The Cottonwood Lakes basin offers fabulous scenery and relatively easy access for hikers and anglers, and is one of the most popular destinations in the Eastern Sierras. Our high altitude loop trip will take us to most of the lakes in the area with dramatic views of Cirque Peak and Mount Langley. Given the popularity of the area, we’ve chosen a mid-week trip to ensure permit availability and access to the best camping spots.
- Rating: Moderate on-trail backpacking, high elevation.
- Total Distance: About 13 miles over four days
- Elevation range: between 10,000 and 11,100 feet
First Day: We meet at 9:00am at the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead close to the Cottonwood Lakes campground (10,070 feet). The first half of this 5 mile hike is a gentle ascent, often in shade, following Cottonwood creek. The second half is marked by switchbacks that take us up into the basin. We arrive at South Fork Lakes and set up our base camp (11,000 ft.)
Day two: We’ll take a leisure morning at camp and pack our lunch for a day hike to explore the area: Cirque Lake, Long Lake, High Lake and the approach to New Army Pass. We’ll gain about 500 feet throughout the day, hiking about 3.5 miles depending on our route. Some may prefer a quieter, more meditative day in the camp
Day three: We’ll pack up and begin our four mile leisure tour of the Cottonwood chain of lakes, hiking in a clockwise direction, stopping frequently to enjoy the lakes and meadows with the magnificent Mount Langley in direct focus most of the day. With minimal elevation gain we end up in secluded Muir Lake (11,100 feet).
Day four: We’ll break camp and begin our 5.7 miles descent back down to the cars, dropping about 1,000 feet.
Arrive the day before: All participants are strongly advised to travel the day before (Monday, July 23rd) and camp overnight at one of the two walk-in campsites in the area. This gives you the peace of mind of (i) performing your final gear check and (ii) ensuring that you begin acclimatizing to the high altitude a day before you hike.
Hiking capabilities/qualifications: You must be in good physical condition, be able to hike five miles at high altitude (over 10,000 feet throughout the trip), and carry a backpack that weighs 35 pounds on-trail hiking gaining 1,100 feet.
What to bring: You’ll need your ten essentials and all required backpacking gear (food, stove, tent, sleeping bag, appropriate clothing, bear-proof food container, hiking poles, etc.).
How to register: After you complete the preregistration here, you will be contacted by the leader via phone to discuss your backpacking experience, equipment, and overall physical condition to participate in this high altitude, remote backcountry adventure. This screening process is necessary to ensure your safety and the safety of the group and make the trip enjoyable to all.
Leader: Mike Seay, email is firstname.lastname@example.org. This trip is limited to a total of eight people.
Fees / Other:
- (1) Wilderness Permit and Fees: $10 per participant. This covers the Wilderness Permit and other associated costs. Payment will be collected at the trailhead
- (2) Food and Equipment: All participants will be responsible for their own food, tent, stove, bear canister, etc. Participants are encouraged, however, to share stoves and cooking equipment to reduce weight of their packs. No fires are allowed in the backcountry.
- (3) Carpooling and arrival: Participants should arrive the day before and camp overnight at or near the trailhead to acclimate to the high altitude. The leader will circulate a list of participants several weeks before the trip to facilitate carpooling and provides details on where to camp.