Hiking Big Pine Lakes
The trail, views and the lakes along the Big Pine Lakes trail are truly stunning. And since my visit, so many of you have asked about where they are and how they and how much of the lakes can currently be accessed. Please note the date of this blog if going up after the posted date.
When we backpacked here, there was still snow even before first lake. The banks were easy to cross, no traction needed and can even be passable alongside the marked trail. I did bring microspikes with me for this trip, but did not need them. We started hiking just after noon, on a Thursday and only passed some day hikers coming down. With 40 lbs on my back, I was envious of their decision to go up sans gear and just spend the day in the lakes. It's getting awfully hot on the floor of the Eastern Sierras and there were times during our hike where the heat was unbearable. Wear a hat and bring and drink plenty of water. Just before halfway up to Third Lake there are some long, exposed switchbacks as you reach First Falls, which is gushing right now. There is SO much water back here along the trail, so be prepared for your feet to get wet as the water has washed into much of the trail.
Just past First Falls, you'll be hiking a single track trail with aspens, as you come up to Lon Chaneys Cabin. This is a great place to take a break, have a snack and get water if you need it. From here, the trail narrows and becomes shaded as you enter more of the forest before approaching First Lake. Much of the trail from beyond Third Lake has a significant amount of snow, and we opted to camp at Second Lake. On a Thursday evening there were only two other sets of campers. The weather at night was in the 40's and I slept snuggly in my 30 degree bag. I suggest being mindful of staying the night here if you are sensitive to elevation. You'll be between 10-11K feet, so frequently HYDRATE and NOURISH your body! Also... wear bug spray. The bugs were out, and even more so the next morning as the sun rises and the heat in the mountains really sets in. I was down to shorts and tank at 8AM in the morning.
To camp up at the lakes you must acquire a wilderness permit via the Inyo National Forest Service. DO NOT GO UP WITHOUT A PERMIT. Yes, the lakes are beautiful, but the permit system is in place for the conservation of the wilderness and also for your own well being and safety. The lakes can be hiked as a day hike, so plan and pack accordingly if you’re going up, it is about six miles to Third Lake and also a total gain of 3,500 feet along the hike.
I surely plan on returning once more of the lakes and trail thaw out! Please check conditions (especially now during heightened run off) before heading up by contacting the Eastern Sierra Interagency Center, (760) 876-6200.
All Photos By @HeyGuyStudios