Big Pine Creek Waterfalls

Inyo National Forest, California, USA

About Big Pine Creek Waterfalls

Hiking Distance: 3-4 miles round trip (to falls only)
Suggested Time: 2-3 hours (to falls only)

Date first visited: 2009-07-17
Date last visited: 2009-07-19

Waterfall Latitude: 37.13383
Waterfall Longitude: -118.47191

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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).

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.

Big_Pine_208_07182009 - Pretty mountains near a lake by our campsite
Pretty mountains near a lake by our campsite

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.

Big_Pine_011_07172009 - Starting the hike towards the lakes of Big Pine Creek
Big_Pine_071_07172009 - Somewhere at the top of Second Falls
Big_Pine_087_07172009 - Cascade backed by mountain scenery beyond Second Falls
Big_Pine_095_07172009 - First Lake
Big_Pine_117_07172009 - Cascade draining into Second Lake
Big_Pine_126_07172009 - Looking back at Second Lake I think
Big_Pine_148_07172009 - Alpenglow at some distant peaks as seen from our camp
Big_Pine_289_07182009 - Not a waterfall shot, but couldn't resist getting this shot of Mt Robinson over 5th Lake
Big_Pine_340_07192009 - Fourth Lake, I believe
Big_Pine_345_07192009 - Third Lake, I think
Big_Pine_367_07192009 - Cascade draining Second Lake into First Lake
Big_Pine_382_07192009 - Context of the first two lakes with Temple Crag
Big_Pine_404_07192009 - Looking back at Second Falls on the return hike
Big_Pine_410_07192009 - Part of First Falls
Big_Pine_413_07192009 - Looking upstream from the bridge at First Falls
Big_Pine_417_07192009 - Footbridge over bottom of First Falls


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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Tagged with: inyo, national forest, big pine, 395, owens valley, eastern sierra, independence, bishop, california, sierra, waterfall

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