Camp and Hike the Big Pine Lakes

North Fork Trail

Distance

12.5 Miles

Elevation Gain

3000 Feet

Activities

Camping, Hiking

Skill

Intermediate

Season

Spring, Summer, Autumn

Type

Loop

Forest
Lake
River
Scenic

Get exposed to some of the best alpine scenery in the Sierras. There are several amazing side trips if you've got the time or energy (details in Description).

The North Fork Big Pine Creek Trail offers some of the best high alpine scenery in the Sierras. As the peaks of the Palisades pierce the sky with its craggy span of summits you will find it is as picturesque and dramatic as any in California. Nestled beneath these giant peaks are the glacier scoured basins, namely the largest Palisade Glacier, holding the scenic turquoise waters of Big Pine Lakes.

This semi-loop hike follows the North Fork trail to the magnificent waters of lakes 1-5 and continues on to the Black Lake Trail where you will descend and close the loop portion of the trip. With over 3000’ of elevation gain/loss at over 10,000’, most day hikers should find the 12.5 mile semi-loop to be plenty challenging. But extremely strong hikers will find trip extensions beyond the loop and to the Palisade Glacier well worth the extra time and energy.

An early morning start is best to avoid the heat of the first couple miles of arid hillside. The trail then cuts over to the creek where it stays mostly among trees. Soon the trail opens up offering views of rugged peaks especially the dramatic face of Temple Crag. To ensure you get an early start, it's best to reserve at campsite at Big Pine Creek Campground.

Trip extensions include a side trip to Sam Mack Meadow and the Palisade Glacier via the Glacier Trail. Along the way you get the most spectacular view of the Lakes 1-3. Only the most adventurous and experienced may continue on to climb steeply over talus, boulders, and slabs to reach an overlook of the Palisade Glacier. Another optional side trip includes a moderately steep climb and cross country route to Lakes 6-7 and Summit Lake. Follow the west shore of Fourth Lake to the open meadow like terrain around these lakes which afford great views of high mountain peaks, as well as the more distant Temple Crag.

To get here:
From the US Highway 395 in the center of Big Pine, CA, turn west at Crocker Street and proceed out of town, as the road becomes Glacier Lodge Road. Follow the two lane road past campgrounds and the overnight parking for another three quarter of a mile to the day-use lot near the end of the road. Here you’ll find the trailhead for the North Fork Big Pine Creek Trail.

Want to make this an backpacking trip? Check out Backpack to Fourth Lake.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations.

Nearby Lodging

From $100/night

Starry Night

Squaw Valley, California

From $170/night

Big Trees Lodge

Fish Camp, California

From $143/night

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge

Tioga Rd, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA 95389, USA

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Alpine backpacking at it's best

This is one of most amazing places to explore in the Sierra. It has so much to see and isn't crowded from creeks, alpine meadows, glaciers, mountains...the list goes on. Just be really mindful about staying on trails and practicing leave no trace because it's fragile up there.

Distance

12.5 Miles

Elevation Gain

3000 Feet

Activities

Camping, Hiking

Skill

Intermediate

Season

Spring, Summer, Autumn

Type

Loop

Nearby Adventures

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Backpack to Fourth Lake on the Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail

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Run or Hike to First and Second Lake via Big Pine Creek North Fork

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Climb Columbine Peak's NE Ridge

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Backpack to Long Lake

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