- Miles: 11 miles round trip (First Lake)
- Elevation: 2,100 ft (gain/ loss)
- Type: Out and back
- Location: John Muir Wilderness - Big Pine, CA
- Note: Backpacking, Day Hike
- Permit: Required for overnight trips only; Not required for day hiking
- Permit Issuer: White Mountain Ranger Station - 798 N. Main St., Bishop, CA; (760) 873-2500
- Notes: Primitive campsites; No bear boxes at campsites; Also a horse-pack trail (watch your step!)
For an overnight trip a permit is needed, day hikers need not worry about this part but feel free to visit the ranger station still for some trail conditions, weather updates and alerts. A permit can also be reserved online at Recreation.gov - trail code: Big Pine Creek North Fork J23. Fill out the necessary information, including names of alternate leaders from within the group, who can pick up the permit if you are unable to. The following are the permit fees:
- $5 fee per person entering the wilderness
- $6 fee (not per person) for reservation
- Example: For a 6 person trip, reservation will be a grand total of $36.00 (no other additional $$ like taxes and such)
Getting to the trail head, when coming from the ranger station in Bishop - head south on Main St., that will eventually turn into US Route 395, you'll know the change when the speed limits change. It is about a 20-30 minute drive to the town of Big Pine. Once at Big Pine, turn right on to Crocker St. As of this writing (2013), its structure landmarks are a gas station and a general store on each corner. Continue driving past the cute, sometimes western themed, houses until the road turns into Glacier Lodge Road. This would be about a 12 mile drive to the trail head passing several car camping areas, including the Big Pine Campground. You'll eventually see a sign on your right directing you towards the hiker's parking lot where the trail head is and an outhouse is located. There are 2 bear boxes located at the parking area to store all your smelly stuff so you don't leave them in your car:
- One by the restroom
- Another by the last parking space going towards west of the "trail" sign
|Dark clouds looming at our destination.|
The trail starts, just left of the signs (trail info and the usual not to scale trail maps) and restroom. It climbs up to the side of the hill following along the road that continues to the road's end. You'll start to notice the cars passing on the road grow smaller and smaller as you continue your way up. You'll soon pass a horse pack structure on your left. Then about almost a mile of hiking, you'll see a few picnic tables and a restroom structure below you on your left. You have arrived at the junction where the trail splits to the South Fork Trail and the North Fork Trail. Walk a little further and you'll find a trail that leads down to it, camping spots with picnic tables and a restroom.
|Photo taken on a separate trip by me; cam owned by Cathe (photo)|
Continuing on the trail opens up to a beautiful valley before starting the climb up again. Up and out the valley you'll see trail signs keeping you on check on the North Fork Trail and then a perfect photo op (proof to your friend where you're at! lol) with the John Muir Wilderness sign. Just a little pass the sign, you'll see Second Falls (yes, even the falls are just numbered). A bit rocky climbing down closer to it, but excellent spot to refill your water bottles and freshen up a bit if you've had quite a sun exposed last mile. The next stretch of the trail runs alongside the creek with welcoming shades from the trees and not long after you'll arrive at Lon Chaney Cabin. A good place to take a quick break and enjoy the creek by the porch, after your 3 mile hike.
|Cabin commissioned to be built by the late movie actor, Lon Chaney, Sr.|
We decided to set-up camp out here on our September trip and get an early dinner on since the clouds did not look like they wanted to share the sun anymore. And sure enough, after meal and washing up, the rest of the late afternoon till we fell asleep were spent playing cards and reading inside our tent while we listened to the rhythmic sounds of rain falling on our tent fly. The following day has been decided as a day exploration instead of our original plan to camp at Third Lake.
There is but very little elevation to gain from this point on to Third Lake. All that is left is but a quick 2 mile traipse in the forest absorbing all of nature. You'll find several more good choices of camp areas in between the 3 lakes with equal gorgeous views of the lakes.
|Wildlife found! They're such troopers. No bad weather will turn them away from this place.|
|Clouds trying to conceal Temple Crag from us at Third Lake.|
|Chris contemplating another cold water jump.|
The winds started picking up, and more & more people seem to have found our little spot by the lake when large groups of day hikers started settling in for their picnic, we decided to head back to camp. Guess, we got to our lunch spot for the day just in time to miss the lunch rush! We were covering good time on our way back to camp that we've decided to stop by some spots and enjoy some more spectacular views. The clouds did not succeed this day and the skies showed us an abundance of blue.