“Head past 3 beautiful lakes with Quartzite and Bigelow Peaks as backdrops and impressive views of the Sanchse Monument.”
— Lee Watts
Lake · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Wildflowers
Snow Lake Trail is in the Emigrant Wilderness, part of the Stanislaus National Forest. Wilderness permits are required. They can be obtained from any Stanislaus Forest ranger station.
Other areas of the Sierras are higher and more rugged, but in my opinion, the area along the northwestern boundary of Yosemite, including the Emigrant Wilderness side, is perhaps the most beautiful area in the Sierras. The air is clearer, the lakes are bluer, the flowers and trees have deeper colors, and you have the orange and reds of the metamorphic rock in the northeastern part and smooth, polished granite in the southwestern part. The Snow Lake Trail is a great example. Snow, Bigalow, and Black Bear are all located in very colorful settings.
The Snow Lake Trail is somewhat difficult, only because the trail between Snow and Bigalow Lakes is no longer maintained and is now overgrown and hard to follow.
The Snow Lake Trail leaves the Lunch Meadow Trail in the middle of Summit Meadow. If you can't find it, just head south between the small meadowy lakes and climb a small rise to the ruins of Montezuma Mine above the eastern shore of Snow Lake. Montezuma Mine was one of several mines in the area where small deposits of tungsten were extracted.
Hike around the lake and then climb the slopes south of the lake to a low point between Quartzite Peak and a smaller peak away from the crest (See picture: Snow Lake looking towards Quartzite Peak). The trail was completely overgrown, and I had to push my way up through the flowers. On the other side of this low point, you drop about 150 feet and then contour along the gentlest part of south slopes, staying well above the creek in the shallow canyon below. You should pick up the trail again as you approach Bigelow Lake because you are forced towards it by the steeper slopes below and above the trail.
Bigelow Lake has a lot of trees and bushes in the area around the outlet stream, but it is more open for camping once you get away from that.
The remainder of the trail to Black Bear Lake and Horse Meadows is easy to follow. Just below Black Bear there is a junction with the trail going to Twin Lakes. You'll probably want to visit them and then take the Twin Lakes Trail
down to the Huckleberry Trail
. At a minimum, you should visit Black Bear Lake before heading down to Horse Meadows on the Snow Lake Trail.
Either way, as you go way down the canyon, you'll have great views of the spectacular Sanchse Monument, a steep granite ridge across the canyon. However, it is so huge that it is nearly impossible to get a good picture from this close.
Flora & Fauna
Noteworthy pine about six feet in diameter on rocky peninsula of western shore of Black Bear Lake. It looks like a foxtail pine to me, but they are not supposed to grow in this area (See Black Bear Lake photo).