part three

Evolution Lake looking up the trail
Evolution Lake looking up the trail
Moonrise over Wanda Lake Evolution Basin
     Moonrise at Wanda Lake, Evolution Basin

For more information on The John Muir Trail, Evolution Basin and Evolution Valley, visit parts one and two of this series.


The third day of hiking the John Muir Trail through Evolution Valley and Evolution Basin brings you into the high Sierra above the tree line.  After passing Colby meadow in Evolution Valley, the trail makes another steep ascent along switchbacks bringing you up another 1,000 feet or so into Evolution Basin.

Moving above the treeline obviously takes away the friendly shade of the forest, but mother nature makes up for the loss by providing wide spectacular views. The mountains here jut upwards in sharp toothlike peaks and the light has a purity that shifts in color from pale yellow to cold blue depending on the time of day. There's space to think up here and every turn feels increasingly awe inspiring.

After the steep climb, the trail levels out more when it reaches Evolution Lake, the first  of three major lakes along the trail. Shaped lake an irregular boomerang, Evolution lake bends around the side of a large mountain.  Several small trees  and other plants cling around the edges, making this the most verdant of the three lakes. 

The trail follows the edge Evolution Lake and eventually crosses over a wide but shallow stream which is clearly the lake's source.  After another small ascent, the trail reaches Sapphire Lake; smaller and rounder than Evolution Lake the reflection off the mountains in the water here is nothing short of breathtaking.

Up one final small ascent and the trail reaches Wanda Lake, the largest of the three lakes which is split in two by a long thin peninsula.  While there's little vegetation around the lake, look for several rock shelters constructed off the trail to the right at the start of the lake. These are good  places to camp or take a rest.

Depending on your preferences, you can either make camp at Wanda Lake or return to Evolution Lake in the same day.  Either way, it's well worth staying in the high country; even if the environment seems less hospitable than Evolution Valley. The sunsets and stargazing at night will blow your mind.  There's also something magical about staying at this high altitude.

For more info: See Evolution Basin and the John Muir Trail: Part one, and Part two

View Evolution Basin in a larger map