As a hiker and adventurer, I have that urge to see different places, hike mountains. But what attracts me most is the color of different alpine lakes. I have done numerous hikes just to see the breathtaking color of the alpine lake. One of the most amazing colors I have seen in California is Big Pine Lake, located in the John Muir Wilderness. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada, in Big Pine Lake there are not only one or two lakes, but you will also be able to see seven lakes in total deep into the forest. I have tried an overnight camping permit for a long time. But the number of permits is extremely low and often gets booked within few minutes. So, we decided to go for a day-hike trip.
Big Pine Creek North Fork trail is the Big Pine Lakes trail, and the trailhead is located at the Big Pine Creek Campground. If you want to hike all the lakes in a loop, the distance will be around 13 miles. If you do not want to go for the loop, you can visit the first two or three lakes and start your return journey from there. It makes the distance a little bit less. The road to the trailhead is a dirt road on the side of the mountain. You can stay in any nearby town and drive to trailhead. Or you can stay the night at the Big Pine Creek Campground if you could get a campsite. We stayed at Bishop and drove to the trailhead in the morning. The parking lot was full, so we had to park on the side of the road and walk a bit to reach the trailhead. In the beginning, you will have to pass through a metal swing gate, a few cabins with green roofs. On your left, you will see Big Pine Creek is flowing and soon you will go through a bridge. At 0.25 miles, you will reach a junction where North Fork and South Fork trail divide. You have to head towards the North Fork Trail on your right. The next part is the switchbacks in the shaded area before the trail opens into wide space. When you are at 0.7 miles mark point, you will see a dirt flat blocked by wooden posts. You have to take the right turn and if you find a bridge to cross then you are on the right trail. Soon you will enter a sandy stretch of trail that will start to ascend and gain elevation.
At the two-mile mark from the trailhead, you will pass the John Muir Wilderness sign. After that, the trail becomes a bit rocky and follows the side of the creek for a while before it enters a lush forest. You will pass by the Lon Chaney’s Cabin and the Big Pine Creek Wilderness Camp on your left at around 2.7 miles. The trail starts to climb upward from this point. When you reach the 4.3 miles mark point, you will find a sign that shows the direction to Lakes 1-7 and the Black Lake. If you are doing a loop hike, then you can start from the Big Pine Lakes and return via Black Lake to this point. But we only visited the first three lakes, which made our hike out and back. When the distance from the trailhead is around 4.5-mile, the lake no 1 is very close. You can walk down to the lakeshore, or you can continue. We just waited a few minutes to see the lake and then started our hike. Here is a thing, when you see the ‘No fire’ sign, turn left through the woods to reach the bank of the lake. Once you are back again in the trail and gain some elevation, you will be to see the amazing view of the first lake from an elevated position, which is quite nice. Within a very short distance of around 0.6 miles, you will be able to see the second lake. If you want to go down to the lake, there are a few areas where you can make your way down. We continued to the third lake which is 0.4 miles away from the second lake. We mainly stopped at the second lake, took a long break, watched the sunset from there. We wanted to capture the milky way rising from the back of Temple Crag. It was amazing, it was beautiful to watch the sunset there and then the milky way. After watching the milky way rising above the sky, with a content heart we started our return journey.
At a glance
- Location: John Muir Wilderness
- Trailhead Location: 4024 Glacier Lodge Rd, Bishop, CA 93514
- Trailhead coordinates: 37.12540, -118.43750
- Hike Distance: around 13 miles (loop trail)
- Elevation change: around 3400 ft to the lakes, 2800 ft
- Difficulty: moderate
- Best time to go: late spring and early fall
- Permit/Reservation: For a day hike, permit is not required. For overnight trips or backpacking, you need a permit that is issued at Inyo National Forest Visitor centers. For online reservations visit the following link. But I must warn you the number of the permit is limited and very hard to get. Inyo National Forest - Wilderness Permits, Inyo National Forest - Recreation.gov
- Amenities: washroom at the trailhead.
- Parking: limited parking. To get a parking spot, start early in the morning.
- If you are hiking in the summer, do not forget to bring sunscreen, a sunhat, and bug spray.
- Mountain weathers change very frequently. Please dress properly in layers. Bring enough water and snacks.
- If you are backpacking, please remember this is a bear zone. So please bring bear canister, store food properly, and keep your backpack far from your tent.
- Please pack all your trashes with you and always practice 'leave no trace' principle.
#travel #california #hike #explore #hidden #secret #local
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