Cottonwood Pass Trail

Golden Trout Wilderness, California

Elevation Gain1,340ft
Trailhead Elevation9,948ft
Elevation Min/Max9920/11162ft
Elevation Start/End9948/9948ft

Cottonwood Pass Trail

Cottonwood Pass Trail is a hiking trail in Tulare County and Inyo County, California. It is within Golden Trout Wilderness. It is 3.4 miles long and begins at 9,948 feet altitude. Traveling the entire trail is 6.8 miles with a total elevation gain of 1,340 feet. The trail ends near the Cottonwood Pass saddle.

Cottonwood Pass Trail Professional Reviews and Guides

"A scenic and convenient route to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Kern Plateau as well as a pleasant out-and-back day hike."

"This memorable hike leads to the southernmost major lake basin in the
High Sierra and the John Muir Wilderness. Large forests of attractive
foxtail pine line the trail that leads to extensive alpine meadows and
numerous lakes, all within the gaze of 14,000-foot Mount Langley."

"Magnificent terrain near the southeastern boundary of Sequoia National Park beckons backpackers to enjoy a host of pursuits—from fishing for golden trout, to climbing Mt. Langley or Cirque Peak, to exploring the rugged beauty of Miter Basin, to simply enjoying this 27-mile loop’s bevy of lakes, two alpine passes, and several picturesque meadows. It’s possible to reverse this trip or to shorten it to a 24-mile loop by backtracking from Lower Soldier Lake on the New Army Pass Trail to the lateral heading south to the junction of the Cottonwood Pass Trail northeast of Siberian Outpost."

"This short walk leads you through exquisite foxtail pine forests as you climb to Trail Pass and then follow the Pacific Crest Trail south toward Mulkey Pass. Leaving the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead, head west to skirt the northern edge of Horseshoe Meadow. You will a junction and turn left (south), toward Trail Pass. Now crossing sandy mounds characteristic of open flats in the southern Sierra, you cross a stream and climb slightly into foxtail pine forest.

The trail climbs gently as it circles around the head of the smaller Round Valley meadow and then begins switchbacking to Trail Pass. This stretch of trail is through beautiful forest of foxtail pines, whose needles encircle the tips of the branches, giving them the appearance of bottlebrushes. As you climb higher, the trees have ever more character after a lifetime of being bashed by winter winds."

"Most of the journey to Cottonwood Lakes is on gently graded tread, with only 1.75 miles of moderate climbing. The relatively easy route’s outstanding scenery and notable golden trout fishery make it a popular destination for recreationists. Solitude seekers should not despair though; the high number of lakes tends to effectively disperse visitors around the basin. An expansive network of trails and cross-country routes provides straightforward travel between the lakes."

"The 20-mile paved zigzag road up the side of the mountain to the trailhead looks intimidating from the valley floor, but don’t let that deter you from this hike. It’s everything that makes a dog happy—shade, meadows for frolicking, seasonal streams, and lakes."

"Aside from a 1.75-mile stretch of moderate climbing, the journey to Cottonwood Lakes is on gently graded trail. The relatively easy trail, outstanding scenery, and noted golden trout fishery combine to make this area a popular destination for a wide range of recreationists.

Travel between the lakes via a fine network of trails and easy cross-country routes makes getting around fairly straightforward. Solitude seekers should be able to find some secluded spots away from the main thoroughfare."

"A multitude of peak baggers set their sights on the summit of Mt. Whitney each season, which places a high demand on the limited number of wilderness permits available for both dayhikers and backpackers wishing to depart from Whitney Portal. For groups with extra days and the capacity to arrange for the 29-mile shuttle between trailheads, the longer approach to the peak from Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead passes through some sublime mountain scenery. Beautiful lakes, stunning vistas, tumbling creeks, flowerfilled meadows, and serene forests are all here in abundance."

"This is a lovely trail to walk, for although it starts high, it climbs just slightly more than 1000 feet to reach the Cottonwood Lakes, an easy walk through forest and open meadows. The first miles of the trail are nearly flat, passing alternately through stands of lodgepole pine and foxtail pine. The former prefers the flatter, more sheltered terrain, while the foxtails thrive on the more exposed, sandy, dry slopes.

The trail continues through the forest, crosses the South Fork of Cottonwood Creek, and reaches an unsigned junction for the Golden Trout Camp before a large meadow. Shortly after the junction for the Golden Trout Camp, you enter John Muir Wilderness. The trail trends left, passes through another meadow, and begins a steeper climb to the Cottonwood Lakes basin."

"Strong backpackers may be able to complete this loop in a weekend, but the sublime High Sierra terrain invites those with more time to enjoy the vistas, lakes, canyons, and meadows along the southeastern fringe of Sequoia. Anglers should enjoy fishing for golden trout in many of the lakes and streams along the way."

Cottonwood Pass Trail Reviews

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If you're not used to the high elevation this trail may be tough for you. Overall it's not that hard. You do need to get a permit the day of your hike but it's free if you're not camping overnight. The hike features some beautiful meadows, pine forests and streams.
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I took my 9 year old son on his first real backpack. Instead of going to Cottonwood, we turned right as we topped out of the basin and went to Muir Lake, which the ranger told us was less crowded and had good fishing. I don't believe there are any fish in the lake, but we shared it with only a deer and a family of ducks for the time we were there. The lake was absolutely beautiful, and the views of mountains and meadows along the way were definitely worth the effort. We also went over the mountain to the east of the Cottonwood/Muir Lake junction to see Hidden lake, which is on the forrest service map, but has no trail. It is hard to describe the view of the lake, but it was worth taking the time to see it. The trail is very clearly marked almost all the way. It was a fairly difficult hike for my son and I, but again, he is small, I am 48 and not in great condition and the altitude is definitely a factor. Hiking out on Friday, we saw alot of parties going in to Cottonwood, but midweek, we had no problem getting a permit and we saw very few people.

Cottonwood Pass Trail Photos

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Trail Information

Golden Trout Wilderness
Nearby City
Golden Trout Wilderness
Mount Whitney Ranger District, 640 South Main St., Lone Pine 93545 (760) 876-6200
Local Contacts
USGS Cirque Peak; USFS Inyo National Forest; John Muir Wilderness; Golden Trout Wilderness; National Geographic Mount Whitney Trail Map; Tom Harrison Golden Trout Wilderness
Local Maps

Activity Feed

Nov 2018