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backpacking suggestions for eastern sierras

hello fellow REI friends! 

looking for suggestions as to where to go with my husband and our kids (they've packed before up to 5 mile pack in).  we live in the LA area, and we would be shooting for doing a 2 night trip over a 3 day weekend, so hoping for maybe a 4ish hour drive...?  someplace with lakes would be ideal....someone had suggested possibly mammoth lakes area?  also, since we've only packed before with my brother in law, i'm not versed in how to go about getting the permits, etc. and i'm trying to plan this as a surprise for my husband! 

any and all help is SO appreciated!! 

thanks in advance!  




7 Replies

Hi @katie123 

A top spot is Mosquito Flat (don't let the name deter you!).  It's easy to access off Highway 395 and the trail takes you along a string of scenic lakes and mountains as far as you want to hike over a weekend out and back - perfect for a family trip.  You'll be in bear country, so be prepared! 

Here is a link to the Mosquito Flat backpacker's campground at the Little Lakes Valley Trailhead, where you'll find additional information on the surrounding area in the Inyo National Forest including ranger station contacts, permitting requirements, and helpful details.  Happy hiking!

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well-lived.

thank you thank you so much!!  this sounds perfect! and thanks for the reminder about being in bear country! 



Couldn't agree more @REI-ShanaT. I'm a SoCal native and have hiked/backpacked the PCT and generally throughout much of the state. Based on your parameters, Mosquito Flat/Little Lakes Valley would be my top recommendation. My dad took me on my first backpacking trip there when I was in 2nd grade. Chickenfoot Lake is about 3.5 miles in and is really beautiful. The hike in has minimal elevation change so it's not too difficult for youngsters but still provides amazing views. 

If you want something a little more challenging, I like @Philreedshikes suggestion. Or alternatively, you should look at Charlotte Lake via Kearsarge Pass (from Onion Valley trailhead it's about 16 miles rt with significant elevation change--not easy) or north fork of Big Pine Creek (similar distance with less climbing, though still challenging), which has a series of amazing turquiose lakes that used to be fed by now-melted 😞 glaciers (aka the Pinnacles). 

Hope you have a great time!


@REI-ShanaT made an awesome recommendation!  I just wanted to throw this one in there as well.  While it doesn’t meet all of your criteria, it is a great family backpacking trip near you.  I just did it a few weeks ago with my 11 year old son.  It was a 3 day, 15 mile trip up to San Jacinto Peak near Palm Springs.   The basic rundown.  Day 1 we drove to Palm Springs and took the Aerial Tramway up to Mt. San Jacinto State Wilderness.  A great way to start off the trip!  We then hiked to the Round Valley Campground (about 4 miles), where we found a great site and set-up camp.  Water is available nearby and there are some enclosed toilets.  The next day, we got up and hiked (with day packs) the 7 miles (round trip) up to San Jacinto Peak.  The following day, we packed up and hiked the rest of the Round Valley Loop back to the Mountain Station (another 4 miles).  We then stopped for some refreshments in Palm Springs before heading home. It was an awesome trip, super easy from where you are located!  While not the Eastern Sierras and no lake, it is still a trip worth considering.

You will need a wilderness permit to camp, and they only do it by mail…you just have to fill out this form and include a check and SASE.  They are pretty quick, we got ours in less than 2 weeks.

Here is more info on the State Park and about the hike up to San Jacinto Peak

Hope you have an awesome trip, where ever you end up going. 

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

This is the Rock Creek drainage - and its lovely. You can also do a pretty easy day hike (or overnight) up to Mono Pass (and a lake).  Stop by "Toms Place" and see if they have a berry pie on the menu!


A beautiful loop to consider, at Lone Pine, 4hrs drive, Horseshoe meadows campground, popular start for hiking the john muir trail, golden trout wilderness.

Drive to the campground, park.  Hike to the cottonwood lakes area, just below New Army Pass, fantastic views, plenty of lakes to pick for camping, beautiful and EASY trail, about 4.5-5miles.

Be advised almost all the camping/hiking anywhere in the easter sierras will be above 9000-10,000' so altitude must be a consideration.

It's possible to make it a 2 night loop by going over new army pass and looping back over chicken spring lake, excellent trail system.

Use free maps to highlite your trails and print a map.  The ten essentials are mandatory (well, not mandatory, but I highly recommend), bear canisters are required.  Permits at (search inyo national forest wilderness permits, then select horseshoe meadows or cottonwood trail heads, one is for direction of new army pass, the other is direction of chicken spring lake)

Here's a link to the map I worked up when planning my JMT trips.

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REI member since 1979

REI Member Since 1979

Agree, the Cottonwood Lakes area is spectacular. You could even just say at the Cottonwood trailhead campground and do two day hikes from there if you wanted to take it easy.