Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail
Big Pine, California
The Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail will lead you to one of Southern California's most colorful gems - the glacier fed, turquoise colored Big Pine Lakes. You really have to see the colors of the lakes with your own eyes to believe the hype. Once you make the trek, I guarantee you’ll be hooked on going back.
The trail will lead you to the area's 7 lakes, so creatively named First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Lakes. You can camp at any one of the lakes. There are several other lakes nearby, but I wouldn't recommend them if you're looking for the more picturesque locations. Below is the mileage (one-way) and elevation gain for each of the lakes from the hiker parking area. The elevation at the hiker parking area is 7,750 feet, so please take altitude sickness into consideration. If you end up with really bad symptoms, make sure to get to lower elevation.
First Lake: 4.5 miles 2,150 feet
Second Lake: 4.8 miles 2,250 feet
Third Lake: 5.5 miles 2,650 feet
Fourth Lake: 6.5 miles 3,000 feet
Fifth Lake: 6.8 miles 3,050 feet
Sixth Lake: 8.0 miles 3,350 feet
Seventh Lake: 8.5 miles 3,450 feet
On your way up the trail, you’ll pass streams and waterfalls until you finally reach First Lake. You’ll want to keep heading up past 1st Lake as the best campgrounds with a view are at 2nd and 3rd Lake. If you're looking for more seclusion, head up to Fourth or Fifth Lake.
If you have enough days to explore, I’d recommend hiking to and around 4th and 5th Lakes on one day and 6th and 7th Lakes on another. Beware though, hiking to 6th and 7th Lakes can be tricky, and the path is definitely less developed and easy to loose. This is why I’d recommend doing those two on a day when you have enough time to get lost and find your way back onto the trail.
We also highly recommend a hike to see the Palisade Glacier which feeds the lakes described above. See the trip guide for the Palisade Glacier for more details.
To get to the main trailhead for the Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail, you’ll have to get to the town of Big Pine, California. Once there, head west on Crocker Avenue which becomes Glacier Lodge Road and follow this road until it ends. You can either park at the hiker parking area which is about one mile away from the trailhead or you can pay a daily fee of $5 to park at Glacier Lodge. Additional information and a map of the trail can be found HERE.
Camp at 2nd or 3rd Lake – you’ll get the best views of Temple Crag.
Wilderness permits are required for overnight trips here and can be reserved at recreation.gov. On the website, search for Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permits. Select 'Overnight' and 'Big Pine Creek North Fork' to check for availability. Walk-in permits are also issued at Inyo National Forest visitor centers. The closest visitor center is a few miles away in Lone Pine, CA. Contact information, location and hours for the center can be found HERE. The visitor center issues 10 free walk-in permits a day that are good for camping the following day.
Spend around five days here: 1 - get there and setup camp; 2 - hike to the glacier; 3 - hike to Fourth and Fifth Lakes; 4 - hike to Sixth and Seventh Lakes; 5 - hike back down.
If you plan day hikes to lakes 4-7 or the glacier, I’d recommend bringing at least 3 liters of water plus a water filter.
Pay for the parking at Glacier Lodge - 1) it was worth every penny not to carry our gear one more mile to the hiker parking area and 2) see our last point below.
Grab a tri-tip sandwich and root beer float at the little shop in Glacier Lodge after you make the hike back down. Thank me later.