Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
4,290.00 ft (1,307.59 m)
Trail type
22.20 mi (35.73 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The New and Old Army Loop is a route in the southern region of the High Sierra. It is a great suggestion for a quick backpacking trip, ambitious day hike, or trail run. The route links the Cottonwood Lakes area to Soldier Lakes on the west side of the crest by utilizing both New Army Pass and Old Army Pass. 

Note that Old Army Pass, being a north-facing pass, will hold snow and ice later into the season than south-facing passes. In fact, New Army Pass was constructed as a means of creating an alternate to the often-impassable Old Army Pass. Please research current conditions when planning this route, and use appropriate gear. Also note that some portions of trail around Soldier Lakes are not maintained.

This loop begins at Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead in the Horseshoe Meadows area. There are three campgrounds in this vicinity, as well as day use and overnight parking. It is a popular destination with a number of accessible trails. Wilderness permits are required for backcountry camping, which can be found at 

Following the Cottonwood Lakes Trail, and assuming a clockwise route, take South Fork of Cottonwood Creek Trail to get to the Cottonwood Lakes region. There are a number of pristine lakes in this area, many with excellent camping opportunities. After a brief jaunt on Cirque Lake Trail, the route turns west onto New Army Pass Trail just east of Cottonwood Lake #1. The trail here passes Long Lake and High Lake before a steep ascent to New Army Pass (12,280ft.). Descend the west side of the crest to link up with Upper Rock Creek Trail heading north, and stay east to veer onto Soldier Lake Trail. There are some fine camping spots at Soldier Lake, and there are usually far fewer people here than around Cottonwood Lakes. Though the trail is not maintained in this area, the route is relatively easy to find. Climb east from Soldier Lake to Upper Soldier Lake, and continue climbing back up to the crest. The Soldier Lake Trail meets the Mt. Langley Trail at the crest, where some folks may enjoy a side trip to climb the southernmost Sierra 14er. Our route will continue south along the crest toward Old Army Pass. It must be reiterated that this pass is dangerous when snow and ice are present. If there are hazardous conditions, continue south to New Army Pass. If the pass is deemed passable, enjoy the steep descent toward Cottonwood Lake #4. Join the Cottonwood Lakes Trail and follow this back to the trailhead.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round


Open from

November 20 to May 20




Scenic. Mountain lakes. Bears.


Popular destination.

Trailhead Elevation

10,067.00 ft (3,068.42 m)

Highest point

12,437.00 ft (3,790.80 m)


Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Big vistas
Bird watching

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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