Taboose Pass Eastern Sierra

Taboose Pass: it’s all about love!

Memorial Day Weekend
Hiking Taboose Pass: 3,480m, 11.2km, 1,820m gain
Ascent from trailhead to pass

Taboo + se = Taboose! Is it forbidden to talk about my love for this trail? Too bad if it is, I’m here to share the love it deserves because it’s a freakin’ awesome trail into the Eastern Sierra! Let’s be realistic, my feet probably wouldn’t want to make it a weekend regular, but this post is all about the positives of this pretty path. 

We were on our way to Bench Lake, and from there Arrow Peak, over the Memorial Day long weekend. Saturday we’d walk up and over Taboose Pass to Bench Lake and camp, then Sunday we’d go for Arrow Peak with another night at Bench Lake. Monday we’d walk out the way we went in. I’ll do another post on the Arrow Peak day separately, as Taboose Pass deserves it’s own post! Yes, it deserves the spotlight! The glory! Remember, this is about Taboose love.

Taboose Pass
Taboose Pass, you can’t see it from the trailhead but it’s there,
waiting to give you a big windy hug!

The trail starts off slowly winding up the right side of a hill, the going is like semi-firm beach sand and doesn’t take long to start climbing. At no stage did I find the trail extremely steep, no calf burning, doubled over, heel blister inclines, but a steady, welcoming degree that invited a good rhythmic plod. The environment down low was dry but interesting, little grey shrubs and dainty little spring flowers here and there speckling some colour about.

Taboose Pass flowers
“Oh Taboose, is that for me?” Romance!
(Of course I didn’t pick them!)

Rising from the desert the grey rocks and pine trees of the surrounding foothills provide plenty to look at, be warned though, the Taboose Pass Trail is a little self centered – it’d prefer you pay attention on the rocks afoot! You’ll kiss the creek’s cheek but not cross it, then come to the first water crossing proper.

The creek crossings were, in May, pretty low key – you could do them without changing if you’re wearing boots (though I can’t speak for other years/seasons). I was wearing normal hiking shoes and on the way back just moseyed across and my shoes hardly got wet. However, your feet might thank you for the invigorating rinse so don’t hesitate to invest a few extra minutes to complete a barefoot or Crocs crossing.

Taboose Pass creek crossing
First creek crossing hence last crossing
on the way back – feet rejoice!

Following the creek some camp sites in an oasis of pines keep you occupied as you plod up broken granite blocks and slowly you wind through the shrubs to the second creek crossing (which was more like a slow moving puddle). A lovely waterfall distracted me from my heart rate as did the rocky red spires I’d been watching grow closer from the trailhead.

Taboose Pass trail ice
Ice! Time flies when
you’re spotting cliff treasures
Taboose Pass waterfall trail
The waterfall, the trail skirts
to the right behind these bushes
From the waterfall some switchbacks in bush take you higher and soon you’re in yet another world. Taboose Pass has plenty of little delights and changes as you work your way up, all worth noticing (which one can easily do at the ‘go all day’ speed I set). The trail is a little bit of tarn a little bit of meadow and a little bit of lots of rocks! You see, if you’re not into rocks, stones, pebbles, boulders or any such hard things, then the next part of the trail could be a little monotonous for you. 

Yes that’s the trail – forget more cowbell,
more rock!

Though soon you’re feeling the air a little thinner and the lack of green is a good sign the pass is not far away. Being able to look straight at the tops of the red rocks that create what looks like an impenetrable wall from the trailhead is a great reward. There are also caves and couloirs and chimneys to spot.

Some of the big red spires standing guard before Taboose Pass

Toward the top there was snow about the place, though not being very experienced with the Eastern Sierra I wasn’t sure if it was a lot, or a little for that time of year. There were suncups everywhere which made it interesting to spot the trail. In fact, most of the time there was no trail we could see, so it was a matter of discerning a general direction and another group of rocks and heading for it! I knew at some point I would see a sign on the crest showing the pass and from there, piece of cake.

An odd furry critter had us guessing as it peered intently at us crossing some snow. Turned out it was a marmot, or a rockchuck as they’re also called, it certainly had us Aussies bluffed! 

If unforgiving winds were worshipped, Taboose Pass would be holy. I guess it was a wake up call from the mountains – “You’re here!” they breathed with a chill! For my efforts I was also rewarded with a sweeping view to yet another world, Kings Canyon National Park. Taboose Pass sure knows how to spoil you when you work for it!

No doubt about it, you’ll be happy to
reach this little fellow
Sadly, I haven’t been able to find any information on who made this trail or how it originated. In parts it’s a footpad, in others it features boulders engineered into place for steep sections. Toward the top the trail building is quite impressive, and it’s a good distraction to marvel at the work put into it. Whoever is responsible (perhaps Inyo National Forest as its their land, thank you!)
Lastly, while not part of Taboose Pass I thought it worthwhile mentioning the road to the trailhead. It’s deceivingly long! What looked like a few miles was actually eight! A Subaru Outback had no issues and I’d be confident driving a normal car up there, just go slow and avoid the rocks. Make sure you wave to the little grey road-side boulders you drive through though, they’re cool!
As for time, we started around 8.30am from the trailhead and arrived at the top of the pass around 2.30pm. We lunched just below the pass near one of the flatter areas and took a few other short breaks on the way up. When I think back to this weekend Bench Lake and Arrow Peak were breathtaking beyond description and the scenery of Kings Canyon National Park was just gorgeous, but Taboose Pass also holds a high place in my heart. It’s a gateway to another world, a gateway with its own beauty and changing environment and treasures, if you’re willing to love them!
View down the last few kilometres of the trailhead
on the way back, the green of 
Taboose Creek seen
winding down to the valley


  1. Liz -  26 June 2013 - 2:32 am

    Oh dear, another “to do” for our list!

  2. KD -  26 June 2013 - 3:16 am

    Thanks Liz, keep adding! Our list just gets longer here! KD

  3. […] I had an impression this trail pierced a rocky canyon (viewed from the road). Turns out the trail contours south (around the northern hillside) before climbing high above the rocky canyon. I think it looks like a fantastically rewarding walk in to the mountains, but definitely an option for cooler months, a little like Taboose Pass. […]

  4. Ken -  23 May 2016 - 8:21 pm

    We down hiked Taboose Pass last September and found it enchanting. Taboose Creek is a very dependable water source for the entire route, even in a drought year. Descending 6000 vertical feet in six miles is knee pounding, but the scenery is amazing. In fact, I am returning this summer to ascend Taboose Pass and head south to Whitney.

    • Kristy Dixon -  24 May 2016 - 9:01 pm

      Hi Ken that sounds like a super trip! It certainly was great to have a water source and the beautiful ribbon of trees across the valley floor gave away the creek like a little secret. I hope you have a wonderful trip this summer and please wave hello to the lovely Sierra for me, they’re an incredibly beautiful and unique mountain range (I’m up in Canada now). Cheers Kristy


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