Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
5,670.00 ft (1,728.22 m)
Trail type
31.00 mi (49.89 km)
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High above the treeline, in a remote wilderness far from established trails, Merriam Lake (10,932 feet) sparkles against the backdrop of towering granite walls. This is a destination that is well worth the effort required to reach it. Located west of Bishop, California, Merriam Lake via Piute Pass is a 31-mile out-and-back trail through the John Muir Wilderness. This scenic and challenging route is suitable for trail running, hiking, backpacking, and camping. 

The route begins at the North Lake Campground with the Piute Pass Trail. Note that the day use and overnight parking areas are situated about half a mile from the campground, closer to North Lake (the campground parking area is reserved for those staying at the campground). Once you have parked your car, walk up the road towards the campground. At the end of a dirt road, just past a small bathroom, the trail begins. 

The Piute Pass Trail begins in a forest of lodgepole pine and aspen trees before climbing up glacially carved benches along Bishop Creek. The trail passes Loch Leven Lake and Piute Lake under the shadow of Mount Emerson to the north. Eventually, the trail reaches a set of granite steps leading to the 11,420-foot pass. 

From the pass, descend towards Humphrey's Basin and continue west along the Piute Pass Trail for several miles until reaching Hutchinson Meadow and the junction with the French Canyon Trail. Turn right and climb up French Canyon Trail. At the next junction, turn left and follow the short, but steep Merriam Lake Trail for two miles. 

Following the Merriam Lake outlet, the trail fades and the terrain becomes less steep. Continue cross-country for approximately a mile until you reach the shores of Merriam Lake. You may want to sit on the sand, jump in the cold water, camp under the stars, or find some way to absorb the dramatic scenery and peaceful solitude before retracing your steps back toward the start.

Backcountry permits are required for overnight trips. Day trips do not require a permit. Quota season runs from May 1st - November 1st, during this time permits are limited to 30 a day. 

The trailhead has limited amenities and is an active bear area which means that all food must be placed in a bear locker. There is a vault toilet at the trailhead but no potable water. All water must be filtered or treated from lakes and streams. 



Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round





Alpine lakes. Lush Meadows. Solitude.


Strict permit system.

Trailhead Elevation

9,268.00 ft (2,824.89 m)

Highest point

11,512.00 ft (3,508.86 m)


Backcountry camping
Near lake or river
Big vistas

Typically multi-day


Permit required


Permit self-issue on site



Nearby Lodging + Camping

Eastern Sierra + White Mountains Area, California
Eastern Sierra + White Mountains Area, California


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