Big Pine Lakes Trail

Big Pine Travel Blog

 › entry 3 of 3 › view all entries
Big Pine Lakes Trail heading towards the peaks

After a good night's sleep and a continental breakfast on the go, I was ready to head out on the trails again. This time I picked the Big Pine Lakes Trail. The guidebook has it as a loop trail, but I didn't have time to do the whole 13.1 miles, so I did an abridged 10-mile version of it. It's also rated as strenuous and has a 3000 ft elevation gain.

The trailhead is at the Big Pine Creek campground. Again, the trail book doesn't get very specific on directions. From Big Pine, drive west on Crocker Ave., go up the hill to the end of the road. There is plenty of parking and restroom facilities and even drinkable water so you can fill up your water bottles.

This hike starts off at 7,800 feet and steadily climbs for the next 5 miles. The great thing about this hike is that there are plenty of landmarks on the way so you can use to gauge your travels.

First Falls (Big Pine Creek)
Whoever named the landmarks here weren't very creative in doing so. The first landmark is a waterfall called, First Falls. It's about a 15 minute walk to get to this waterfall. It's completely shaded by immense pine trees and I could hear the rushing water hitting the rocks. Following Pine Creek for another 30 minutes and I could see the second waterfall, appropriately named, Second Falls. This waterfall comes down a fairly gradual grade, for about a quarter of a mile. It's beautiful to see the lush greenery that follows the creek as the foliage is well fed by this creek.

For the next 30 minutes, I made a very steep ascent to the top of the falls. On the way I was sprayed by the mist of the powerful falls, a great treat to cool me off from the arduous walk.
Second Falls (Big Pine Creek)
The trail finally levels off and I was treated by the shade of more pine trees and aspens. The air was so fresh and clean that the uphill climb wasn't too awful and quite tolerable.

The next landmark is a small rock cabin that is empty. This is also a campsite where many backpackers stop to set up their tents. For the next hour the trail levels off I was treated with views of the mounds of rocks and mountain peaks. It's amazing to see. Despite being summer, there is still a substantial amount of snow on the tops.

The creek becomes very narrow and I had to cross it a couple of times. Since I was taking a shorter hike, at the next trailhead, I made a left turn to the sign marked Lakes 1-7. Like I said, the person who named the landmarks on this trail wasn't every creative.
First Lake
The trail becomes steep again with a number of switchbacks. Then all of the sudden I saw the greenest lake I've ever seen. The color was unreal. It wasn't the typical blue lake that I'm use to seeing. With trees and the mountain peaks in the background, I had to stop for a little while just to take it all in. It was absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately the trail didn't go to the actual lake so I had to view it from a little ways away, which was fine enough. I made a point to come back at this point on the way back to the car.

After another 10-minute walk I got to Second Lake. This one was just as green as the first but much bigger. The sky was so clear and blue, that the contrast with the lake was amazing, the only thing separating the colors were the gray mountains.
Second Lake and Temple Crag
I decided this was as far as I wanted to hike on this trail so I headed down to the water. I couldn't find a well-defined trail but I could see a way to get there. I carefully made my way from the trail down to the water without killing myself. I found a nice flat rock with a back support to sit down on, took off my shoes and socks, stuck my feet into the water and had lunch.

What a perfect spot. Since there was no defined trail, there were no other people around. And, it was far from the trail so I couldn't hear any other hikers. All I heard was the water rippling and the wind blowing. Talk about a Zen experience. All natural sounds, the cold water, the amazing peaks and the isolation was unreal. I absolutely loved it. I sat there for quite a while enjoying my surroundings.
On a boulder at Second Lake
As I was looking at the lake I could see trout jumping out of the water. One actually swam to me and stopped about 2 feet from where I was sitting. Today I brought a warm jacket with me so when the wind started picking up, I could stay here a little longer.

The trail does continue from here to Third and Fourth Lake then makes a bend around to Black Lake, names so because, you guessed it, it looks black. Then the trail meets with the original trail back down to the car. I turned around at Second Lake, back to the car. I stopped of at First Lake again, found another flat rock, took way too many pictures and lounged around for a bit. Again, the site was gorgeous. I didn't get all the way down to the lakes bank but I found comfortable place to sit. The wind died down and I sat comfortably for the next half hour.
Down Big Pine Lakes Trail


On the way back down I was able to enjoy the sites from a different perspective. This hike was easier than the one before because the footing was much better and I didn't have to worry about falling. Fortunately, both of the hikes were very well maintained. The forks at the trails were very well marked and finding my way was pretty easy. The forest service did a great job at defining and marking the trails. It was refreshing to see that all the hikers and backpackers had tremendous respect for the environment. There was no trash anywhere, keeping the area as pristine as it should be.

mrbondman says:
This brought back some wonderful memories. Back in the 60s when I was a little boy, our whole family used to go backpacking up in this beautiful valley called Big Pine Lakes. We kept going back year after year, to the same campsite just below 1st Lake. From our campsite, we could fish Big Pine Creek or hike up to the many lakes to catch as many trout as we could eat. Back then, we used to dip our sierra cups into the stream and drink unfiltered water, nobody ever got sick. Seeing your pictures brought a tear to my eye, I could imagine seeing the family along with our dog Caesar hiking up one of the most beautiful valleys I have ever seen. We even went up to Palisade Glacier a few times, what a site! Thank you so much for this post.
Posted on: Aug 02, 2012
mountaingirl says:
The pictures are really beautiful! :-)
Posted on: Sep 17, 2009
oldschoolbill says:
Thanks Great Pics
Posted on: Sep 16, 2009
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Big Pine Lakes Trail heading towar…
Big Pine Lakes Trail heading towa…
First Falls (Big Pine Creek)
First Falls (Big Pine Creek)
Second Falls (Big Pine Creek)
Second Falls (Big Pine Creek)
First Lake
First Lake
Second Lake and Temple Crag
Second Lake and Temple Crag
On a boulder at Second Lake
On a boulder at Second Lake
Down Big Pine Lakes Trail
Down Big Pine Lakes Trail
Southern Sierra peaks
Southern Sierra peaks
Temple Crag from the Big Pine Lake…
Temple Crag from the Big Pine Lak…
View of the pine trees from the tr…
View of the pine trees from the t…
Big Pine Creek
Big Pine Creek
More tall pine trees
More tall pine trees
Entering John Muir Wilderness
Entering John Muir Wilderness
Shade on the trail from pine trees…
Shade on the trail from pine tree…
Big Pine Lakes trail Temple Crag
Big Pine Lakes trail Temple Crag
First Lake
First Lake
First Lake
First Lake
Second Lake
Second Lake
Second Lake
Second Lake
From the banks of Second Lake and …
From the banks of Second Lake and…
Second Lake
Second Lake
First Lake
First Lake
First Lake
First Lake
Crossing the creek
Crossing the creek
Foliage on the trail
Foliage on the trail
Big Pine
photo by: daveruz90