Place Name: Alpine County
Place Description: State: California
Elevation: 11,459 Feet
Prominence: 1,816 Feet
Elevation Gain: 2,227 Feet
Lists: California County High Point, Western States Climber's List
A Fun High Country Loop Hike
Sonora Peak has great access, great trails, and high elevations!
- Amazing 360-degree views
- Lots of parking
- High start elevation
- Trail is easy to lose on way down to PCT
- Moderate trail traffic on weekend
- If completing loop, must walk back down highway
The eastern sierras are an amazing place and despite all the trips I have made over that way, I had never done any sort of activities on Sonora Pass. Even this trip, the Sonora Peak hike was going to be a consolation prize.
This hike a backup plan for the weekend after our plans for Glass Mountain fell through. We had already committed to visiting Mt. Grant and we needed to find a good hike on my way to Hawthorne the following day. I would have my kids along, so I didn’t want a lot of mileage. Sonora Peak looked good as a 5-mile out and back trip and if the kids were feeling ok, we could go for nearby Stanislaus Peak. We would be using the St. Mary’s Pass variation of the trail.
Don’t miss the trail!
We drove up from Bridgeport and crossed over the Sonora Pass summit. Just past the Sonora Pass sign there is a small parking area on the left where you can park. To the right, there is a small dirt road that leads to another parking area. Be aware as there is no signage at all on either side marking the St. Mary’s Pass Trail, but the trail is easy to pickup and and well defined.
The hike up from the St. Mary’s Pass TH parking area wasn’t bad. One snow drift we had to maneuver around but it was easy. Once we reached the Pass, the views were unbelievable. Talk about a “wow” moment.
We went up a small hill here and it opened to a high plateau which was easy walking across to the massive summit. There is a great use trail up the summit through the dark rocky sections and in no time we were on the 11,459-foot summit, marking my highest peak to date.
We spent 30 minutes up here and never could find a register. My son saw a pencil way down in the rocks and saw a lone piece of paper deep in the wind shelter that I could not fish out without toppling it. We met a few others on the summit that came from the PCT trail head at the top of Sonora Pass and recommended that we descend that way making a loop. This would tack on some extra miles a require a short walk down the highway at the end.
Turning it into a loop hike
We decided to make this a loop, I mean how hard could walking the PCT be? This was all good for awhile before we lost the trail. To this day, I still do not know where it went after the snow drift we walked through. I crested up a small ridge and we could see the trail quite a ways below. I decided that we could just plunge step a steep hill down to the PCT. This would have actually been a very quick descent if not for the kids. Still not sure how we lost the trail here, I mean it’s only the PCT.
Once down to the PCT, there was one narrow section of snow on a steep ledge. This was very scary to do with the kids and I had to assist them each time. The drift is 20 feet or so long and there is a nice snow berm for most of it on the downhill side that provides some safety. However, there is a 3-4 step section that is very slick and very exposed. There aren’t any ways around it and it looks like it will be this way awhile longer. I would not recommend doing this section with small kids until the snow is completely gone.
After that, the PCT is easy to follow. I did try going over one snow drift further down and ate it pretty hard, sliding about 4-5 down into the mud. This was easy to walk around as well. Dumb move on my part.
We followed it all the way down to 108 where we had a 15-minute walk along the shoulder to get back to the truck. Passed the fellows we met on top coming up the highway as we looped in opposite directions. Had I known the loop was gonna be 7 miles, I think we would have just tagged Stanislaus Peak instead. The trip stats for the Sonora Peak Hike were 2.5 miles up, 4.5 down for the entire hike.