Trail Run Project Logo

Upper Bench Valley Lakes



2.2 mile 3.6 kilometer point to point
92% Runnable


Ascent: 563' 172 m
Descent: -8' -3 m
High: 10,949' 3,337 m
Low: 10,387' 3,166 m


Avg Grade: 5% (3°)
Max Grade: 10% (6°)


Driving directions Take a virtual tour
Zoom in to see details
Map Key

Trail shared by Lee Watts

Easy off-trail route to the superb, lonely lakes of upper Bench Valley

Lee Watts

Features Lake · River/Creek · Views

Wilderness permits are required and there are daily quotas, but walk-in permits are easier to get for this area than many other regions in the Sierras. Walk-in permits can be obtained from the ranger station in Prather.


Start from Horsehead Lake, which is 21 miles from the nearest trailhead at Courtright Lake. This easy 2+ mile, off-trail hike to the beautiful lakes of upper Bench Valley will make the long trek worthwhile. Walk around the east shore of Horseshoe Lake. Head north near the stream that comes from Roman Four Lake, staying just high enough to avoid the slushy meadows. There is very little climbing. The shallow lake is set in a beautiful meadow. From there make an easy climb up the tree-covered ridge to the eastern-most Twin Buck Lake. NeoTecks calls this Bullet Lake, but based on the Geological Survey maps and earlier guide books, Bullet Lake is near the end of this route.

From here on you pass a series of granite-bound lakes, one after the other, all with panoramas of the surrounding ridges. Each has good camping sites. You'll probably not see another person.

From Twin Buck Lake, a short, easy climb brings you to Schoolmarm Lake. On the east side of the lake, climb up the rocks near the stream to reach Six Shooter Lake, which has a steep granite cliff dropping into the lake. The only difficult spot on the entire route is getting down from the rocks on the west side of this lake to the grassy slopes just below. It is only about a 10 foot drop. Most people who get this far, will be able to climb down. At my advanced age, I chose to go around the rocks by wading in the lake.

Once you reach the grass, it is an easy walk past Holster Lake to Bullet Lake where you enter a high, lake filled basin that leads up towards Gunsight Pass. The next lake is an easy walk, but beyond that, the talus becomes more unavoidable.

Run this trail?

We need help with the following missing trail information:

Need to Know, Dogs Allowed, Flora & Fauna, Runner Notes


Rate This Trail

Rate Quality

   Clear Rating

Rate Difficulty

Share This Trail

Check In



Trail Ratings

  4.0 from 1 vote


  4.0 from 1 vote
5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star
Trail Rankings


in California


2 Views Last Month
122 Since May 21, 2017



Bullet Lake(s) looking towards Valor Pass.
May 21, 2017 near Big Pine, CA
Six Shooter Lake is surrounded by beautifully cracked granite.
May 21, 2017 near Big Pine, CA
Schoolmarm Lake is gorgeous in the summertime.
May 21, 2017 near Big Pine, CA


Trail Run Project is part of the REI Co-op family,
where a life outdoors is a life well lived.

Shop REI Running