Northern Meadows Loop trail treks along the upper portion of the Golden Trout Wilderness on the Inyo National Forest. This trip will go over passes, into canyons, along a Wild and Scenic River, and through several large meadows. Make sure to arrive early at the trailhead as the parking lot fills up fast. Heed the signs about bears before leaving too.
Day 1 – Horseshoe Meadow to Big Whitney Meadow (8.1 miles)
The trail starts on the west side of the parking lot and is a nice gradual grade to warm up the legs. Less than a half a mile another trail joins from the south. Continue going west towards Cottonwood Pass (3.4 miles approx.). The trail crosses two unnamed tributaries to Horseshoe Meadow prior to making the steep ascent to the pass. The climb up to the pass is about a mile long and rocky. However, don’t forget to look back down into Horseshoe Meadow for some nice scenic photos!
From Cottonwood Pass continue in a southwest direction towards Big Whitney Meadows. The trail follows along Stokes Stringer Creek for about 3 miles. The trail now enters the eastern portion of Big Whitney Meadows. Continue trekking westward through the meadow for another 0.7 miles. Stay left at a junction and continue for another 0.7 miles to the campsite. The site should be south of the trail on the western portion of Big Whitney Meadow.
Day 2 – Big Whitney Meadow to Tunnel Meadow Campground (6.5 miles)
Once back on the trail, continue south (left) of the trail junction. The trail follows along the southern edges of Big Whitney Meadow and parallels Golden Trout Creek (about 2.5 miles). Outside of the meadow the trail dives down into Golden Trout Creek canyon. Shortly after entering into the canyon a trail comes in from the north. Continue following the trail down the canyon for another 3 miles.
The next junction sits between Golden Trout Creek and the South Fork Kern River drainages. Take a left (northeast) heading upstream and into Tunnel Meadow. About another mile or two of hiking and the campsite should be on the right. One could also disperse camp near the meadows edge.
Day 3 – Tunnel Meadow Campground to Mulkey Meadows Junction. (5.0 miles)
Continue going up the meadow to enter the South Fork Kern River canyon. The trail follows the river for almost a mile at this point and soon heads east. An unnamed pass signals the trail leaving the drainage and entering into the Mulkey Meadows area. Trek downhill entering Bullfrog Meadow. Another 2 miles and the trail connects with a four way trail junction (Mulkey Meadows junction). Set up camp nearby to the north.
Day 4 – Mulkey Meadows Junction to Horseshoe Meadow (4.6 miles)
Trail Pass is north of the trail junction. This is the first and hardest part of the trip back to the trailhead. The trail ascends a 1,000 feet in a little over 2 miles, with most of the elevation gain within the last 4/5 of a mile. Enjoy nice views of Mulkey Meadows on the way up to the pass.
The trail descends a steep mile into Round Valley, a portion of Horseshoe Meadow. Now the trail is relatively flat compared to the rest of the days hiking. Continue on for another mile and make a right at the trail junction. Less than half a mile and the trail ends at the parking lot.