Driving to Coyote Creek Trailhead
Over this past 4th of July weekend, my fiancé and I spent the weekend camping in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains at an awesome place known as Coyote Flats.
Our Original plans though were to actually go backpacking up towards to Palisades glacier departing form Big Pine North Fork. I attempted the Big Pine North Fork hike once before but got caught in a snowstorm (North Fork Snow Storm Trip Report).
Unfortunately, it was 4th of July Holiday weekend and all their permits were already taken so we decided to attempt to get walk-up permits at the ranger station in Lone Pine. North Fork Big Pine trailhead has 10 walk-up permits per day...
We drove up the night before and camped just outside of Lone Pine in Alabama Hills, and got to the ranger station half an hour before they opened.....there was already a long line. We were group number 14 in line and there was only one permit left by the time it was our turn. Luckily for us, we had a backup plan to go up to Cayote Flats for some overlanding and free dispersed camping with no reservations!
Coyote Creek Trail Map
I have been up to Coyote Flats once before (First Coyote Flats trip) and was planning on doing a similar trip, but this year was a pretty big snow year so we had to change our plans slightly but it was still a fantastic trip up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The Caltopo map above can be viewed and downloaded here. If you would like to buy a physical copy printed on waterproof paper, you can order a map here.
The Coyote Creek trailhead can also be found on Google Maps here.
Coyote Creek Trail Guide
Coyote Creek Trail which brings you up to Coyote Flats is an amazing drive visually. You start in the desert just outside of Bishop California and you drive up climbing over 7,000 feet in elevation through forests, streams and in our case snow on this particular trip! The entire drive up you can see the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background!
On this trip, I brought a GoPro Hero 7 Black to take some video footage while driving around. You can catch 5 minutes of video clips of the drive up Coyote Creek trail to Coyote Flats in this 4k video here:
The drive through the desert is pretty short-lived, as you quickly arrive at switchbacks that quickly start ascending up, bringing you up to the mountain air. When we started driving, the desert temperature was in the mid 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It's fun watching the temperature drop as you climb over 7k feet over the next couple hours.
Through the desert and starting up the switchback the trail is not too technical, mostly just a little sandy. As we started rising up the switchback there were a few rocky parts but nothing where you need a crazy rock crawling rig. There were signs of the snowmelt from this past winter, and one part of the switchback was a little washed out.
As you get toward the top of the switchbacks there is a really random piece of broken paved road that you will cross. It's not a particularly difficult piece of terrain to navigate, but it just random to see an old piece of paved road towards the top of this part of the climb.
The drive from here enters in and out of forests and beautiful rolling hill plains. Coyote Creek Trail changes frequently from smooth dirt to super rocky and bumpy. Not rocky in the sense of huge boulders just rocky in lots of small to medium very sharp rocks! Do not attempt this trail without a spare tire!
The higher and higher we drove the more wet things were. The trail never got really muddy but as we got near the patches of snow the snowmelt was visible. There was one small stream crossing, that my mostly stock Jeep Wrangler Sport JK handled easily, and then there was my favorite little section of trail where a small creek lightly flooded the trail and you get to drive up the wide stream.
Shortly after the stream, we reach our first patch of snow that was over the middle of the trail. I decided to try and attempt to drive through and didn't make it... but I was able to put the Jeep in reverse and make it out. There was another trail that took us around the snow patch and we took that instead.
Shortly after the first snow patch, we encountered a second snow patch that was a little bit more of a problem then the first. Since I didn't make it through the first snow patch I, of course, revved up my engine and confidently approached the second snow patch with a grin of determination. I instantly regretted it as my Jeep started to sink deeper and deeper as I quickly threw it in reverse and I didn't go anywhere...
I was stuck at around 10,000 feet in elevation in a snow patch. It looked like my front drive shaft was a bit buried. I had some chains in the car so I started to dig out around my front tire in order to try and put them on. While I was digging out another driver later told me his name was Garret saw us and began helping me dig out. Once we cleared some of the snow around the tires and the front drive shaft, we used my high lift jack to raise it up and get some rocks under the tires for some more traction. With his help, we were able to get back on the trail and continue enjoying our awesome trip!
Pro Tip: While off-roading make sure you fully prepared for self recovery. Here are two items I recommend:
- Hi-Lift Jack (Amazon Affiliate): Helps if you get a flat while off-roading and can also be used as a mechanical winch. I have also used this to get out of snow and while center pinned on a rock.
- Traction Mats (Amazon Affiliate): Helps in muddy or slippery terrain where your tires cant get enough traction.
After the first two snow patches, I didn't want to risk it with anymore and as we continued to climb higher in elevation you could see them everywhere. Luckily not as many blocking the Coyote Creek Trail but they were all around the trail and looked beautiful.
As we continued up the trail I was realizing trying to make it to the lake I made it to in my last trip would not be a reality due to all the snow. Eventually, that feeling proved right when we encountered a very large snowfield that had no trail around it.
At this point, we parked the jeep and decided to go on a little hike. I knew the ridge in front of us was blocking a great view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and we decided to climb up and check it out. The Jeep Turn around point on the map below is where we parked and couldn't go any further due to the snow, and the blue line is where we hiked up the ridge through some snow patches.
Having driven up from the desert to over 11,000 feet in elevation this hike was the first reminder that we were at some pretty high altitudes. I took just my camera and we hiked up slowly, breathing hard the entire way. The view at the top was worth it and I was glad it was just a short (But hard) hike up to peak over and enjoy the view.
Coyote Flats Camping
While up here enjoying the view we discussed grabbing our backpacking gear at the car and going on a backpacking trip up in this area to enjoy the views more, but by the time we climbed back down to the car we were pretty tired due to the elevation and decided to drive around a little bit more. At this point, we backpedaled a little bit and then took a left at the fork in the road. We were able to get back up to the ridge just further north and found a place we could park and do a very short hike for an awesome campsite for the night.
This area, was great it was very flat and had plenty of trees for protection from the wind, and there were some good boulders to climb up and take in the view of the mountains. Our final campsite for the first night was a short hike from the car, and here is a GoPro hyperlapse of the hike to the campsite:
The view from our campsite was pretty good, and there was a firepit already made there for us to use. We just had to lug the firewood we purchased in town from the car...
It stayed light out pretty long but once the sun went down the stars really started to come out! It was a little cold out at night, so I put on my layers and grabbed my tripod and started shooting some pictures of the Milkyway. We had a new moon during this trip so there was basically no illumination other than the stars most nights we were up at Coyote Flats and the stars sure did put on a show for us!
The next morning we were feeling a bit better than yesterday having spent a night at altitude and having a little time to adjust although a little more time would always be nice. Since we were well rested we decided to go on a short hike to the small peak just to our south. The blue line on the map below was our hiking route:
The hike up was simple, we took some snacks, water, and my camera bag to just go up an enjoy the view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There was no trail, we were just following our map, and picking around snowfields and large boulders. We got to do some light scrambling up the boulders and it was a lot of fun, a bit more fun than just walking!
The view was great and we stayed up there for a bit lounging, and there was a pretty cool view looking back at what we just hiked over down where our campsite was last night.
After the hike, we went back to camp and packed up our bags and put everything back in our car. We drove off and went on looking for our next day's campsite. We decided to check out Coyote Lake which we saw on the map, to look for our next campsite.
We first parked right down by the lake to get out and stretch our legs and enjoy the view of the lake with the snow-capped peak towering over it.
After initially exploring the lake for a few minutes we ended up driving up the ridge to the east of the lake. We ended up driving a little past where the camp two is marked on the map above but we hit some snow patches and couldn't get too far up the road. We ended up turning around and settling down at 2nd night camp marked on the map. Once we set up our camp we decided to go on another hike since it was a short drive from our first campsite. For this hike we decided to go on foot again past the snow we couldn't make it past in the jeep and we followed the jeep trail up to the next ridgeline.
As we hiked up the jeep trail past the snow we couldn't drive through we were quickly rewarded with some views of the lake we were just at.
From the top of the ridge, we could look over and see another beautiful mountain lake filled by snowmelt, and in the distance, we could see a few more jeeps all together.
After we made it back to our campsite it was still pretty early in the day, we took a rest and eventually did another shorter hike just going around the entire lake. While we were at the lake two dirt bikers came up and another group of jeeps swung by and took a quick dip in the water. Eventually, they all left and we ended up having the lake all to ourselves for the night.
There was an awesome fire pit right on the ridge overlooking the lake and the snow-capped peak behind it and this was a relaxing place to enjoy the fresh mountain air, our fire and eventually the stars for our final night in Coyote Flats.
In the morning we woke up early drove down the mountain and made it back to civilization safely. I have one more YouTube video I am putting together of the drive Down Coyote Flats back down Coyote Creek trail that I will post here once complete.
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