Horseshoe Meadow lies in the Inyo National Forest southwest of Lone Pine in the Eastern Sierra Nevada at the boundary of the Southern Sierra to the south and the High Sierra to the north. Located at about 10,000 feet altitude it is a central hub for many day- and back-backing trips. A network of trails leads into the Golden Trout Wilderness or north into the John Muir Wilderness. Its easy access by the Horseshoe Meadow Road from Owens Valley contributes to the popularity of this area.
Wonoga Peak Trailhead (36.4732,-118.1202; 9,300 feet): This trailhead is located off Horseshoe Meadow Road immediately past (southwest of) “Walt’s Point”. A faint and sometimes indiscernible trail leads into Little Cottonwood Canyon. This is the usual approach to Wonoga Point. Owens Point can be accessed from this trailhead, too. There is no trail-sign here.
Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead, old (36.4601,-118.1622; 9,600 feet): This trailhead is off Horseshoe Meadow Road and was the start of the old trail to Cottonwood Lakes and Army Pass (new and old). It is apparently no longer maintained, but is still used. There is no longer a trail-sign here.
Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead, new (36.4532,-118.1698; 10,000 feet): This trailhead is near the Cottonwood/Trail Pass Trailhead and should not be mistaken for that. On Horseshoe Meadow Road turn right at the sign to Cottonwood Lakes and New Army Pass. Go past the Cottonwood Pack Station. At the Army Pass trailhead sign there is an outhouse and several bear boxes for trailhead food storage. Adjacent to the trailhead parking is a small campground. This trailhead leads to the Cottonwood Basin with Cottonwood Lakes and further to Army Passes (new and old). Near private Golden Troup Camp it will connect with the old Cottonwood Lakes trail.
Mulkey Pass Trailhead (36.4506,-118.1613; 9,900 feet): This trailhead is located off Horseshoe Meadow Road and is easily missed. It is no longer maintained but is an alternative to reach Mulkey Pass. There is no trail-sign here but an unmarked dirt road leads towards the meadow.
Cottonwood/Trail Pass Trailhead (36.4481,-118.1705; 9,900 feet): This trailhead is located at the end of Horseshoe Meadow Road. There is an outhouse, trash bin, and some steel bear boxes at the trailhead. There is an adjacent campground and a day use parking area. The trail to both Cottonwood Pass and Trail Pass starts at the same spot but splits shortly after entering the Golden Trout Wilderness. You can connect to the trail from Mulkey Pass trailhead by hiking cross country through the meadow, but try to avoid hiking directly through Round Valley, as it often is more a swamp.
From Lone Pine turn west onto Whitney Portal Road (mile 0). You will enter immediately the Alabama Hills Recreation Area. At about 3 miles make a left turn onto paved Horseshoe Meadows Road. At 4.7 miles the road crosses Tuttle Creek and at 5.3 miles Lubken Creek (you can take narrow, paved Lubken Road to bypass Lone Pine from or to Highway 395). You pass a gate at Carroll Creek and after that the road climbs steeply in many switchbacks the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada. At 18.3 miles, you pass “Walt’s Point”, a popular launch site for hang gliders. At 19.5 miles the road levels off and descends as it crosses Cottonwood Canyon. At 22.2 miles you reach the parking area for the Golden Trout Wilderness trailhead. Horseshoe Meadow is just beyond the trees. Originally, Horseshoe Meadow Road was built to exploit the water and recreational potential of the upper basin, but construction was halted in 1929 when equipment proved to be inadequate to get past some cliffs. Later, in the 1960s a proposed ski-development at Trail Peak led to continued effort to finish the road and an extension was finished by 1967. Luckily, the development plans were halted eventually due to environmental concerns. In the 1980s, the road was further extended and completely paved.
There are eighteen sites set just off the road near the Cottonwood Pass trailhead and twelve at the adjacent Cottonwood Lakes trailhead. Both are $6 per night with fire rings, picnic tables, potable water, and vault toilets. These sites are classified as “walk-ins” because campers do not actually set up their tents right by their vehicles. Instead, campers must walk in a couple hundred feet from the road. Additionally, there are ten equestrian sites designed for man and horse that go for $12 a night. The campgrounds (and the road) close during the winter. Bear lockers are provided.
This is a list of peaks in the area around Horseshoe Meadow that can be reached as a day-hike under normal conditions. The list certainly is not meant to be comprehensive as some peaks that can be day-hiked by some are completely out-of-reach for others. Of course, many more peaks can be reached from the Horseshoe Meadows if one ventures into the backcountry as a backpacking trip. The peaks in quotation marks don't seem to have an official name, but are unofficially known by the listed names.
|Mount Langley||14,026'||Southernmost 14,000' peak in the Sierra Nevada; easy class 2 scramble from the west via New Army Pass or Old Army Pass (no longer maintained and recommended)|
|Cirque Peak||12,900'||Cirque Peak can be easily reached via the Cottonwood Pass or New Army Pass. Another nice approach is via a scramble from High Lake.|
|"Wooleyback"||12,840'||The unofficially named "Wooleyback" lies on the ridge that extends from Mount Langley to Owens Point. It can be reached from Owens Point or the Cottonwood Lakes Basin (Muir Lake).|
|"The Fin"||12,722'||"The Fin" lies between "Wooleyback" and Mount Langley. It is mentioned in Secor's book. It can usually be reached from the Cottonwood Lakes Basin (Muir Lake).|
|Peak 12,525||12,525'||This unnamed peak lies between "Trailmaster Peak" and Cirque Peak and can be easily bagged on the way to (or from) Cirque Peak.|
|"Trailmaster Peak"||12,336'||This peak lies immediately to the north of Cottonwood Pass and can be easily summitted on the way to Cirque Peak|
|Trail Peak||11,605'||3rd highest peak in the Southern Sierra (behind Olancha Peak and Kern Peak); easy class 2 scramble on east slope via Trail Pass|
|"Flat Top"||11,416'||"Flat Top" is the prominent mountain perched between Cottonwood Creek to the north and South Fork to the south. It can be accessed from the west from the Cottonwood Lakes. It may be the same peak than Secor's "Golden Trout Peak".|
|Owens Point||11,411'||This peak lies along the ridge extending from Mount Langley to "Wooleyback" and Wonoga Peak. It be acccessed from the Wonoga Trailhead via Little Cottonwood Canyon or from Golden Trout Camp. The north side has an impressive couloir that can be climbed in winter.|
|"Thacher Point"||11,250'||Image||"Thacher Point" lies across the meadow from Owens Point and overlooks Golden Trout Camp in Cottonwood Canyon. Golden Trout Camp is a private camp run by the Thacher School in Ojai, CA. It can be bagged from or to Owens Point.|
|"Edge of the World Peak"||11,062'||This peak is easily visible from Lone Pine or Highway 395 and towers over Horseshoe Meadow Road. The views across Owens Valley make this peak worthwhile. It can be climbed cross-country from Horseshoe Meadow.|
|Muah Mountain||11,016'||Muah Mountain is usually climbed via Mulkey Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail to Mulkey Meadows. Follow Diaz Creek until the base of the mountain and then scramble cross-country to its summit.|
|Wonoga Peak||10,371'||Wonoga Peak is visible from Lone Pine and Highway 395 and overlooks the Horseshoe Meadow Road. It can be climbed from the Wonoga Trailhead via Little Cottonwood Canyon. A cross-country route will lead from the canyon to its summit.|
|Timosea Peak||8,625'||This peak overlooks Owens Valley and is usually accessed by a cross-country (class 2-3) route, mostly along the ridge from Walt's Point off Horseshoe Meadow Road.|
Although today Horseshoe Meadow Road allows an easy and quick access to the high meadows and peaks around Horseshoe Meadow, it should not be forgotten that during its construction many old trails and other historical places were destroyed and lost forever. I came across a very interesting website illustrating this time in history (Packing Mules)
"Leftovers from a bygone era. The old Sherman Steven's sawmill located at Cottonwood Creek near the junctures of the Carroll Creek and Cottonwood Creek trails provided lumber for the Cerro Gordo Mines, Cartago , and Swansea; in addition to providing lumber for the charcoal kilns near Swansea for the silver mines of Cerro Gordo. The charcoal was hauled across Owens Lake by the Bessie Brady, one of two steamers which provided the charcoal to the Cerro Gordo Mines. These are probably some of the last surviving pictures in the history of this sawmill. When I first packed into the area in the summer of 1965 these items were still intact. the next summer, when they were constructing the Horseshoe Meadows road, vandals had already burned these last vestiges of the sawmill to the ground. Another piece of early California history was lost forever, ruined by those who had no respect for it or others who might enjoy it in the future."
"From Carroll Creek one had easy access to Cottonwood, Army, Mulkey and Trail Passes, Rock Creek, the South Fork of the Kern River, Golden Trout Camp and the golden trout fishing paradise of the Cottonwood Lakes. It was a tragedy when the house which contained all of the old packing records dating back to the Chrysler and Cook days were lost in an accidental fire in the late 1960s. It was even more of a tragedy when the Horseshoe Meadows road was blasted across the face of the mountain destroying the old trail and opening up the backcountry to vandals, litterers, and fishing poachers. This resulted in the closing of all of all but the uppermost Cottonwood Lakes to fishing, the burning down of the old Sherman Stevens Timber Sawmill, and trail head quotas. All of this because some folks thought they could exploit the Horseshoe Meadows area into a ski resort."
Remember that Horseshoe Meadow is several thousand feet higher than Lone Pine at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. Although geographically close to Lone Pine, the weather can naturally differ significantly.