Pets allowed
Elevation Gain
3,000.00 ft (914.40 m)
Trail type
9.20 mi (14.81 km)
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The Big Pine Creek North Fork Hiking Trail rises into California's High Sierra toward the southernmost glaciers in the United States. Palisade glacier sits above a series of lakes, named First Lake through Seventh Lake, where you'll find some of the best trout fishing in the Sierra Nevada. Also, here in the John Muir Wilderness there are several peaks exceeding 14,000-feet along the Palisade Crest, part of the Great Western Divide. Here you'll find the 14,153-foot Mount Sill and Temple Crag, which is home to some of the tallest rock climbs in the entire Sierra Nevada Range.

The beautiful rustic cabin along Big Pine Creek North Fork Hiking Trail that is now a Forest Service cabin was once a summer home of one of Hollywood's most famous character actors, Lon Chaney, Sr. The cabin is also significant because it was designed by Paul Revere Williams, the first African American that was granted a fellowship in the American Institute of Architects. The porch makes for a nice, quiet spot for lunch, and the access to Big Pine Creek North Fork makes it a good place to fill up on water before continuing your hike.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

Not Required


Access to Palisades Range and High Sierra.


Trailhead access closed in winter.

Trailhead Elevation

7,644.00 ft (2,329.89 m)


Backcountry camping
Rock climbing
Big vistas
Geologically significant

Typically multi-day


Suitable for



Nearby Adventures

Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail
Eastern Sierra + White Mountains Area, California

Nearby Lodging + Camping


Great trail, though make sure to account for elevation and the fact that the first part of the hike is not very well shaded when packing water and estimating how long it will take. I started from Big Pine Creek Campground rather than the parking lot at the trailhead, which made the hike slightly longer.

Distances computed from Hiker Parking:
Hiker Parking Area: Mi- 0.0 El-7,750
Glacier Lodge: Mi-0.0 El-7,800
Cienega Mirth: Mi-3.0 El-9,200
First Lake: Mi-4.5 El-9,900
Second Lake: Mi- 4.8 El-10,000
Third Lake: Mi-5.5 El-10,400
Fourth Lake: Mi-6.5 El-10,750
Sixth Lake: Mi-8.0 El-11,100
Palisade Glacier: Mi-9.0 El-12,400

We completed this trip Nov 9-11th 2017. The daytime temps ranged from 65F-70F, nighttime 26F-28F and windy.

Before hitting the trail head we stopped at the Bishop Ranger Station for our permit and rented 2 bear canisters. Canisters are required for this area and the ranger station rents them for $2.50/day. You can return them off after hours. Super easy!

The hike to First Lake is well established with lots of switch backs to ease the solid elevation gain. The trail follows or crosses lots of water sources along the way so you can filter water. We made it to a partially frozen Third Lake in about 6 hours (including lunch and view breaks). We set up base camp above third lake. Day two we hiked out to Sam Mack Meadow (about 2 hrs to the meadow), then climbed the boulders towards Palisade Glacier. On our last day we hiked from base camp (Third Lake) back down via Black Lake (also partially frozen). It took about 1.5 hours to reach the split between First and Black Lake. The trail from Black Lake to the split is relatively straight and steep with little shade, I would recommend taking this route downhill rather than up. The views of First and Second Lake from this trail are stunning.

Overall, great little end of season trip. Definitely bring lots of layers for this time of year as the weather gets chilly fast!
Start early in the day :-) and don't give up until you get to the glacier -- it's so worth it!
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