Cottonwood Lakes Hike – Lone Pine, CA

Lone Pine, CA

As you drive out of the Boulder Creek RV Park you can see a winding road making its way sharply up in a series of switchbacks.  The road is called Horseshoe Meadows Road and it climbs up 6,000′ to Horseshoe Meadows,  a vast 10,000 foot high meadow, surrounded by lodgepole pine forest.  We drove up there two years ago but didn’t have time to hike any of the many trails that begin there.  So during this visit a hike up there was high on our to-do list.

Horseshoe Meadows Road

We drove up the winding road for 15 miles and turned north following signs to the Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead.  Interestingly, we did not see another person or vehicle the entire drive up into the parking area.  But when we arrived, the parking area looked like a Wal-Mart lot.  Where did these people come from?  And where did they go?   Because we saw very few people on the trail and hike alone the whole time.

One half of the lot, the other side was just as crowded

There are a couple of trails branching off from this trailhead.  We selected a 5.8 mile route up to a series of lakes, creatively named Cottonwood Lake #1, Cottonwood Lake #2, etc.  While the temperature was around 70 degrees at the RV park, the temperature at the trailhead (10,000′) was a crisp 45.

Foxtail Pine Tree

The trail slowly gains elevation during the first part of the hike and crosses Cottonwood Creek twice over narrow single log bridges.

A nervous hiker

At the 3.5 mile point we came to a split in the trail and have gained 400 ft of elevation.  Go left and you head for New Army Pass, a trail that continues up through the mountains into Sequoia NP.  We took the right fork heading to Cottonwood Lakes.

After another 1.5 miles up a fairly steep, rocky trail ( gaining 800 ft of elevation), we came to an open meadow surrounded by mountain peaks.

Up the steep section (can you see the nimble hiker?)

The meadow at the top

We passed Cottonwood Lake #1 far off to our left.

Just past Cottonwood Lake #1 the trail went along side to another larger lake on our right.  Oddly, this lake is unnamed on the maps we looked at, although it is one of the most beautiful.

After hiking 5.8 miles we finally came to our destination, Cottonwood Lake #3.

Cottonwood Lake #3

We found a large, flat boulder to sit on and rest our weary feet while enjoying the spectacular views around us.

Lunch with a view

The lake looking to the south

We waited patiently for a shuttle to go by and take us back to the trailhead but apparently they don’t stop along this route.  So we finished lunch, enjoyed the view for a bit, and headed back down the trail.

Along the trail we spotted four deer enjoying a quiet lunch in the meadow.

Check the two sets of ears facing our way

The hike going down the steep section was much more pleasant than the hike going up!

Coming back down

As we approached the 12 mile mark of the hike we were very happy to see the front of the Jeep peeking through the trees at the end of the trail!

On the drive back down Horseshoe Meadow Road we enjoyed the great views looking down 6,000′ into the Owens Valley below.

That wraps up our short stay in Lone Pine.  Next up is a visit to Boulder City, NV, just outside Las Vegas.  It is too far for a one day drive so we’ll break up the trip with a two night stop in Barstow, CA.

More on that later . . .

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28 Responses to Cottonwood Lakes Hike – Lone Pine, CA

  1. Box Canyon Blogger Mark says:

    Full sun hikes are doable down to about 15 degrees is there’s no wind 🙂

  2. Jeff Pierce says:

    That’s a nice (long) chilly hike at altitude! Very well done.

  3. Sherry says:

    Beautiful lakes. Sorry about that shuttle. We’ve missed them several times too. Amazing that you saw no one with all those cars there. Wonder where they all went? To Sequoia?

    • placestheygo says:

      Good to know we aren’t the only one’s waiting for a shuttle…haha! This trailhead leads on to other lakes and is also the trail to summit Mt Langley. So we figured a lot of the cars were for backpackers. We passed a few backpackers at the beginning of our hike that were returning to the TH.

  4. pmbweaver says:

    I love seeing the deep blue of the water at that altitude. What a beautiful hike. The boulder trail on the way up might have done me in. Glad you continued to Lake #3. Super place to sit and enjoy nature.

  5. Debbie L says:

    What a fabulous and challenging hike – with an amazing reward. Way to go! I sure hope we get to follow your footsteps one day….this is a must do for us!

  6. Jodee Gravel says:

    You two are sure finding lots of logs to cross!! I love the meadow and pretty mountain lake. I’m still not sure I’m ready for that road 🙂 It’s really kind of creepy that none of those people were on the trail!

    • placestheygo says:

      We have found way too many log crossing lately, Jodee! I am not a fan!! This is a tough road for those with a fear because it is very long. It twists and turns forever. This trailhead leads to further destination so we figure most people were backpacking. We did pass a few backpacker on our way up when we started.

  7. Such a beautiful area!

  8. This hike has been on my list for years and I still have not hiked it! Thanks so much for taking me there virtually…now I know I MUST hike this trail, it is gorgeous!

  9. Laurel says:

    Wow, that is a gorgeous hike! And a tough one — 12 miles starting at 10,000 feet — I’d say you guys are acclimated. 🙂 Beautiful photos — I especially like the one of Cottonwood Lake #3 with the picturesque gnarled trees. You’re making me want to get back to Lone Pine.

    • placestheygo says:

      Having 2.5 miles of fairly level trail before we climbed really helped, Laurel. The Little Lakes Valley hike started to climb immediately and that was tough. This is a beautiful hike that you and Eric would really enjoy.

  10. geogypsy2u says:

    OMWow! I saw that windy road from Boulder Creek RV Park but there was much snow and I didn’t go. Definitely some climbing going on but so worth the beauty of the lakes and meadows. I do want to return to the Lone Pine area.

  11. LuAnn says:

    High alpine lakes are always a joy to hike among. You two are amazing high elevation hikers!

  12. The views at boulder creek are endless. What scenic views to take in:)

  13. Steve & Dianne Colibaba says:

    Wow…the views there are stunning!

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