19 Eastern Sierra Lakes that You Have to Visit

Once upon a time in a land far far away, beyond where most Los Angeles dwellers would go, where the leaves rustle with the simplest of winds, where the lakes glisten when the sun hits them perfectly, where the wildflowers bloom after the snow melts, where the only sound you hear are the birds chirping, where taking a dip in it’s lakes is the #1 rule of our adventures, where life is simpler.  Ok, I’ll get to the point, the place is called the Eastern Sierras.  

Ever since about 10 years ago when backpacking and hiking became part of my life, I’ve traveled a lot to the Eastern Sierras.  You might ask, why not go into the local mountains here in Los Angeles and I have my reasons, but mostly because the Eastern Sierras have a certain beauty that is unmatched to anywhere else I have been.  The mountains are more or less untouched by civilization and it better stay like that because it is hard to find places like this!  One of the biggest reasons I like to adventure here is the abundance of lakes, water and mountains that can be explored.

The Eastern Sierras are located in California on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.  The gateway to its dramatic scenery of desert floor to mountains is U.S. Route 395.  I know this highway like the back up my hand now and wanted to share some of my favorite lakes that I have been to, whether it be hiking or just driving to (I’ll warn you, most of these lakes are hiking adventures and the occasional backpacking trip).

Personally, I’d like to see every single lake in the area.  By no means is this the list of all the lakes in the area.  I noticed that when I reminisced about each of these lakes, they all had their own stories to tell, the experience, meeting certain individuals, experiencing failure or accomplishments, etc.  I put together a map of these lakes on google if you feel the desire to get out and explore one of them.  Check them out here: Eastern Sierra Lakes.

Since I drive from Southern California, the list is in order of South to North not by map, but by trail head. 

If you haven’t already check out my YouTube channel for some of my adventures. Beyond Limits on Foot YouTube Channel.



Chicken Spring Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Lone Pine Hike 9.0 miles (round trip) 1,302 feet

Sitting at 11,242 feet, to reach Chicken Spring Lake you begin your journey at Horseshoe Meadow.  About 4 years ago, I did this trail as a solo day hike to train for climbing Mt. Whitney.  I had planned on it being a training also for a half marathon I was supposed to do in Mammoth Lakes.  Well, I’m going to own it and say I overslept and didn’t make my bus to run the half marathon (I will one day I promised myself).  The trail to Chicken Spring Lake other than the elevation is fairly easy after the first climb to Cottonwood Pass.  I had the honor of meeting some hikers who were exiting the JMT (John Muir Trail) through Horseshoe Meadow.  Read more about my solo trip here: Chicken Spring Lake – Golden Trout WildernessOvernight permits required.


Cottonwood Lakes

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Lone Pine Hike 4.3-8 miles (one way) ~1,000 feet

Each Cottonwood Lake sits above 11,000 feet; there are 6 lakes and they each have their different back drops which makes a perfect backpacking destination.  Choose from 1 of 6 lakes below.  These lakes are great for if you are willing and ready to summit Mt. Langley a 14,000 foot peak in the area.  The Cottonwood Lakes is a great area to go fishing.  Overnight permits required.

We attempted Mt. Langley a couple years ago, and when I say attempt, we were 3 miles away from the summit, 1 mile from where we set up camp.  It was going to be dark and we had started the lake hike considering we couldn’t drive up till that morning and had to wait till 8:00 am to pick up our permits.  We probably made the right decision to just go back and camp and honestly I was ok with this decision because we swam a little, fished and relaxed the rest of the night.  (We will come back for you Mt. Langley, I promise!)


Consultation Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Lone Pine Hike 12 miles to the overlook (out and back) 3,300 feet

Consultation Lake is a lake you only find yourself at if you feel like you want to venture off and take a freezing dip after the summit of Mt. Whitney the highest peak of the lower 48.  Both times I hiked Mt. Whitney we stayed the night above Consultation Lake and were able to sit perched above the lake under the stars in our sleeping bags until we fell asleep.  Our first time up Mt. Whitney we ended up falling asleep outside and woke up at midnight to get into tent.  There is something magical about sleeping under the stars and the view we had of Consultation Lake was breathtaking.  Overnight permits required.

Further reading on our trip to Mt. Whitney and why Consultation Lake was a perfect place to stay at:  Mt. Whitney – Inyo National Forest.


Big Pine Lakes – Second Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Big Pine Hike 5.5 miles (one way) 2,400 feet

I had the pleasure of visiting this place twice, once in the summer and another time in the summer with snow (yes you heard it right, us Californians have snow in the summer too)!  The first time in the area, we actually hiked up to the Third Lake because there were so many people at the Second Lake.  Warning, this is a very popular trail and if you are looking for solidarity, you will not get it here unless you go further to the upper lakes.  The reason why Second Lake is visited often is due to the view seen in the picture above; during the summer the water is fine turquoise with the sun being out and the backdrop is Temple Crag, one of the most beautiful crags.  Overnight permits required.

Check out my video for North Fork Big Pine on my Beyond Limits on Foot YouTube Channel.


Long Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Bishop Hike 2.0 miles 1,823 feet

Long Lake sits peacefully at 10,758 feet, just 2.0 miles from the trail head.  It’s literally a Long Lake that you will pass on your way up to Bishop Pass or it can be made your destination by taking the Bishop Pass Trail from South Lake.  We set eyes on hiking to Bishop Pass, which is 5.5 miles from the trail head, but neither of us in the group were feeling that great with lack of sleep and a hard week, so we decided to find a camp spot at the end of Long Lake and relax on its banks.  Another adventure that didn’t go as planned, but hey we got some fishing in (did not catch anything, probably related to the time we fished) and relaxed in the outdoors.  Honestly, I want to come back and get up all the way to Bishop Pass as there are approximately 4 other lakes you can hit.  A side trip to Chocolate Lakes on the way back would be in order as well.


Blue Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Bishop Hike 3 miles 1,350 feet

To get to Blue Lake, you begin your journey on the banks of Sabrina Lake.  On our way into the Sabrina Basin, it was a beautiful fall day and we got to experience the most abundant colors of fall.  The road up to Sabrina Lake would have been just enough to put a smile on my face, but hey why not throw in a hike.  Blue Lake sits at 10,400 feet with towering walls of granite slopes surrounding it.

With just a little over 3 miles to hike to the lake, this is a perfect destination for day hikers.  We opted to backpack to the lake and slept on the west banks high above the lake, which amounted to great views from above and less mosquitoes to bother us.  I was hoping to hike further in, but the mosquitoes were unbearable and we spent some time in the tent to get away from them.

I remember reaching our camp spot and before we did anything else all of a sudden I heard a huge splash in the water.  Of course my boyfriend didn’t tell me the course of action he was taking and jumped from the ledge into the water.  I wimped out and did not do the jump mainly because it felt like there would be some rock climbing I was not ready for.


Ruby Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Bishop Hike 5.23 miles 899 feet

Ruby Lake is also a great spot for a day hiking destination.  Ruby Lake sits just above Rock Creek Lakes an area known for it’s fly fishing and abundance of water and lakes.  Just remember certain times of years the mosquitoes can be brutal here.  We opted to stay the night at Ruby Lake to fish and tan and relax.  We may have also jumped in as that is our #1 rule, it was freezing, but felt amazing to cool off!  Great way to spend a quick weekend away from the city.  Read more about this hike: Ruby Lake via Mosquito Flats: John Muir Wilderness.

Also, check out my YouTube video: Ruby Lakes via Little Lakes Valley Backpacking.


Lower Pine Lake

Closest City Type Mileage
Bishop Hike 2 miles

Pine Lake sits just under the 10,000 foot mark at 9,942 feet.  To get to Pine lake is just under 2 miles, therefor we decided to hike in later after work on a Friday to get to the first lake on the trail at least.  We got there in the dark, so we didn’t get to see the beauty of the lake until the next morning and the way down.  We went on to explore more of the trail doing both Italy and Pine Creek Passes; the back country in this area has an abundant amount of lakes.  I really cannot wait to come back here.  On our way out back to the cars is when we caught Pine Lake’s perfect serenity; the water was absolutely calm and we could see the mountains and trees, the landscape around, reflection in it.


Big McGee Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Bishop Hike 15.4 miles round-trip 2,950 feet

Big McGee Lake is over 7 miles in from the trailhead, sitting at 8,131 feet. We did this trail in the early season and were lucky enough to see the area flourished with flours in the meadows especially. It’s a great

Read more about this hike: Big McGee Lake via McGee Creek Trail: John Muir Wilderness.

If you want to see the area a little more in depth, check out my Big McGee Lake Backpacking Trip on YouTube.


Convict Lake

Mildred Lake

Lake Dorothy

 

Lake Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Convict Lake Bishop Hike/Drive 3 miles around lake Little to none
Mildred Lake Bishop Hike 4.25 miles one-way 2,200 feet
Lake Dorothy Bishop Hike 5 miles 2,900 feet

I put these 3 together as they were a backpacking trip we’ve done twice and they are all worth it to see. If you’re not a backpacker, go check out Convict Lake; lots of things to do there: hike around the lake, get on a kayak on the lake, fish, etc. There’s a campground also
that you can reserve ahead of time that’s right by the lake and very convenient if you love the lake.

I never normally do the same trail twice backpacking, but that has changed over the years as I noticed that going back to the same place twice isn’t so bad; it gives you more opportunity to explore more of the area honestly. One of our first major backpacking trips was in this area and we went back 8 years later. It was epic both times and I love the fact that there are so many lakes in the area, great for lake hopping and base-camping at one.

Convict Lake – 7,850′ feet; Mildred Lake – 9,850′; Lake Dorothy – 10,350′.


Thousand Island Lake

Thousand Island Lakes
Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Mammoth Lakes/June Lake Hike 6.3 miles 2,900 feet

Thousand Island Lake (9,850 feet) is a well-known destination (no camping near the lake) amongst backpackers and honestly permits to get here have been very scarce because they go so fast as soon as they are open. It is one of the largest high-country lakes and of course was named because it literally does have thousand lakes. It’s regarded as one of the most astounding lakes in the Eastern Sierras with Banner Peak sitting above at 12,936 feet.

I was given the chance to see it again when we hiked the John Muir Trail.  My first time up at this lake we hiked up from the June Lake Area side from Rush Creek Trailhead near Silver Lake.  Spent a night at Waugh Lake then headed over Island Pass to find it’s jaw dropping beauty below as well descended down. I wish we could have camped there, but trekked on further after a nice lunch view/spot because of the restrictions.

My second time was on the John Muir Trail, I wanted to stay at this lake, but it was just a little too far for one of our days and we were given the chance to see the mighty Banner Peak from Garnet Lake.  I didn’t put this lake on my list, because if you visit Thousand Island Lake, you are less than 2 miles away from Garnet and can make the side trip.

You can read more about our trip here: Ansel Adams Wilderness Area.


June Lake

June Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
June Lake Drive Drive N/A

I picked June Lake because it’s a hidden gem above the well-known Mammoth Lakes and it’s worth a visit especially if you are in the area. We’ve been to June Lake several times and for different reasons: to snowboard, to fish, to try something at the brewing company, to camp before backpacking, to backpack, to have an amazing burger after backpacking and just to drive the scenic loop which includes other lakes in the area as well. Great vacation spot if you want to stay in an area that is less populated than Mammoth Lakes. I’d take a weekend getaway here anytime.


Lake Mary

Lake George

Crystal Lake

Barney Lake

Pika Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Lake Mary Drive Drive N/A
Lake George Drive Drive N/A
Crystal Lake Hike 3.0 miles round trip 900 feet
Barney Lake Hike 5.0 miles round trip 1,090 feet
Pika Lake Hike 10 miles round trip 1,390 feet

The Mammoth Lakes area is definitely a favorite of mine to visit throughout the year weather it’s for snowboarding, fishing, backpacking, hiking, etc.  The top 2 lakes that I would go to if we were driving or camping are Lake Mary and Lake George.  Lake Mary is nestled perfectly in the valley and has awesome boating activities.  We stayed once at a nearby campground and got up early to rent a boat for fishing; awesome lake for that.  Lake George is our go to spot to fish on the side of the lake, there’s even an awesome jump that we did from a rock; we paddled out climbed it and jumped in and paddled back.  Only offset of these two lakes are they are very popular because you can drive up to them.  Parking is difficult in summer months.

As for the other 3 lakes that I picked for this article they are all accessible by foot only.  Crystal Lake is a good climb and along the way up, the views get more and more spectacular.  This place is a good day hike for families; we opted to carry our paddleboards up and use them on the lake.  The other two lakes we did as one of our Labor Day Backpacking Trips:  Barney Lakes is on the way to Pika Lake, so you can hit both at the same time.  We didn’t sleep at Barney Lakes, we ended up going more into the backcountry and on our last night out, found a nice spot hidden away at Pika Lake.


Get out there

I just wanted to share all the amazing places that I’ve been to and my hope is that I at least gave you the reader the ambition and inspiration to get outside and explore what this amazing place has to offer.  I love the Eastern Sierras; honestly these aren’t all the lakes I’ve been to, maybe I’ll compile a whole list in the long run – but these were my most memorable.  Please if you have any questions, comment below and I’d be happy to reach back out to you!  Hope you enjoyed!

Happy Adventures!

Annette

 

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John Muir Trail: Day 1&2

Finding our rhythm on the first couple days of the trail

Day Miles Point A to Point B Elevation Gain Elevation Loss
June 6 7.33 miles Whitney Portal to view of Consultation Lake 3,323 feet 67 feet
June 7 11.27 miles Consultation Lake to the summit of Mt. Whitney to just below Guitar Lake 2,815 feet N/A

 


YouTube Vlog

Before I get into my blabberings of the trail; check out my vlog of the 1st couple of days.


Day 1

Date: June 6, 2021

Whitney Portal to view of Consultation Lake

7.33 miles  |  Elevation Gain: 3,323 feet   |  Elevation Loss: 67 feet

Day 1 Ramblings

We found ourselves driving up the same day we were starting the trail; 4:00am the alarm went off.  Everything was fully packed in the car just needed to pick up my sister and her boyfriend as they were going to drive my car back instead of having it parked in one place for 3 weeks.  I was having some issues with getting my permits emailed to me (note to self, don’t try to get them last minute), so we decided it was best to show up at the Ranger Station when it opened.  Closest ranger station is the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center right before hitting the small town of Lone Pine.

So there’s this thing called a wag bag.  “Wag bags are basically dog bags for humans”.  You can purchase these ahead of time or when you pick up your permits can get a free on at the permit pick up center (in the Whitney zone, you have to use the wag bag).  Upon receiving my permit, I was handed several papers of all the rules for each of the forests/parks we would be entering during the trail (can we please be mindful of these, there’s a reason they are in place!!!).  Instead of carrying all of it, I took photos on my phone and used it as reading material on some of the nights!

I remember getting to the trail around 9:00am, the only thing left to do was put on our boots, add water into our 1.5 L Hydrapak, say goodbye to our puppy and put our backpacks on and set out.  I had the luxury of my sister who was going to take care of our puppy during our 21 day adventure.  Big shout out and thanks to her!

heading out on our way

At 9:30am after a picture with the trailhead sign (I guess that’s a thing), we headed up the steep mountain.  Our goal for the day was to hit Trail Camp or Consultation Lake.  The one major hard part of this leg of the trail was that our packs were at their heaviest, mine was 41 lbs. and Joe’s was 48 lbs.  We had 10-11 days worth of food in our packs as we wouldn’t be resupplying until Muir Trail Ranch (120 miles away).

Along the way up, we probably took way too many breaks; though now I would say that wasn’t an issue as we were acclimatizing ourselves.  Multiple times we would run into the same people, mostly people day hiking Mt. Whitney or overnighting it.  About 3 miles in, I changed my shirt to the long sleeve and never wore the shirt again while hiking.

Before we left for the trip we downloaded an app called Guthook; this app has a full map that can be used offline for the John Muir Trail.  It shows water sources, good camp spots, photo opportunities, passes, etc.   Pretty solid source for the entire trip!  I recommend anyone going out on the trail to download this and use it as a resource, make sure you download it for offline use, because obviously almost the entire John Muir Trail there is no cell service.

*my attempt at a night shot; needs a lot of work!

first day thoughts

I didn’t feel nearly as ready as I’d hoped to be physically, mentally I was completely ready to tackle this endeavor.  We had set out to do this trip 3 years ago, but the fires insisted for us to stay away; this was ok because the trail wasn’t going anywhere.  The knowledge and practice I attained over these 3 years waiting I believe made me mentally stronger to reach this ultimate goal of hiking the entire John Muir Trail. 

I was ecstatic to find that there were several cool ledges open for tent spots with a view of Consultation Lake and it’s vast towering walls above it.  We did a little over 3,000 feet in elevation gain and my calves were feeling it.  We still had about just the same the next day; so straight to bed we went after dinner.

I knew our packs would be a little lighter the next day since we had eaten some of our food; that definitely brought up my spirits of having to summit Mt. Whitney the next day.  I also remembered that we get to drop our packs 1.9 miles from the summit at the junction.

I enjoyed our breaks and taking in the moments we were living through; after all we had an entire day to get to our next destination.  We were in no hurry; we had 20 days left to finish the trail and we weren’t even in the double digits yet, ha.


Day 2

Date: June 7, 2021

Consultation Lake to the summit of Mt. Whitney to just below Guitar Lake

11.27 miles  |  Elevation Gain: 2,815 feet |  Elevation Loss: N/A

Day 2 Ramblings

No alarms, because nature was the alarm (well or people around waking up early and making noises).  We set out around 8:30am with full pack and with no breakfast.  That was the worst plan ever; all we had was our coffee and hot chocolate which honestly was the best thing every morning, but after passing Trail Camp and filling up our water, you hit the infamous 99 switchbacks.  I’ve done it before and know how grueling it was, but now I was doing it with a full pack.

I could have let it get to me mentally when people were passing me, but there was no one with a full pack except us as far as I could see.  No excuses, I needed something to eat as soon as possible as the elevation and the hungry side of me was giving my body a hard time to move forward.  After we finally ate and took a long break, the rest was history; feed yourself when you need it.  I recommend eating in the mornings at least something to get you through the first few miles of the day (another note to self).

getting closer to Trail Crest

I remember when we finally got up to the cables portion of the trail; Trail Crest would be so close, which means we were just around the corner away to dropping our packs to head to the summit.  Up till this portion we hadn’t even been on the John Muir Trail yet; the John Muir trail actually ends on Mt. Whitney.  Officially we decided it ends at Whitney Portal because you have to get down the mountain at some point (we’d like the mileage for the JMT to be updated ha)!

There was no snow on the trail at all yet, usually the sketchiest part (being that it was still June) is when you get to the cables portion.  I couldn’t believe how little snow there was; I wasn’t complaining because this would make our trek much easier, but definitely not a good sign for water pack in California.

summiting for the 3rd time

Getting to that junction was just about the best feeling of that day; but wait we still had to summit.  This was the first time we ran into PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) hikers going from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada (usually a 5-6 month journey).  Joe didn’t have his salmon packet and mayo the day before and decided to offer it up to one of the people at the junction doing the PCT.  I believe she was from Denmark and loved mayonnaise; how funny that exactly what she loved we were offering it to her.

After some energy food and rest, we pushed on to the summit; that 1.9 miles felt like it was 5.  The only thing going through my head the whole time was you can do this, you’ve done it twice before.  With working on my breathing and pushing along with my hiking poles it actually was feeling pretty good going on this portion of the trail.  This leg of the trail is one of the most stunning (hard to say that because I felt like almost every moment was).  Once you hit the Needles, I think it’s one of the more dramatic areas of the trail because as you look to one side it’s straight down and the same thing the other side.

I knew we were getting super close to the summit at that point and I feel like I got a whiff of energy that led me to the top.  The last few steps once I saw the hut at the summit, I took in slowly as I wasn’t sure if I was going to be summiting this mountain again.  A conversation came up at the summit and a few people agreed, that this is something you just do once.  In my head I thought, wait I’ve done it 3 times now and I would be ok with doing it again.  Although I know there are a lot of other mountains to climb; so maybe it was true for me too in a way.  We will see I guess.

*Laundry room in the tent: every night!

finding home for the night

Guess what was pretty awesome?  I had cell coverage at the top, called my sister sent a photo of us to her and then put myself right back on airplane mode.  My first initial thought was, why did I turn on my data?  I mean wasn’t this the point of the hike to get away, but honestly why not try and get that phone call out that we’re ok and we made it to the top; this was the most difficult part of the trail we were to endure, so I thought.  After the summit, we returned down to our packs at the junction where most would head back and we would head forward towards Yosemite, still over 200 miles away.

Packs were still there, check!  Another break needed, check.  Once we strapped our backpacks in we did not stop at all on the 4 mile gruesome downhill to Guitar Lake.  What an insane trail; I think my most commented saying was “man I’m glad we didn’t have to come up this way”; this would stand true until the end of the trail ha.

Ran out of water on the downhill; there was nothing after Trail Crest and even before on the switchbacks that we could fill up on.  We had left a few sips and took them slowly knowing we were getting closer to water.  Recommending filling up on the switchbacks or before with more water than you would ever think you need.  Altitude does that.

no really, finding home for the night

As we were descending into this new valley I have never been in before, our goal was to make it to Crabtree Meadow area.  The descent and ascent that day felt like enough at some point that we found Whitney Creek just beyond Guitar Lake and went south until a huge rock emerged into our views.  One of the many times I said, “what a perfect campsite” the entire trip.  6:30pm struck and it was time to hide away and relax as that felt like one of the hardest days hiking (I thought that every night ha).

We were so tired, we didn’t even have dinner (mind you we did have a very late lunch around almost 4:00pm).  Cornuts and jerky all the way and we were the happiest people in the valley, I think.  This was the first night where we came up with our so called “cocktails” that we would make every night for dinner time.  I packed a ton of electrolyte tablets in both our packs and 1.5 L of water and a tablet or two of Nuun Vitamin Tablets did the deed for the evening.  Those of you thinking actual cocktails, no, not actual cocktails; just some lovely electrolyte tablets that happened to have a good fuzzy feeling after a long day of hiking.


I hope you guys enjoyed my blabbering’s, tune back for the next few days as I finally gather my thoughts and such for this trip.

Happy Adventures!

Annette


 

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
Out-and-back

— 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

@twintedinc

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 recreation.gov


— 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 Recreation.gov 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.

Robinson Lake via Onion Valley: Inyo National Forest

Robinson Lake is one of the closer lakes by hiking in the Eastern Sierras, but little did we know that it was one of the steeper trails we’ve ever done.  The elevation gain is 1,350 feet in 1.4 miles.  To say the least that is a very steep grade for a lot of trails; I would say this is a great training hike if you want to get a lot of elevation gain within a short amount of time.

Location Mileage Elevation Gain Type
Inyo National Forest 3.27 mi 1,325 feet Out-and-back

What’s in this Guide?

Feel free to scroll down to any of the sections below.

  1. Map of Hike
  2. Background of the area
  3. Trail Information including trailhead location, elevation of trailhead and lake, permit information, weather and more information on the trail.
  4. Directions
  5. Gear Recommendations
  6. Description of Hike

Map of Hike


Background

Onion Valley sits at 8,900 feet nestled 13 miles outside of a town called Independence off the US 395.  There are several campgrounds on the way up to Onion Valley, where Onion Valley Campground is located as well as a couple trailheads including Kearsarge Pass, Golden Trout Lake and Robinson Lake trails.  These trails are great for both day hikers and backpackers as a destination to lakes is often the enjoyment of these overnight and day trips.

On the way up to Kearsarge Pass, a trail once used as an Indian trading route for centuries, offers 4 lakes that one may choose to stay the night at or day hike to.  It is also your gateway to Kings Canyon National Park, joining up with the JMT (John Muir Trail) and PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) – two famous long distance trails.  The Golden Trout Lakes begins on the same route to Kearsarge Pass, but veers right towards Kearsarge Peak.  The trail is steep and rises 2,200 feet over 2.2 miles to Golden Trout Lakes.  Both of these trails can lead to epic summits surrounding the area.


Trail Info

Trailhead – located inside the Onion Valley Campground.  It is not the same trail as getting to Kearsarge Pass.

Elevation – Trailhead (9,200 feet), Robinson Lake (10,500 feet)

Permits – Required for overnight trips, obtain on Recreation.gov website or at any Inyo National Forest ranger station/visitor center.

Weather Onion Valley Campground ~9,000 feet; Robinson Lake ~11,000 feet

Forest Service Information on Robinson Lake Trail – more information about the trail


Directions

From Independence, take Market St west.  Market St turns into Onion Valley Rd and continue on road for 12.8 miles till you reach the Onion Valley Campground.  Parking for hikers is located right before the campground near the Kearsarge Pass trailhead.  Walk through the campground and look for trailhead signs for Robinson Lake.


Gear Recommendations



The Hike

*originally hiked: 11/9/19

Reaching Onion Valley Campground around 12:30 pm, we hit the hike just after deciding to make the trek up since it was a short one.  The road up to Onion Valley is pretty cool considering we were able to see the abundance of fall colors.  When we reached the parking area, there were only a couple other cars.  We packed up our day packs and headed through the campground to the trailhead.

The trailhead is very easy to find, but not easy to hike.  I remember being super sore already and it made it rough to climb up to Robinson Lake.  The beginning of the trail is just past the campsites and right away climbs switchback after switchback.  The second part of the hike has very short switchbacks and feels like it just goes straight up.

quick trip

The sun would be hiding behind the mountains soon, so we scurried up as fast as we could to get a look at the lake with the sun gleaming on it.  Spent about 45 min around the lake fishing and relaxing.  There were only two fish, being that it was very late in the season and considering the lake was covered in ice.

I was worried on the way down because I didn’t bring hiking poles (mainly because I forget them at home, didn’t think we were going to do any hiking).  Luckily the hike was short enough that it didn’t make much of a difference for having them or not, but I would have really liked to have them on the uphill.


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15 Items That Always Go In My Hiking Backpack

Thursday evenings are mostly spent finishing packing my backpack for an adventure for the weekend.  I usually begin packing earlier in the week, some of my stuff is even packed from another trip; but this helps me decide if I need to make a trip to the store if I am missing anything.  Since I work full time, most of these hiking trips are day trips or a quick overnight trip; this in turn means that we leave either Friday night or Saturday before anyone thinks of waking up since it’s a weekend.

I used to run into occasions where I would forget an item or two that I should have packed or wanted to pack.  Over the years I’ve compiled a list that contains everything I would potentially take on any kind of hiking trip, one night, two night, day, etc.  Depending on what type of trip, I change the packing list to go with what kind of hike I will be going on.  It was very interesting to see the items I always pack when I go on any of these hiking trips.

*By no means is this list everything I take on my hikes, these are just items that I noticed always join me on my adventures.  There are plenty of other items that can be packed, check out what else is in my backpack.


Backpack – Whether it be a day pack or an overnight pack, this is something I always pack on.  To go hiking, you will need to purchase a backpack that will be comfortable for you and the type of hiking you will be doing.
Osprey 65 L Backpacking Backpack Osprey 10L Hydration Pack Cotopaxi Luzon 18L Dia Daypack
Overnight backpack Day hike backpack Day hike backpack

So you may ask, do you ever go hiking without a backpack?  No, I honestly feel like somethings missing if I go hiking without a backpack.  The items you carry in your backpack may even save your life if something happens.  But what about if I go for a trail run?  You will still need water, so any type of hydration pack where you can fit some necessities would go perfectly for that type of adventure.


GPS Satellite Communicator and/or GPS Watch – I honestly will never go without these on any adventure.  If you aren’t someone who owns one of these but goes out on backpacking trips or local hikes without cell reception, I definitely recommend buying the Garmin inReach.  The Garmin watch is a plus and I actually use this for daily workouts too (running, swimming, elliptical, weights).  It has map settings too that I can put on if we’re out of cell phone range.  There are different variations of this watch and is very similar to smart watches.
Garmin inReach Explorer+ Garmin inReach Mini GPS Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Watch
Satellite communicator, maps and gps navigation Smaller version on the Explorer+ Multisport GPS Watch, TOPO Maps, Garmin Pay, Music

Compass & Map – These are one of the 10 essentials in hiking that most people think they do not need.  I can’t say I’ve ever ran into a moment where I was in trouble and needed to a compass, but I have definitely run into many instances where I’ve needed the map as a resource instead of the gps.  I find comfort in the map, because you can see a larger area than on a small electronic device.  Add these to your packs when you’re headed out for a hike!
Compass Tom Harrison Maps Protection Paracord Bracelet
Simple navigating tool Topographic Maps Compass, fire starter, emergency knife & whistle

Sunscreen & Hat – Did you know you can get a sunburn in the snow too or even when it’s cloudy?  Always take extra sunscreen and a hat for sun protection.
Carabiner Sunscreens Columbia Sun Protection Hat taking it easy retro trucker cap
very easy to clip to pack another hat option Hat design created by our company, Twinted, Inc.

 


Hydration Reservoir & hydration tablets – This is another necessity on any hike you will go on, you need to take water and extra if you need.  The other item I like to take along on all our hikes are hydration tablets that have electrolytes.  This helps me especially on the longer hikes and backpacking trips.
Osprey Hydraulics LT Reservoir Nuun Electrolyte Tablets
2.5-3.0L are the best mixes easily with water

Headlamp & Hiking Poles – The headlamp is an extra must, because you will never know how long a hike can take you unless you are on it and doing it; this would be ideal for any emergency situation you may run into on hike.  As I’ve gotten older, I have opted to bring my hiking poles everywhere.  I’ve noticed my pace is better with them and saves my knees for the downhill.
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp Flash Carbon Trekking Poles
battery operated, bring extra batteries lightweight, collapsible

First Aid Kit & Emergency Blanket – these come with me on every hike and I recommend everyone takes with them.
Adventure Medical UL Kit SOL Emergency Bivvy
Ultralight Medical Kit Emergency shelter

Extra Food & Clothes – Never go out into the wilderness without extra food and extra clothes.  I’ve definitely had instances where I was happy that I brought extra food and clothes with me, because sometimes things just don’t go as planned.  We had a hike that turned out to be 15 miles, not only did I need the extra food, but I also needed to change out of a shirt that I wore, because it was soaking wet and was making me cold.  Be prepared when you go out there.
StarKist Salmon Creations Honey Stinger Organic Waffle To-Go Wrap Extra clothes
I always pack a couple extras of these for the hike. Lemon Dill is the best one. 150 calories for 1 waffle, for it’s weight and size perfect as an addition I always pack one or two of these depending on the hike Depending on weather, always take extra clothes to change into or add on

Hope you guys enjoyed this and get inspired to go outside to hike or backpack. Let me know if you have any questions or need ideas for what else to take on the trail.

Happy Adventures,

Annette – Beyond Limits on Foot


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Throop Peak, Mt. Burnham & Mt. Baden Powell via Vincent Saddle: Angeles National Forest

Most people who climb Mt. Baden Powell will start from the Vincent Gap style, we decided to go a different route and allow summits to a couple more peaks in the area.  We didn’t decide to do Baden Powell until we got to Mt. Burnham, but that’s the beauty of having a map with you, you can decide to turn around or keep going.  Always check before you get out there.

Location Mileage Elevation Gain Type
Angeles National Forest
9.5 miles
2,650 feet
Out-and-back

— What to Expect in this Guide —

  1. Map of HikeMap of what our hike looked like.
  2. DirectionsMake sure the road is opened, different times of year they close the road either due to road work or winter weather.
  3. Weather – Weather changes often, make sure you check before you go.
  4. Permits and PassesNo overnight wilderness permit is required, but an Angeles National Forest Adventure Pass is.  Read more on how to get one below.
  5. Hike Stats – Quick overview of the mileage and elevation for points of interest on the hike.
  6. Maps, Books and Gear RecommendationsI like to put together some important items or even just some gear ideas for your adventure, check them out in this section.
  7. Description This is my favorite part because I can share my adventure and photos with you.



— Background —

The 3 of these peaks are around 9,000 feet elevation, which is perfect training before attempting higher elevation hikes.  Here’s some history on the naming’s of each of the peaks.

  1. The first of the 3 peaks is named Throop Peak (9,142 feet), named after Amos G. Throop founder of Throop University in 1891, also known as Caltech now.
  2. The second peak is Mount Burnham (9,001 feet), originally named West Twin or North Baldy Mountain, it was renamed in 1951 after Frederick Russell Burnham a military scout who taught woodcraft to Robert Baden-Powell who was a big inspiration for the founding of Boy Scouts.
  3. The 3rd peak we hit was originally named East Twin or North Baldy and was renamed to Mount Baden-Powell (9,407 feet) in 1931 after the founder of the Scouting Movement, Robert Baden-Powell.

— Map of Hike —


— Directions —

Dawson Saddle Trailhead
To get to the trail from Wrightwood, take Hwy 2 off of CA-138 W.  Once you get on Hwy 2, take it all the way to Dawson Saddle.  There are two trailheads that end up leading to the same place.  Something to note is that there is no sign posted to mark the trail, but it is easy to see both trails off the highway.


— Weather —

The weather can change at any time in the mountains, due to this fact be sure to prepare. This area is known to get very hot in the summertime; hike early to minimize impact of any heat illness. In contrast this area can also get very cold and windy with even snow on it, prepare for anything!
Mt. Baldy – Elevation 10,066 feet


— Permits and Passes —

— Wilderness Permit —
You are not required to have a wilderness permit for a day hike neither an overnight hike.

— National Forest Adventure Pass —
The trailhead lies within the Angeles National Forest in which you are required to obtain an Adventure pass.  Find the closest Forest Service location or go to a major sporting goods store.  The fees are either daily ($5 per day) or annual ($30).  If you’d like to know more about the pass, read on the USDA Forest Service Recreation Passes & Permits Website.


— Hike Stats —

Point of Interest Mileage Elevation
Trailhead: Dawson Saddle Trail 0 miles 7,901 feet
PCT junction 1.8 miles 8,850 feet
Throop Peak 2.0 miles 9,138 feet
Mt. Burnham 4.1 miles 8,997 feet
Mt. Baden-Powell 4.75 miles 9,399 feet

— Maps, Books & Gear Recommendations —


— Maps —
  1. Tom Harrison Angeles High Country Trail Map – My favorite type of maps are the Tom Harrison Maps. This is the perfect one for this hike.
  2. HIKE Southern California: A Day Hiker’s Guide – My mom got me this tiny little book.  I’ve took it out a few times before I head out into the local mountains and it has given me some good ideas for hikes.

— Some Gear Recommendations —

  1. Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles – I definitely recommend trekking poles for this hike it will save your knees.
  2. Garmin Fenix 5s Plus – I use this every hike now.  It doesn’t have a satellite communicator, but the maps and it’s functionalities are perfect for hiking.
  3. Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir – I recommend taking a lot of water and this reservoir fits 3 liters. Check it out.
  4. PROBAR Bolt Energy Chews – Feel like you’re getting tired, take some of these for some quick energy; they are my favorite energy chews out there.

Check out some of the other items I have in my backpack on hiking and backpacking trips on my What’s in My Backpack Page. I also have some trail food ideas – check those out on Trail Food: Grub Ideas for the Trail


— Description —

Before I get into the trip, if you’d like to take a gander at the YouTube video I made of the hike check it out below or on my YouTube.

I have wanted to this hike so many times, but every time we went we had to figure out another hike to do because the road was closed.  Always check the road closures before heading up;  this time we were lucky enough for an open road to Vincent Saddle.  We reached the small parking area at Vincent Saddle around 8:00am and there was only one other car parked there.  There are two trails that connect shortly after starting the hike.

Before we set out of the hike, the plan was to summit Throop Peak and Mt. Burnham then turn around.  I didn’t realize until later that it would make for a short hike.  On our way up to Throop Peak we were covered by the trees and the beautiful sun’s rays gleamed through the trees as we climbed to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) junction.  After almost 2 miles we hit the junction and emerged from the shade.

summiting Throop Peak and Mt. Burnham

To the right there is a small use trail that goes up to Throop Peak another .2 miles.  We topped Throop and decided to take a short break and have our hard boiled eggs.  One of my favorite breakfasts when I am hiking is boiled eggs on the first day of a backpacking trip or a day hike.  After the short break we scattered down back to the PCT and Dawson Saddle Trail junction.  We continued northeast toward Mt. Burnham; on the way to Burnham there is a decrease in elevation to about 8,000 feet.

Mt. Burnham was only a mile away from Throop Peak, proved to be a great training summit, but not enough for us to turn around.  Atop Burnham we made the decision to summit one more peak.  Mt. Baden-Powell was in the distance which would make for approximately a 9.5 mile hike.  There were two options, summit Mt. Baden-Powell and come back the way we hiked or drop down to Vincent Gap and try to hitchhike back to car.  We figured we’d weigh in our options after summiting Baden-Powell.

summiting Mt. Baden-Powell

I’ve been up to Baden-Powell two times already, but always from Vincent Gap.  Honestly this was a much easier hill to summit as we were already at higher elevation than the Vincent Gap way.  From Burnham to Baden-Powell there is 360 degree views of the mountains and valleys around; much of the trail sits on the ridge between the two peaks.  If I remember correctly we had only seen 3 people before leaving Mt. Burnham and when we reached the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell there were at least 50 people.

We ate our To-Go Wraps here and decided to head back to the cars.  On the way back we went the same way except stayed on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) to bypass the summiting of the peaks.  Although, I must say it felt much longer that summiting again; but was cool so see a new part of the mountain.

We reached the car just before 1:00pm; this is one of the reasons I like going earlier as now we have the rest of the day to clean up at relax at home.  The hike was challenging and my knee didn’t act up, guess all that gym work has been finally paying off.

Thanks for listening, hope you guys enjoyed the write-up and let me know if you have any questions about hiking or backpacking this trail.

Happy Adventures,

AnnetteBeyond Limits on Foot


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Big McGee Lake via McGee Creek Trail: John Muir Wilderness

*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!

  1. Backpacking McGee Creek Trailhead to Big McGee Lake Stats – Mileage, elevation gain, map of hike, weather.
  2. How Do I Get Permits for This Hike? – just a quick write up of how to obtain overnight permits for McGee Creek hike.
  3. Directions to the McGee Creek Trailhead – in case you don’t want to look it up on google.
  4. About McGee Creek Area – I put together some interesting stuff for you to read about the pack station and the area.
  5. Geer Recommendations –  Some items I’d like to shout out because of heavy use on this trip.
  6. My Blabbering – Best part with photos and me writing aimlessly.

Backpacking McGee Creek Trailhead to Big McGee Lake Stats

Mileage Elevation Gain Location Type Difficulty
15.44 2950 feet John Muir Wilderness Out-and-back Moderate

map of hike

Want maps like the one above, get the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Watch for your next adventures.

weather

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.

McGee Pass: 11,900 feet



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.

  1. Go to RECREATION.gov
  2. Click on Inyo National Forest – Wilderness Permits after searching for it
  3. Click on Explore available permits
  4. Under Detailed Availability, click No unless you are a commercial guided trip.
  5. Pick the date you would like to go and the group size.
  6. Under Filters in the Search you can enter the Trail which is McGee Pass and click Show Results.
  7. Scroll down to McGee Pass under the Sites and see if the date is available.
  8. If it is click on the entry date of choice and click Book Now.
  9. 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.

McGee Creek Pack Station

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

Camping

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.


Gear Recommendations

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.

  1. Water Shoes – Crocs or you can get something similar like the KEEN Women’s Newport Sandal
  2. 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.
  3. Stove – Jetboil Zip Cooking System – I have owned mine for over 6 years and wouldn’t get any other stove.
  4. 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.
  5. Mosquito Repellent – Ben’s 100% DEET Mosquito Repellent – much needed still in August.
  6. 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.
  7. Water Filter – LifeStraw Gravity Filter – don’t go without this.
  8. 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.
  9. Spice Holder – GSI Outdoors Spice Missile
  10. Soup – NongShim Shin Black Noodle Soup – once again makes the list, seriously good stuff especially if it’s cold and windy outside



Blabbering-

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.

getting started

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.

water crossings

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.

Happy Adventures,

Annette, Adventurer – Beyond Limits on Foot


Related Links

Here are some other great links to check out on the hike to read further:


YouTube Channel

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Ruby Lake via Mosquito Flats: John Muir Wilderness

*Originally hiked: July 13, 2019

Ruby Lake lies in the Rock Creek Lake Basin, a very popular fly fishing and hiking destination.  We opted to backpack the area and see how far we can get up to Mono Pass or past it.  It was a big snow year and with being a little out of shape for the mountains as well we only ended up going to Ruby Lake, but what a good little destination for a short backpacking trip and some fishing and swimming.

There are very few trips that I remember where I had such a hard time moving up the mountain.  This trip was somewhat of a wake up call for a few reasons that I want to share with you all because I’m sure some of you will relate.

  1. We ended up staying up till 11:00pm and for this reason had a rough time waking up at the allotted 4:00am wake up call we wanted to wake up at.  Note to self: Go to bed early it’s a mountain you want to climb.
  2. I haven’t been training at home like I used to when I didn’t feel as much pain as on this hike going up and breathing difficulty.   Note to self:  Get back in the gym and go do my cardio as well, so that this will never happen again.
  3. We had a massive headache most of the time we were up there, we took some Advil and rested, which in turn helped.  I honestly believe we weren’t drinking enough water and hadn’t gone into elevation in a while.  Note to self:  Drink more water and hike locally in elevation.

Let’s get to the nitty gritty of the hike’s specifics in case you feel like a simple backpacking trip like we did.  Of course there’s other options in the area that you can go explore!



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!

  1. Backpacking Mosquito Flats Trailhead to Ruby Lake Stats – Mileage, elevation gain, map of hike, weather.
  2. How Do I Get Permits for This Hike? – just a quick write up of how to obtain overnight permits for Ruby Lake hike.
  3. Directions to the Mosquito Flats Trailhead – not so hard directions to get here.
  4. About Rock Creeks Lake Resort & Area – I put together some interesting stuff for you to read about the resort and the area (so many lakes).
  5. What to Wear and Take – Just a rough list of some items that you should definitely take with you.
  6. My Blabbering – This is the part that has the photos and my experiences.  Oh and a new edition is my video blog of the hike, scroll down if you’d like to watch it!


Backpacking Mosquito Flats Trailhead to Ruby Lake Stats

Mileage Elevation Gain Location Type Difficulty
5.23 899 feet John Muir Wilderness Out-and-back Moderate/Easy

map of hike

weather

Best time of year to go here is Summer and early Fall unless you are ok with the snow.  The weather below is an elevation that is lower than Ruby Lake or anything higher is.  Make note when using the link below that Ruby Lake sits at 10,389 feet.

Rock Creek Lake – 9,813 feet


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 Mono 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.

  1. Go to RECREATION.gov
  2. Click on Inyo National Forest – Wilderness Permits after searching for it
  3. Click on Explore available permits
  4. Under Detailed Availability, click No unless you are a commercial guided trip.
  5. Pick the date you would like to go and the group size.
  6. Under Filters in the Search you can enter the Trail which is Mono Pass and click Show Results.
  7. Scroll down to Mono Pass under the Sites and see if the date is available.
  8. If it is click on the entry date of choice and click Book Now.
  9. 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 Mosquito Flats Trailhead

Since the closest permit pick up station is White Mountain Ranger Station Visitor Center, I put together a quick google map directions from there to the Little Lakes Valley Trailhead.


About Rock Creek Lakes Resort & Area

Rock Creek Lakes Resort is just by the trailhead to Ruby Lake and the entire Little Lakes Valley.  The owners (King family) of the resort have been around for about 40 years since1979.  Something to note is that they have a great store if you forgot anything before your trip.  The resort also has a grill that serves breakfast and lunch if that’s what you desire.   If you would like accommodations and do this as a day hike; they have several cabins.  The resort offers boat rentals and also has shower facilities.

Trailheads

There are a few trailheads in the area that can take you to several lakes and passes in the area.

  • Hilton Lakes Trailhead – This trailhead is located below the Rock Creek Pack Station and is a very popular pack trip.  It is about a 6 mile hike to the first lake.
  • Mosquito Flats Trailhead – The trailhead is at the end of Rock Creek road.   I would say it is the most well known of the canyon, so get there early if you want parking.  The trail takes you a couple ways.  Little Lakes Valley is a easy hike and most popular for families and fly fishers because of this.  This is the way to Mono Pass and you can hit Ruby Lake along the way.
  • Tamarack Lakes Trailhead – The trailhead is located on the eastern side of the Rock Creek Lake.  From what I hear this trail sees less people than the others.  There are a few lakes that are reachable from this trail and a possible summit of Mount Morgan.

Camping

If you arrive at night, the best place to stay for the night is in Mosquito Flats; anyone who has an overnight permit can walk into the campsites here and stay the night before they leave.


Gear Recommendations

I have a longer list of items that are usually packed on my trips on my “What’s in My Backpack?” page.  Check those out if you have a moment.  The list under here were items I was especially happy I took with me.

  1. Mosquito Repellent – Ben’s 100% DEET Mosquito Repellent
  2. Sunscreen
  3. Hat – Taking it Easy Retro Trucker Cap this hat is pretty awesome, my sister and I designed it and if anything take a look at help us out by buying one and sharing it around.
  4. Water Filter – LifeStraw Gravity Filter
  5. Sleeping Pad – VENTURE4th Ultralight Sleeping Pad + Thermarest Zlite Pad – the perfect combination
  6. Water Shoes
  7. Spice Holder – GSI Outdoors Spice Missile
  8. Soup – NongShim Shin Black Noodle Soup



Blabbering

Backpacking doesn’t always have to be hardcore.  We were planning to do a lot more but because of not feeling 100% and being more out of  it a light backpacking trip and fish and swim and relax.

It was Friday night when we got out of LA to get closer to the trailhead.  The night before heading out we stayed at Brown’s Town in Bishop, California.  After paying for our campsite, it was dinner time.  We ate a taco each and shared a taco salad; I must say the salsa at La Casita Mexican Restaurant was very very good.  Back at camp, we were able to take nice hot showers and fall asleep in the back of my Subaru.

I’m not sure if I’ve told anyone yet on here, but I bought a Subaru in December.  One of the main reasons I bought a Subaru was to be able to sleep in the back of my car if I needed to.  The platform we built gave us a nice bed to where we could fit a good amount under the bed in boxes.  One of these days I’ll get to it and write an article about how we put the removable bed together.

getting up late

One of the reason why we drove up Friday night was to get a head start and begin our hike earlier.  Being that we finally went to bed after showering around 11:00pm, we didn’t have the strength to wake up until about 6:30am.  Jumped out of bed and into the front to head straight to the trailhead which was still about an hour away.

There were a dozen cars already when we got to the trailhead with people getting ready either to fly fish, hike or backpack into the backcountry.  The entire parking lot filled up while we packed and got ready.  9:45am hit when we finally got started.  Note to self – we really need to just pack the night before so that when we get to the trailhead we can just jet!

getting a slow start

Altitude was giving us issues being that the trailhead sits above 10,000 feet.  Let’s just say there were lots of breaks for water and catching our breaths.  At some point I remembered that we hadn’t eaten breakfast (never doing that again before a hike), therefor about a mile in when we were offered a view of the Little Lakes Valley we took a break and ate our To-Go Wraps we made at the cars.

Continuing on, we kept taking breaks, but there was an excuse because we had more and more views of the lakes in the valley and the mountains ahead.  There’s a few switchbacks after mile 1 and then it is a gradual climb up to Ruby Lake.  Just before hitting Ruby Lake there is a gorgeous meadow with the creek dropping out of the lake.  Instead of heading up to Mono Pass we decided to truck on to Ruby Lake and take a break after setting up camp.

deciding to stay at Ruby Lake

After a nap under the fort we made (just a tarp above us), we decided we both weren’t feeling so well and ended up just staying near the lake.  We found a good spot within the trees as the sun was out full force.

If you don’t already know, our #1 rule is to jump into a body of water that we hike to.  We packed up some fishing stuff and changed into our bikinis. We fished for over 3 hours and both only caught 1 fish each.  During that time we did take a break and jump into the water and oh how it feel so good, but it was extremely cold (one of the coldest).  It hurt to stay in the water too long, but it was nice to jump in a couple times and feel like we took a shower.

dinner in the tent

It was amusing how tired we were and not hungry enough to have an entire meal.  We went back up to camp and set up our tents and beds, so that when it did get dark we could just crawl into bed.  It was about 7:30pm and we decided to make some dinner, which was a Spicy Ramen that we both like so much.

After heating the ramen on the Jetboil, we nestled into our sleeping bags in the tent.  I’ve noticed that a lot of the time we bring elaborate dinners, but all we end up having is a nice soup either ramen or miso.  I’ll have to keep that in mind to bring that as a substitute for dinners.

fresh morning coffee and breakfast

I love mornings out in the mountains, mainly because your biggest task is just to get up and make yourself some coffee and breakfast.  The only problem is that it was already Sunday, which means we’d have to pack up everything and head back home.

We packed some cooked eggs and some turkey meat that we sliced and made into an omelette throwing some mozzarella cheese on top.  I’ll have to add this to my trail food recipes as if you are doing only one night, fresh is better!

possibly making a wrong decision

After breakfast, we headed back down to fish some more.  We didn’t realize the time, but it was almost 3:00pm when we finally headed back up to camp to pack up.  It’s a very late start being that we were over 5 hours from home and about an hour or two from the trailhead.

We got back to the car around 5:00pm and headed back into Bishop for some food at the best place to get a burger: Burger Barn.  After talking it over, we agreed to drive as far as we can tonight and finish the rest of the drive tomorrow.  I think we left Burger Barn around 6:00pm and around 9:00pm after driving a couple hours, we hit a tiny place in Olancha, probably one of the last places we could stay at a hotel.

I say possibly making a wrong decision because we shouldn’t have stayed that long out in the mountains and headed out earlier to be able to make it home.  We were just too tired to keep driving through the night and I’m glad we made the decision to stay in Olancha, but honestly wasn’t the cheapest way to go!  Safer, YES!

Woke up around 3:30am the next morning, headed home, took showers and went to work.  Monday was rough, but hey as long as we had a good weekend, it’s worth it!

Hope you guys enjoyed the write up.  If you have any questions about this hike or the area, please contact me.

Happy Adventures,

Annette, Adventurer – Beyond Limits on Foot


Related Links

Here are some other great links to check out on the hike to read further:


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VENTURE 4TH Ultralight Sleeping Pad Review

Where I Used It

The past couple of weekends I had the pleasure of taking a new VENTURE 4TH Ultralight Sleeping Pad to test out on my backpacking trips.

Usually on these quick one night backpacking trips I only take my Thermarest Z-Lite pad, but though hey what better than to try to double up with a sleeping pad like this.




The last two trips I took it on was North Fork Big Pine Lakes, 5.7 miles and Ruby Lake 2.6 miles.  Both camps were above 10,000 feet, however this mattress was not as rough to blow up in elevation.  One of the biggest problems with these ultralight blow up mattresses is when in elevation it takes so much energy!  In contrast to others I’ve had this mattress didn’t take all my energy and only took about 10 seconds.  YES!!!

One more thing before I get into the Pros and Cons, I used it in the back of my Subaru to sleep on as well and my was that comfortable!


Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Comfy design
  • Easy to pack
  • Usable even for car camping
  • Doesn’t make noise when you move around on it at night
  • Doesn’t inflate during the night

Cons:

  • The bag is too big for the mat (if you are backpacking just ditch the bag)

Specifications

Weight: 1 lb.

Size: 73.6 x 21.6 inches and 2 inches thick

Colors available: Dark Blue, Dark Green, Gray, Light Blue


Where to buy

Amazon

Venture 4th Website


 


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Zoodles with Ground Beef and Tomato Sauce

Food for Thought:

This year, I decided to grow a little more vegetables in my garden and they are doing so well.  During my 8 day vacation my mom helped me water the garden every other day or so.  Well get this, when I came back I had a huge zucchini in my garden.  Never seen one this big before!  Usually I take the zucchini off when it looks like the zucchinis from the store.

We made 3 different meals with the zucchini.  See below to make this recipe: Zoodles with Ground Beef and Tomato Sauce.  Alternatively, here are some other ideas for zucchini recipes: grilling with light salt and olive oil, add to a stir fry, cut into thin slices for a dip.

Usually I like to make my own tomato sauce, but this time I decided to grab one from Trader Joes.  However if my garden will yield enough tomatoes, my next time making this or something similar I will use those tomatoes.  The tomato sauce we chose was the one and only Trader Joes: Trader Giotto’s Tomato Basil.


Shopping List:

  • 1-2 medium zucchini
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped in squares
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 lb lean ground sirloin beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Trader Giotto’s Tomato Basil 26 oz.
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • *grated parmesan cheese to taste

What is Needed:

  1. Spiralizer
  2. Nonstick Skillet
  3. Nonstick Pot

The Cooking Process:

  1. Chop onions and garlic finely.
  2. With a spiralizer, spiralize the zucchini.
  3. In a small frying pan add olive oil and onions. Turn on medium heat, cook onions until glazed. Add garlic for 1 minute.
  4. Add ground sirloin to the mix and cook on medium and mix until beef is cooked through.
  5. Add tomato basil sauce, bell pepper, bay leaves and 1 cup water, stir until mixed.
  6. Simmer tomato sauce while occasional stirring.
  7. Add olive oil to a pot with the zoodles, turn on heat to medium and stir occasionally.  If the zoodles get very watery, stir in the water with the sauce and keep cooking the zucchini until cooked.


To Serve:

In a bowl, add zucchini noodles (zoodles) to your liking.  Top zoodles with the ground sirloin beef tomato sauce.  Add grated parmesan to taste.



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