Backpacking: Eastern Sierra at Big Pine Lakes


Trip Date: 6/1/2019

Trail Overview

Trail: Big Pine Creek North Fork to Second Lake

Distance: ~10 miles round-trip

Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,700 ft.

Location: Inyo National Forest, CA

Permits: Wilderness permit required for overnight stay. Permits can be reserved here.

Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail is located in Inyo National Forest on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and is a pretty popular area known for day hiking, camping, fishing and backpacking. If you’ve been, you know exactly why! There are a total of 7 lakes that follow along the North Fork trail. With the amount of snow the Sierra received last winter, we planned to only hike to the second lake.

The Story

If I’m being honest, this trip was planned under 10 minuets! Both Tiffany and I had hiked this trail many times prior, but with the amount of snow the Sierra got this year and the lack of snow camping we had, we really weren’t quite sure what to think. Either way, we were prepared to turn around if we did not feel comfortable or if conditions didn’t allow us to trek any further.

We arrived to the Long Pine Visitor Center around 9:15 AM on Saturday, the first day of June. The weather was already warm and it was very windy.  To my surprise, there was no wait in line to obtain a wilderness permit and even more of a surprise to find that we were able to score a last minuet permit for 4 on one of the most popular trails in the John Muir Wilderness! But why such availability? We’re we prepare for the amount of snow we thought there would be?

Tiffany arranged for us to meet up with Bree + Jose, two photographers from the east coast who are currently on a road trip from Los Angeles to Vancouver and they were able to squeeze in a quick overnight-er with us in Big Pine.


The hike begins from the backpackers parking lot and from what I remember, is very open and exposed right from the beginning. Prior to our hike, we learned that the trail was actually snow free the first 2.5 miles, leaving the other 2.5 miles with many patches of snow. Tiffany and I were a little prepared with micro spikes, however by just taking our time, and with the help of a single trekking pole, we were all able to safely make the hike without the need for any snow gear.

We reached the first lake in about 3 hours and as we were told, the lake was already melted. Hiking in, we saw more day hikers coming out than we saw backpackers going in, which means we had a better possibility at scoring an awesome site. There was a lot more snow leaving the first lake; heading towards the second lake that we lost the trail a few times. We arrived to the second lake just under  3.5 hours with just enough time to take in the views, chat up with neighbors, and set up camp. Our neighbors were so awesome and let us pitch three tents in one of their claimed spots.

We caught sunset, prepared dinner and called it an early night. I am so glad that everything worked out. Our friends, Bree + Jose did not have any backpacking gear with them since they are on a road trip and were not planning to go backpacking, so Tiffany and I brought whatever extra backpacking gear we had for them to use and it worked out perfectly.

Although we are getting a late start to the season, waking up in the mountains on the first official backpacking trip in the Sierra, made me very excited for a season full of new adventures! Looking forward to snow free trails in August to be able to explore so much more this year!


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Vanessa is an outdoors enthusiast, hiker at heart, and the storyteller behind Forever She Wanders; a women's lifestyle + travel blog inspiring all to get outdoors, seek adventure and live an active lifestyle. As an outdoors enthusiast, Vanessa has found passion in being outdoors while backpacking, camping, hiking and creating memories of a lifetime.

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