BACKPACKING & LAKE HOPPING AT BIG PINE LAKES
TRIP · 3-day backpacking trip
FOR · Friends & intermediate backpackers
DISTANCE · 15.2 miles total with 3,982 ft of elevation
VIBE · Hard & rewarding
COST · $
DRIVE · 4.5 hours from LA
PERMIT · Yes! Reserve one for Big Pine Creek North Fork
IDEAL DATES · May - September
PETS · Welcome on trails!
WHY BIG PINE LAKES?
This popular Sierra Nevada trek begins at Big Pine Creek North Fork Trailhead and takes you through a chain of seven glorious alpine lakes. Each lake is named First Lake, Second Lake, Third Lake (you can see where this is going), and the further you hike, the more solitude you'll find. Each lake is fed by the Palisade Glacier, which you can climb or soak up views from the trail. Oh, and don't miss the notorious Temple Crag & waterfalls along the way. Design your own adventure at Big Pine Lakes.
RESERVE A WILDERNESS PERMIT FOR BIG PINE CREEK NORTH FORK TRAILHEAD
Some people day hike to Big Pine Lakes, but spending a couple of nights in John Muir Wilderness is the best way to experience this gorgeous area. Overnight permit quotas are in place from May to September, and you can reserve a wilderness permit up to six months in advance. If you see a "W" for your preferred entry date on Recreation.gov, it means a few more permits will be released at 7AM exactly two weeks before your ideal start date. For 2021, walk-up permits won't be issued.
Once you reserve a permit online, you'll have to request your permit via email by answering a few questions. It'll take up to 48 hours to process and finally receive your permit.
Permit: $6 (non-refundable fee) & $5 per hiker
STUFF YOU NEED TO KNOW
The name "Inyo" derives from a Native American word meaning "dwelling place of the great spirit."
Bear canisters are required in Inyo National Forest. Learn more about wilderness safety!
Backcountry campfires are not allowed right now due to hot & dry conditions, but in previous seasons they're allowed below the "tree line" up to 10,000 feet of elevation
This trek begins at 7,740 feet and tops out at 11,260 feet. Take time to acclimatize to the elevation by hiking slowly, staying well hydrated & resting if you feel fatigued, dizzy, nauseous, or other altitude sickness symptoms.
Practice Leave No Trace! That means properly poopin' in the backcountry & leaving the outdoors as you found it.
LEAVE LA AS EARLY AS YOU CAN, CUZ' TRAFFIC
- LAST (CHEAPISH) PIT STOP · Fort Independence Travel Plaza -135 US-395 in Independence
PARK AT BIG PINE CREEK NORTH FORK TRAILHEAD
- Power up on some snacks, layer on sunscreen, bug spray & fill up your water bottles
- Prepare for a hot & steady climb for the entire trek
- Jump into swimming holes & waterfalls to cool off along the way!
- You'll reach First Lake at around 4.5 miles, and Second Lake is just another half mile hike away from First Lake
ARRIVE & SET UP CAMP AT THIRD LAKE
- Most hikers camp at Second Lake so you'll likely find more peace & quiet around Third Lake. Find a flat campsite with lakeside views!
CHILL & COOK UP DINNER
- You did it! Enjoy your first night in the Sierra Nevada!
CAR TO CAMP: 5.5 miles, 2,600 feet of elevation gain, about 4 - 5 hours
MAKE BREKKIE, PACK UP CAMP & HIKE TOWARDS LAKE FOUR
- The climb continues with a 1 mile hike, with 500 feet of elevation gain, to Lake Five
SET UP CAMP AT LAKE FIVE
- Spend your last night at Lake Five & use it as a base camp for day hiking to Lake Six and Seven
- If you're feeling ambitious, hike 2.6 miles round-trip, with about 700 feet of elevation gain, to Lake Six & Seven
COOL OFF & TAKE A DIP INTO A LAKE
- Pick your favorite big pine lake & enjoy an afternoon swim!
RETURN TO CAMP & HAVE A SUNSET DINNER
- Cook up your last dinner in John Muir Wilderness!
CAMP TO CAMP: About 1 mile with 500 feet of elevation gain, 2 hours
PACK UP & LEAVE CAMP AROUND 7 AM
- Cook up brekkie, pick up any random pieces of litter around camp & pack lunch to-go & snacks for the return trek
- Layer on sunscreen, bugspray & fill up your water bottles!
HIKE 6.2 MILES DOWNHILL TO BIG PINE LAKE NORTH FORK TRAILHEAD
TREAT YO' SELF AT COPPER TOP BBQ IN BIG PINE
- Diners love their fast service, Tri Tip & ribs
- Located at 442 N Main Street in Big Pine
- Closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays | Open from 11 AM - 8 PM
CAMP TO CAR: About 6 miles, downhill, about 4 - 5 hours
PAY IT FORWARD LIKE BEZZI
Your outdoor experiences helps people have a safe & memorable time in nature. Share your knowledge about Big Pine Lakes below & tag us @bewilder_camp if you used this itinerary!
LAST UPDATED: July 16, 2021
EXPLORE MORE TRIPS
BE THE FIRST TO KNOW
Every week, we feature unique camping trip itineraries (like this) for your friends, families & furry ones. Join our community and discover your next outdoor adventure.