The well maintained Pine Creek Pass trail starts at the parking lot next to the Pine Creek Pack Station. The first 4½ miles consist of a 2600-foot climb to lower Pine Lake. Most is fairly steep, with a few short very steep sections. Surprisingly, even in late August, it is crossed by several good, fast flowing streams.
The first 3/4th mile goes through a deep, verdant forest of aspen, pines, ferns, and a wide variety of flowers. Leaving the forest, the trail passes the Pine Creek Tungsten Mill and then climbs innumerable switchbacks. It joins the old 4-wheel drive road that went up to the Brownstone Mine, of which little is visible today. I started in the evening and camped at 9000 feet in the level road junction for the mine. Once above the mine, look back at the towering rock cliffs above the trail and very steep talus slopes dropping below. Fortunately the trail is wide. Just below Pine Lake, the trail crosses Pine Creek. This could be challenging in the early season.
After Pine Lake, the climb is much easier. The trail goes around the lake, underneath the black and white, horizontally stripped Peak 12,245, and passes alongside Upper Pine Lake. It crosses a shallow, 50-yard wide section of the stream, where large rocks have been placed. With good balance or trekking poles, you can stay dry. After another 250-foot climb, we reach the sign pointing to Honeymoon Lake, the most popular destination, only about 200 yards away. The sign for the Italy Pass Trail is just before Honeymoon Lake.
The trail continues climbing to Pine Creek Pass, where there are two shallow tarns. From the middle of the southernmost tarn, a fairly easy off-trail route goes east over a 250-foot ridge to the large and beautiful French Lake. Just beyond the southernmost tarn, another fairly easy off-trail route heads west to the Royce Lakes basin. The lowest lake requires only about 600 feet of climbing, and the spectacular upper two lakes, sitting below the permanent snow fields of Royce and Feather Peaks, are only another 150 feet higher.
Pine Creek trail descends through open meadows with great views of the surrounding peaks and forested canyon below. The sign for the trail leading to Elba, Moon and L lakes is 0.9 miles below Pine Creek Pass. The stream from from Royce Lakes drops into French Canyon via 900 feet of falls and cascades. The falls are visible, and the sound can be heard, over a wide area. The trail continues down French Canyon and ends at the Piute Canyon Trail