Destination: Palisade Glacier
Mileage: 10 miles round trip to Third Lake, 4 miles round trip from there to glacier
Trailhead: North Big Pine Creek off Hwy 395 near Big Pine, CA
Elevation: 7,660 up to 12,325 feet
This year’s section of the John Muir Trail past along the western slopes of the towering Palisades, which had me reminiscing about a fall backpacking trip on the eastern slopes to see Palisade Glacier and jump in its frigid lakes.
In order to get an early start on the trail we drove to Big Pine after work and took Glacier Lodge Road west, finding a dispersed campsite before reaching the established campgrounds. In the morning we parked at the Big Pine Creek Trailhead and headed for the north fork of Pine Creek. This was a great fall hike, passing through golden Aspen groves and all hues of yellow painting the mountain sides. First and Second Lakes were both gorgeous, but with our glacier goal, we were aiming for Third Lake to get closer to the spur trail. We camped on a bluff overlooking the northern edge of the lake with amazing views of a craggy-mountain amphitheater.
Being October and camping at an elevation over 10,000 feet we woke to frost covered bear canisters and our breath visible on the air. Staying snuggled in my sleeping bag sounded appealing to both Aspen and me, but we had a glacier to see! We continued on the lake basin loop and then took the spur trail toward Palisade Glacier. The trail was easy to follow until it disappeared into a boulder field about halfway up, so we picked a low point in the ridge and carefully rock hopped our way toward it. What awaited us at the top was a view of the glacier and its glacial pond complete with icebergs! After taking in the scenery and a few snapshots we made our way back to camp and packed up.
We hiked down to First Lake to enjoy a new campsite and get closer to the trailhead for a quicker exit the next day. Watching the clouds change colors over Temple Crag at sunset was amazing; but the morning light brought even more beauty to the lake, highlighting the golden Aspen and glacial-blue waters. After taking numerous photos we hiked out to the car to start the drive home.
If I were to do this hike again, I would add an extra day to be able to see the glacier and complete the lake basin loop. Either way, I recommend visiting in the fall for the amazing colors.