Cottonwood Lakes Trail

MODERATE 88 reviews
#1 of 18 trails in

Cottonwood Lakes Trail is a 16.2 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Lone Pine, California that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

16.2 miles
2,755 feet

dogs on leash




horseback riding

nature trips

road biking

rock climbing

trail running


bird watching





wild flowers





Cottonwood Lakes Loop starts from Horseshoe Meadow and travels from the Golden Trout Wilderness into John Muir Wilderness. The trip begins on a mostly sandy trail leading you North into the Golden trout Wilderness. After a mile there is reliable water in the form of a creek. Pass over the log bridge or rock hop, and proceed on the flat trail skirting a meadow that holds Cottonwood Creek. The trail begins to gain elevation and you will want to avoid a turn off toward Golden Trout Camp. Head up the trail across a well made log bridge, rock hop one more creek and come to a junction. You can chose to complete the loop section anyway you like. There are trails that shoot off from this loop that head to Muir Lake, South Fork Lake and New Army Pass.

2 months ago

Road closed for THREAT of snow 01/12/19

5 months ago

Great way to get up high into the Sierra Nevada without having to climb far. Trailhead begins about 10,000 ft, next to good campground facilities. We did full-on steak, wine, the works, at the trailhead, then left non-hike gear behind...all "smellables" in the roomy bear-boxes. Plenty of water on the trail. Everything beyond the trailhead rises to "no open fires" altitude. So, bring warm camp clothing, and enjoy the stars.

6 months ago

Loved it. Nice easy day trip or overnight.

6 months ago

We went in early June. The meadows were green and the lakes were gorgeous. There are plenty of good camping spots around the lakes. The hike cuts through various types of alpine scenery and is capped off by a killer view of New Army Pass.

6 months ago

Completed the Cottonwood Loop yesterday (8-17-18). The Old Army Pass was a bit scary. Coming down New Army Pass was in much better condition. Breathtaking scenery! The weather was good. Did have some rain, which made the trip even more enjoyable. This trail is a must and will definitely expand our trip in to the Sequoia National Forest on our next trip!

9 months ago

Went in May and all the lakes were frozen over. Beautiful place, will definitely be going in July to fish.

Friday, February 02, 2018


Friday, January 12, 2018

This was my first experience overnight backing packing and I absolutely loved it. Beautiful location and quite. This place made me fall in love with the back country.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Stunning area to see. Easy to navigate area. Great for acclimatizing.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

This was a pretty easy hike with beautiful scenery the entire time!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

World class. Spectacular. Relatively easy day hike.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Probably my favorite trailhead in the sierras!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Backpacked for 4 days in Mid June plenty of snow above 11000 feet, Took my two teenage daughters on our second trip to the cottonwood lakes, they were still amazed by the beauty of nature. We saw many deer and a coyote so they thought it was amazing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Just finished hiking up to Lake 3 and 4. Beautiful!!! The snow on the ground made it even better!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Backpacked up to Lake 5 (10/21/16) for an overnighter. Well marked trail. Windy Sat. night. Beautiful area.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Good five hour hike today! Enjoyed the view, unfortunately didn't get to explore everything because it got super windy and the clouds set in. But all in all a great hike!

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Took the unmaintained trail that branched off the trail ~1.2 miles from the trailhead. Turned out to be around 5 miles to South Forks Lake. When you're walking along the meadow, make sure to stay right along the creek. Beautiful lake, with golden meadows. Windy and VERY cold at night. Definitely end of Sierra season. Beautiful hike with lots of water available. Nice day hike over the hill to Cirque lake-has potential for amazing waterfront camping (100 feet from water!).

Thursday, September 08, 2016

the trails are well marked and maintained. It was very windy, which made it bad for fishing. I saw a bird of prey dive bomb a fish out of the south fork lake, awesome.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Hiked up with my two daughters spent the night, what an awesome trail and view. My daughters were in awe of the views, will do this hike again for sure.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Great Trail. Took New Army Trail to Cottonwood Lakes, make sure to check the weather going up there, the wind can get pretty crazy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

We day hiked part of the trail in and out and really enjoyed it. Parking at the trailhead can be a problem due to the traffic. Really nice hike but the drive up into the mountains can be tricky.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Relatively easy hike in and out, we camped near old army pass. A overnight permit is required, be at the ranger station by 11am for same day (free) walk in permit. They go quick! This is a very popular backpacking advised. Or you can reserve before hand and pick up your permit on your way there. The station also rents bear cans, I believe it was 5$ a night. It was extremely windy, and cold for July. Be prepared for a cold windy night if backpacking out! We did bring our dog, so we were only allowed in the cottonwood lakes loop. Really beautiful scenery, you will enjoy it :)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I left my house at 5am and got to the Ranger Station in Lone Pine by 915am. I had to be there by 10am to pick up my permit. They had a lot of black Garcia bear cannister's there to rent (next time). The ranger told me the weather would be great, no thunderstorms predicted. He also said there was trail maintenance being done on Old Army Pass. You then get back onto the 395, turn left on Whitney Portal Rd, pretty quickly turn left onto Horseshoe Meadow Rd and take that a ways into Cottonwood Lakes trailhead. There is a campground here, restrooms, water, and bear boxes. We camped 6.8 miles (1190 elevation gain) in on the northern side of Lake 4. Lake 4 and 5 are very exposed to wind, they are located up above lake 3, up a small ridge. They are not visible from Lake 3. Lake 3 seems to be the most popular place for camping. We found a site with a tree that helped block the wind. There were a few marmots patrolling this area. Our campsite was super close to Old Army Pass, it was fun watching people go up it. The first night was super windy and I did not get any sleep at all, it was quite horrible. The next day the wind was gone and the water was glassy. It was beautiful! Dave took Old Army Pass up to Mt. Langley. I knew I wasn't in good enough shape to do it so I decided to head home one night early because of the awful night before. On my hike out I took a different trail right along side Lake 3 and then between Lake 1 + 2 to New Army pass and then connected back up to Cottonwood Lakes trail. This was a beautiful loop, I'm really glad I took a different way out to see more of the lakes. Lake 2 was small, but Lake 1 was gorgeous. I wouldn't stay at it though because it had reed grass all around it, good bug place. If I go again I would stay at lake 3, and/or look at Long and High lake. Also South Lakes are an option too. I probably should have stayed the 2nd night and done more exploring but that first night of no sleep threw me off.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I just got done hiking cottonwood lakes loop this weekend in late June and believe-you-me, those mosquitoes were HUGE at lake 3. Don't forget the repellent. Other than that, the hike and views of multiple nearby lakes was spectacular. The hike is a great beginner trail for backpackers to do on a three day weekend. The trail doesn't have any steep inclines except for one area where the trail splits and you have the option of doing switchback or a stair climb.

Dogs allowed through the loop (only).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

This is a great hike the Cottonwood Lakes are some of the most beautiful lakes in the Sierras, its real quiet and real nice when you go on a weekday-less people. The hike up to New Army Pass then down to ( Old ) Army Pass was a real good all day hike but get an early start, it will take you ALL day to do this.

trail running
Friday, March 18, 2011

Majestic views. Be sure to head up to the Pass and catch a view looking back. Did it as a long trail run, really fun and highly recommended.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I did this trip when I was 14 with a YMCA group and will NEVER forget the beauty of the area. If you want to get away from the crowds of California this will do it!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gorgeous trail- but stay away during mosquito season!! The mosquitoes were so bad we had to leave a day early, would have been PERFECT if not for them. Moderate difficulty, beautiful views, some of the bluest sky I have ever seen. Dogs are allowed as long as you don't head towards and take the New Army Pass trail.

1 month ago

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