Big Pine Creek Waterfalls

Inyo National Forest / Inyo County, California, USA

Rating: 1     Difficulty: 3
Second Falls - one of Big Pine Creek's cascades

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

The Big Pine Creek Waterfalls are the series of waterfalls and cascades primarily on the North Fork of Big Pine Creek. However, I'd imagine that the real objective for visitors to this part of the John Muir Wilderness would be the wonderfully colorful glaciated lakes surrounded by very tall mountains (some of which peak above 14,000ft). It's classic Eastern Sierra scenery, and the waterfalls were merely my excuse to include the gorgeous High Sierras backcountry scenery on this website.

Now when I was invited to join a backpacking group for a weekend backpack in July 2009 (which happened to be my 1st backpack in at least 5 years), I didn't expect much from the waterfalls and cascades here. But once we got on the trail, the cascades and waterfalls were much bigger and more vigorous than I expected (though I have to admit the expectations were quite low).

Pretty mountains near a lake by our campsite The main waterfalls of the lot were named First Falls and Second Falls. Second Falls was probably the most impressive cascade since it looked very tall as it snaked its way down granite gullies beneath Mt Alice. Roughly a couple of miles into the Upper Trail yielded distant frontal views of the falls. Then, as we got closer to the falls, that was when we could appreciate the sloping nature of the cascade. Once you're at the top of the falls, we could hear it tumble loudly, but it was no longer very photographable at this point.

The First Falls was really more of an elongated cascade that was not easy to photograph thanks to the dense growth of trees blocking much of the view. The Lower Trail on the south side of Big Pine Creek was where we caught closeup glimpses of sections of this cascade. Meanwhile, the Upper Trail mostly yielded shaded views as trees were tall enough to cause shadows.

Beyond Second Falls, there were other cascades on Big Pine Creek. I recalled we spotted waterfalls beneath First Lake, between First and Second Lake, between Second and Third Lake, and just above and below Fifth Lake. We camped at Fifth Lake and I think we logged about 23 miles round trip (as a loop as we didn't go out the same way we came in) with 3500ft elevation gain. And I'm not including the day hike to 6th Lake.

Finally, we should mention that we gave this excursion a difficulty of 3 because we only assumed the minimum distance to at least see Second Falls. However, if you do what we did and visit most of the lakes of Big Pine Creek, then the hiking difficulty would most certainly be a 5 due to length.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

Context of Second FallsContext of Second Falls
Second Lake backed by Temple CragSecond Lake backed by Temple Crag
Morning alpenglow at Fifth Lake backed by Mt RobinsonMorning alpenglow at Fifth Lake backed by Mt Robinson
If you head northeast from SR-168 near the town of Big Pine, you can access the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, which includes the Methuselah Grove (with the oldest bristlecone pine tree) and the Patriarch Grove (with the largest bristlecone pine tree).  I hiked the Methuselah Trail hoping to see the proclaimed oldest living tree on earth in the Methuselah Tree, but that tree was not marked to prevent vandals from singling it out for destructionIf you head northeast from SR-168 near the town of Big Pine, you can access the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, which includes the oldest bristlecone pine tree and the largest bristlecone pine tree.
Starting the hike towards the lakes of Big Pine CreekStarting the hike towards the lakes of Big Pine Creek

Somewhere at the top of Second FallsSomewhere at the top of Second Falls

Cascade backed by mountain scenery beyond Second FallsCascade backed by mountain scenery beyond Second Falls

First LakeFirst Lake

Cascade draining into Second LakeCascade draining into Second Lake

Looking back at Second Lake I thinkLooking back at Second Lake I think

Alpenglow at some distant peaks as seen from our campAlpenglow at some distant peaks as seen from our camp

Not a waterfall shot, but couldn't resist getting this shot of Mt Robinson over 5th LakeNot a waterfall shot, but couldn't resist getting this shot of Mt Robinson over 5th Lake

Fourth Lake, I believeFourth Lake, I believe

Third Lake, I thinkThird Lake, I think

Cascade draining Second Lake into First LakeCascade draining Second Lake into First Lake

Context of the first two lakes with Temple CragContext of the first two lakes with Temple Crag

Looking back at Second Falls on the return hikeLooking back at Second Falls on the return hike

Part of First FallsPart of First Falls

Looking upstream from the bridge at First FallsLooking upstream from the bridge at First Falls

Footbridge over bottom of First FallsFootbridge over bottom of First Falls


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS




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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

From Big Pine off the US395 (we based ourselves in a motel here the night before the start of the backpack), we took Crocker Rd west as it eventually became Glacier Lodge Road. We then continued for another 10 miles or so until we got to the Pack Station where we started the hike.

There are two endpoints or starting points (depending on your perspective) for Big Pine Creek. The first one is at the Pack Station less than a mile from the end of the Glacier Lodge Road. The other is at the very end of that road.

We took advantage of this situation by dropping off our packs and leaving most of our party (to guard them) at the end of the road then walk over to our vehicle by the Pack Station to drive back to road's end to pick up everyone and everything waiting. That ended up saving us one more mile of 60+ lbs on the body.

For context, Big Pine was 15 miles south of Bishop and 58 miles (1 hour drive) south of Mammoth Lakes. It would typically take us about 4 hours to drive the 250+ miles from Los Angeles to get here.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



Click here for the full World of Waterfalls map





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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES





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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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RELATED PAGES



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