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Second Falls

Big Pine Creek

June 29th, 2009

2.4 miles
750 vertical feet
Total Time: 4:47

Starting elevation
7790 feet
Max elevation
8530 feet

Rating: 7/10

Directions: From Big Pine on Highway 395, take Crocker Ave. west. It becomes Glacier Point Road and climbs up into the mountains. About 10 miles later, stop at the end of the road and park in the day use lot by the gate.   View Driving Map

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GPX File

The small parking lot has space for about 10-12 cars, but there were only 3 or 4 other cars when we arrived in the late morning. There are picnic tables here, a restroom, and a bear box to put your food in while you hike (don't leave food in your car while you're gone).

Trail starts on the other side of the gate

Start of the trail

We walked past the gate at the end of the road, and followed the wide dirt road past several cabins on the right. The creek flowed quickly past us on the left. Shortly, we came to a myriad of trail signs which directed us to stay on the narrow hiking trail, rather than get sidetracked onto one of the private dirt roads. The trail then switchbacks up to a foot bridge over the First Falls of the north fork of Big Pine Creek. The water came crashing down on our right as we crossed the bridge.

Bridge over First Falls

First Falls

Very shortly after the bridge, we had our first look at the Palisades, rising up to 14,000 feet, at the far end of the south fork valley. We also very shortly came to a trail intersection. The trail continues straight into the south fork valley. We turned right, heading up the switchbacks toward the north fork valley.

South Fork valley

Palisades at end of South Fork valley

We had brief glimpses of the creek through the dense brush, not quite a waterfall anymore but definitely not horizontal, now on our right. We passed lots of wildflowers, including irises, lupine, columbine, and Indian paintbrush. We also saw a few ladybugs and lizards. After a bit of climbing the trail flattens out and then crosses over the creek again.

Pine trees next to the trail

After crossing this second bridge over the creek, we made a left turn onto the wide trail (and former dirt road). A second trail roughly parallels this trail, a bit higher up the valley. As we continued along the wide trail, we noticed a few short spur trails down to the creek on our left. The shore is densely forested, but the main trail itself is completely unshaded. The less densely forested mountains slope up to the right.

Trail heading up the North Fork valley

Trail heading up the North Fork valley

Very soon we had our first glimpse of Second Falls in the distance. It tumbles down at the end of the valley. We came pretty close to the falls, but decided it was too much effort for not much apparent gain. The base of the falls are actually halfway up the mountain side. We decided to instead find a spot by the river to have lunch. We backtracked and took one of the spur trails to a larger rock in the river. Unfortunately the dense brush limited our views, so it's not the greatest place for a picnic.

Distant view of Second Falls

Closer view of Second Falls

After a quick lunch, we headed back the way we came. We stopped at another more pleasant area underneath the tall trees next to the river and rested for a bit before continuing down the trail. By this time it was getting overcast and a bit cooler, but this was welcome since it had started out rather warm.

Columbine flower

Iris flower

From here we quickly descended, crossing the upper bridge over the creek, down the switchbacks, over the lower bridge, and back to the parking lot.

Palisades at end of South Fork valley

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