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Cottonwood Lakes Backcountry Campsite

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USDA Forest Service

Inyo National Forest

Located near Horseshoe Meadows, the Cottonwood Lakes Basin has many pristine alpine lakes and creeks located between Mount Langley and Cirque Peak. Side trails branch to Muir Lake, Hidden Lake, South Fork Lakes, Cirque Lake. Along the trail to New Army Pass are Long Lake and High Lake in the John Muir Wilderness. Climbing over New Army Pass the trail continues into Sequoia National Park and eventually joins the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Cottonwood Lakes are home to California's state fish, the Golden Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita).

Common Destinations: Cottonwood Lakes basin, New Army Pass, John Muir Trail, Mount Langley

Download area map for trail names

Wilderness Permit Information (760) 873-2483

Historically, there has been a high level of bear activity in the Cottonwood Lakes area. From Memorial Day weekend through October 31, all food, trash and scented items must be stored in bear-proof containers.

At the trailhead, all food, trash and scented items must be removed from vehicles and stored in the bear proof lockers that are located in parking areas. Dispose of trash in bear proof trash receptacles.

For more information about traveling in bear bear country, click here...

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  • Walk-In
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1 Review

Leslie R.The Dyrt PRO User
Reviewed Sep. 16, 2023

Most beautiful campground I've ever seen

Out of the hundreds of campgrounds I've seen in my life, this one is the most beautiful to date. We camped here at the end of day one, of a two-day hike to the summit of Mt. Langley. It's about a 6.5 mile hike in and is above 10,000ft elevation. Took us about 3 hours to hike to Cottonwood Lake #5, going at a leisurely pace. Some people do the Mt. Langley hike in  a single day, but we wanted to give ourselves time to adjust to the altitude. I'm so glad we did, because the overnight camp at Cottonwood Lakes was an adventure in and of itself. We saw marmots and even a bighorn sheep! My brother caught multiple Golden Trout while fishing at Lake #3 and #5. We considered a few different spots for our tents, and ultimately decided to camp a few yards away from Lake 5. There was no wind there all night, whereas some spots closer to the main hiking trail were already getting windy. The ground near Lake #5 was pretty plush, not rocky, and somewhat level. We saw some even better spots near Lake #3, but those were already taken.

Hike to Mt. Langley: If you camp here, you've already hiked about 6 of a ~20 mile hike. Day two you hike ~4 miles to the summit, then 10 miles back to the trailhead parking lot.

Permits: you will need to get an overnight permit for Mt Langley hike at in advance. We grabbed three a couple weeks before our planned date. If you are planning to fish, you will also need a permit for that. All permits should be printed in advance.

Food: You are required to use a bear canister for overnight camping. Your toiletries, wrappers, trash, and food must fit in there, so plan accordingly. We used Bearvault bv450, for 3 people, and barely fit everything in there.

Water: You can refill your water from the streams along the first six miles of the hike or at the Cottonwood Lakes. There are no natural water sources between Cottonwood Lakes and the summit, so make sure to fill up before you depart the lakes. We boiled water for cooking dinner, and used iodine tablets for drinking water.

Month of VisitOctober
  • stream crossing on hike to campground
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  • Lake #4
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  • stream between Lake #3 and #4
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Cottonwood Lakes Backcountry Campsite is located in California

Detail location of campground


36.48836312729586 N
118.21427918486262 W

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