Bigelow Peak straddles the NW boundary of Yosemite National Park and the SE boundary of the Emigrant Wilderness Area. It consists of colorful bands of metamorphic rock that is not commonly found in Yosemite. Bigelow Peak is comprised of mixed layers of granite, marble (metamorphosed limestone), quartzite (metamorphosed sand), gneiss and schist formed when the Sierra granite arose through the ancient sea-bottom alluvial rocks. Extensive tungsten-rich scheelite ore, called tactites, were discovered and mined briefly in this area, though all mining has stopped now.
The area around Bigelow Peak offers beautiful scenary with several nearby lakes, grassy meadows, stands of mixed pine and conifer trees and wild flowers during the summer. If approaching from the east, Grace Meadow is particularly beautiful and is worth visiting in and of itself. The standard route to the summit is mostly a class 2 scramble with a few easy class 3 sections. There are also several other peaks nearby that can be easily climbed during the same trip.
Other peaks in the nearby vacinity include Quartzite Peak, Forsyth Peak, Grizzly Peak, Michie Peak and Kendrick Peak, which can make for a great weekend of peak bagging.
Bigelow Peak is located in a pretty remote area and can be reached from several different trailheads depending on your plans. Trailhead options are listed below.
1) Kennedy Meadows Resort is located off of CA Highway 108, just west of the Sonora Pass. The trailhead is located at the end of the parking area for the Kennedy Meadows Resort. Overnight parking at the resort lot is $5/night and can be paid at the resort lobby. Alternatively, free parking is available at the signed forest service "trailhead" parking lot, which is located about 3/4 mile from the trailhead.
Kennedy Meadows also operates a pack (horse) station. They will let you park overnight for free (and shower for free upon return) if you pack in with them one-way*. They also have rental cabins, a supply store, small restaurant and saloon.
It is 20 miles from the Kennedy Meadows trailhead to Bigelow Lake.
2) Leavitt Meadows Pack Station is located on CA Hwy 108, just west of I-395. Free parking is available in the trailhead parking area near the campground, north of the pack station. You can hike to Bigelow Peak, or have Leavitt Meadows Pack Station drop you off on horse back. Rates for horses are available on their web site*.
It is 22 miles to Bigelow Lake to ascend via the northern ridge, or 20.5 miles to Grace Meadow to climb the eastern slope.
3) The Leavitt Lake trailhead is only accessible with an SUV with high clearance and 4-wheel drive. Leavitt Lake road is located 3.8 miles east of the Sonora Pass off of CA Hwy 108. It's 3 miles to Leavitt Lake over very rough terrain and a couple of stream crossings. Free parking is available on the north side of the lake.
It is 16 miles miles to Bigelow Lake, or 17.5 miles to Grace Meadow.
* Call well in advance to reserve horse and guide if you decide to pack in with either one of the pack stations.
Free wilderness permits are required for overnight stays in both the Emigrant Wilderness Area and Yosemite National Park.
Call the Summit ranger station at (209) 965-3434 near Pinecrest ahead of time and they will prepare a permit for you in advance, or the Bridgeport Ranger Station at 760-932-7070 if traveling from the east.
Bear cannisters are required by federal law in most areas of Yosemite National Park. However, they are not currently required in the Emigrant Wilderness Area.
The climbing season varys each year depending on how much snow the area receives during the winter months. Hwy 108 closes during the winter, making winter access more difficult. So typically the most popular time to climb the mountain is from June through October.
There is excellent camping available on the western shores of Bigelow Lake and also at Snow Lake. Snow Lake offers excellent fishing for large Rainbow trout. The fish are smaller and less plentiful at Bigelow Lake.
Call the Summit ranger station for current conditions. They can be reached at (209) 965-3434.
The following links provide additional information on local conditions.
Hwy 108 road conditions.
Weather report for Bridgeport.
Weather report for Pinecrest.
Conditions Page of the Stansislaus National Forest.
"Major John Bigelow, Jr., Ninth Cavalry, US Army, acting superintendent of Yosemite National Park in 1904. (Farquhar.) The peak was named first; the name appears on the third edition (1912) of the Dardanelles 30' mpa. The lake was not named until the 1956 Tower Peak 15' quad."
- Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada