Reservations can be made up to six months in advance on recreation.gov for North Fork Big Pine Creek and you will need to specify your camping location. The reservation spots fill up quickly because they only allow 15 people/groups a day to stay over night on the trail. For August, I had to book all the way back in February and I booked Sunday-Monday thinking that it would be in less demand than Friday or Saturday.
Below is a rough list of the backpacking supplies that we brought along on the trip. I have provided the amazon links for some of the items.
Collapsable water bottle
Prior to going there, you must pick up the permit from the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center in Lone Pine. Once you pick up your permit, head North on the 395 to Big Pine. Make a left on Crocker Ave and head up the hill for about 10 miles. You will then park on the right hand side in the parking lot labeled “overnight parking”.
Hiking to Big Pine Lakes
From the parking lot to second lake is 5 miles with about 2500 feet in elevation gain. The first half of the 5 miles is almost all exposed to the sun, after that the trail goes in and out of the trees the rest of the way. We started the hike at 9:30 am and by then it was already 90 degrees. I recommend starting the hike much earlier, because on the way up the trail is 100% up hill. The trail follows the north fork big pine creek all the way until you reach first lake. Shortly after first lake you will reach second lake, where we set up camp and in my opinion the best view of the entire hike. The trail continues for another 2 miles which takes you to the other lakes. The hike took us about 3.5 hours on the way up, be prepared to stop a lot and stay hydrated because the heat is brutal. Make sure that when you arrive to second lake or wherever your final destination is that you take a dip in the glacier water. It feels amazing and really refreshes you.
About 10 minutes after you see the first lake you will arrive to second lake, right before the trail makes a right turn you will notice tents set up on the left hand side overlooking the lake. You can set up camp anywhere you would like. The rules on the permit state that you must be 100 feet away from the trail and 100 feet away from any water. Not everyone followed this rule, but we tried our best. A bear box is also required when staying overnight, make sure all food and “smelly” items are stored in the box and the box is at least 50 feet away from your tent. A couple things to consider when setting up camp, the wind can get really bad and the ground is almost all rock. There are some areas that are more protected and with soft ground, but those were already taken, and most importantly the view wasn’t as good! If you leave your tent to go to the creek or the lake make sure to the put your tent down and put rocks on it so it doesn’t blow away. We were prepared for cold weather at night because of the elevation, but it was quite the opposite. We didn't even use our sleeping bags at night and the weather never really dropped below 70 degrees, and during the day it reached about 90 degrees.
One of the biggest downsides to the hike is the mosquitos. There are around all day long in the shade and near the water. They get especially bad near dusk and night time. Its crucial to wear clothing that protects your arms and legs as well as mosquito repellant. We found that the mosquito lotion worked best on the skin and the spray for the clothing.
Food and Water
If you have never had backing freeze dried food, you will be pleasantly surprised. The mountain house brand is with out a doubt the best compared to the other ones out there. Our top 2 were the mac and cheese and the breakfast skillet. We hiked with about 2-3 L of water on the way up and finished almost all of it because of the heat. When you arrive you will need to filter water from either the lake or the creek. I recommended filtering from the creek. We tried from both and the lake had a more strange odor and taste than the creek. We saw several people struggle using the life straw, so I would definitely avoid the hassle and use a pump or hanging kind.
If we were going to do the trip all over again, we would plan to hike in the fall or the spring to avoid the high temperatures and hopefully some of the mosquitos