Rae Lakes Loop | The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Rae Lakes

Upper Rae Lakes at Sunrise on the Rae Lakes Loop

Rae Lakes loop is one of the most coveted backcountry permits in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National parks. For 41 miles (66 KM) you’ll be treated to a seemingly endless supply of the Sierra Nevada superlatives. You’ll hike alongside the roaring South Fork Kings River, experience the cascading torrent of Mist Falls, marvel at the sublime sunrise reflection of the Painted Lady in Rae Lakes, and experience the catharsis of reaching 11,978′ (3651m) Glen Pass. 

Rae Lakes Loop can be completed in multiple directions and on a variety of schedules. In this guide, I’ll break down everything you need to know to backpack the Rae Lakes Loop.  Here’s what’s in this post:

Need to know for hiking the Rae Lakes Loop

Days Required: 2-5
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 41 miles (66 KM)
Elevation Gain: 7200 ft (2195 M)
Elevation Loss: 7200 ft  (2195 M)
Permit Required: Yes, competitive.
Navigation: Easy, trails are well marked.
Water Sources: Plentiful, trail follows reliable creeks and rivers for the duration.
Food Storage: Bear canister required.
Best Campsite walked past or stayed at: Middle Rae Lakes or Upper Rae Lakes.

Things you’ll love about backpacking Rae Lakes

    • Sublime Sierra Nevada scenery.
    • Well marked and easy to navigate trail
    • Loop hike makes transportation a breeze.
    • Multiple entry trailheads possible.
    • Multiple side trips possible for various itineraries.
    • Opportunity to meet other backpackers and thru hikers.
    • Plentiful water sources.

Things you won’t love about backpacking Rae Lakes

    • Bugs can be viscous.
    • Solitude can be hard to find  as both the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail run through the most scenic sections.
    • There are bear boxes, yet you need to bring a bulky bear canister regardless.
    • Glen Pass can be snow covered until July depending on the snow-pack.
    • The sandy soil texture can give you mad blisters. (Bring low gaiters),
Bubbs Creek on the Rae Lakes Loop

How many days does it take to hike the Rae Lakes Loop?

The Rae Lakes Loop typically takes 2 to 5 days to backpack in its entirety. That said, there are many possible side trails  for hikers looking to spend more time in the area including Sixty Lakes Basin, Gardiner Basin, and Kearsarge Lakes.

How do you get a permit for the Rae Lakes Loop?

During the quota season (May 26, 2023 – September 23, 2023) there are two ways to secure a permit to backpack the Rae Lakes Loop: through a reservation or walk-up permit. Outside of these dates all permits are self-issued at the nearest visitor center. 

The classic Rae Lakes loop starts at Road’s End in King’s Canyon National park and follows either Bubbs Creek (counterclockwise trips) or Woods Creek (clockwise trips).

How to make a reservation

Permits for Rae Lakes Loop can be booked starting 6 months before and up to one week before your intended start date via recreation.gov. Up to 20 people are allowed to enter via reservation daily on both Bubbs Creek Trail or Woods Creek Trail (40 total). Once you’ve secured your reservation, you’ll still have to pick up your permit from Road End Ranger Station starting at 1 pm the day before your hike or as late as 10:00am the day of your hike. If you’re arriving later, contact the wilderness office to let them know to hold your permit or it will be given away.

How to get a walk-up permit

5 people are allowed to enter with walk-up permits daily on either Bubbs or Woods (10 total). These permits can be obtained starting at 1pm the day prior to your hike. If you’re going this route, arrive well before 1pm to snag a spot near the front of the walk-up line. Make sure you have an idea of your itinerary  beforehand.

Which direction should you hike Rae Lakes?

Rae Lakes Loop can be hiked either clockwise via Woods Creek Trail or counterclockwise on Bubbs Creek Trail. Prior to booking your permit you’ll need to decide on a direction to hike this trip. Here’s more information to help you make your decision:

Clockwise, from the Woods Creek Trail

Starting your hike from Woods Creek Trail results in a more gradual elevation change. This route spreads the 6943 ft (2100 M) climb to Glen Pass out over almost 25 miles, following a steady upward trajectory with a limited number of drastic switchbacks prior to the big push up to Glen Pass

Counterclockwise, starting from Bubbs Creek Trail

Heading counterclockwise from Bubbs Creek is more strenuous, gaining the 6943’ of elevation to Glen Pass over 17 miles. If choosing this direction it doesn’t take long for the thigh burn to begin with a series of switchbacks greeting you within the first several miles and before the first campsite option at Sphinx Junction.

Verdict on direction

In my opinion, the competitive nature of the permit process doesn’t afford the luxury of being choosy. Either way the hike is fantastic.

If I had to choose, I’d start from Woods Creek Trail (clockwise) for the following reasons:

    • Your pack is heaviest with food weight at the start of your trip, so more gradual elevation is a perk.
    • Afternoon thunderstorms can be common in the summer. A clockwise trip makes it easy to spend a night at Rae Lakes and summit Glen Pass early in the morning before this becomes a factor.
    • Rae Lakes close proximity to Glen Pass makes it easier to go clockwise for those looking to include a night at Rae Lakes in their itinerary. 

Additional trailhead options for hiking the Rae Lakes loop:

Aside from Bubbs Creek and Woods Creek there are several additional access points for starting the Rae Lakes Loop on the eastern side of the Sierras.  Starting from these trailheads will add additional mileage, but may afford you the opportunity to get a permit that might not otherwise be available.

View down to Onion Valley from Kearsarge Pass

Kearsarge Pass via Onion Valley

The most common alternative trailhead for doing the Rae Lakes Loop, this trail starts from Onion Valley on the eastern side of the Sierras and climbs up and over Kearsarge pass. At 6.5 miles (one-way), it’s a great option and a common resupply trip for thru hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail. This trail offers stunning views of the Kearsarge lakes area on the descent from Kearsarge Pass. Permits for the Rae Lakes Loop starting from Kearsarge Pass must be booked through the Inyo National Forest – Wilderness Permits.   

Baxter Pass via Baxter Pass Trailhead

This strenuous 13 mile (one-way) route takes you over Baxter Pass before dropping you down by Dollar lake to the North of Rae Lakes. I have no personal experience hiking over Baxter, but my map marks it as a route (vs. a trail) and the official National Forest description calls it steep and rugged. Buyer beware! Drop me a line in the comments if you’ve done it, would love to hear about it. Starts from the Baxter Pass trailhead and is booked via the Inyo National Forest – Wilderness Permits on Recreation.gov.

Can you have campfires on the Rae Lakes Loop?

Yes, campfires are allowed on sections of the Rae Lakes Loop below 10,000 ft and assuming current fire regulations allow it. The elevation restriction means that fires are never permitted in the section of the trail that starts in the vicinity of Dollar Lake (including Rae Lakes) and ends near lower Vidette Meadow (if traveling clockwise). If you’re making a fire in the allowable areas make sure to follow minimum impact principles, use only existing fire rings, and ensure it’s doused repeatedly, cold to touch, and dead out before hitting the sack. Check with a ranger for all up to date restrictions before heading out.

Snow Going Up to Glen Pass on the Rae Lakes Trail

Is the hike to Rae Lakes challenging?

Like any hike the difficulty of hiking the Rae Lakes Loop is very subjective. Your conditioning, experience, and backpack weight are all major factors. Overall, I’d rate this hike as moderate. It’s well signed and offers multiple campsites to break the mileage up over multiple days. That said, there is significant elevation gain up to the highpoint at Glen Pass and its’ difficulty is compounded by the high elevation that comes with hiking in the Sierra Nevada. Furthermore, the potential for snow travel and river crossings in early season ups the difficulty level.

When to backpack the Rae Lakes Loop

The Rae Lakes Loops can be hiked from early-June through to October. The sun in the altitude of the high sierra is intense during the peak summer months and thunderstorms may pose a risk. Early season travel faces the challenge of snow on Glen Pass and potential for dangerous river crossings. In fall, temperature begin to drop and the potential for snow rises. If going early or late season, contact the wilderness office for questions on conditions. At all times of the year the trail will be heavily trafficked. Aside from Rae lakes being a popular backpacking destination in its own right, trail joins the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail for about 14 miles from Lower Vidette Meadow to Woods creek bridge.

How to get to the Rae Lakes Loop?

The traditional Rae Lakes Loop starts from Road’s End in Kings Canyon National Park. It can also be started from multiple other trailheads on the eastern side of the Sierras. It’s a loop hike and thus no shuttle is required.  Rent a car or drive your own, park at the trailhead and go nothing beats easy logistics! Am I right?

Hiking Past Upper Paradise on the Woods Creek Trail

Trail sections

I’ve described the sections of the Rae Lakes Loop based on my own experience hiking clockwise. If you’re planning a trip the opposite way you’ll have to get creative and try to think backwards. 😉 All distances and elevations are rounded and approximate. 

Roads End to Mist Falls

4 Miles (6.5 KM)

850ft (250M) Elevation Gain

After departing from the Road’s End Ranger Station the trail follows a wide path through an open forest with excellent views to cliffs and peaks surrounding the canyon. Sun exposure in this section is high and shade is limited. After a couple miles, you’ll hit the junction for Bubb’s Creek trail where counterclockwise hikers take a right crossing the bridge over the South Fork Kings River.  Clockwise hikers continue along the Paradise Valley trail which follows along the rivers west bank, The trail becomes quite lush with the moisture, nutrients, and spray from the river transforming the forest and providing some shade. The contrast is stark, where minutes ago there was a sandy wash, ferns and significant understory abounds. For 2 miles after the Junction with Bubbs the trail steadily climbs adding about 650ft (200 M) elevation before reaching the aptly named Mist Falls where an incredible torrent of water shrouds the entire trail in vapor and mist.   This is a spectacular and refreshing location for lunch or a snack, just be mindful of the slippery rocks.

Paradise Valley on the Rae Lakes Loop

Mist Falls to Upper Paradise

5 Miles (8 KM)

1650ft (450M) Elevation Gain & 350 ft (100M) Loss

Leaving Mist Falls the trail continues its steady ascent navigating a short series of switchbacks half a mile after the falls. Views back down the river valley are spectacular and amplified in the morning as the sun’s rays highlight the canyon walls. The trail follows the river up the drainage as it flows through a series of deep and dramatic pools before widening and shallowing out near Lower Paradise Valley. Lower Paradise Valley is typically the first spot where camping is permitted, but for 2022 it was temporarily closed due to the presence of numerous dangerous trees. If you’re looking to camp in this area for the night continue on to Middle or Upper Paradise . This section of the trail provides numerous forested sections that serve as a lovely reprieve from the scorching Sierra sun. I was fortunate enough to see a bear about 150 ft in front of me on this section. Naturally, he took off the minute he heard me singing…

Hiking Past Upper Paradise on the Woods Creek Trail

Upper Paradise to Woods Creek

5.5 Miles (9 KM)

1650ft (500M) Elevation GaIn

After departing Upper Paradise you’ll encounter the largest river crossing of this trip. There was once a bridge that crossed the South Fork Kings River here, but it was washed away in 2016. As of June 2022, there was no new bridge and a stream crossing is required here. The conditions are season dependent and day dependent.  I encountered no issues with this crossing in early June , but every year/day can be different. Ask the ranger for any guidance when you pick up your permit as from time-to-time log jams form in the vicinity that can make the crossing easier. Look for the old bridge foundation to give you a bearing of where to head and avoid walking to far. Additionally, once you’ve made the crossing, find the remnants of the old bridge’s concrete foundation again to re-discover the trail. There are a couple trails that lead north (or to the left of the old fountain), do not take these, stay on the trail that heads straight then to the right and you’ll quickly rediscover the main trail. You’re now on the Woods Creek trail!  Over the next 6 miles you’ll gain over 1600 ft of elevation (500M) in a steady fashion. Who said going up was hard!  Following your crossing, you’ll initially hike out of sight of Woods Creek before the creek becomes visible a couple miles down the trail.  Upon reaching Castle Domes Meadows area the views really begin to open up and you’re given a sampling of what’s to come.  After staying right at the junction and joining up with JMT/PCT you’ll come to the suspension bridge and cross over Woods creek.

Lower Rae Lake

Woods Creek to Middle Rae Lake

6 Miles (10 KM)

2000ft (650M) Elevation GaIn

After crossing the suspension bridge over Woods Creek the trail climbs 1600 ft ( 500 M) to reach Dollar Lake and the junction with Baxter Lakes Trail. This climb is steady over the duration and crosses over various tributaries that flow into the South Fork Woods Creek. None of these crossings are technical and are likely seasonal flows, unfortunately in early June several were not crossable without conceding wet feet. After reaching Dollar Lake the trail remains relatively flat and you’ll cross another small flow that connects Arrowhead Lake with Dollar lake and re-soaks your feet just as they were starting to dry. Arrowhead lake offers a decent size camping zone with food storage boxes, should your legs be too weary to go any further or are looking to avoid the crowd at Rae. Arrowhead is also a great second night option for those looking to stay near Rae Lakes for longer than 1 night. At this point the trail makes one more climb  to reach the majestic Rae Lakes. There are several spots to camp near lower Rae lakes, but many backpackers continue past the ranger station to Middle Rae Lake. Camping here provides an optimal view over Middle Rae Lake to the Painted Lady and peaks behind.  Sunset and sunrise here is guaranteed to delight!

Alpenglow at Rae Lakes

Middle Rae Lakes to Glen Pass

2.5 Miles (4 KM)

1500ft (450M) Elevation Gain

If you’ve stayed at Middle Rae, you’ll start your day with incredible views as you follow the shoreline along the northern side of Upper Rae Lake. After walking for about ½ mile (1 KM) you’ll encounter another small water crossing where Upper Rae drains into Lower Rae. There were no rocks to cross during my trip. If you have an alternate pair of shoes/sandals you’ve been using for river crossings, I’d consider wearing them from camp to this point given. It’s a short distance and you’ll save the hassle of making the change. If not, embrace the morning footbath! Shortly after negotiating this crossing you’ll encounter the junction for the Sixty Lakes Basin to the right, a great place to explore for those spending additional time in the area. If not, continue to the left, it’s time to tackle Glen Pass! From Upper Rae Lakes the trail gains 1500ft  (450 M) over 1.8 Miles (3 KM) to the trail’s highest point at Glen Pass. This ascent is negotiated over a series of switchbacks that climb over loose rock and snow, in the early-season. If you’re hiking early in the year, this is where you’ll want your microspikes so have them ready. An early morning start is also helpful, as the snow is firm and far less strenuous to navigate without postholing at every step. Regardless of the season, It’s tough work making the climb, but the awe-inspiring views of alpine lakes and jagged peaks are balm to your burning quads. Following a final step set of switchbacks the trail cuts across sharply skirting the ridge to the right before reaching the summit of the pass. Be especially careful here if traveling on snow or ice as the slope to the right is steep and a fall would have consequences. After navigating this final section, take it all in. A breathtaking view greets you in all directions!

View from Glen Pass

Glenn Pass to Charlotte Lake Junction

2 Miles (3.5 KM)

1300 ft (400M) Elevation Loss

After enjoying your time atop Glen Pass, it is time to begin your descent. The path coming down navigates a series of switchbacks, but without the same level of loose rock as your ascent. Additionally, this slope south facing exposure makes it unlikely that you’ll encounter any more snow travel. You’ll descend towards a small alpine lake for around ½ mile rapidly losing 350 ft (100 M) of elevation along the way. After this first lake the trail follows along a small creek that drains into a lower lake about 1 Mile (0.6 KM) down. There are several camp spots nearby these small lakes that may be useful for hikers traveling counterclockwise and looking to get an early start going up Glen Pass. After passing the second lake, you’ll slowly leave behind the alpine environment and continue for another 1.2 miles (2.0 Km) losing  525ft (160 M) of elevation before reaching the trail for Kearsarge Pass. Kearsarge pass makes for an excellent alternative entry point or add on loop (9 KM round trip to the pass) that takes in scenic views from the pass, Kearsarge Lakes and Bullfrog Lakes. Staying on the main trail you’ll continue for ¼ mile (0.35KM) before coming to another junction with Charlotte Lake trail. Charlotte lake lies ⅔ Mile (1 KM) to the right with this trail also serving as the access point for exploring the Gardiner Basin area.

Charlotte Lake Junction to Junction Meadow

4 Miles (6.5 KM)

2600ft (800 M) Elevation Loss

Following the junction with Charlotte Lake, you’ll encounter a series of switchbacks before continuing a steady descent alongside a creek and down the valley. From Charlotte junction you’ll lose 360M of elevation in 2.7km walking through forested areas with consistent openings to the mountains above and valley below before reaching Vidette Meadow junction . Upon reaching Vidette Meadow junction you’ll stay right following the Bubbs creek trail and bidding adieu to PCT and JMT trails as they exit to the left. From here the trail parallels Bubbs creek as it descends providing innumerable magnificent views of the crashing torrent as it descends down into the valley below.  About 4km after lower Lower Vidette meadow you’ll arrive at Junction meadow. For those looking to cover move ground, an excellent camping spot with bear boxes lies an extra 0.6 miles down the trail adjacent to Bubbs Creek.

Bubbs Creek on Rae Lakes Trail

Junction Meadow to Sphinx Creek

6 Miles (10 KM)

2000ft (600 M) Elevation Loss

Leaving Junction meadow you’ll continue to parallel Bubbs Creek and walk through a mix of forest and meadow. Catch views of the surrounding cliffs that encircle the valley walls and marvel at the perfectly eroded drainages where spring runoff funnels down into Bubbs creek. After 3 miles (4.8 KM) and a 300M loss in elevation you’ll reach Charlotte Creek which offers a collection of campsites to the left of the trail and near Bubbs Creek. As you continue past this area and down to Sphinx Creek look for the looming silhouette of Charlotte Dome (10,630 ft 3240 m) to the right. A further 3.3 Miles (5KM) down the trail you’ll come to a junction at Sphinx Creek. The Campsite here is the last (first)  place to camp if completing this hike Clockwise (counterclockwise). 

Sphinx Creek to Road's End

4 Miles (6.5 KM)

1300 ft (400 M) Elevation Loss

From Sphinx you’ll walk for about ⅔ of a mile (1KM) before encountering your final set of switchbacks. As you descend, look for views of the Sphinx 2786M to the southwest. Once you’ve reached the bottom of the switchbacks you’ll make your way across Bubbs Creek (unbridged) before crossing the bridge over South Fork Kings River and retracing your steps back to Road’s end and your car. 

Campsites on the Rae Lakes Loop

Unlike popular hikes like the Rockwall Trail or the Grand Canyon’s corridor trails, there are no truly established campsites on the Rae Lakes Trail. Specifically, you will not have luxuries like tent pads or outhouses, but you have the luxury of getting to camp (mostly) where you please! There are multiple locations that are frequently utilized by backpackers and often feature well used/obvious tent sites, food storage boxes, and established fire rings. Bear canisters are mandatory for hiking the Rae Lakes Loop and priority in the food storage boxes is given to thru hikers on the PCT and JMT. However, if there is room many hikers pop their bear canisters inside to make it easily discoverable and eliminate the risk that a bear will accidentally roll your cache into a nearby lake or river should it attempt to get inside. You’ll find food storage boxes at the following locations:

    • Sphinx Creek
    • Charlotte Creek
    • Lower Junction Meadow
    • Junction Meadow (East Creek)
    • Vidette Meadow
    • Woods Creek crossing/John Muir Trail
    • Upper Paradise Valley
    • Middle Paradise Valley
    • Lower Paradise Valley
    • Arrowhead Lake
    • Middle Rae Lake

Itinerary options for hiking Rae Lakes

The traditional Rae Lakes Loop can be completed in 2 to 5 days, but numerous side-trails offer multiple ways to spend more time exploring this incredible area. The following itineraries have been provided as a starting point for helping you plan your trip. Only you know what mileage you’re comfortable with, so make an informed decision. Hiking and backpacking are rare activities where faster isn’t necessarily better or more enjoyable. The last thing you want is to be stressing out about whether or not you’ll make it to camp before dark.

Please note the following restrictions when planning your trip and check for up to date restrictions prior to booking and starting your trip:

    • Camping in Paradise Valley is limited to two nights.
    • Camping at Rae Lakes is limited to one night per lake.
    • No camping at Lower Paradise Valley due to the number of dead trees in the area.

All mileages and elevations are rounded and approximate.

Alpenglow at Rae Lakes

Rae Lakes Loop in 2 days / 1 night

Crazy? Maybe a little, but trail runners tackle the Rae Lakes Loop in one day of quad destroying bliss.  So, if you’re really short on time and are comfortable logging high miles in the High Sierra this trip is for you.

Clockwise via Woods Creek

    • Day 1: Road’s End to Middle Rae Lakes via Woods Creek
      • 21.5 Miles (34 KM) 
      • 5900 ft (1800 M) Elevation Gain 
      • 300 ft (100 M) Elevation Loss
    • Day 2: Middle Rae Lakes to Road’s End via Bubbs Creek
      • 19 Miles (31 KM) 
      • 1600ft (500 M) Elevation Gain
      • 7200 ft (2200 M) Loss
Notes:

 In this short of time, clockwise is the way to go as it allows you to spend a night at the loop’s namesake (Rae Lakes) and get up and over Glen Pass first thing in the morning on day 2. Going up Glen first has a number of benefits including: reducing the chance of having to delay due to midday thunderstorm and not having to conquer the toughest part of the trail at the end of a long day when you’re fatigued.  If you’re going with this itinerary, I’d start as early as possible. I  completed this same schedule on my first day hiking to Rae Lakes.  I picked up my permit at 7:00am and finished at middle Rae Lake shortly after 5:00pm with about 30-45 minutes of stoppage time (for lunch/snacks). It felt tough, but manageable. On the 2nd day it’ll be all downhill after completing Glenn pass as your first order of business and you should be back at Road’s end in the late afternoon/early evening, leaving you plenty of time to drive home, get a few hours sleep, and make that early morning Zoom meeting the next day.  Weekend warrior this trip was built for you!

Upper Rae Lakes at Sunrise on the Rae Lakes Loop

Rae Lakes in 3 days / 2 nights

There are a couple ways to complete this backpacking trip in 2 nights. If you cannot live with the FOMO of hiking to Rae Lakes and not camping there you will need to have one really big day and 2 medium days. If you’re alright with passing by Rae Lakes and not camping there you can spread the mileage over the three days on the trail.

Here are the options:

Option 1 - Clockwise via Woods Creek and camp at Rae Lakes

This is the choice for you if you MUST camp at Rae Lakes! I get it, this was me. Here’s how to do it:

    • Day 1: Road’s End to Middle Rae Lakes via Woods Creek
      • 21.5 Miles (34 KM)
      • 5900 ft (1800 M) Elevation Gain 
      • 300 ft (100 M) Elevation Loss
    • Day 2: Middle Rae Lakes to Junction Meadow, Charlotte Creek, or Sphinx Creek
      •  9.5 Miles (15 KM) to Junction
      • 1600 ft (500 M) Elevation Gain
      • 4000 ft (1200 M) Elevation Loss
    • Day 3:Junction Meadow, Charlotte Creek, or Sphinx Creek to Road’s End via Bubbs Creek
      •  9.5 Miles (15 KM)  to Junction
      • 3200ft (1000 M)  Elevation Loss
Notes:

Similar to the 1 night itinerary, clockwise is the way to go as it allows you to spend a night at Rae Lakes and get up and over Glen Pass first thing in the morning on day 2. By knocking off Glen Pass first thing you reduce the chance of delay due to midday summer thunderstorms and avoid having to complete the toughest part of the trail at the very end of a long day.

Day 2 gives you some flexibility on the final campsite, allowing you to lengthen the day and subsequently reduce your hike out on day 3 should you desire. If you’re itching for more miles, trips to Charlotte Lake or Kearsarge Pass/Lakes can easily be added to the second day.  This is pretty much the itinerary I hiked, except I added a loop trip to Kearsarge Pass, Kearsarge Lakes and Bullfrog Lake to Day 2. 

Option 2 - Clockwise via Woods Creek with even-ish mileage

    • Day 1: Road’s End to Woods Creek Crossing via Woods Creek
      • 16 miles  (25 KM)
      • 3900 ft (1200 M) Elevation Gain 
      • 300 ft (100 M) Elevation Loss
    • Day 2: Woods Creek to Junction Meadow
      • 16 miles (25 KM) 
      • 3600 ft (1100 M) Elevation Gain
      • 4000 ft (1200 M) Elevation Loss
    • Day 3: Junction Meadow to Road’s End via Bubbs Creek
      • 9.5 Miles (15KM) 
      • 3300 ft (1000 M) Elevation Loss
Notes:

If you’re looking to space the mileage out, this itinerary splits the elevation gain almost equally between the first and second days while leaving the shorter day for the final day to get where you need to go post hike. Downside is that you don’t get to camp in the alpine areas which are, in my opinion, the most scenic. 

Option 3 - Counterclockwise via Bubbs Creek with even-ish mileage

    • Day1:  Road’s End to past Charlotte  Lake Junction via Bubbs Creek . Stay near one of the small lakes about 1.5 Miles (2.5 KM) North of Charlotte Lake Junction and before Glen Pass.
      • 16 Miles (25 KM) 
      •  6600 ft (2000 M) Elevation Gain
    • Day 2: Charlotte Lake Junction area to Upper Paradise
      • 16 Miles (25 KM) 
      • 1000ft (300 M) Elevation Gain
      • 5300 0ft (1600 M) Elevation Loss
    • Day 3: Upper Paradise to Roads End
      • 9 Miles (14 Km) 
      • 2300 ft (700 M) Elevation Loss
Notes:

This itinerary will park you very close to Glen Pass for day 2 and you get the majority of the tough mileage out of the way on a tough day 1. The mileage is more evenly distributed, but this first day will be very tough. 

Hikers ascend a snowy Glen Pass

Rae Lakes in 4 days / 3 nights

Completing the Rae Lakes Loop in 4 days / 3 nights seems to be the Goldiloks zone for many backpackers. Here are couple options to do it in this timeframe:

Option 1 - Clockwise via Woods Creek

    • Day 1: Road’s End to Upper Paradise
      • 9 Miles (14 Km) 
      • 2300 ft (700 M) Elevation Gain
    • Day 2: Upper Paradise to Middle Rae
      • 12 Miles (19 KM) 
      • 3600 ft (1100 M) Elevation Gain
      • 300 ft (100 M) Elevation Loss
    • Day 3: Middle Rae to Junction, Charlotte Creek, Sphinx.
      •  9.5 Miles (15 KM) to Junction
      • 1600 ft (500 M) Elevation Gain
      • 4000 ft (1200 M) Elevation Loss
    • Day 4: Junction Meadow, Charlotte Creek, or Sphinx Creek to Road’s End via Bubbs Creek
      •  9.5 Miles (15 KM)  from Junction
      • 3200ft (1000 M)  Elevation Loss
Notes:

There are tough days in this itinerary, but the mileage is manageable for most backpackers.. You get to enjoy the splendor of Rae Lakes for a night and can summit Glen Pass in the morning. A winning itinerary, if I say so myself.  

Option 2 - Counterclockwise via Bubbs Creek

    • Day 1: Road’s End to Lower Vidette Meadow
      • 13 Miles (20 KM) 
      • 4600 ft (1400 M)  Elevation Gain 
    • Day 2: Lower Vidette Meadow to Middle Rae Lake
      • 7 Miles (11 KM)
      •  2600 ft (800 M) Elevation Gain
      •  1600 ft (500 M) Elevation Loss
    • Day 3: Middle Rae Lake to Upper Paradise
      • 12 Miles (19 KM)
      • (100 M) Elevation Gain
      • 3600 ft(1100 M) Elevation Loss
    • Day 4: Upper Paradise to Road’s End
      • 9 Miles (14 KM) 
      • 2300 ft (700 M) Elevation Loss
Notes:

By making a big climb to Lower Vidette Meadow on Day 1 you put yourself in good shape to make the trek up to Glen Pass on the morning of Day 2. Ideally you’ll have a good amount of time in the later afternoon to kick back at Rae Lakes.

View from Glen Pass

Rae Lakes in 5 days / 4 nights

Spend a little bit more time in the area and break up the big up days into smaller and more manageable chunks.

Option 1 - Clockwise via Woods Creek

    • Day 1: Road’s End to Middle Paradise Valley
      • 8 Miles (12 KM)
      • 2000 ft (600M) Elevation Gain
      • 300 ft (100M) Elevation Loss
    • Day 2: Middle Paradise to Woods Creek
      • 8 Miles (12 KM) 
      • 2000 ft (600 M) Elevation Gain
    • Day 3: Woods Creek to Middle Rae Lake
      •  6 Miles (10 KM) 
      • 2000 ft (600 M) Elevation Gain
    • Day 4: Middle Rae Lake to Junction Meadow
      • 9 Miles 14 KM 
      • 1600 ft (500 M) Gain 
      • 4000 ft (1200 M) Loss
    • Day 5: Junction Meadow to Road’s End
      • 10 Miles (16 KM)
      • 3300 ft (1000 M) Loss
Notes:

This itinerary groups the lighter mileage with the larger elevation gain and the longer mileage with the larger descents. The shortest day is to Rae lakes providing ample time for relaxation here. 

Option 2 - Counterclockwise via Bubbs Creek

    • Day 1: Road’s End to Charlotte Creek
      • 7 Miles (11 KM) 
      • 2300 ft (700 M) Elevation Gain
    • Day 2: Charlotte Creek to Charlotte Lake
      • 9 Miles (14 KM) 
      • 3900 ft (1200 M)  Elevation Gain
    • Day 3: Charlotte Lake to Arrowhead Lake
      • 7 Miles (12 KM) 
      • 1600 ft(500 M) Elevation Gain
      •  2000 ft(600 M) Elevation Loss
    • Day 4: Arrowhead Lake to Upper Paradise Valley
      •  10 Miles (16KM)
      •  3600 ft (1100 M) Elevation Loss
    • Day 5: Upper Paradise Valley to Road’s End
      • 9 Miles (14 KM)
      • 2300 ft (700 M) Elevation Loss
Notes:

This itinerary once again groups the lighter mileage and larger elevation gain and longer mileage with larger descents. If you’re going clockwise and looking to split mileage evenly between the days you won’t be able to camp at Rae Lakes. This itinerary includes a 1 mile side trip to camp at Charlotte Lake on Day 2 which is a nice spot to camp and puts you in reasonable proximity to Glen Pass for Day 3. 

Trees on the Rae Lakes Loop

More time? Adapt the Itineraries!

Add a low KM day or zero KM day in the Rae Lakes and Arrowhead lakes alpine area to any of these itineraries to give yourself more time to explore. Maybe you spend the day relaxing lakeside or day hiking into the Sixty Lakes Basin (3 miles each way from Upper Rae Lakes).   Remember, if you’re staying at Rae Lakes you’ll have to move your basecamp as camping is limited to one night per lake. 

Itineraries too long? Break up a day. Camping is permitted almost everywhere on this loop, so break any of the days up into manageable chunks!

What to pack for the Rae Lakes Loop​

Hikes like Rae Lakes Loop are more enjoyable the lighter your pack. A lighter backpack helps you cover more mileage and more elevation with way less effort making big days more realistic, not to mention more comfortable!

If you’re new to backpacking, don’t stress out about buying the latest and greatest equipment. Save money and use things you already own that can be repurposed for backpacking, rent gear or borrow stuff from a gear-head buddy. Later, when you’ve gained more experience, modify your kit and change out gear as you get a better understanding of what creature comforts you can and can’t live without. With this in mind, here’s some gear suggestions for taking this trip:

Camping by Junction Meadow on Rae Lakes Loop

Tent

I prioritized a lightweight tent this year and bought the Mountain Hardwear Strato UL2 after also considering the MSR Freelite. I probably would have bought the MSR, but it was sold out at the time. I’ve been thrilled with this little tent so far! That’s it above near Junction meadow!

If you’re looking for a completely freestanding tent check out the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2’s unique blend of functionality, livability, weight, and durability. This tent earns high praise every year and Big Agnes’s customer service is second to none!  

Backpack

If you’re relatively new to backpacking and building out your kit slowly, there is nothing wrong with using a large-size travel backpack with a decent suspension system and padded hip belt, or borrowing one from a friend. This gives you time to decide what features you need and whether or not backpacking (and the gear) is something you’re going to invest in.  When I first started backpacking, I used our Khmer Explorer Travel Set on Canada’s West Coast Trail  which worked great despite me packing way too much!  

If you’ve begun dialing in your backpacking kit and moving towards a lightweight set-up, checkout the Gregory Focal or Women’s specific Facet. At ~2.5lbs these pack provides a great compromise between barebones ultralight packs and the heavier feature-laden packs. 

If you’re ready to go to an extreme level of gram counting, check out the Hyperlite 3400 southwest. It’s 100% waterproof and constructed from ultralight dyneema fabric.

Sleeping Mat

I used to have terrible sleeps in the backcountry until I switched to the Therm-a-Rest. It’s incredibly lightweight, comfortable, and packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle. This is probably one of my favorite backpacking items! Try it out. You won’t regret it. Sleep well!

Backpacking Pillow

Yes, you can sleep with a pillow not made of bunched up clothes in the backcountry. Check out the Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe Pillow It packs down ultra small and provides a new level of comfort after long days on the trail.

Sleeping Bag

Patagonia’s sleeping bags are 5 star!!  I received one as a gift several years ago and it has been nothing short of perfect. It’s lightweight and packs down small. I found the 30°F / -1°C to be perfect for most outings – if it gets colder you can always layer up! Like all Patagonia products, it’s not cheap, but they stand behind their gear and the quality matches the price point. If you spend a lot of time in colder environments they also make a 20°F / -7°C version.  These bags are a worthwhile splurge!

Water Purification

For purifying water, I’m a huge fan of the Steripen. It’s light, portable and only takes minutes to purify a liter of water in a Nalgene. Press the button, place the pen in your bottle, and stir for a couple minutes!  Make sure to bring tablets as a backup though should you run into any technical problems/dead battery with your Steripen.

Trowel & Toilet Paper

The lack of facilities on the Rae Lakes Trail make a trowel  a requirement for this trip. Follow minimum impact camping principles and be sure to go at least 200m away from any established trails, campsites, or water (creeks, lakes, rivers etc.). Pack out your TP or hang onto it until you reach the next outhouse.

Swiss Army Knife

For fixing gear or cutting food, a swiss army knife is your go-to-everything for backpacking.

Stove & Fuel Canisters

Lightweight, convenient, and reliable, the MSR pocket rocket has been my go-to backpacking stove for years.

Backcountry Cookset

I love the GSI Halulite Microdualist II, two-person cookset. It’s lightweight and I can fit my MSR pocket rocket and a fuel canister inside. Check out the MSR PocketRocket Stove Kit for an all-inclusive solution.

Water Bottle or Reservoir

Nalgenes are always a backcountry favorite. If you’re cutting weight or looking for a way to save a buck, a simple smart water is the go-to for ultralight backpackers. I’ve recently moved to a hydration reservoir as it allows me to stay hydrated continuously without stopping to grab and open a bottle.

Water Container

Extra water storage capacity makes cooking that much easier and camp life more enjoyable, so consider the MSR DromLite Bag V2. It’s also a must for a trip without reliable water sources where hauling more water may be essential.

First Aid Kit

From blisters, to scrapes, and cuts. A first aid kit is an essential item to have.  The pre-built kits from Adventure Medical Kits have served me well on many adventurers. At the end of your trip write down any items you used and replace them so they’re ready for your next adventure.

Hiking Poles

For the big elevation gain of the Rae Lakes Loop poles make a huge difference!  I resisted getting them for years, but take it from a former skeptic, poles are incredible at reducing the strain of long, grueling descents and providing extra stability on exposed sections. Do yourself a favor and get a pair of poles. For a reliable entry-level option try these Black Diamond Poles or consider upgrading to the carbon fiber to save extra weight.

Bear Canister

Bear Canisters are required on the Rae Lakes Loop and Rangers will check for them.  For several people go with the BV500 for solo adventures the BV450 works great. 

Headlamp

The Spot 350 is the way to go with 6 modes including the night vision saving red light! Red light mode takes a minute to get used to, but once you do it’s a total game changer trust me! Hello stars!! 

GPS, Compass & Map

Download the GAIA app for maps and gps. I always bring a traditional compass and map as well in the case of technical problems or dead batteries.

Battery Back-up & Charging Cable

Keep your phone charged for photos and gps.

Luxury Items

These items are not necessary, but may be worth it depending on your weight priorities and the distance you plan to cover.

Camp Chair

After a long day on the trail there’s nothing better than finding a nice comfortable spot to rest your weary glutes. The Helinox Chair One is a great option and at just over 1kg, it’s light enough to justify bringing on slower/easier backpacking trips where weight isn’t as big of consideration or for trips from an established base camp.

Hammock

If you’ve never strung up a hammock between two trees deep in the backcountry, you’re missing out! Nothing beats getting horizontal with some great reading material in the pre-dinner hours or taking in an amazing sunset from your own outdoor couch. The ENO Double Nest has room for two and at ½ kg  it’s hardly even a splurge to pack.  P.S. don’t forget the straps to hang it.

Clothing & Accessories

Shell Jacket

An essential piece for wind, rain, and snow. Check out the Patagonia Torrentshell  (or Women’s version).

Sun Hat & Warm Hat

A ball cap or tilly hat keeps your face protected from the intense mountain sun. A winter hat is great for warming up during chilly mornings or evenings.  Here are a bunch of great options.

Sunglasses

Don’t forget to pack your favorite pair, the sun gets intense at these elevations! 

Rainpants

Mountain weather can change fast and rain pants are an absolute lifesaver to have in your backpacking kit. Many have the functionality for quickly taking them on and off without removing your shoes/boots and allowing you to stay comfortable even if you get caught in a sudden downpour. If you need a pair, check out the Patagonia Torrentshell in men’s or women’s.  

Convertible Hiking Pants 1-2 Pairs

I never thought I’d see the day I embraced the zip-off. But they really are the best of both worlds and can’t be beat for quickly changing mountain conditions and keeping warm in the evening when the temperature drops. Check out the Quandary Pant for a great option. 

Puff Jacket

I’ve had the Patagonia Men’s Nano Puff® Hoody for years. It’s a perfect multi-functional item for everyday, backpacking, and pretty much anything where you might need a bit of warmth. I’m still looking for an activity it doesn’t work for. They also make the Nano Puff in a women’s version.

Sun Hoodie

When I went backpacking in the Grand Canyon a few years back, I was shocked to see throngs of Arizona Trail thru-hikers wearing hoodies in the 100 degree (40 C) heat. Turns out they were onto something! A sun hoodie has been one of the best items I’ve added to my backpacking kit. They keep you burn free, are surprisingly cool, and let you get away with leaving the bottle of sunscreen at home. The Sahara Sun Hoodie (men’s/women’s) from REI has served me well.  Or check out these ones from Outdoor Research (men’s / women’s).

Base Layer Top

These Capilene Cool shirts work well for me, but pretty much any athletic quick-dry top will work fine.

Base Layer Bottom

A merino bottom baselayer is perfect for warming up at night or during chilly mornings.

Underwear

Patagonia makes fantastic underwear with quality, durability, and comfort far exceeding Lululemon, and Saxx (I’ve tried both). You decide how many or how few you bring…

They also make women’s underwear, but I am unable to advise on fit, form, function, or durability on this front.

Hiking Socks 3 Pairs

Darn Tough Vermont makes the best hiking socks hands down. They’re guaranteed for life/replaced free of charge and they don’t stink. Really! I typically bring 3 pair. 1 pair for hiking, 1 pair to change into at camp, and a reserve to throw into the rotation as needed. 

Gloves

I typically bring a thin weatherproof pair.

Camp Shoes

Crocs are back! Well for backpacking camp shoes they never left… They’re lightweight and ugly as ever. Many backpackers find them to be the perfect camp shoe for resting sore feat after a long day in boots/shoes.

Personally, I still hate them. I have an old pair of Tom’s which I occasionally bring. They are light and less bulky than Crocs. If going with a trail runner, I’ll often ditch the camp shoe altogether and just loosen my laces. Your call!  

Trail Runners or Hiking Boots

When I’m going lightweight I’ll wear trail runners. I’ve had great luck with the La Sportiva Bushido II. When I’m carrying more gear/weight or if there’s a chance of snow, I’ll wear a larger more traditional hiking boot, like the Scarpa Kailash.

Microspikes (Season Dependent)

Microspikes slip effortlessly over your boots and make walking on snow and ice a breeze.

Low Gaiter (Season and Condition Dependent)

Low gaiters are perfect for keeping rocks, sand, and snow out of your boots.

Duct Tape (For Repairs and Blisters)

Tooth Brush & Toothpaste

Food

Everyone has different takes and caloric requirements, so I won’t tell you exactly what to bring. I generally avoid the just-add-water meals you find at REI or MEC. They’re overpriced and often don’t rehydrate as you’d like. I usually head to the grocery store and search for things like lentil rice, ramen, or plant-based mac & cheese. They’re basically just add/boil quickly meals. Always re-bag/re-pack this type of food, as there is no reason to carry unnecessary packaging on the trail. I’m also a big fan of the Patagonia provisions soups and chilis

If you’re looking for incredible dehydrated food, check out Food for the Sole. Their salads are some of the best add-water-food I’ve had in the backcountry. 

View down the Valley from Mist Falls

Final thoughts on hiking the Rae Lakes Loop

    • The Rae Lakes Loop was an absolutely spectacular backpacking trip.
    • Completing it in 3 days was manageable, but day 1 was long.
    • Would love to return to check out the Sixty Lakes Basin or Gardiner Basin areas.
    • JMT and PCT section from Woods Creek Bridge to  Lower Vidette Meadow felt very busy due to thru hiker traffic.
    • Bugs were pretty bad at times in early June. Saw hikers with face nets.

Your Thoughts on Rae Lakes

Have you hiked the Rae Lakes Loop? I’d love to hear from you. Questions about backpacking Rae Lakes? Drop me a line in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help! 

More adventures you might enjoy

View along the Rockwall Trail towards Floe Lake.

Rockwall Trail | The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Rockwall

The Rockwall Trail is one of the Canadian Rockies’ premier backpacking trips. For 55km you’ll be treated to a seemingly unending supply of sublime Rocky Mountain scenery. Here’s how to make it happen with must-read tips for getting a permit and beating the crowds.

Angkor Wat Guide – Plan Your Visit to the Temples of Angkor [2022]

Preah Khan Temple Cambodia

Which temples do you need to see at Angkor? How many days does it take to visit them all? What’s the best way to get around temples of Angkor? Fortunately, after reading this guide, all you have to do it worry about setting your alarm to watch the sunrise! Well, almost… 

Angkor Archeological Park and Angkor Wat is a highlight of any trip to Cambodia or along the Banana Pancake Trail.  The ancient city of Angkor was once a vast civilization with a population of over 1 million people until it mysteriously collapsed and was subsequently absorbed back into the jungle.  Today,  Angkor Wat rivals  Macchu Picchu and the Great Pyramids in its ability to inspire awe in every visitor.

Spread out over a vast area, it’s likely that you’ll spend either one jam packed day or multiple days temple touring and fulfilling your own Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider fantasy.  Before we dive into the logistics, let’s look at the basics for visiting Ankgor Wat.

How do you get to Angkor Wat?

Angkor Wat is located adjacent to Siem Reap , the jumping off point for anyone exploring the temples of Angkor. Siem Reap is easily accessed by plane or bus. For more details on getting here or get tips on Siem Reap, check out our  Cambodia Itinerary planner.

How much does it cost to visit Angkor Wat?

There are three options for visiting the temples of Angkor. If you are lucky enough to be visiting within this year, there is a special promotion until the end of 2022 that gives you extra days to explore:

    • One day ($37 (valid only on the day of purchase). The essential package. *Valid for 2 days until December 31, 2022
    • Three days $62 (valid for 10 days from the date of purchase) Typically the sweet spot. *Valid for 5 days until December 31, 2022
    • Seven days $72 (valid for one month from the date of purchase). For serious temple buffs or those hanging out in Siem Reap for an extended period of time. *Valid for 10 days until December 31, 2022
Preah Khan Temple Cambodia

What to pack for Angkor Wat

    • A small everyday backpack like our Kiri pack. 
    • Water (lots) and a few snacks.
    • Your ticket (it will be checked at numerous checkpoints).
    • Sunscreen.
    • A hat.
    • Sunglasses.
    • Bug spray.

Don't forget travel insurance

Unfortunately, when you’re riding bikes on busy roads, being driven in Tuk Tuks, and climbing steep slippery steps up ancient temples,  medical emergencies can happen and you want to be prepared! My sister had a friend who was medevaced to Bangkok from Cambodia and spent several weeks in the hospital there to the tune of $750,000. Fortunately, she had travel insurance. If you don’t already have travel insurance, check out World Nomads or get a quote in seconds below.  They even have options that protect against theft, and cover the cost of emergency evacuations. 

When to buy a ticket for Angkor Wat?

Buy your ticket the evening before your day of exploration anytime after 5pm to avoid having to make an extra stop to the ticket booth on your first morning. You’ll also get access to the Park that night, offering you the bonus of watching the sunset to kick off your temple touring. The most popular sunset spot, Phnom Bakheng, was extremely busy pre-pandemic but less so as of our last visit in 2022. The temple Pre Rup is also open until 7pm and is a great way to start your adventure after buying your ticket.

What should you wear to visit Angkor Wat?

The Angkor Park remains an active religious site. As such, it’s recommended that you wear a shirt that covers your shoulders and shorts/pants/skirt/dress that extend below your knees. Individuals not meeting this dress code have been rejected entry in some cases, so do air on the side of caution and respect. Beyond these considerations, wear something comfortable and breezy as the heat here can be stifling. 

Scams at Angkor Wat

While rare, in some of the smaller temples you may be chatted up by a child or adult who gives you a tragic tale about a series of unfortunate events that led them to a very poor financial position. The conversation may start out as just a friendly conversation that you can easily mistake as getting to know a local, but it will inevitably find its way to their dire situation. These individuals are generally cons, so do your best to get out of the conversation and politely leave when it starts taking a turn. There are plenty of ways to help out by donating your money or time to organizations truly making a difference in Cambodia, so choose this option instead to be a responsible traveller.

How to get around the Temples of Angkor

Angkor Archeological Park is big, really big! In light of this, walking from temple to temple is out of the question. Generally the two most common options are traveling by hired tuk-tuk or by bicycle,

Hire a tuk-tuk to take you around Angkor

$15-20 for the day

From the minute you arrive in Siem Reap, every driver, tuk-tuk driver, and tout will ask you how you plan to see the temples and eagerly offer their expert guiding services to you. Seeing the temples by tuk-tuk is a great way to go when it comes to staying as comfortable as possible in the Cambodian heat. Generally, many tuk-tuk drivers have a good idea of which temples to visit and at which times. They’ll help you plan out your itinerary and wait for you while you take the time to tour each one. Often the biggest challenge is finding the right driver. I’ve had good luck taking a driver affiliated with my hotel, hostel or guesthouse and usually recommend going this route. Alternatively, talk to a few before committing and pick the person you like the best!

Rent a bike and pedal around Angkor Wat

$1-9 (bike quality dependent)

Cycling is a great way to explore the temples of Angkor and truly appreciate the beauty of the magical scenery in this area. Many hotels and guesthouses make bikes easily available for rent to guests. Don’t underestimate this though, as you can easily be cycling for 17 km (Small Circuit) or 26 km (Big Circuit) in the scorching Cambodian heat depending on the route you choose. If you decide to take a bicycle, be prepared to sweat, and remember to bring a headlamp if you go out for sunrise. I’ll never forget the intense paranoia I had of becoming roadkill in the pre-dawn as hundreds of tuk-tuks and tour buses cruised past me as I peddled furiously along the road to Angkor Wat. If you need help planing your cycling excursion, use the map and guide below.

Navigating the Temples of Angkor - the small loop and big loop

The Angkor Park is broken down into 2 loops:

    • The Small Loop (~17km)
    • The Big Loop (~26km)

If you’re visiting Angkor for 1 day you will likely stick to the highlights of the Small Circuit.

 If you have 3 days, you’ll move onto the Big Circuit. 

If you have even more time, you’ll be able to spend a lot of time wherever you want and double down on your favourites.

Map of the Temples of Angkor

You’ll be able to pick up a general map of Angkor at your hotel or hostel, but save this image below to your phone for quick reference.

What temples should you visit at Angkor?

Deciding which temples to visit depends on how much time you have and how quickly you get “templed out”. Use the descriptions of the temples below to help you decide which temples are your own “must-sees”. I’ve marked several temples as must sees to help you narrow your choices if you’re short on time. 

Temples to visit in the Angkor Small Loop

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Angkor Wat - Must See

The largest religious site in the world, Angkor Wat is a spectacular 12th century temple that was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and designed to represent Mount Meru, the sacred 5-peaked mountain of Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist cosmology. Despite the mass of crowds, a sunrise (~5 am) here is a truly unique experience. Make sure to spend time admiring the massive lengths of bas-reliefs and finding some relative solitude as the bulk of tourists eat breakfast or rub the sleep out of their eyes following the sunrise.

Phnom Bakheng

This hilltop temple near to Angkor Wat is a hotspot for sunset vistas. But with great views come great crowds. Pre-pandemic you had to arrive here early if you wanted to get a spot, but it’s much quieter these days as tourism in Cambodia is only slowly picking up again. During the day this is a place to find solitude, although it gets extremely hot during midday as there is no tree cover once you reach the temple

Angkor Thom

 Literally means “Great City”. If ever there was an ancient city worthy of its namesake, it’s Angkor Thom. The minute you enter, over the gigantic moats, through the walls, and beneath the faces that watch over each gate, you will be taken aback by the size and scale of this ancient citadel. The following temples are highlights within the Angkor Thom complex:

Bayon - Must See

At the heart of Angkor Thom is the Bayon. While smaller than Angkor Wat in size, the detail and 216 smiling faces adorning its towers make this temple a fan favourite.  Many theorize that the faces depict King Jayavarman VII the builder of Bayon and Angkor Thom. This temple is truly spectacular in its level of detail. The upper level is currently closed for restoration, but be sure to explore the beautiful lower levels of the Bayon to peek up at the towering faces above.

View from the Baphoun Temple in Angkor

Baphuon

Slightly north of Bayon lies the 30m tall 3-tiered Baphuon. Climb the steep steps to take in the view over Angkor Thom. As you journey around this magnificent structure and observe its details, take a moment to appreciate that you’re standing on a restoration project that was 50+ years in the making.  By the 20th century the Baphuon had almost entirely collapsed and an epic restoration project began. Over 300, 000 of the blocks were labelled and arranged around the area and a detailed catalogue created. Then the Khmer Rouge conflict followed and the plans were lost. In 1996 restoration resumed, and piece by piece the temple was reassembled over the span of 15 years.  On April 2011 the temple reopened, fully restored. Some call it one of the world’s largest puzzles, and for good reason.

Preah Palilay

Continuing north from Baphuon, the often forgotten jungle-gem of Preah Palilay is one of my most recent favourite discoveries within Angkor Thom. Tucked away behind a Buddhist monastery in the forest, this little temple has a chimney-like tower at its centre and several huge trees entangling its base stretch almost as high as the tower itself. This temple is worth a quick visit to really feel like Indiana Jones.

Banteay Kdei ​at Angkor Wat Cambodia

Banteay Kdei

Banteay Kdei is similar in style to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, but a smaller version. It’s a charming little temple located across from Srah Srang lake.

Srah Srang​ at Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Srah Srang

This large water reservoir demonstrates the engineering capabilities of the Khmer Empire. It also happens to be a nice place to watch sunrise with fewer crowds.

ta keo temple at Angkor

Ta Keo

Just outside of Angkor Thom lies Ta Keo. A mountain style temple dedicated to Shiva, Ta Keo was left unfinished in the 11th century. An inscription claims it was struck by lightning, a bad omen that led to a halt in its building, but the death of the temple’s commissioning King is another potential reason. Regardless, climbing Ta Keo’s three tiers of steep steps are worth the fear of slipping to get a nice view from the top level.

Srah Srang​

Ta Prohm - Must See

The iconic tree temple that was brought to fame by Tomb Raider lies about 1km to the east of Angkor Thom. Ta Prohm was originally built as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. Today Ta Prohm is one of the most popular temples in the Angkor Archeological Park due to the fact is was left almost as it was found when rediscovered. Massive trees drape their roots over ancient stones striking up an incredible contrast of man vs. nature.

Temples to visit in the Angkor Big Loop

Preah Khan

Reminiscent of Ta Prohm (including the unrestored style), but with half the crowds. This temple is a must visit. Wander the many corridors and meditate among the trees. If you get your timing right, you may even have the place virtually to yourself.  

Ta Som

 A small temple in the theme of Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, Ta Som is another one of my favourite places. Tucked away in the jungle on a dirt road off of the main concrete circuit, this temple is often missed by the tourist hordes and I’ve had the place to myself on multiple occasions. It’s a beautiful place to navigate through the rubble and admire the trees soaring through and beyond its stone walls.

Neak Pean​ temple in Angkor

Neak Pean

Just down the road from Preah Khan lies this small and peaceful water temple. Its small size and boardwalk access can make it a little crowded during busy times, but it’s a beautiful place nonetheless.

Pre Rup

A great choice for sunset if you’re looking to avoid the crowds of Phnom Bakheng, Pre Rup offers striking views over the surrounding area. Remarkably it never gets too busy here, so climb up to Pre Rup’s top tier and sit down for a bit of relaxation to absorb the beauty of the Park.

Temples to Visit Beyond the Angkor Park

Banteay Srei

 25 km northeast of Angkor Thom lies Banteay Srei. This small temple is frequently raved about for its elaborate carving that may be the most elaborate of all the temples of Angkor. You’ll need a tuk-tuk to get here, but if you have the energy after all the other temples, the carvings are worth the trip.

Find the Hidden Temples

If you’ve visiting all the temples in the big and smalll loop, go beyond the tourist track at these secret temples.  

How many days does it take to visit the Temples of Angkor?

If you’re someone that’s alright with hitting the highlights in one whirlwind of a day, it’s possible to visit Angkor Wat and the surronding temples in 1 day (see below). Most visitors looks to space their trips out over several days which allows ample time for seeing all the major temples in the Angkor Archeological Park. 

How to visit the Temples of Angkor in 1 day

Visiting Angkor in 1 day is a whirlwind, but if you’re short on time here’s my recommendation on how to do it.  If you’re biking, count on a commute of 1 hour to Angkor Wat if you’re staying on the northern side of Siem Reap, longer if you’re staying elsewhere. (Take it from someone who missed the sunrise not once but twice. Don’t miss it…)

Click the name to link back to the description above if you need to refresh your memory of a particular temple!

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

5:00 am Sunrise at Angkor Wat

7:30 am Angkor Thom

12:30 pm Lunch in Angkor Thom

1:30 pm Quick stop at Ta Keo

2:00 pm Ta Prohm

4:00 pm Banteay Kdei

5-6 pm Watch the sunset at Srah Srang or frantically back pedal through Angkor Thom and watch from the hilltop temple of Phnom Bakheng (leave early or cut Banteay Kdei if choosing this option to be sure you get a spot).

7 pm Relax. Take a deep breath. You saw the highlights of Angkor in 1 crazy day.

How to visit the Temples of Angkor in 3 days

3 days is the perfect amount of time to get the full Angkor experience. It’s a busy 3 days , but affords you the time to see all the temples you want at a somewhat relaxed pace. Here’s how to do it!

You can click the name to link back to the temple description above if you need to refresh your memory.

Temples of Angkor Itinerary Day 1: Angkor Wat & Ta Phrom

Stop 1: Angkor Wat

Start the day at the world famous Angkor Wat if you can bring yourself to wake up for the sunrise (5 am). It really is a breathtaking (albeit crowded) experience. Spend several hours admiring the vast bas-reliefs and queuing up to climb the steep steps to the upper level. Grab breakfast, a less than fantastic coffee, or the snack of your choosing at one of the many stalls/cafes along the north side of Angkor Wat.

Stop 2: Srah Srang & Banteay Kdei

 Instead of proceeding north to Angkor Thom (we’ll save that for day 2), head east to Srah Srang and Banteay Kdei. Spend some time enjoying the reservoir and small temple.

Stop 3: Ta Prohm

Explore the magnificent Ta Prohm and get to know your inner Indiana Jones or Lara Croft (among many other people trying to do the same thing).

Stop 4: Ta Keo

Take the time to climb up the Ta Keo mountain temple, before calling your first day. If you made it for the sunrise at Angkor Wat, you may be itching for a nap.  Even if you didn’t make sunrise, you’re likely going to be itching to cool down poolside with an ice cold Angkor draft, or maybe a nap and a cool down…

Temples of Angkor Itinerary Day 2: Angkor Thom

Cycle past Angkor Wat and proceed through the south gate into the great city of Angkor Thom. The temples in here don’t open until 7:30, but if you take the time to arrive around this time you’ll be rewarded with far fewer crowds than later in the day. Better yet, the morning is generally mildly cooler.

Stop 1: The Gates

No matter how you enter Angkor Thom, you’ll pass over the great moat and through an intimidating set of gates and walls towering over 9m tall.  

Stop 2: Bayon

At the centre of Angkor Thom this incredible temple can easily occupy several hours of exploration. Wander along the Terrace of the Leper King and Terrace of the Elephants, transporting yourself back to a time when this parade route would have seen kings returning victorious from battle.

Stop 3: Baphuon

Conclude your day by summiting the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle and admiring the amazing restoration work.  

Then...

Afternoon (time dependent) in Siem Reap or visit further out Banteay Srei by tuk-tuk or motorbike.

Temples of Angkor Itinerary Day 3: The Big Circuit

An early start will once again be to your advantage. Set out biking past Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom before continuing through the north gate until you reach Preah Khan.

Stop 1: Preah Khan

Wander through this massive temple and enjoy the relative quiet compared to the temples along the small circuit. Find a spot to sit and appreciate the power of the gigantic trees that engulf this temple.

Stop 2: Neak Pean, Ta Som and Pre Rup

Once you’ve finished at Preah Khan, continue down the road, stopping at Neak Pean and wandering across the boardwalk before proceeding onwards to Ta Som and concluding at Pre Rup.

Conclude Your Time at Angkor

If you’re not templed-out, bike back past Ta Prohm and through Angkor Thom, taking the time to stop at your favourites one more time. You also have the option to climb up Phnom Bakheng and bid adieu to your time at Angkor with a view. If it’s later on in the day already, you may even want to take the time to linger and watch the sunset over Angkor Wat. The perfect conclusion to the way you started.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, you found these tips helpful for planning your trip to Angkor Wat and the temples of Angkor. Questions? Drop me a line in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help you out!

More adventures like this

Plan Your First Backpacking Trip | How to Overnight Hike

Morning views from campsite after backpacking

Planning your first backpacking trip can feel intimidating. What do you pack? What if you forget something? How do you store your food? How do you take a #2?

Maybe you’ve been drawn in by the idea of hiking past isolated mountain vistas, the thought of having your morning coffee by a glacier fed lake, or simply inspired by the desire to feel the sense of adventure and connection with nature that comes with a backpacking. Whatever your reason, a good backpacking trip can easily become the highlight of your summer, or year, assuming it’s planned correctly. 

Unfortunately, it’s the latter that can serve as a major obstacle for getting into backpacking hiking and overnight camping. I’ll be the first to admit that prior to taking my first backpacking trip I was gripped with anxiety. Did I forget something essential? Would our gear work as planned? Fortunately, everything went off without a hitch and I’m certain it will for you too if you follow the simple steps I’ve put forward in this guide to taking your first overnight hike.

Research, plan your route, and pick an easy hike!

Planning an overnight hike thoroughly before embarking is a critical step. The last thing you want is to set off down the trail and realize that the hike is more than you bargained for and that your packing/gear setup was completely wrong. Take some time to do your research, air on the easy side of the difficulty spectrum and familiarize yourself as much as possible with the route in advance.

Person looks at map for planning backpacking trip

Research your first backpacking trip and plan your route

Maybe you heard about a hike or an area via Instagram, driving through a national park, or simply by old fashioned word of mouth. However your curiosity was piqued, take a look for blog posts or pick up a guide book written exclusively for the area you’re interested in from MEC or REI. National/state/provincial park websites are also great resources for learning more about a hike and frequently include pertinent information about closures, dangers, and trail conditions. By taking the time to do a bit of research you’ll be able to answer important questions before setting out like: Is the trail well marked? How difficult is it? Are there any nuances I need to be aware of? How long can I expect it to take? What are the unique transportation considerations (is it a loop hike or a through hike)? What are the water sources like?

Lean towards the easy side of the difficulty spectrum for your first overnight backpacking trip

The Howe Sound Crest Trail, West Coast Trail, Rockwall Trail, and John Muir Trail are all fantastic, but not for your first backcountry adventure. When choosing a trail, pick one you think will be easy and save longer or more challenging hikes for future adventures. Even if you’re accustomed to crushing epic day hikes , your first backpacking trip isn’t about pushing the envelope. 

Instead, your first trip is all about getting comfortable with the preparation and execution components, the addition of a 35lb backpack and making sure everything works the way you want it to. Start small and if possible, select a hike that offers designated backcountry camping areas with a few basics like tent pads, outhouses, or bear boxes. These small “amenities” can really help make things easier on your first adventure, saving you the trouble of campsite selection, cat-hole digging (more on this later), and hanging/storing your food. Furthermore, it’s important to select a hike that follows a well-marked trail unless you have some experience wielding a compass alongside a topographic map.

Sunset hiking

How many nights for your first overnight hike?

For your first hike into the backcountry, make it short and sweet and go for 1 night. A short trip means far fewer meals to worry about, less planning, and a lighter pack. Plus, in the worst case scenario that the weather turns foul or something goes drastically wrong, you’re that much closer to your starting point. If you’re planning a more ambitious trip in the near future, use your first one-nighter as a test run and a great opportunity to try out your gear.

What gear should you pack for a backpacking trip?

Ok, so you’ve picked a fantastic trail for your first overnight backcountry camping trip, you’ve done your research, and you’re comfortable with the logistics. Now it’s time to pack!  What do you already have? What do you need to bring? Before you drop thousands of dollars on new equipment, let’s dive into the gear list.

Backpacking and overnight hiking packing list

Backpack

For your first overnight hike, you’re going to want a backpack in the range of 50L to 65L with a sturdy adjustable harness and hipbelt. Maybe you have a great pack with similar specs that you’ve used for travelling (we’ve seen many people repurpose our Khmer Explorer Travel Set for overnight hikes with great success) or perhaps you have a friend who can loan you their pack. If you’re out of luck on both fronts, check out rental options. Typically, MEC & REI offer rental packs at affordable rates which are a great option for your first trip, especially if you’re not ready to fully commit to backpacking as a full-time hobby! Whatever route you choose, make sure to try the pack out before setting out to ensure it’s properly adjusted with the hip belt doing the majority of the work!

If you’re ready to invest in backpacking gear checkout the Gregory Focal or Women’s specific Facet which at ~2.5lbs provide a great compromise between barebones ultralight packs and the heavier feature-laden packs. 

If you’re going to immediately strive for an ultralight set up, check out the Hyperlite 3400 southwest. It’s 100% waterproof and constructed from ultralight dyneema fabric.

Morning views from campsite after backpacking

Tent

A great tent is an investment that can last you for years. That said, it is definitely an investment in the sense that it can easily run in excess of $400. If you own a tent already and it’s reasonably compact/lightweight, it should serve you fine for your first backcountry camping adventure. Don’t own a tent? Once again, try to borrow one from a friend or look to rent one from your local outdoor gear shop and add in this vital piece of equipment once you get a better feel for how you like to backpack (ultralight, comfort, etc.).

For many new backpackers tents like the  Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 or the  Nemo Dagger OMSO offer the perfect blend of functionality, livability, weight, and durability. 

Sleeping pad

From foam mats to full inflatables there’s lots of variety on this front too (including price variety). For your first time out, opt for value (i.e. rent or borrow) once again and upgrade later. I used a basic foam mat for years, which I had terrible sleeps on. 

A few years ago l I switched to a Therm-a-Rest. It’s incredibly lightweight, comfortable, and packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle. This is probably one of my favorite backpacking items! Try it out. You won’t regret it. Sleep well!

Sleeping bag

Depending on where you’re hiking this can be something to give a bit more consideration to. If you’re heading into the mountains, weather can be inclement so you’ll want to ensure you have a bag with a decent temperature rating (or plenty of layers to compensate for a chilly night). Sleeping bags generally offer a choice between down and synthetic. Down tends to be more expensive, but more durable, lighter, and compressible with the only downfall (aside from the ethics question) being its extremely poor performance when wet. Synthetic performs better when wet and tends to be more affordable.

I’m in love with my Patagonia sleeping bag!!  It’s unbelievably lightweight and packs down small. I found the 30°F / -1°C to be perfect for most outings – if it gets colder you can always layer up! Like all Patagonia products, it’s not cheap, but they stand behind their gear and the quality matches the price point. If you spend a lot of time in colder environments they also make a 20°F / -7°C version.  These bags are a worthwhile splurge!

Sunset on Vancouver Island's West Coast Trail

Backpacking pillow

For many hardcore backpackers a pillow consists of a dry bag stuffed with unworn clothing.  Personally, I won’t leave home without a backpacking pillow no matter how light I’m travelling.  Check out the Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe Pillow It packs down ultra small and provides a new level of comfort after long days on the trail.

First aid kit

An essential item for treating everything from bug bites to blisters. The pre-built kits from Adventure Medical Kits have served me well on many adventurers. At the end of your trip write down any items you used and replace them so they’re ready for your next adventure. You can also build your own.

Swiss army knife

From cutting bandages to serving as the star of your backcountry kitchen, a swiss army knife  is a must-have item for any trip into the backcountry.   

A good camp stove. Always a key item in any backpacking packing list

Stove and canister

A single burner canister stove like  MSR pocket rocket is perfectly suited for all your cooking needs. Don’t forget to buy a canister too! 

Cookware and utensils

A pot (which also doubles as a bowl), a cup for coffee/tea and a spork are all you need. If you’re looking for a value option, remove the handle from an old kitchen pot and bring along a pair of pliers.

I love the GSI Halulite Microdualist II, two-person cookset. It’s lightweight and I can fit my MSR pocket rocket and a fuel canister inside. Check out the MSR PocketRocket Stove Kit for an all-inclusive solution.

Water filtration system

For purifying water, I’m a huge fan of the Steripen. It’s a small, lightweight and efficient way to ensure water is safe for consumption using UV light to purify a litre in about a minute. It’s also a fantastic item to bring along travelling, so even if you decide backpacking isn’t for you, you’ll still be over the moon about your SteriPen. Other options include gravity filters and purification tablets. For the first time out, purification tablets are the least expensive option, assuming you can get past the somewhat chemical taste of your water. 

Make sure to bring tablets as a backup though should you run into any technical problems/dead battery with your Steripen.

A dry bag is an essential item to pack on a backpacking trip

Dry bag

Dry bags like our No Sugar | Dry Bag Kit are great for stuffing and compressing clothes or your sleeping bag to ensure they don’t get wet even if you get stuck in torrential rain.

For a budget and ultralight option, line your pack with a contractors size garbage bag.

Bear canister & bear spray (Region Dependent)

If you’re hiking in grizzly bear country, you’ll want to add bear spray to your packing list and make sure that you know how to use it. Additionally, certain national parks like Yoesmite and Grand Teton may require that you’re equipped with an approved bear canister as well.

Additional items to pack for backpacking:

    • Waterproof Matches
    • Firestarters – For emergency situations
    • Whistle (blast 3 times for emergencies)
    • CampSuds / Biodegradable Soap – For dishes etc.  or just use some water and a rock to clean. 
    • Water Bottle – Nalgene 1L
    • Additional Water Bottle or Water Storage (depending on what your research has told you about water availability)
    • Headlamp – The Spot 350 is the way to go with 6 modes including the night vision saving red light! Red light mode takes a minute to get used to, but once you do it’s a total game changer trust me! The stars never looked so good! 
    • Small USB Phone Charger (and cable)
    • Bug Spray
    • Sunscreen
    • Sunglasses
    • Toothpaste
    • Toothbrush
    • Toiletries / Hand Sanitizer
    • Lip Balm 
    • Trowel
    • Toilet Paper
    • Compass
    • Topographic Map
    • GPS App  ( I like GAIA app)
    • Deck of cards

What clothes should you pack for a backpacking trip?

Here is a standard list of items for your overnight hike. Adapt, add, or remove accordingly depending on the weather/climate of your destination and the number of days you plan to go for. 

Hiking boots/hiking shoes/trail runners

Whether you choose to hike with a boot, hiking shoe or lighter trail runner is largely personal preference. Trail runners provide the agility and weight advantage, but boots often get the edge for support/sturdiness, especially if your pack is on the heavy side.

 I’ve had great luck with the La Sportiva Bushido II. When I’m carrying more gear/weight or if there’s a chance of snow, I’ll wear a larger more traditional hiking boot, like the Scarpa Kailash.

Camp shoes/sandals

Crocs are back! Well for backpacking camp shoes they never left… They’re lightweight and ugly as ever. Many backpackers find them to be the perfect camp shoe for resting sore feat after a long day in boots/shoes.

Personally, I still hate them. I have an old pair of Tom’s which I occasionally bring. They are light and less bulky than Crocs. If going with a trail runner, I’ll often ditch the camp shoe altogether and just loosen my laces. Your call!  

Puff jacket

I’ve had the Patagonia Men’s Nano Puff® Hoody for years. It’s perfect multi-functional item for everyday, backpacking, and pretty much anything where you might need a bit of warmth. I’m still looking for an activity it doesn’t work for. They also make the Nano Puff in a women’s version.

Rainproof / windproof jacket

An essential piece for wind, rain, snow. I’ve had great luck with an older version of the MEC Flash Cloud. Also check out the Patagonia Torrentshell  (or Womens version).

Rain pants

Mountain weather can change fast and rain pants are an absolute lifesaver to have in your backpacking kit. Many have the ability to quickly take them on and off without removing your shoes/boots allowing you to stay comfortable eveb if you get caught in a sudden downpour. Check out the Torrentshell in mens or womens.  

Hiking pants

I never thought I’d see the day I embraced the zip-off pant. But hey, they’re really the best of both worlds for rapidly changing mountain environments and keeping warm in the evening when the temperature drops. Check out the Quandary Pant for a great option.

Sun hoodie

When I went backpacking in the Grand Canyon a few years back, I was shocked to see throngs of Arizona Trail thru-hikers wearing hoodies in the 40 C (100F) heat. Turns out they were onto something! A sun hoodie has been one of the best items I’ve added to my backpacking kit. They keep you burn free, are surprisingly cool, and let you get away with leaving the bottle of sunscreen at home. The Sahara Sun Hoodie (men’s/women’s) from REI has served me well or check out these ones from Outdoor Research (men’s / women’s).

A couple of base layer shirts

Avoid cotton shirts unless it’s a super leisurely hike. Merino wool is great as it stays warm when wet and won’t stink. Sweat wicking althletic shirts also work great. I have a few pairs of these Capilene Cool shirts that are great! 

Base layer bottom

merino bottom baselayer are perfect for warming up at night or during chilly mornings.

A couple pairs of merino wool socks

Socks are a critical part of your backpacking wardrobe. A great pair of merino wool socks are an essential investment. They stay warm when wet, don’t stink, and will last for years. Darn Tough Vermont makes the best hiking socks hands down. They’re guaranteed for life/replaced free of charge and they don’t stink. Really! I typically bring 3 pair. 1 pair for hiking, 1 pair to change into at camp, and a reserve to throw into the rotation as needed. 

Underwear

Patagonia makes fantastic underwear with quality, durability, and comfort far exceeding lululemon, and saxx (I’ve tried both). You decide how many or how few you bring….   They also make womens’ underwear, but I am unable to advise on fit, form, function or durability on this front… 

Additional essential clothing items

    • 1 pair of shorts/extra change of pants
    • Hat (Toque and sun hat)
    • Gloves

Should you bring hiking poles backpacking?

I once had an ego and thought I didn’t need poles. Then I completed the Howe Sound Crest Trail and my knees screamed at me for the next week. My overweight pack and lack of poles were to blame. Poles are great for reducing the strain of long grueling descents and providing extra stability on exposed sections.  Do yourself a favor and get a pair of poles! For a reliable entry level option try these Black Diamond Poles or consider upgrading to the carbon fiber to save extra weight.

Meal planning for backcountry camping

Meal planning is one of the most critical steps of any backcountry adventure. Do it right and you’ll be eating like a king without the burden of carrying excess weight. Do it poorly, and you’ll either be hungry or severely overbunded by the weight of excess food. This is where the critical step of meal planning comes into play.

Start by counting out the number of meals and snacks you’ll be hiking or in the backcountry for and then allocate food to each. For simplicity, freeze dried meals (just add boiling water) like Backpackers Pantry are always an option, but at $10+ a meal, they’re definitely not for the price conscious. Alternatively, look for “just add water” items at your grocery store like ramen, instant soups, rices, etc. Additionally, numerous incredible recipes can be found for amazing DIY backpacking meals. Check out this list from Fresh Off the Grid for some inspiration! 

No matter what you’re cooking, try to minimize the packaging you bring along. Don’t bring items in cans or glass jars and consolidate larger boxed items into more packable ziplock bags. Small steps like these save large amounts of weight and volume in your pack. It’s never a bad idea to pack more food than you think you need especially on your first couple of trips. I’d happily add an extra pound to my pack for the extra peace of mind to know that should the trip take longer or if I’m hungrier than anticipated, I came prepared. 

To help you get started, here’s a summary of the meal prep I might use for a 3 night backpacking trip. I know, I recommended only heading out for 1 night for your first trip, but I figured I’d show a plan for an extra day to give you a few more menu options! Note this a plant-based meal prep, but much can be played with to accommodate different dietary preferences.

Cooking a great dinner after a long day of backpacking.

2 night backpacking trip meal plan

Backpacking breakfast (day 1)

Take the time to eat at home, on the road, or at the trailhead prior to staring. Make it a big one. It will be your last home cooked meal for a few days!

Backpacking snacks (day 1)

Inevitably, you’ll break up a big day on the trail with a couple short stops to take in your surroundings or an incredible viewpoint. This is also a great opportunity to graze by grabbing for your favourite bar (Cliff, Lara, Kind, etc.), fruit leather, nuts, or trail mix. Typically, I’ll go for 1 bar in the mid morning and 1 bar and an apple in the afternoon to help keep the energy up!  

Backpacking lunch (day 1)

Sandwich or wrap made prior to departure. 

Backpacking dinner (day 1)

Chickpea Plant Based Mac and Cheese.

Up the protein game with chickpea pasta like this mac and cheese from Banza. Use powdered coconut or cashew milk to avoid carrying liquids on the trail. Add plant based bacon bits or real bacon bits depending on your dietary preference. Finish up with your favourite chocolate bar or candy.

Backpacking breakfast (day 2)

Quick Oats with Dried Fruit. 

Stoked Oats are my personal favorite. Don’t forget the coffee! Starbucks Via instant takes up no space and doesn’t taste like instant coffee. For coffee snobs who don’t mind carrying a bit of extra weight, consider purchasing an Aeropress for gourmet coffee in the backcountry.

Backpacking snacks (day 2)

We had a good thing going on Day 1. So, let’s stick with it! Pack a couple servings of bars, nuts, trail mix or fruit leather.

Backpacking lunch (day 2)

Tortillas with Refried Beans. 

Backpacking dinner (day 2)

Lentil Rice & “Tuna”

I‘m a huge fan of finding things in the grocery store isle that are packed with protein, but basically just add water.. The right rice “Tuna” is the way to go. It combines lentil “rice” with a plant based tuna for monster satisfaction. 

    • Boil water
    • Add Right Rice and stir. Wait a few minutes.
    • Add plant based Tuna or regular fish in a package (no cans!). Stir to combine.

Eat and enjoy! 

Finish off your feast with your favourite chocolate bar or candy. 

Backpacking breakfast (day 3)

Repeat breakfast with Day 2’s breakfast! Embrace the oats! 

Backpacking snacks (day 3)

Final set of snacks from Day 1. For a third time a couple servings of bars, nuts, trail mix, or fruit leather.

Backpacking lunch (day 3)

We’re keeping it simple once again. Either do tortillas again with refried beans, or a bagel with some form of nut butter. 

Backpacking dinner (day 3)

Hopefully you’re off the trail by this point. Treat yourself to a hard earned beer and dinner out! 

How much should your backpack weigh for a backpacking trip?

As a baseline, your pack should not exceed 20% of your body weight. Following this rule will ensure you remain nimble enough on the trail and avoid overburdening yourself. Unfortunately, for any petite readers, this rule becomes much more challenging, requiring you to choose between going ultra lightweight or breaking this rule. 

Leave on footprints

How do you take a poo while hiking 💩?

Human waste is a major source of pathogens (disease causing agents), so it’s absolutely essential to take the proper steps to maximize decomposition and environmental harm. If you’re new to pooping in the woods, here are the steps to follow: 

    1. Find a spot with dark, rich soil at least 100 meters from any water sources or potential water sources.
    2. Use the trowel (from the packing list) to dig a cathole at least 6 inches deep. If possible, try to unearth the soil like a plug which allows for easy replacement when you’re done.
    3. Do the deed. 
    4. If using toilet paper, you have to bag this out. Do not put it in the cathole as it takes substantially longer to decompose and break down. If you’ve ever wandered across some used TP on the trail you know how disgusting this is. So don’t do it to someone else! Use a plastic bag or ziplock. You can even wrap the outside in duct tape so you don’t have to see it. Alternatively, you can also try natural wipes. Smooth stones, sticks, snow, or moss (where it’s abundant) all work great. Avoid plant leaves (think poison ivy…).   
    5. Once you’ve finished, put in a bit of fresh soil and replace the plug. 
    6. Give your hands a good wash or hand sanitization away from a water source once again. 

Waste and leaving no trace

Leave only footprints, take only memories. We’ve all heard the expression before, but this applies even more intensely to your journey into the delicate backcountry environment. It is absolutely essential to carry everything you brought in out, properly dispose of waste, and follow leave no trace guidelines. 

Everything you pack in must come out with you. That means everything. Be careful when opening bars/packaging that you do not leave wrappers or small pieces behind. If you see other people’s garbage on the trail, be a hero, and throw it in your garbage bag.  

From day hikes to backpacking trips everytime you set out, ensure you’re following and familiar with the Leave No Trace 7 Principles:

    1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
    2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
    3. Dispose of Waste Properly
    4. Leave What You Find
    5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
    6. Respect Wildlife
    7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Leave No Trace Seven Principles © 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.

Brown Bear walks out of the forest.

How to stay safe backpacking in bear country

Bear attacks are extremely rare and the vast majority of aggressive bear action is driven by protection of food, space or territory. For your own safety and the safety of the bears it is important to take precautions when hiking in bear country. Here’s a few steps to take to ensure your safety:

Travel in a group

By travelling in a group you’ll make more noise and emit more human smells. Bears, which are generally human averse, are thus more likely to remove themselves from your presence long before you have any idea they were there.

Make noise

Clapping, loud talking, your worst singing, and shouting will encourage a bear to vacate the area before you and your group arrive. Make additional noise when a fellow hiker, ranger, or advisory has made you aware of a bear in the area to ensure you give it ample notice of your presence. 

Store food properly

When it comes to storing your food, you can hang your food, use a designated campsite bear locker (likes the ones on the Rockwall Trail) or use a bear canister/Ursack. Making your own bear hang is quite an art that even many experienced backpackers fail to master. Unless you’re ready and able to commit to mastering it by following this comprehensive bear hanging tutorial, get a bear canister.   For several people go with the BV500 for solo adventures the BV450 works great.  This is unquestionably your best and safest bet when hard infrastructure bear lockers or pulley systems are not available and required in many US National Parks.  To save weight Ursacks are also a great option, but they need to be tied to a tree and don’t prevent your food from being crushed and smashed by a hungry bear.

Mind your surroundings and the time of day

Walking near a river? It may be more challenging for bears to hear you, so make extra noise to alert them of your presence in advance. 

Travelling upwind/against the wind? Bears have a highly acute sense of smell, but against the wind you may reach them before the smell of you does, so be extra loud. It’s also important to make extra noise when travelling through berry patches or undulating terrain where you might sneak up on a bear buffet. Lastly, be extra aware during the early morning and evening as these are times that bears tend to be the most active.  

Look for the signs

Keep your eyes open for tracks and fresh scat (poop). If you notice these signs, make lots of noise. Additionally, if you happen to come across any decomposing carcasses, make lots of noise and vacate the area as bears are often drawn to a free and easy meal. 

Bring bear spray and know how to use it

Bear spray has been proven to be an effective deterrent against aggressive bears so it’s a great item to bring along. Learn how to use it before you head out, pop the safety off and give it a test just make sure to be aware of the wind direction in advance. Remember to keep it handy in a holster (don’t put it inside your pack). Unfortunately, it only works in close contact with bears and not as repellent. So do not go rubbing it on yourself. If you’re flying to your adventure, you’ll have to buy bear spray when you arrive at your destination, as it’s a prohibited item on most airlines (checked luggage and carry-on). Additionally, this tends to be more commonly purchased item for hiking in Grizzly country, in black bear country it isn’t as common. In fact, several US National Parks, like Sequoia, explicitly ban it. So, don’t bring it on the Rae Lakes Loop

Cook away from your camp and properly store your food

As mentioned earlier, bears have an extremely acute sense of smell. For this reason it’s absolutely essential to remove any items that smell from your camp area. Fragrant items like toothpaste, sunscreen, and soap should all be placed in your food storage bag and hung or placed in a bear canister. Set up a triangle. Your campsite/tent should be 100 meters away from the area you cook in and the spot you hang your food should be 100 meters away from the cooking area and the storage area. Preferably both food spots (kitchen & storage) will be upwind from your campsite as well. 

Know what to do if you encounter a bear on the trail

If you see a bear from a distance, respect its space and consider going back the way that you came. If you must get around the bear, take a very wide girth around. If you happen to encounter a bear in close proximity on the trail, remain calm, unholster your bear spray, remove the safety and stick with your group. Back away slowly in the direction that you came and talk calmly to the bear to help it identify you. DO NOT RUN! Running can trigger the bear’s prey instinct. 

In the unlikely event that the bear decides to charg, this is the time to use your bear spray. The vast majority of charges are bluff charges. In the worst case scenario where a bear actually attacks, do the following:

Grizzly Bear – Lay on the ground on your stomach as the bear makes contact (not sooner as this could trigger a mauling), playing dead and covering your neck and head for protection. In most attacks Grizzlies will bite or swipe a couple times before moving on. If the attack persists, fight back. 

Black Bear – Fight back. Attack the muzzle concentrating on the nose and eyes.

Final thoughts

By taking the proper steps to research, plan, and prepare, your first backcountry hiking trip is sure to be one of the best adventures of your year. After cutting your teeth on the experience, I’m sure that you’ll likely find yourself hooked. You’ll become more efficient at planning, you’ll dial into your gear setup, and constantly be on the hunt for your next backpacking adventure. The hardest part is taking the first trip, which hopefully you’re now just a little bit closer to doing! 

Happy adventuring! 

Did I miss any advice that would have been helpful? How did your first backpacking trip turn out? Let me know in the comments below!

View along the Rockwall Trail towards Floe Lake.

Rockwall Trail | The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Rockwall

The Rockwall Trail is one of the Canadian Rockies’ premier backpacking trips. For 55km you’ll be treated to a seemingly unending supply of sublime Rocky Mountain scenery. Here’s how to make it happen with must-read tips for getting a permit and beating the crowds.