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.

45 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.

    • Drew Robinson

      The mosquitos were swarming pretty thick on our trip!

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

  4. Thanks for a nice report. I was up June 21-24 and the trail to Lakes 4-7 were impassable without snow shoes. Mosquito’s were not too bad. I’m heading up again Sept. 17-21 or 24-28 depending on weather.

  5. Great pics! How long dis it take you guys to get to 2nd lake? Me and my wife will be doing the trail this coming sunday but we will be starting out late, around 12noon. Will we be able to get to 2nd lake before night?

    • Thanks, Gerard. Sorry for my delay on the reply. Starting at noon should give you enough time. You’ll have 6+ hours of daylight. Our out and back hike only took 7.5 hours, and that was at a very leisurely pace with breaks.

  6. victoria calozet

    Hey! That looks amazing! my friend and I would love to do it this weekend but since we are only in LA for 3 months, we dont have tents and were thinking of staying in a hotel and do a 2-day hike. what do you recommend?

    • I’m not sure what you mean by a two day hike, as that would require a tent. You can day hike this trail if you’re able to do so before the first few snow storms hit.

  7. Nice detail! Very helpful post and beautiful pictures of the hike! Just to confirm, was it 6-10 hours just to Big Pine Lake 3 and back? or an estimated 6-10 hours for all 7 lakes roundtrip ?

  8. Hello,

    I realize the first half of the trail is not shaded. If i am planning to backpack in July, what time would you suggest i start hiking to avoid the worst of the sun, during this part of the trail?

    • I can’t really say without knowing your fitness level and hiking pace. To be safe though, a pre-sunrise starting time would ensure you won’t be hiking uphill in the heat of the day.

  9. We absolutely loved this hike! Great detail and info on this post 🙂 Also, love the photos and that you brought your pups along!

  10. Anonymous

    What date did you perform the Hike? Think the trail to the first 3 lakes would be open by mid May?

    • The hike was completed in July after a year of heavy snow. There is no way to say if the first three lakes will be accessible on a snow/ice free trail. We’re expecting a few more storms this Spring that look to dump quite a bit more snow in the Sierra. Mid-May might be a bit too early for it to melt.

    • A friend of mine was just out at Big Pine lake 2 weeks ago and although there was some snow on the ground they were able to get out there. They brought micro spikes and used them minimally. Like OP says though, there will be more storms in Sierras during the spring and that usually means snow in the backcountry. Just be prepared for all the conditions and you should be fine 🙂

  11. Tiffany Paubel

    Can you hike lakes 1-3 at the end of May?

    • It really depends on the snow from year to year, as well as your experience and ability. Early May can have snow and ice on the trail for lakes 1-3, but each year is different. Call the ranger station and verify before hiking.

  12. Anonymous

    We will be going there June 1st, in preparation for Mt Whitney climb, so excited. Thanks for all the pictures and information.

  13. Sid Ghosh

    Thank you so much for the great info! I’m planning on solo hiking Lakes 1-3 over Memorial Day weekend. Besides the typical vantage points, any other recommendations for unique photo opportunities?

  14. what month did you hike? thanks

  15. Did you bring a bear canister with you out there? How do you recommend storing food?

  16. I saw you brought your dogs. What’s the pet policy for this backpacking trip?

  17. It seems like it was amazing trip. I am planning to go this weekends, but it will be my first hiking, and I am afraid of wild life like bears. Is it possible to see bear or such kind of animal? Thank you!

  18. Just got back from hiking this trail. I’m still in awe of the views. I loved it. Thank you for sharing this information!

  19. Would it be a good idea to hike this trail in mid October?

  20. hi! I’m thinking of doing a solo hike on Sep 26. is it easy to get around for a female going alone?

  21. Planing on going here in mid October. Not in a good shape as I used to, but I’ll defy the odds lol. Bringing my dog too. Wanted to camp so I could take some astrophotography pictures, but permits are limited until the end of October, which I think it’s when the storms may start. Thanks for the Guide OP!

  22. Hi! How did your puppers do on this hike considering it is at higher elevation? Did you guys acclimatize the day prior at all? Thinking of taking our dog on this hike but unsure if we have to take any extra precautions due to the high elevation. Thanks!

    • They did fine and we didn’t need to acclimatize. I take them on hikes up to our local 9,000ft+ peaks quite regularly, so they’re not your average hiking dogs (despite their size!). Don’t let this be your dogs first hike at altitude and/or on rocky terrain. Get some elevation training in first and toughen up their paws. My dogs don’t like booties, so we use Musher’s Secret. It works really well.

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