Big Pine Lakes

Big Pine, California 93513

Big Pine Lakes

Big Pine Lakes Professional Guide

Detailed Trail Description from our Guidebook

"The North Fork Big Pine Creek Trail offers some of the best mountain scenery in the entire High Sierra. Piercing the sky near the upper heights of the range, the Palisades comprise a craggy spine of tall peaks robed in scenic splendor as picturesque and dramatic as any in California, if not the entire West."

More Big Pine Lakes Professional Guides

Detailed Trail Descriptions from Our Guidebooks

Sierra South: Backcountry Trips in California's Sierra Nevada (Wilderness Press)
Kathy Morey & Mike White with Stacy Corless, Analise Elliot, Chris Tirrell & Thomas Winnett
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"At least 10 named, beautiful lakes (with fish!) and numerous ponds and streams await visitors to this very popular area, the watershed of North Fork Big Pine Creek, which also offers the easiest access to the Sierra’s largest glacier, Palisade Glacier."
Hiking The Sierra Nevada (Falcon Guides)
Barry Parr
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"This out-and-back day hike or overnight backpack trip visits two of the Big Pine Lakes, resplendent in their mountain basin hemmed in by the 14, 000-foot Palisade Crest, home to the Sierra Nevada’s largest glacier."
Top Trails Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: 64 Must-do Hikes for Everyone (Wilderness Press)
Mike White
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"Some of the best high-alpine scenery in the Sierra can be found on this circuit through Big Pine Lakes basin in the North Fork Big Pine Creek drainage. Piercing the rarefied air near the upper height of the range, the group of peaks known as the Palisades composes a craggy spine of summits robed in scenic splendor as picturesque and dramatic as any in California, if not the entire western United States. Clinging beneath the north face of these rugged peaks, a handful of glaciers, including the Palisade Glacier (the Sierra’s largest), add a definite alpine ambience to the area. Even the lower peaks, such as Temple Crag, cast a bold and rugged presence offering climbers a technical challenge and hikers a spectacular profile when viewed from a variety of vantage points along the trail."
100 Hikes in California's Central Sierra & Coast Range (The Mountaineers Books)
Vicky Spring & Tom Kirkendall
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"Big Pine Lakes Basin lies at the base of a wall of glaciated peaks whose summits pierce the sky at over 14,000 feet. The basin has nine lakes, each in its own granite bowl, exquisitely sculptured by ancient glaciers. Hike the basic loop to Summit Lake as described here, then plan to spend several more days exploring."

Big Pine Lakes Trip Reports

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Very scenic and beautiful!! Only hiked to the second lake, took us 2:40 going up and 1:50 coming down. We are not experienced hikers, this is only my third hike ever and I could say it is a moderate level hike, the hardest part is the first hour going up because of the incline and the altitude. My partner had a bad headache and that is why we kept stopping for short breaks. We started at 10am and were back at the parking lot by 4:10pm.
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This is one of my favorite places. I've done the basin as backpacking trips and as day hikes. I've also been up to the glacier a few times. I would classify the difficulty level as moderate. The highlight of this hike is the incredible VIEWS and emerald green lakes.
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Don't start your hike from trailhesd parking, as the guide suggests. Drop your stuff off at the end of the road and hike back from the parking lot. The trail switchbacks up next to a nice waterfall. Then takes a long incline toward a second waterfall. That part is pretty hot and dry. However, the reward is well worth the hard work. Views of glacier fed lakes 1 - 3 is spectacular, as well as those of Temple Crag and the Palisade Glacier. Great camp sites at 3rd lake. However, watch out for the mouse that owns the spot with the most direct view of the crag!
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On Labor Day weekend in 2005 three other people and myself backpacked the North Fork of Big Pine Creek starting from the trailhead parking lot. I must admit that this was the most physically testing trip that I have been on to date. It took us seven hours to climb from the first parking lot to the first lake but once we were there it was well worth it. The trail has its share of switchbacks and is entirely uphill from start to finish. Our group was in moderate shape at best which caused a lot of pain and misery along the way so I would suggest that you be in shape if you want to undertake this trail as a backpacking trip. I did see some climbers that were in good shape doing well on the trail. The scenery is awesome as it follows the Big Pine Creek North Fork the entire way.

It has some of the most beautiful scenery that I have ever seen. The gorgeous lakes with Temple Crag in the background are very magnificent. The lakes also had excellent fishing with goldens and rainbows. Our group caught about 9 all together with some pan size and some a bit bigger. They don't allow fires so bring a small stove if you plan to stay overnight.

I gave a 4 star only because the hike kicked my butt.

Big Pine Lakes Photos

Trail Information

Big Pine
Nearby City
3,170 feet
Elevation Gain
Trail Type
Skill Level
2–4 days
Mid-July to early October
Kings Canyon National Park
Local Contacts
USGS’s Coyote Flat, Split Mountain, Mt. Thompson, and North Palisade
Local Maps

Trail Log