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Big Five Lakes Trail

Intermediate/Difficult

Trail

4.0 mile 6.5 kilometer point to point
81% Runnable
Intermediate/Difficult

Elevation

Ascent: 1,331' 406 m
Descent: -697' -213 m
High: 10,442' 3,183 m
Low: 9,601' 2,926 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 10% (5°)
Max Grade: 50% (27°)

Dogs

No Dogs
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Trail shared by Lee Watts

Large alpine lakes with good camping and fishing, set in a spectacular glacier-carved basin surrounded by high peaks.

Lee Watts

Features Lake · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Wildflowers

Wilderness permits are required and there are daily quotas. Reservations can be submitted by email or fax starting on March 1 and no later than two weeks prior to the trip. 1/4th of the quota is available on a walk-up basis at the issuing station closest to the trailhead on the day you are starting. Permits are $10, plus a $5-per-person wilderness fee. No campfires above 10,000 feet.

Description

The Big Five Lakes Trail, itself, is not difficult, but reaching it requires a long, strenuous run, no matter which trail or route you take. Little Five Lakes are much better known because they are on Blackrock Pass. The Big Five Lakes are often bypassed as runners loop from from Blackrock Pass to the Lost Canyon or Soda Creek trails. However, the Big Five Lakes basin is among the most beautiful in the Sierras. It should be a prime destination in itself, and you can have your campsite or even the entire basin to yourselves.

Coming down the Lost Canyon Trail, at about 9,600 feet, just after crossing the creek below a gently sloping meadow, you reach the signed junction with the Big Five Lakes Trail. This trail climbs up moderately steep switchbacks through a scattered coniferous forest, then climbs more gradually as it passes a pretty, but shallow pond, and finally climbs again for a total of about 800 feet. Near the top, it is possible to run off-trail a few hundred yards northeast for a overview of almost all of the Big Arroyo, Kaweah Ridge, and Red Spur. From the high point, the trail drops steeply about 400 feet, to pass by Lake 9,830, the lowest of the Big Five Lakes. This is a large, beautiful lake with several good campsites and is the only Big Five Lake where campfires are allowed.

The trail then climbs about 600 feet to a signed junction near the top of the ridge that separates the Big Five and Little Five Lake basins. Continuing straight ahead leads to the Blackrock Pass junction at Little Five Lakes. This trail is the left branch, which drops through the trees less than 200 feet to reach Lake 10,260, the first of four lakes in the main part of the basin.

The basin is surrounded on three sides by high granite ridges. It is wide and fairly level, with less than an 80 feet of elevation difference between any of these four lakes. The first two have trees, rocky peninsulas and good campsites. A branch trail goes along the northeast side of Lake 10,192, the largest lake. Another branch continues 0.7 miles to pass around the north and west sides of Lake 10,214. The final lake is only slightly higher and easy to reach, but it is mostly barren.

From the end of the trail, it is fairly easy to climb to Pass 11,145 at the west end of the basin. However, from there, it is a very steep slide down the scree to Spring Lake. You can then run over to Blackrock Pass heading towards the Timber Gap Trail, or you could climb over Glacier Pass (Class 3) to the Monarch Lake Trail.

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Trail Ratings

  4.5 from 2 votes

#7

in Mineral King

#6002

Overall
  4.5 from 2 votes
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Trail Rankings

#7

in Mineral King

#596

in California

#6,002

Overall
44 Views Last Month
1,365 Since Sep 4, 2015
Intermediate/Difficult

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Photos

The 4th Big 5 Lake is in the foreground. The 5th is barely visible at base of cliffs in the background. The basin is spectacular and uncrowded.
Apr 19, 2017 near Three R…, CA
Lake 9830, the lowest of the Big 5 Lakes.
Oct 6, 2017 near Three R…, CA
Morning reflections on pond along Big 5 Lakes Trail
Oct 8, 2017 near Three R…, CA
Mt. Kaweah, Red Kaweah, Black Kaweah, and Big Arroyo are beautiful from the trail. It's possible to head down Big Five Creek and up the draw below Mt. Kaweah. It's very steep, but thankfully there's no exposure.
Apr 19, 2017 near Three R…, CA
Lake 2 of Big 5 Lakes is beautiful.
Apr 19, 2017 near Three R…, CA

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