Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Sierra Nevada Hikes

Hiking To Big Pine Lakes via The North Fork Trail

The hike to Big Pine Lakes via the North Fork Trail is a great way to see the beauty on display in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Starting at the Big Pine Creek Campground, this trail passes by Mt. Alice, before entering the John Muir Trail Wilderness of Inyo National Forest. There are 7 Big Pine Lakes numbered sequentially. For this hike, we only visited the first three, as snow and ice were blocking the trail for lakes 4-7.  The first three lakes are known to be the most scenic, as they sit with the majestic Temple Crag in the background. 

The hike to Big Pine Lakes via the North Fork Trail is a great way to see the beauty on display in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Starting at the Big Pine Creek Campground, this trail passes by Mt. Alice, before entering the John Muir Trail Wilderness of Inyo National Forest. There are 7 Big Pine Lakes, numbered sequentially. For this hike, we only visited the first three, as snow and ice were blocking the trail for lakes 4-7.  The first three lakes are known to be the most scenic, as they sit with the majestic Temple Crag in the background.
HIKING BIG PINE LAKES VIA NORTH FORK TRAIL


Directions And GPS Tracks:

  • The trailhead to hike the Big Pine Lakes Trail begins at the Big Pine Creek Campground. Click here for directions.
  • Take HWY 395 to the city of Big Pine, CA, which is located just south of Bishop, CA. From Big Pine, head West on W Crocker Ave. W Crocker Ave will become Glacier Lodge Rd. Stay on Glacier Lodge Rd until you reach the trailhead.
  • Download GPX
  • See Track on Strava

Key Points:

  • Distance: 11 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2848 ft
  • Minimum Elevation: 7814 ft
  • Maximum Elevation: 10,291 ft
  • Time: 6-10 hours
  • Difficulty: (3.5/5)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes
  • Permit Required: Not for hiking, but a permit is required for backpacking overnight.
  • Parking: There is a small parking lot at the trailhead that fills up pretty quickly on summer weekends. There is an overflow lot nearby and parking along the street as well.
  • Trail Condition: This is a steep and rocky trail. There are a few creek crossings that can run pretty high depending on the season. The first half of this trail is fully exposed and can be very hot in the summer.
  • Cell Phone Reception: None.

Make sure to hike with the right gear. See my current hiking gear list. 


Hike Map And Elevation Profile:

Hiking Big Pine Lakes Trail Lakes 1 2 and 3

Screen Shot 2017-07-09 at 10.59.14 AM


Hike Description:

0.0 Miles (7814ft)- Starting out at the Big Pine Creek Campsite, the asphalt road will dead end when it reachers a metal swing gate. Past this swing gate, you’ll see the trail and a few cabins with green roofs.

 

Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Trailhead
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
By The Cabins

The Big Pine Creek will be flowing to your left, and shortly into the hike you will pass a bridge. This hike was completed in 2017 after a year of heavy snow. The snow melt was pretty spectacular on this day, which made for a very fast moving creek.

Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Creekside
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Crossing The Bridge

0.25 Miles (7907ft)- You’ll reach the junction of the South Fork and North Fork trails. Head right at the fork to take the North Fork Trail. You’ll hike a few shaded switchbacks before the views start to open up.

Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
North Fork Junction
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Views Opening Up

The trail then gets quite a bit of tree cover before once again passing by the banks of the creek. This is a nice spot to stop on the return leg of this hike.

Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Shaded
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Lilly Loves The Water

0.7 Miles (8196ft)- You’ll reach a dirt flat blocked by wooden posts. Take a right turn here. You’ll soon cross over a bridge and enter a sandy stretch of trail that picks up in elevation gain.

Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Turn Right Here
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Over The Bridge
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Sandy Trail

1.6 Miles (8576ft)- As you climb the long switchbacks of the North Fork Trail, make sure to look back and enjoy the views in your ‘rear view’.

Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
North Fork Signage
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Rear Views

2.0 Miles (8924ft)- You’ll pass into the John Muir Trail Wilderness at the two mile mark of this hike. After passing the John Muir sign, you’ll hike along the creek on a rocky stretch of trail. At the top of this rock stretch along the creek, the trail enters a lush forest. The mosquitos can swarm in a quickness at this point, so make sure to come prepared.

Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
John Muir Wilderness
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Along The Creek
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Into The Woods

2.7 Miles (9196ft)- You’ll pass by the Big Pine Creek Wilderness Camp on your left and Lon Chaney’s Cabin.  The climb continues up towards Big Pine Lakes and Temple Crag with the Sierra views becoming ever more prominent.

Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Wilderness Camp
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Mountains In View

4.30 Miles (9968ft)- You’ll see a trail sign posted on a tree that points to Lakes 1-7 or Black Lake. When the trail conditions permit, it is possible to do this a loop hike. When doing the loop hike, you’d hit the Big Pine Lakes first and then return to this point via Black Lake. For this guide, we’ll just be heading left at the junction to Lakes 1-3 and returning for an out-and-back hike.

Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Big Pine Loop- Stay Left

4.45 Miles (9980ft)- You’ll be near the banks of Big Pine Lakes 1. If you continue on the trail you’ll gain elevation for a nice view high above the lake. If you want to walk down to the lakes shores, make sure to turn left through the woods when you see the No Fires sign.

Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Turn Left Here
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Big Pine Lakes 1 and Temple Crag
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Team Trail to Peak

The first Big Pine Lake is a great place to stop for lunch and a rest before continuing on to Big Pine Lakes 2 and 3. Once you’ve spend enough time soaking up the views of Big Pine Lakes 1, head back to the trail the same way that you arrived and continue heading uphill. You’ll get to see more of Big Pine Lakes 1 from the trail.

Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Back On The Trail
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
More of Big Pine Lake 1

5.1 Miles (10138ft)- Big Pine Lake 2 is just a short hike from Big Pine Lake 1. The trail is pretty rock here, so watch your footing. There are a few areas where hikers can make their way down to the shores of Lake 2, but after a long stop at Lake 1, we were happy to see this lake from above.

Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Big Pine Lake 2
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Team Trail to Peak with The BN Team

5.5 Miles (10283ft)- Leaving Big Pine Lake 2 behind, the trail climbs up towards Lake 3 on a gentle rocky outcrop. The distance between Lake 2 and Lake 3 is just .4 miles. Like Lake 2, there are a few ways to reach the banks of Lake 3. We were content with viewing the lake from above though.

Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Heading Towards Big Pine Lake 3
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Isla On The Move
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Big Pine Lake 3
Big Pine Lakes Hike Hiking North Fork Trail Temple Crag
Taking In The Views

Big Pine Lake 3 was the turnaround point for this hike. You can also continue on the trail towards Big Pine Lakes 4-7 and Black Lake for a loop hike if the trail is clear.

 

I'm Drew, creator of Trail to Peak. Trail to Peak brings content to life on the web through breath-taking photography and captivating video. I launched Trail to Peak in 2014 with a goal to inspire readers to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. I have traveled to 19 countries, walked Camino de Santiago, hiked the John Muir Trail, trekked through the Andes of Peru, and am constantly seeking new adventures in my home state of California. Joining me on my weekly adventures is my partner, Julia, our son, Owen, and our two goldendoodles, Isla and Lilly.

3 comments on “Hiking To Big Pine Lakes via The North Fork Trail

  1. That looks amazing!! I so need to get out that way for some hiking.

  2. Adriana Stovall

    Headed out there this weekend! How were the mosquitoes up at the lakes? I’m getting conflicting info.

  3. Just stunning, and as usual, the organization and information provided in this post are excellent.The family shot at the lake is great.

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