Backpacking Hilton Lakes


Wilderness permit in hand, I headed north on Highway 395 from Lone Pine and Tuttle Creek, where I had camped at the night before. I turned south at Toms Place, and headed towards the Hilton Lakes trailhead near Rock Cree Lake. This would be my first backpacking trip, and I was heading to Hilton Third Lake by myself.

Trip Details:

Date Range – August 19-21
Campground – Wilderness Camping
Distance – 308 miles
Closest Town – Toms Place, CA

Hiking in was pretty challenging. The final stretch involves a steep elevation loss, following by an equally steep and difficult climb back up to the same height. The trip took me about two and a half hours total. I passed two different people, and didn’t see anyone else for the rest of the day. Once I got to third lake I set up my tent, washed my clothes, and jumped in.

My campsite just west of third lake

I hadn’t planned on doing any extra hiking that day, but since I arrived so early I had nothing else to do. I wandered over towards the cliff that separated the second and third lakes to try and find a good view of both. By the time I got there the sun was behind clouds, giving me a great look at the first two lakes. After a few pictures, I headed back to try and beat the sunset and get ready for the next day.

View of Hilton First (Davis Lake) and Second Lake

The next morning I hiked over to fourth lake, where I caught a small brook trout after about 30 minutes of casting. As far as I could tell, no one was around at this lake while I was for those few hours. I headed back to camp for lunch and also to get ready for the longer hike towards eighth lake, where I wanted to fish for golden trout.

I followed cairns past fifth lake, where the trail became hard to follow. I ended up straying off the path for about an hour or so, climbing southwest in search of the latter lakes. Once I had reached the top of a ridge where I believed the lakes to be, I looked on confused as there were no lakes. As I turned around, I saw all four of the lakes I was looking for down below me. The view was surreal, and I no longer felt that I was lost.

My view of Hilton Fifth Lake to Eighth Lake

I headed back down the ridge and over a talus field of 40-foot rocks, and finally made it to eighth lake with a few hours of sunlight left for fishing. I tried a few different ends of the lake, but it wasn’t until some dark clouds rolled in that I finally caught a medium-sized golden trout. I let him go and started the hike back to camp, which was much easier to follow now as it ran along hilton creek. It sprinkled for only a few minutes, but when I got back to third lake my camp was as dry as I left it. I was lucky to miss out on the nearby storms that hit Mammoth Lakes that weekend.

Hilton Eighth Lake, where I caught a golden trout

The next morning I fished in third lake for about an hour and a half, but didn’t catch anything. I headed back to the trailhead around 10am and it took me about the same time, two and a half hours, to get back as it took me to hike out. Over this was an excellent trip, and as mentally and physically challenging as any activity I’ve done. The silence and scenery were well worth it, and I would absolutely go back.

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