Big Pine, California
Guess what - there’s a glacier right here in California and you can hike to it! In an age of global warming and retreating glaciers around the world, I didn’t think it was possible, but lo and behold it exists - it’s called the Palisade Glacier and it's located in the John Muir Wilderness. This glacier is one of the southern most permanent glaciers in the U.S., flanks four mountain peaks and terminates in a proglacial lake dammed by its former moraine. Considering that this glacier is currently retreating and the earth’s climate is becoming warmer, you might want to plan this trip sooner than later.
The hike involves many switchbacks and some boulder hopping, so you must be fit and nimble. To get to the glacier, take the Glacier Trail, which is about a 1/2 mile up from Third Lake along the main Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail. The sign for the trail will be on your right. We highly recommend taking this trail as a day hike while camping at one of the lakes described in the Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail trip guide. From Second Lake, this hike would be a little over 4 miles (one-way) with 2,400 feet of elevation gain (total elevation at the glacier is 12,400 feet). When you reach Sam Mack Meadow, look for and follow the sign on your left that points you left, across the river to continue up to the glacier. You'll reach the view below after a short hike up from the Meadow.
The last leg of the trail to the glacier becomes somewhat obscure - this starts about a mile up the trail after Sam Mack Meadow. To help make finding the path up a bit easier, hikers have placed cairns (small stack of rocks) along this part of the hike. Follow them and you'll be in good shape to make it to the glacier. Additional information and rough map of the trail can be found HERE.
- Start early in the day so you have the maximum amount of time to explore the different views of the glacier. Bring headlamps and warm layers so you can take your time and hike back safely and comfortably.
- Hike down to the glacier for a better view, but do not get too close - there are falling rocks in some parts and you never know when a part of the glacier will come falling down. We saw significant cracks near the front of the glacier and a waterfall coming down the middle of it, making it a very unstable place to even think about hiking on.
- Weather conditions can change rapidly here - make sure to check the weather in advance as there is very little if any cover along the trail. Bring a waterproof/water-resistant layer.
- Prefer not to hike all the way to the glacier? Consider cutting the day hike shorter by stopping at Sam Mack Meadows which is along the way to the glacier. The meadows are quite different than the rest of areas around Big Pine and are spectacular in their own unique way (ponds, wild flowers, waterfall, river).