If you are into hiking and exploring the great outdoors, the Big Pine Lakes Trail is likely to be on your bucket list of things to do.
Many people who hike this trail choose to take their time and complete the trail in two days with an overnight backpacking trip. However, it is possible to complete the trail in a single day.
This is something that many hikers like to challenge themselves to do.
With that being said, hiking this trail in a single day can be quite dangerous if you are unsure what to expect and are unprepared for the trip.
In this guide, we are going to look at how to get to the trail, how to tackle the trail in one day, and how to prepare for the hike.
Getting To Big Pine Lakes Trail
Before you can begin to tackle the trail in a day, you need to work out how you are going to get to the trail.
The closest town to the Big Pine Lakes Trail is Big Pine, California. If you are traveling from out of state, there are two major airports close to Big Pine. Reno-Tahoe International Airport is 217 miles north of Big Pine.
This journey will take you just over 3 and a half hours in the car. Bakersfield Regional Airport is 211 miles south of Big Pine. The journey by car will take just over 3 hours.
When you are in California, the easiest way to get to Big Pine Lakes Trail is by car. From the town of Big Pine, you will need to head west on Crocker Avenue where it turns into Glacier Lodge Road.
Continue on this road as it winds up the mountain. Continue for around 9.5 miles. Here, you will find the parking lot for Big Pine Lakes Trail. There are two lots, one for day use only and the other for overnight parking.
If you are staying in a local hotel or accommodation, they are likely to be able to give you directions or a map to get to the parking lot from where you are staying.
Where To Park
We briefly mentioned above that there are two separate parking lots up the mountain.
If you are planning to backpack the trail and stay overnight, you will need to park in the lot that is marked for overnight parking.
This is also the place that you should park if you are unsure if you can complete the trail in a single day and are taking supplies with you in case you need to camp overnight.
If you are confident that you are going to complete the trail in a single day, you should park in the lot that is reserved for day use only.
This parking lot is half a mile along the road from the overnight lot.
It is not necessary to have a parking permit or forest pass to park in either of these lots. This makes it a lot more accessible to visitors from out of state.
Guide: Hiking Big Pine Lakes In One Day
Before we get into the detailed guide of the Big Pine Lakes Trail, we are going to give you some helpful tips and tricks to help your hike go off without a hitch.
Set Off Early Enough
If you are attempting to complete the entire trail in a single day, you are going to need as many daylight hours ahead of you as possible.
You will also need an appropriate place to park your vehicle if you are driving yourself. The day-use car park can fill up very quickly, especially during the more popular times of the year.
You can park in the overnight parking lot if necessary, however, this adds an additional half-mile to the hike.
It is also important to note that the first part of the trail can get very hot so it is best to start early in the morning before it gets too hot.
Be Mentally Prepared
Although it is possible to complete this hike in a single day, that doesn’t mean that it is an easy trek. In order to get to the first lake, you will need to climb over 2,000 feet in altitude across a distance of 4.5 miles.
This is a brutal start to the hike and requires a certain amount of resolve.
However, you just have to keep in mind that the views that you get on this hike make all the effort and sore muscles completely worth it.
As we have mentioned, this is not an easy hike to complete in a single day. In fact, it is a feat that is beyond many hikers for a plethora of reasons.
However, the great thing about this trail is that you can turn back at any point should you need to.
This is helpful if you find yourself struggling if you sustain an injury, or if you realize that you won’t make it to the seventh lake and back before nightfall.
It is important to be realistic about your expectations for the hike. No matter how experienced you are, there are always circumstances that will be out of your control.
Keeping in mind that this is not a simple hike can help you to admit when the day hike is out of reach. Remember that you can always try again another day.
Listen To Your Body
This tip applies to all hikes that you undertake. However, it is especially important when you are attempting a hike that is as grueling as the Big Pine Lakes Trail.
The terrain of this trail is not easy. There are many rocks and uneven surfaces that can easily cause a minor injury such as a twisted ankle.
The unforgiving trail can also cause muscle strains and pain in your joints.
If you begin to feel any discomfort in your body, it is important to listen to it and make a sensible decision as to whether you should head back.
It is also important to note that you should always acknowledge any safety or weather warnings. Mother nature can be incredibly unforgiving and no amount of photographs at the lakes is worth risking your safety.
You can hike the trail another day.
The First Five Miles
The first five miles of this trail are some of the hardest parts. The first half mile is made up of tight switchbacks that cover the North Fork Creek.
During this first stretch of the hike, there are a few forks in the path. These forks split off from the North Fork Trail.
It is important that you pay attention to the trail signs so that you stay on the correct trail.
At around 0.7 miles, there is a stunning bridge in front of a waterfall that you will cross. This is a great spot to take some photographs.
After this point, the trail becomes more exposed and you will be able to enjoy views of Cienega Mirth just beyond the mountaintop.
From this point, there is another stretch of exposed switchbacks that continue to climb up the mountain.
This stretch of the hike heads towards the beautiful forest portion of the hike. The trees on the mountain can act as your beacon to measure your progress as you continue to climb.
If you are attempting the hike during the summer months, you might begin to shed layers at this point because it is exposed to the sun and heat of the day.
When you get to the 1.5-mile mark, your trail will meet up with the backpacker’s trail. The path may become busier at this point.
Traveling a further half-mile you will come across a stunning waterfall. From this point, there is more incline to cover.
However, this stretch of the hike is shaded by the forest and there is a stunning creek to keep you company.
Just before you reach the 3-mile mark, you will find the Wilderness Ranger Camper Building.
This is the perfect place to have a rest and fuel yourself for the rest of the hike. The area is shaded and there is a creek that flows in front of the cabin which makes it a serene rest stop.
Moving on from the rest stop, the trail continues up the mountain. This stretch is even more shade than the last so it is a lot cooler than more exposed areas.
There are a few places where you have to cross creeks without bridges. However, the creek tends to be quite shallow so your shoes shouldn’t end up getting soaked.
As you reach 4.5 miles, you will begin to get some glimpses of the first lake. It will be downhill on your left.
The First Lake
The first lake on the Big Pine Lakes Trail is stunning. The water is a perfect shade of turquoise that contrasts with the granite mountains beautifully.
It is possible to scramble down the hill to meet the water’s edge. However, there is still quite a long way to go on the hike.
There are also easier lakes to get in further along the trail.
The Second Lake
As you travel up from the first lake, you will come across the most popular lake on the trail. The second lake is often described as hikers’ favorite.
This lake is particularly stunning for sunrises as the sunlight silhouettes Temple Crag.
In order to catch a sunrise here, you will need to camp overnight, so that may be an experience for another day.
At the second lake, you are likely to come across lots of camps set up by backpackers. This is a common place to set up camp so the rest of the trail can be explored with less weight.
Sometimes, if winter has been dry and the summer is especially hot, the water levels of the lake can be much lower than expected.
The Third Lake
If you can make it, the third lake is the perfect place to stop for lunch or a long rest.
The vast majority of hikers don’t make it past the second lake, so this one will be significantly more peaceful.
Also, as this lake is higher than the second one, the views are even better.
Another reason why this makes such a great rest spot is because there is plenty of shade around the lake courtesy of the trees.
This means that you can take a break from the relentless sunshine and cool down a bit.
The Fourth And Fifth Lakes
A mile beyond the third lake you will cross into 10,000 feet altitude. You will likely find that you begin to hike more slowly due to the thinner air.
As you continue to hike, you will come across a split in the path and a sign nailed to a tree.
The sign tells you that you can go right to get to the fourth lake or left to get to the fifth lake.
If you are hiking during the summer or you haven’t seen any snow on the trail so far, you will be able to make the full loop to see both lakes no matter which way you choose.
If you are hiking during the summer and want to complete the hike in a single day, it is recommended to take the route that leads to the fifth lake on the way up.
You can continue this route to the final two lakes. Then, on your way back down, you can follow the other route past the fourth lake.
This will save you a lot of time on your hike.
The fourth lake is by far the most peaceful. However, the peace comes at the expense of views that aren’t as spectacular as the other lakes.
This is the lake that stays frozen the longest due to a lack of sunlight thanks to the surrounding large hills.
The fifth lake is widely considered to be the most beautiful. Even when this lake is frozen it is something to behold.
This is the lake that has the easiest access to the shoreline. This makes it the perfect place for a cold water dip if you are feeling brave.
If you are hiking on a particularly hot day, this can be the perfect way to refresh this far into the hike.
The Sixth And Seventh Lakes
Thankfully, the sixth and seventh lakes are only 2 miles from the previous lakes. Both of these lakes are peaceful and quiet.
Very few hikers actually make it this far on the trail. If you are hiking in the spring or fall months, there is a very good chance that the trail to the final two lakes will be covered by deep snowfall.
It is important to consider what you can manage if you hike the trail when there is snowfall.
Although it may only be two miles, you are likely to be tired, and trekking through snow can be exhausting.
Remember that knowing your limits is important and you can always tackle the trail again.
When Is The Best Time To Hike Big Pine Lakes?
Aside from the challenge of completing the trail in a single day, there are also perks to visiting the trail at different times of the year.
There are some seasons that offer better hiking conditions than others. Below are details of the hiking conditions for each season.
The spring season is the earliest time that you can hike the Big Pine Lakes Trail without needing specialist snow equipment such as snowshoes or microspikes.
As temperatures get warmer year after year, people have been able to hike as far as the second lake without encountering heavy snow as early as April.
By May, the first three lakes will be mostly defrosted. However, the fourth and fifth lakes may still be frozen with significant snowfall.
This will need to be taken into consideration before you attempt to hike the trail in a day.
If you are looking to make your trip to Big Pines during the spring, it is important to be prepared for a variety of weather conditions.
It is possible that the furthest lakes will still be completely frozen during the spring months.
Heavy snowfall may also make it impossible to complete the entire trail at all, let alone in a single day.
By the time June comes around, the fourth and fifth lakes will be starting to unfreeze at the least. Although, at this point, the sixth and seventh lakes may still be mostly frozen.
However, even if the lakes aren’t completely frozen at this point, the trail is likely to be accessible due to a lack of fresh snowfall.
If you are planning your hike around the summer months, it is important to note that mosquitoes will be coming out in force.
June through August is prime time for mosquitoes so make sure that you have appropriate protection and precautions with you.
As we get into July and August, the trail is clear and defrosted enough that all seven lakes can be accessed by hikers.
This is the best time to attempt the full trail in a single day. Because the weather is perfect for hiking during the summer months, it is also the time when the trail is at its busiest.
If you aren’t going to complete the trail in a single day or want to plan for if you are unable to finish, this is the hardest time of year to obtain a backpacking permit which allows you to camp overnight.
September is the ultimate time to hike the Big Pine Lakes Trail. At this time, both the crowds and the mosquitoes will have reduced in number.
The weather is also still warm enough to have a super comfortable hike without having to think about layering up.
Assuming that winter doesn’t come early, October and November can be great months to attempt the Big Pine Lakes Trail in a single day.
There are fewer crowds on the trail which makes it much more peaceful to hike.
Something to take into consideration is that you will need to dress for cooler temperatures which can mean having more layers to deal with throughout the day.
If you are desperate to avoid crowds and bugs during your hike, you might be tempted to try and hike the trail during the winter months.
However, we cannot discourage this strongly enough. The trail experiences a significant amount of snowfall during the winter months which makes it extremely treacherous.
The trail should be avoided between the months of December and April. The conditions on the trail are harsh, even for the most experienced hikers.
The amount of snow and ice that descends upon the trail during the winter months makes it potentially fatal to hike. This should not be attempted by anyone who is not used to the area at this time of year.
Plenty of precautions and common sense should be applied if you are used to the area during the winter.
Important Information About The Trail
Before you set out on your hike, there are a few essential things that you should know about the Big Pine Lakes Trail.
- There is no cell reception available on the trail. It is a good idea to download a map of the Big Pine Lakes Trail hiking route.You can get a good one from All Trails. You should also download a map of Big Pine on Google Maps to make sure that you have access back to your accommodation.
- You only need to obtain a permit to hike the Big Pine Lakes Trail if you are planning on backpacking and setting up camp overnight. If you are completing the trail in a single day, you don’t have to worry about permits.
- If you are coming to the hike from a height of less than 5,000 feet above sea level, you will need to get yourself acclimated to the high elevation of the hike a couple of days before you attempt the full hike. This will help to avoid altitude sickness and other issues associated with the elevation. The hike begins at a height of 8,000 feet above sea level.
- If you are used to hiking, you will know how important it is to make sure that you stay hydrated. It is suggested that you bring at least 3 – 4 liters of water on the day hike. This volume of water is per person. Each hiker in your group should have their own water with them.
- Many people enjoy hiking with their beloved four-legged friends. However, the Big Pine Lakes Trail is long and has a significant amount of elevation. The terrain is difficult and rocky which can be rough on your dog’s paws. With that being said, if your dog is used to hiking more than 10 miles at high altitudes, and you have paw covers, it is possible to bring them with you.
- Before you set off on your hike, you should tell a responsible and trusted person where you are going and when you expect to be back. You should plan for them to attempt to contact you at your ETA. This is important so that you can be found quickly if you get into trouble. As we mentioned above, there is no cell reception on the trail so if you get into trouble or are injured, it may not be possible to call for help. Having someone who is expecting your return can help to raise the alarm more quickly.
What To Bring On Your Hike
If you are an experienced hiker, you probably already have a go-to kit that you take with you on your hikes. However, it never hurts to be reminded of some of the essentials you should take with you.
This is an obvious one but it should still be mentioned. The terrain on the Big Pine Lakes Trail is incredibly uneven and rocky. Therefore, high-quality, comfortable hiking boots are a must-have.
If your boots have seen better days, you might want to invest in a new pair with unworn tread to provide you with a better grip.
Bear in mind that you will need to break in new boots before you attempt the day hike.
As we mentioned above, each hiker needs to have at least 3 – 4 liters of water with them to safely complete the trail in a single day.
The best way to transport this amount of water is with a hydration bladder. These slip into your backpack and can be sipped without having to remove your pack.
Even though you have adequate water with you, the altitude of the hike can really mess with your hydration levels.
Bringing some electrolyte tablets or gels with you is a good idea to help avoid dehydration and dizziness.
You can even add electrolyte mixes to your water for convenience.
Sunscreen & Sun Hat
There are large stretches of the hike that are completely exposed to the strong Californian sun.
Therefore, sunscreen and a sun hat are essential. This will prevent you from getting sunburned and avoid sunstroke.
Trekking the Big Pine Lakes Trail in a single day is a huge goal for many hikers. Although it is possible, it is a difficult hike to do.
Therefore, this guide can help you prepare properly to give you the best chance of succeeding.