Big Pine Creek North Fork to Third Lake: John Muir Wilderness

Unfortunately this seems to be a very popular trail.  Please make sure that you practice Leave No Trace; we found a lot of trash here and there.  We found a couple campfires; it specifically says no campfires on this trail when you pick up your permits.

*Originally hiked on June 9, 2019 & June 2, 2018

Location Mileage Elevation Gain Type
Inyo National Forest/John Muir Wilderness
11.4 miles
2,750 feet

— What to Expect in this Guide —

  1. Background – Fun facts, trailhead info, things to know, map of hike.
  2. Itinerary Options – Some ideas following 1-3 day options for you to choose from.
  3. Weather – Always important to check the weather before you head out.
  4. Permits – This section includes how to put in for a permit and where to pick up the permit. *Permit is required to hike in this area.
  5. Directions – how to get to the trailhead.
  6. Maps, Books and Gear Recommendations – A source for important maps that you should take on a hike, reading material before the hike and some recommendations on gear items that would be great for the hike.
  7. Check Them Out – More fun reads by other authors that you can check out.
  8. Hike Stats – Quick overview of the mileage and elevation for points of interest on the hike.
  9. Description – Just in case you want to just hear my story and see some more My favorite part is the recollection of the hike and the awesome pictures that I can share with you guys. Be sure to check out my rambling and photographs in this section.

Before I get into the guide, I wrote a couple recipes down that we have taken on the trail.  We actually did the To-Go Wraps for both 2018 & 2019 trips and made Tacos at 10,000 Feet.  Check them out.

Also, if you are one of those people who love video blogs more than reading all the blabbering in the world you should check out my channel and some great footage from this spectacular hike.

— Twinted Inspiration —

One of the best things about getting outdoors is we get an inspiration to draw/design the places we have been to.  My sister and I have a small side business in which we make our designs come to life.  Our Moments page on Twinted website: temple crag show how the design comes to life.  Check out then big pine collection

Big Pine Lake Second Lake, pencil drawing by Michelle Halloran


Digitized drawing of the above on a sweater available for purchase!

— Background —

Big Pine Creek North Fork trail is nestled in the California High Sierras west of Bishop and Big Pine.  A fun fact about the trail is there is a cabin about 3.5 miles in that was once a summer home to a Hollywood Star.  Lon Chaney was an famous American stage and film actor, director, screenwriting and make-up artist.  He was well known for The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phantom of the Opera.  Chaney had a summer cabin built for himself made of stone and wood (1929).  This cabin still stands and is a nice place to day hike to if in the area or pass by on a longer backpacking trip. Inyo National Forest Service has taken over ownership as a Ranger Cabin and visitors are not allowed inside.

— Trailhead Info —

Big Pine Creek North Fork
The trailhead to Big Pine Lakes is at the end of Glacier Lodge Road.  Glacier Lodge burnt down in 1998, but they still have cabins for rent, a small store, showers and a free trout.  A campground is available for overnight use for a fee.  This is the last place you will see a vault toilet if you are off to the lakes.

Glacier Lodge Website

— Things to Know —

This is the know before you go section.

  • No campfires are allowed in the area
  • Food, scented items and waste must be stored in a bear canister
  • Burry human waste 100 feet away from water sources and 6-8 inches deep
  • Check snow report before entering in (2019 we had a huge snow year and we took our microspikes).

— Map of Hike —

Big Pine Area Trails Map on

— Itinerary Options —

One Day
Even if you do this as a day hike, take your essential gear for the day and in case of emergency.

  • Hike ~11.4 miles; ~2,750′ elevation gain out-and-back

Two Day

  • Day 1 – Hike ~6.5 miles; ~2750′ elevation gain from trailhead to Fourth Lake (make sure to stop at Second Lake and even Third) *option to go to 5th lake for an extra 0.6 mi
  • Day 2 – Hike ~10 miles; ~850′ elevation gain from Fourth Lake to Summit Lake and Black Lake to trailhead *option to go to 6th and 7th lakes for an extra 2.0 miles

Three Day

  • See all the lakes and take side trip to Palisade Glacier.

— Weather —

The weather both years was absolutely amazing, but the week after I heard that there were hurricane like winds up there in the same area.  It did get very cold this year (2019).  The weather can change at any time in the mountains, be sure to prepare and pack the right things as needed.
Glacier Lodge (Near trailhead) – Elevation 7,313 feet
Third Lake – Elevation 10,892 feet

— Permits —

— Backcountry Permit —

Day Hikes: You are not required to have a wilderness permit for a day hike. Be sure to leave your itinerary with your family in case anything happens.

Backcountry Permits are required to hike overnight in the John Muir Wilderness Area.  To obtain a permit you can obtain it in person at any of the Inyo National Forest Visitor Centers or to be sure you get a permit, reserve up to 6 months in advance on the website.  Just like most trails in there is an overnight quote, so planning ahead is advised.

*Note: You will not be refunded the $6 reservation fee at any point after completing the purchase. You can get refunded for the permit if you cancel the reservation up to 22 days in advance.

— Directions —

Big Pine Creek Trailhead
Address: 4024 Glacier Lodge Rd, Bishop, CA 93514
From Big Pine, turn west on W Crocker Ave. It will turn into Glacier Lodge Rd. in about .5 miles. Continue on Glacier Lodge Rd. for about 10 miles. There is day parking at the trailhead and the trout pond, no overnight for vehicles here. You can park closer to the trailhead near Glacier Lodge by talking to the owners who will tell you where to park (there is a fee) or drive back out to the Hiker Parking area.  The difference in mileage isn’t much though.

— Maps, Books & Gear Recommendations —


— Maps —

1. Palisades Trail Map (Tom Harrison Maps) – My favorite type of maps are the Tom Harrison Maps. This is the perfect one for this hike; it is also available at the Visitor Center if you forget to buy one ahead of time.
2. Caltopo map of Big Pine Creek North Fork to Third Lake – This is a map I created on CalTopo of the exact route that we took. I also have a photo of it attached above.
3. Sierra South: Backcountry Trips in Californias Sierra Nevada– A book about other hikes in the Southern Sierras. I find most of my trips in this book and the tom harrison maps that I’ve bought throughout the years.

— Some Gear Recommendations —

1. Patagonia Women’s Ultralight Down Jacket – I don’t have this jacket yet, but I have heard so many good things about it. It may just be in my next shopping spree.
2. Sea To Summit Aeros Pillow Premium– This is by far the best sleeping gear I have ever bought. I usually wrap my down jacket and scarf around it to make it even more comfortable. I’ve learned throughout the years to not blow it up all the way; this will allow the pillow to conform to your head better.
3. Sea to Summit X-Pan, 8″, Orange – If you want to make those tacos above 10,000 feet like in my blog: Tacos at 10,000 Feet, then this would be the best kitchen supply you can use for it. We actually used this on this trip, that’s why it’s on my gear recommendations list. Very easy to clean and cook in it.

Check out What’s in My Backpack? and Trail Food: Grub Ideas for the Trail for more of the items I take on a hike.

— Check Them Out —

Before I go on hikes, I always like to check out other write-ups to see if the person who went has any good ideas and just to see how their trip went. Here were some good reads you can check out.

— Hike Stats —

Point of Interest Mileage Elevation
Big Pine Creek Trailhead 0 miles 7,814 feet
Big Pine Wilderness Camp 2.7 miles 9,196 feet
Lon Chaney Cabin 3.5 miles 9,220 feet
First Lake 4.5 miles 9,980 feet
Second Lake 5.1 miles 10,138 feet
Third Lake 5.5 miles 10,283 feet
Fourth Lake 6.5 miles 10,750 feet
Fifth Lake 6.8 miles 10,683 feet
Sixth Lake 8 miles 10,983 feet
Seventh Lake 8.5 miles 11,083 feet

— Description —

I’ve been itching so long to go to Big Pine Lakes and the way I had it planned it didn’t really end up working out that way, but I still had a very good time. We had a friend in town the night before visiting from Canada, which in turn as the trip leader, decided to let everyone sleep in a little longer.  Instead of waking up at 3:30am like I planned, we woke up at 5:00am and ended up leaving the house around 6:00am.  Not too bad considering to get the permits we were about a 3 and half hour drive away.

Getting there

We arrived at the Eastern Sierra Agency Visitor Center around 10:00am and luckily there were only a couple people in front of us in line. I intended to arrive at the ranger station when it opened, so we could get on the trail much earlier. The visitor center opens at 8:00am and usually there is a line on a Saturday morning; this is where you would pick up your Mt. Whitney permits if you intend to climb that beast. The ranger mentioned that I was lucky to get a permit, because this trail is very popular. I wasn’t too excited to see too many people, but usually you can find your own area, it’s so vast out there.

From Lone Pine it took us another hour to get the Big Pine Lakes trailhead; we went straight to the Glacier Lodge Store and spoke to one of the owners about parking there. As mentioned above, there is a $5 fee for parking at Glacier Lodge. If you go back down Glacier Lodge Rd. there is a hikers parking area that is free for parking. We opted to park at Glacier Lodge. Do not park at the trailhead if you are planning on backpacking overnight.

Starting up the trail

We started up the trail at 11:00am approximately, a much later start than I am used to. We still had a full day to get up as far as we felt like going.  The weather was quite pleasant. We got to the Second Lake around 3:00pm and it was full with people.  We decided to take a break and head on towards Third Lake which was not much farther.

Third Lake had some people too, but it felt like we were alone and we found a very nice camp spot. After setting up our tents, we sat by the lake a little and fished.  I had no bites at all and decided after a couple hours to go make dinner.  We were going to have something delicious: TACOS. I have the recipe if any of you would like to take a look:  Tacos at 10,000 Feet.

Heading back out

Didn’t take us very long to get back to the cars, but we did take our time in the morning and made some coffee with hot chocolate.

Note to self: Wake up earlier to be able to go further in or drive up on Friday night and stay close to Lone Pine or Bishop where you will pick up your permits.

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