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Visit Big Pine Lakes

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The east side of the Sierra Nevada is much steeper than the west, rising 10,000 feet above the open flatlands of Owens Valley over just a few miles, so the high elevation backcountry is generally quicker to reach. South of Mammoth Lakes there are seven paved roads that branch off US 395 and climb into the mountains, together with a number of unpaved routes, all ending at campgrounds and trailheads around 8,000 feet, from where various paths lead westwards to and beyond the Sierra crest, across land variously part of Kings Canyon National Park, Inyo National Forest and the John Muir Wilderness.

One of the paved routes is the 11 mile Glacier Lodge Road, starting at Big Pine, which follows the valley of Big Pine Creek to where this splits into two branches, beneath some of the highest peaks in the Sierras including 14,242 foot North Palisade, the 4th tallest in the state. Ahead lie over a dozen glacial lakes, numerous cascades, crags, cliffs and granite outcrops, plus several glaciers, one of which (Palisade) is both the southernmost in the US and the largest in the Sierra Nevada. The glacier and/or the Big Pine Lakes can be visited by a fairly strenuous day hike of between 10 and 20 miles, and an elevation gain of up to 4,000 feet; unlike other east-Sierra trailheads there are no links with extended paths to the west side of the mountains, owing to the impassable summits of the Inconsolable Range, though overnight camping, off trail hiking and rock climbing are all quite popular.