Eastern Sierra Winter Adventure to Palisades and Arches

North Fork Big Pine Creek Trail
Beneath the Palisades

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
― from the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

TRIP DATE December 27, 2015
DISTANCE About 8.5 miles round trip
TRAILHEAD  Day-use parking lot at the end of Big Pine Creek Road/Glacier Lodge Road, Eastern Sierras
NAVIGATION GPS and/or good map skills required when hiked in snow
SEASON  Winter
USEFUL INFORMATION This is the only road plowed all the way to trailhead (Glacier Lodge) on the eastern Sierra.

Day 1: North Fork Big Pine Creek Trail Snowshoe

This trip is a keeper!

It delivers a High Sierra fix quickly with views, climbs, waterfalls, lakes, and just plain old winter outdoor pleasure. A real beaut.

Taking advantage of Christmas behind us, we headed up Highway 395 with Adele’s new album blasting. To start this mini-adventure, we first stopped at the Lone Pine Ranger Station to inquire about current snow conditions in the Sierras, then picked up the book Arches of the Alabama Hills by Orlyn Fordham from Lone Pine Film History Museum.

We started from the Big Pine trailhead at 1:00 in the afternoon, a pretty late start. I recommend getting a morning start and perhaps exploring more of the lakes in the basin than we were able to. Plan for a very big day in the snow.

The trail leads up Big Pine Creek to 1st Falls, then meandered through aspen and pine groves, with open views, then lands the hiker in the lap of the Palisade Mountains. The Palisades include seven mountains topping 14,000 feet. That is nearly half of all of the 14ers in California. Simply incredible.

After a very cold evening descent, we drove to the historic Dow Villa Motel in Lone Pine, enjoyed pizza, and one of my favorite movies, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.


Heading up along frozen waterfalls
Heading up along frozen waterfalls


Aspen Beauty
Aspen Beauty


First glimpse of the Palisades
First glimpse of the Palisades


Dramatic Beauty of the High Sierras
Dramatic Beauty of the High Sierras




Day 2 – Alabama Hills Arches

TRIP DATE December 28, 2015
DISTANCE  Create your own adventure exploring
TRAIL HEAD  Many of the arches are located off of Movie Road
DIFFICULTY  Varies from very easy to class 3 climbing
NAVIGATION The book Arches of the Alabama Hills by Orlyn Fordham is very helpful with GPS coordinates, names,  and photos of many of the arches.
BEST TIME TO HIKE  Fall, winter, and spring (too hot in summer)

After a very delicious and large portioned breakfast at Alabama Hills Cafe , we set out to beat the incoming storm and locate a few of the arches featured in the book, Arches of the Alabama Hills. Alabama Hills, located just a few miles west of Lone Pine is well-known for the set locations of popular western movies and for a plethora of rock arches.

We had a great day hiking, climbing, and exploring the unique rock formations. A perfect winter weekend get-a-way.


Whitney Portal Arch - Alabama HIlls
Whitney Portal Arch
Heart Arch - Alabama Hills
Heart Arch


Jump Shenanigans - Alabama Hills
Jump Shenanigans


Eye of Alabama Arch
Eye of Alabama Arch


Locations of the arches we visited and of many we would like to come back to explore:

  • View all trip photos on Flickr


  1. That Silli Chilli is always committing those “jump shenanigans”. Glad he survived yet another knarly leap.

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Well…yesterday crossing a river on a winter backpack, one of his leaps ended in a river. The water froze on his body. Lucky, he and his buddy were not far from the trailhead.

  2. Sounds like an awesome trip! You inspired me to get out and backpack for the first time last summer – a 4 day seg of the JMT in Yosemite, including up the cables of Half Dome for the first time. I dragged my 3 grown kids, sister and 2 nieces along and we all loved it. I actually went out on my own two weeks after this inaugural trip by myself – out of Lone Pine, Cottonwood Lakes area. I totally have the bug and plan to spend about 3 days up at Big Pines Lakes this summer, along with a 6 day trip on the JMT. How difficult was Big Pines Creek to do in the snow? I see you mentioned snow shoes, but did you actually use them? I have reservations in mid June and there will likely still be some snow, if our winter storms continue. Thanks for all of your GREAT posts and providing such inspiration!

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Well this just makes my day. I just love hearing success stories like yours. Thank you so much for sharing! Yes, we used the snowshoes in the upper basin, but after this recent snow you would need them the whole way. The trip is not flat, but no technical places (at least 2500 ft. of elevation gain). It is perfect for snowshoes. Mid-June you would not need snowshoes for spring snowpack. You might have snow, but I doubt any extra gear will be needed. Have fun planning your upcoming trips.

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