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If you like hiking in mid June conditions in August, Big McGee Lake is a lovely hike this year. I had done a small portion of this hike previously and you can’t beat the eastern Sierra Nevada scenery. Have plenty of insect spray on hand.
Here are some basics of the hike. The McGee Creek Trailhead is south of Convict Lake and north of Tom’s Place off Highway 395. Overnights require a wilderness permit which we reserved online and picked up the day prior at the White Mountain ranger station in Bishop. My Suunto GPS had this hike at about 16 miles round trip to our campsite at Big McGee Lake with around 3,000’ of climb outbound. Water from Horsetail Falls currently crosses the trail and needs to be forded. There are two crossings of McGee Creek. The first crossing (west side to the east side) is about 3 miles from the trailhead. The second crossing (east side to west side) is about 4 miles outbound. If you are headed to Steelhead Lake, you will need to cross the creek an additional time. We did not see a means to cross back over McGee Creek to get to the Steelhead Lake Trail. Pay attention to the signs. Both crossings are somewhat sketchy since the water is high and fast. The first crossing had to be extended with a log because the bank had been worn away. Before you get to the first ‘official’ log crossing there is a use trail through the trees to the river with a log across it. Some folks, that past us used this spot to ford the river. If we hadn’t had help from some young men on our final inbound crossing, that is where we would have crossed. Thank you!
The trail is partially covered in snow and there are places it is better to go around the snow since flowing water has created snow bridges that collapse under the weight of hikers. It happened to us twice.
When you first see Big McGee Lake from the trail above, there are a couple of use trails that descend to it. We took one for photographs but these trails have no flat campsites. Stay on the upper trail until it begins to turn north. At that point, you are by where the peninsula juts out into the lake. There are several campsites about 200’ above the lake with steams for water.
The temperature in the morning was surprisingly mild at about 60 degrees at our campsite. When we hiked out in the morning, the snow on the trail had refrozen making is slippery. We hiked around the snow whenever we could. We are not young and our pace was slow. We took fewer photos on our return leg, which took about 6.5 hours descending back to the trailhead.
It was a beautiful hike and I have included lots of photos. I would not recommend it as a day hike unless you get an early start and can average about 3 miles an hour.
Most of the photographs were taken with a Sony A7R2 and the new Sony 16-35mm f2.8 GM lens. Others were taken with the A6000 and the Sony/Zeiss 16-70mm lens.
Big McGee Lake
Horsetail Falls Water Crossing Trail
Second Crossing At 4 Miles From Trailhead
Near Trailhead Outbound
Zeiss Batis 18mm 2.8
From Campsite Area
Red And White Mountain (elevation 12, 816')
Crossing Helpers Inbound
Looking East To White Mountains
A YouTube video of this hike made of graphics and video clips is available here: