High Sierra Trail: Day 2 – Panther Creek to Hamilton Lake

Distance: 11 miles point to point

Camping Elevation: 8,235 ft

Bear Box: Yes

Fires: No

Water Nearby: Yes

Difficulty: Strenuous

Dogs: No

Permits: Required

When to go: July through end of September


The first 2 miles from Panther Creek to Mehrten Creek were fairly level. After Mehrten Creek is where the trail picks up in elevation gain.


There were multiple campgrounds along the way in this stretch, most of these do have communal bear boxes and a water source nearby.


Mehreten Creek – 5.8 miles in

Nine Mile Creek – 8.8 miles in

Buck Creek – 10 miles in

Bearpaw 11.5 miles in

Hamilton Lake – 15.3 miles in


After you pass the bridge at Buck Creek, the trail continues to be steep as you climb up the last 2 miles to get to Bearpaw Meadow. It’s a great place to stop for lunch or for the night.

Uphill from the backpacker campsite, is the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp with $200-300 per night lodging and family style meals prepared by chefs at the camp. The Camp overlooks the Great Western Divide which we started to ascend to get to Hamilton Lake. Brownies, beer and sample size medications such as Advil are available for sale even if you aren’t staying at the Camp’s lodging. Get the brownie, it’s an amazing treat after the last 2 mile climb. And it’s HUGE!


If you want to stay at Bearpaw, you can make reservations starting January 2nd at 7am by calling (866) 807-3598.


After Bearpaw Meadow, it’s another 4 miles to Hamilton Lake. The trail drops down switchbacks as you hike past a woodsy area. About 1 mile from Bearpaw Meadow you get to a bridge that takes you over Lone Pine Creek and to the other side of the canyon. There’s nowhere to camp by Lone Pine Creek and nowhere to get water. If you’re running low, fill up at Bearpaw.


From here is where you’ll start the ascent over the Great Western Divide and to Hamilton Lake.


This section of the hike is very exposed as you hike up switchbacks and the granite wall that the drops you into the bowl that Hamilton Lake sits in. There are a couple water crossings along the way and one especially larger about 1 mile from Hamilton Lake. When we went late in the season, the water crossings in this days section of the trail were not bad.


At Hamilton Lake, you’ll encounter people who are just hiking out and back to Hamilton Lake and people who you will see throughout the rest of your journey on the High Sierra Trail. Hamilton Lake is a great place to pitch a tent for the night, or if you’re continuing further that day, it’s a great place for a break. There’s also a pit toilet just above Hamilton Lake off of the main trail.


It’s also a great place for a swim and to catch some fish. Other groups were fishing and cooking fish for dinner along the way instead of bringing freeze dried meals. Just bring some pepper, lemon, and foil and you have yourself a nice dinner. Just remember, no fires at Hamilton Lake.


There’s also a lot of deer at Hamilton Lake and they are known to eat your clothes and the handles on your trekking poles for the salt from your sweat. If you’re washing your clothes this night, I suggest doing it earlier on in the evening so they try and you can put everything into your tent. The deer aren’t scared of humans, we saw a whole family right next to our campsite for most of the morning.

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