This hike is probably best done as part of a backpack since the nearest trail head Cottonwood Lakes Trail Head at Horseshoe Meadows is about 12 miles away from Tunnel Station which has plenty of nice camp spots. From Tunnel Station continue south about 1/2 mile to the official start of Kern Peak Trail. The first 2 miles is easy hiking with limited AEG. About 2.5 miles up trail it begins to ascend more steeply up Kern Peak canyon. Nice section with small meadows, cascades, and very lush. Eventually the trail reaches switchbacks near the canyon end at about 9800 feet. The switchbacks are in great shape and make for even grade up to the main ridgeline that leads to the summit. At about 10,600 you reach the main ridgeline and about 10,800 reach tree line. With a north facing summit approach when I did this hike over July 4th weekend this is where I encountered the first large snow drifts. None were that difficult to navigate around however at about 11,200 there was a large snow field that covered most of the trail so I just picked my way through boulders to the summit.
Reached the summit and found an old structure that was a fire lookout but was in complete disrepair. Nice photo opportunities on the summit with excellent 360 views of the Golden Trout Wilderness and Southern Sierra. Heading back down can be as challenging as the ascent depending on snow conditions above 10,800 so it's best to be prepared for various snow conditions. The hike is an out and back so once below tree line and potential snow obstacles return the same way back to Tunnel Station.
Check out the Official Route and Triplog.
This is a moderately difficult hike.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.