*Originally hiked: August 10, 2019
McGee Creek Canyon is one of those hikes that I’ve been waiting to do, since last year I had to cancel it due to other plans getting in the way. The original overnight permits I got were for Sawmill Pass, which would be a 6,000+ feet elevation gain to the pass. Either way, for some reason I kept checking Recreation.gov to see if other permits were available for the weekend. On the Thursday before, we decided to cancel our permits for Sawmill and head to McGee Creek area.
If you read my last blog for Ruby Lake via Mosquito Flats Hike, we had some trouble with elevation and being out of shape. The last few weeks I did exactly what I said I would need to do to feel better in the mountains! We killed it and I can’t wait to get even in better and better shape for more of these kinds of trips. I fell in love with hiking again and can’t wait for the next trip. Motto: do it for the mountains! Hence, go work out and get your body ready for what you want to do!
Want to read more about the hike? Check out some of the details below and if you want to skip ahead to more pictures and our adventure, it’s at the end. Save the best for last.
What’s in this Guide?
I have put together a lot of information on this hike, so if you want to skip ahead here are some of the sections I will be covering. Enjoy the adventure!
- Backpacking McGee Creek Trailhead to Big McGee Lake Stats – Mileage, elevation gain, map of hike, weather.
- How Do I Get Permits for This Hike? – just a quick write up of how to obtain overnight permits for McGee Creek hike.
- Directions to the McGee Creek Trailhead – in case you don’t want to look it up on google.
- About McGee Creek Area – I put together some interesting stuff for you to read about the pack station and the area.
- Geer Recommendations – Some items I’d like to shout out because of heavy use on this trip.
- My Blabbering – Best part with photos and me writing aimlessly.
Backpacking McGee Creek Trailhead to Big McGee Lake Stats
|15.44||2950 feet||John Muir Wilderness||Out-and-back||Moderate|
map of hike
The McGee Creek Trailhead sits at 8,131feet. The forecast below is for much higher, so expect much warmer weather as it’s 3,000 feet elevation gain to the pass.
How Do I Get Permits for this Hike?
There’s a couple of ways to obtain permits for the hike. One way is to go onto recreation.gov up to 6 months in advance and reserve permits for McGee Pass. Day use does not require a permit. The other way is to go to a permit office and pick up an overnight permit. The locations of permit offices for the Eastern Sierras are: Permit Issuing Stations. *Note: for this entry the closest permit station is White Mountain Ranger Station.
- Go to RECREATION.gov
- Click on Inyo National Forest – Wilderness Permits after searching for it
- Click on Explore available permits
- Under Detailed Availability, click No unless you are a commercial guided trip.
- Pick the date you would like to go and the group size.
- Under Filters in the Search you can enter the Trail which is McGee Pass and click Show Results.
- Scroll down to McGee Pass under the Sites and see if the date is available.
- If it is click on the entry date of choice and click Book Now.
- Follow the rest of the steps to book the overnight trip.
If you have any questions on this process, please go ahead and contact me.
Directions to Get to McGee Creek Trailhead
The closest permit pick up station is White Mountain Ranger Station Visitor Center, but we ended up picking it up at the Eastern Sierra Agency Center.
About McGee Creek Area
The McGee Creek area is very close to Mammoth Lakes, CA a popular ski area in the Sierra Nevada mountains. If you wish to visit the area, I definitely recommend jumping in and checking out Mammoth Lakes.
McGee Pass Trail
McGee Pass Trail – I must say that the wildflowers weren’t in full bloom when we were there, but I bet earlier this spring it was! There were still many left in the canyon and I’m thinking of making it out during wildflower season. There are a few water crossings, one especially high this year to where the water was up to our knees.
The McGee Creek Pack Station is located very close to the trailhead; it gives you another option to possibly pack in or go for a horseback ride. See more of what McGee Creek Pack Station has to offer on their homepage: https://www.mcgeecreekpackstation.com/pack-trip-vacations
If you arrive the night before, a good place to camp is McGee Creek Campground. July and August the campground has it’s busiest season, so don’t count on finding a spot mid Summer. We ended up not finding a spot and sleeping near the trailhead. Closest towns are Crowley Lake and Bishop that have campsites and places to stay.
I have a longer list of items that I pack on my trips including some of my Backpacking Gear Ideas. Check those out if you have a moment. The list under here were items I was especially happy I took with me.
- Water Shoes – Crocs or you can get something similar like the KEEN Women’s Newport Sandal
- Tent – Big Agnes Copper Spur UL Backpacking Tent – we have the 3 person and for this trip the 3 of us slept in the same tent.
- Stove – Jetboil Zip Cooking System – I have owned mine for over 6 years and wouldn’t get any other stove.
- Towel – Sea to Summit Drylite Towel – This is a towel similar to the one I have owned for over 10 years. I definitely recommend adding this to the packing list especially in the summers when dipping in alpine lakes is a thing.
- Mosquito Repellent – Ben’s 100% DEET Mosquito Repellent – much needed still in August.
- Hat – Taking it Easy Retro Trucker Cap – Everyone always should bring a hat, this one is special to me because my sister and I designed it and if anything take a look at help us out by buying one and sharing it around.
- Water Filter – LifeStraw Gravity Filter – don’t go without this.
- Sleeping Pad – VENTURE4th Ultralight Sleeping Pad + Thermarest Zlite Pad – the perfect combination I tell you. I’ve also written a review on the VENTURE4th Sleeping Pad if you want to check it out.
- Spice Holder – GSI Outdoors Spice Missile
- Soup – NongShim Shin Black Noodle Soup – once again makes the list, seriously good stuff especially if it’s cold and windy outside
I put together a video that is premiering today at 5:00PM PST on YouTube. Please go check it out if you have some time: https://youtu.be/CiHghSOhjHM
Instead of driving up the morning of the hike, we decided to still head out around 5:00pm. Surprisingly traffic wasn’t as bad as we thought it was gong to be. We picked up our permits at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center in Lone Pine, this or the White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop is also a good option to pick up your permit.
We reached the trailhead around 10:00pm and went straight to sleep after putting all our food in the bear boxes. The trailhead also has two vault toilets available and a good sized parking lot. The next morning we woke at 6:30am made some coffee in the back of our Subaru. Before we came out I boiled some eggs that we could have for breakfast and the day after too. After eating and coffee, we packed up and headed on the trail around 8:15am.
The beginning of the trail is nice a gradual, a perfect warm up for a long hike. The sun didn’t peer out behind the mountain yet, which was extremely nice as we climbed into the backcountry. I was thinking it was smart for us to get a head start early, because I’m sure this canyon gets very hot during the day. With the wind against us, once we were sweating a little it was a bit chilly. After about 2 miles we finally got into the trees, which the sun wasn’t on us just yet but it was getting there. We took a quick break and snacked and continued on.
I was thinking around this time that we hadn’t seen a soul, just one day hiker who started before us and was on his way out. The reason I was thinking about this was that there were over a dozen cars parked in the hikers lot. The spot that we picked to snack was just below Horsetail Falls which we had a great view of it from almost as soon as a mile in from the trailhead.
The next couple of miles there were some water crossings, one especially at about 3 miles in where we changed into our Crocs to cross McGee Creek (more like a river). After this water crossing the scale of up in compared to mileage went up drastically. I did enjoy the fact that after a big hill there was a flat portion of the trail almost the entire way to the lake. There was a hill right after this major crossing that leveled out with an amazing view over the creek below. The creek flows in this valley in a few different spots and the water was extremely turquoise. We spotted an old beaver damn as well down there, which I don’t ever recall actually seeing one in person.
About 4 miles in there is another crossing where you end up back on the other side of the creek. I remember getting to the crossing and thinking “Oh my, we might be swimming across”. But literally just around the bend and behind a bush there were two logs that would take you easily across.
much more hills and meadows
I honestly didn’t know exactly how far Big McGee Lake was because there aren’t that many write ups about it, but some sites said 6 miles, some said 8 miles. I kept looking at my Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Watch to see if even the first lake was on my map screen. If I remember correctly about 4.5 miles in there is a turn off to head to Steelhead Lake. Just before this we stopped at a perfect bench (fallen tree) to eat our To Go Wraps for strength to finish of the hike to Big McGee. After the turnoff for Steelhead there was a nice flat stretch. After another lovely uphill we hit the first lake (pond) near the trail, this is a great spot to eat lunch if you are on a day hike. This is where I finally saw a few day hikers taking a rest with a nice view of the lake.
The last 3 miles were gorgeous, we kept being spoiled with more and more views and the meadows we got to go through were spectacular. We got to the lake around 1:30pm and made some soup (NongShim Shin Black Noodle Soup, Spicy) because it was windy and cold.
setting up camp and fishing
Just after we set up camp we set out to fish for a few hours. I MUST say that we had literally best campsite ever. Our Big Agnes Copper Spur Tent fit just perfect in a spot that showed to have a bit of use. We even had a kitchen area with a perfect table and view of the lake. While fishing one by one we jumped in as the clouds and wind allowed us and between the 3 of us we caught 8 fish total just with lures. Unfortunately I lost two lures that I just bought because I wasn’t paying attention and let them drop into the rocks.
Just passed 7:00pm it was getting quite cold so we decided to hit the tent and all 3 of us were fast asleep.
quick coffee and packing up
Since we fell asleep so early, we woke up at 5:30am on our own and fell back asleep till about 7:00am. There’s a reason I come up to the mountains and it’s to get my good sleep apparently. I don’t remember sleeping over 10 hours in a long time. While drinking our coffee we packed up and headed out on the trail by about 9:30am. It was shorts weather, much better than the day before. It took us just under 3 hours to get back to the car and in turn perfect timing to hit lunch at the Burger Barn in Bishop just 20 minutes into our drive.
Hope you guys enjoyed the write up. If you have any questions about this hike or the area, please contact me.
Annette, Adventurer – Beyond Limits on Foot
Here are some other great links to check out on the hike to read further:
- Mid Sierra Musings: Overnight Hike To Big McGee Lake Overnight Hike To Big McGee Lake
- Hiking & Walking: McGee Creek to Steelhead and Big McGee Lakes
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