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.
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
- 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.
Hike Map And Elevation Profile:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.