Chicken Spring Lake – Golden Trout Wilderness

Where: Golden Trout Wilderness
Mileage: 8.6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Easy
Elevation gain: 1330 feet
Recommended: swim suit if it’s summer and you want to swim


To get to the trailhead: Take Route 395 from the city of Lone Pine, turn west on Whitney Portal Rd. Turn left on Horseshoe Meadow Road after 3 miles. Drive about 20 miles to the end of the road at Horseshoe Meadow. There are a couple trailheads, make sure you found the Cottonwood Pass trailhead at the end of the campground.

Chicken Spring Lake - 06

Since my Mt. Whitney trip is coming around, I decided to get myself out into elevation for the weekend and find a hike in the Eastern Sierras. I stayed in Lone Pine on Friday night after work and headed up to the trailhead at 0630. From Lone Pine it takes about 50 minute drive to Horseshoe Meadow Campground, Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead and Cottonwood Pass Trailhead. It was 71 degrees when I left Lone Pine and when I arrived after a very picturesque drive it was about 49 at the trailhead.

The last time I came up to do this hike, I was unable too because the road was too icy to drive on for my car. Finally, I came back to make this hike to Chicken Spring Lake. Cottonwood Pass Trailhead sits at 9,040 feet and is the gateway to the northern part of the Golden Trout Wilderness. This trailhead also allows access to the PCT and JMT. The climb up to the pass itself was gradual, nothing out of the ordinary climb.

Gusts of cold wind kept me from complete comfort at the pass while I ran into a couple JMT thru hikers taking a break. They were bundled up nestled next to a boulder that slightly guarded the chilly breeze upon the pass. I quickly took a bite of a bar and scurried away onto the destination lake which was situated less than a mile from the pass.

Instead of heading towards Trail Pass, I turned right onto the Pacific Crest Trail. Before heading dense into the forest, this part of the trail here sits right above another meadow, not as vast as Horseshoe. The trail the climbs up a few hundred feet. Chicken Spring Lake and the towering Cirque Peak above it come into view about .5 miles later. There were a couple tents up in this area just before turning off the trail to reach the lake.

Chicken Spring Lake sits at 11,250 feet. Once here if you have time you can head up to Cirque Peak that requires off-trail scrambling adding another mile and a 1,000 foot climb. Of course once you hit the top it probably entertains measureless views of the area.

Chicken Spring Lake - 07

I decided to make the lake my destination as I also wanted to take a dip in the water. It was reasonably cold outside as I convinced myself to go for it. Swim suit on I quickly walked and dunked myself until my shoulders were covered. Unusually I ended up not getting my hair wet as the wind had picked up and I have 4 or so miles to go in the wind.

Chicken Spring Lake - 08

After a quick lunch I headed back towards the pass; heading straight out I ran into a couple people who asked me if it was I who jumped in the water. I admitted that it was me thinking in my head I swear there was not one person around watching. I proceeded on and wished the two JMT thru hikers a good rest of their trip.

I reached the car a lot faster than I thought I would. Thankfully before I left I remembered a couple items that I placed in the bear box before I left for the hike. Make sure that any food or scented items are placed in the bear boxes, do not leave it in your car (active bear area).

On the way down I saw a couple hitchhikers on the side and asked them where they were headed. They were headed into Lone Pine which is exactly where I was headed through. We stuffed their backpacks in my car and I took them down to Lone Pine about a 50 minute drive from the trailhead. Both hitchhikers were doing the Pacific Crest Trail. This was the time for me to pick their brains on why they decided to thru-hike the PCT. One just finished up school and decided to extend her stay to do the whole PCT; she was visiting from Germany and thought it would be a cool thing to do. The other hiker decided to quit his job and come try the PCT; he was from the other side of the United State (Virginia). I had a couple random freeze dried meals left in my car from a hike I did a couple weeks before. I left both these packages with them as I dropped them off at the hotel.

Till next time Eastern Sierras!

Note to self: First-come first-serve sites available at Horseshoe Meadow Campground.

4 thoughts on “Chicken Spring Lake – Golden Trout Wilderness

  1. How come you don’t tell people there are no golden trout or any trout in Chicken Spring Lake ?
    When if ever did the lake have golden trout in it ? Thanks Brad.

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