Commonly Backpacked · Fishing · Lake · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Wilderness permits required for overnight trips. For Mono Pass, each day, 15 permits can be reserved and there are 10 walk-in permits. This is a popular trail -- make reservations well in advance at recreation.gov. Select Inyo National Forest Wilderness permits. Walk-in permits issued starting at 11:00 AM the day before your trip. They can be obtained at the Ranger Station/Visitor Center in Lone Pine, Bishop, Mammoth Lakes, or Lee Vining (Mono Basin).
Need to Know
No campfires are allowed anywhere in the Pioneer Basin.
There is a walk-in campground at Mosquito Flats that is only available for those with a wilderness permit for the next day.
I saw many dogs, but dogs-on-a-leash were a rare breed.
The Pioneer Basin is a broad hanging valley almost 1,000 feet above Mono Creek. One lake is about halfway up. The other 6 lakes are spread across the basin, which is surrounded by high peaks.
The start of the Pioneer Basin trail can be reached by running 8.7 miles up Mono Creek from the JMT, roughly 13 miles from the Lake Edison ferry. However, it is easier and more common to get there by running about 7 miles over Mono Pass. The trail junction is only about 200 yards below the junction for the trail going to the Fourth Recess.
The Pioneer Basin trail begins with some ups and downs as it traverses over to cross a small creek. It then makes a moderately steep climb to the lowest Pioneer lake, about 400 feet above and less than a mile from the junction. A large campsite here is a common destination for pack trains coming over Mono Pass. This shallow but beautiful lake is surrounded by meadows. It makes a good base camp for running in the Pioneer Basin or to the Third or Fourth Recesses.
The next 0.6 miles and 400 feet of climbing bring you to the second Pioneer lake. The trail starts easy, but gets steep near the lake. There is a great small campsite where you first meet the lake. Compared to camping at the first lake, this is more beautiful and you may have it to yourself.
At this point you are in the wide Pioneer Basin itself, surrounded by peaks from 12,400 to 12,800 feet high. The seventh and highest lake is only 400 feet higher than the second lake. From here on, the trail is unmaintained and sometimes difficult to follow. It often follows a lake shore, but there are several rock outcroppings on the lake's shores that you have to get around by climbing up and down 20 to 50 feet. No matter which way that you choose, you shouldn't have any problem finding your way up the basin.
The fourth lake is about 0.75 miles long. Instead of following the crooked shore, you'll want to run as straight as possible. This requires some climbing, but there is no reason to climb any higher than you have to, because the lake's outlet is in the middle and you have to drop back down to cross it. Similarly, on the far end, it is easiest to drop down to climb up the grassy meadows of the lake's inlet stream. About 0.3 miles up that stream, the trail veers to the right to follow the outlet stream from the sixth lake. From above the sixth lake, arc your way up the easy slopes to the seventh lake. This is a rugged alpine lake sitting below sheer vertical cliffs of Mt. Crocker.
Shared By: Lee Watts