There are no reservations possible to hike the Lakes Trail. Only first come first serve permits for overnight backpacking trips are distributed at the Lodgepole visitor center. Permits are available at 1pm for trips the next day. Be warned, the permits fill out really rapidly: only 25 permits are given out everyday (for 25 people total) so it’s definitely smart to try to get to the center early the day before you plan to go. Don’t make the same mistake as us by trying to wait in line the same day you want to backpack. If it’s a busy weekend, it will most likely be sold out the day before. Keeping this in mind, I recommend waiting in line 1h or so before the wilderness desk opens (so at noon) the day before you’re planning to do the hike. Backpackers must camp in designated sites.
First of all, the hike starts at Volverton trailhead (Line 4 with the Shuttle), and immediately takes you on a pretty steep trail that mounts under towering trees. There is a lot of bear activity in Sequoia National Park in summer, but seeing a bear while hiking a well-known hike is pretty rare, so we were lucky to see a bear within the first mile of the hike.
After two miles, there is an intersection; left for the Watchtower, and the Hump Route on the right. The watchtower route is way more interesting, but is closed in Winter seasons until early Summer due to persistent snow. The trails join again before the first lake, but Watchtower is definitively a must see: the views overlooking the valley and the Tokopah Waterfall are really amazing.
From that point on, the hike becomes pretty flat until you reach the last lake (Pear lake). We happened to stop before this point to eat lunch and a swim in the beautiful, but chilly, Emerald lake. Views from this point are stunning as you are completely surrounded by 360 degrees of mountain, trees and crystal blue waters, but if you’d like to continue on, Pear lake is just 1 mile further of relatively flat hiking.