Baxter Pass Trailhead/John Muir Wilderness

The Baxter Pass Trailhead is located at the end of a good Forest Service road out of Independence that is steep but doesn’t require 4WD; any car will do just fine. Turn off U.S. 395 about two miles north of town on the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery Road and keep going up the North Fork of Oak Creek Road. The drive itself offers great views of the Owens Valley floor in some spots, and takes you through stretches of high alpine vegetation, with the towering, granite Sierra Nevada looming on the horizon.

The trailhead is at about 6,000 feet. A nice 10-mile loop takes you to the alpine basin of Summit Meadow. This is steep country, but it’s also in the heart of the Sierra, with classic views and great flora and fauna. It’s located in the Sierra Bighorn Sheep habitat area, so keep an eye out for these shy, rock-climbing beasts (no dogs are allowed on the trail because of the presence of the bighorns).

The summit of the pass is about 8 miles farther up the trail. The hike is steep both going up to the summit, and then down to hit the John Muir Trail (located in the John Muir Wilderness). Once on the 23-mile long John Muir Trail, hikers can go north or south along the spine of the Sierra Nevada.

Check the Inyo National Forest website for information on permits and regulations.  Please note that the trail is not regularly maintained, and is always impacted by recent winter weather conditions that can affect the conditions of this classic wilderness trail.

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Latitude: 36.8448729 Longitude: -118.2977343 Elevation: 6039 ft

Vertical Gain or Loss

The trailhead is at about 6,000 feet. Mount Baxter is at about 13,000 ft elevation.

Pet Friendly Notes

No dogs are allowed on the trail because it is located within the Sierra Bighorn Sheep habitat area.


I climbed this beautiful but brutal trail about 40 years ago and I shall always remember it as one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. Struggling up up and up the steep trail, I saw a bobcat approaching me as he bounced down the same trail, so nonchalant, as cats are wont to be. I stopped and watched, mesmerized, as he approached. When he was about 50' away he looked up and saw me. His look of astonishment almost made me laugh. He stared at me for perhaps two seconds, stock still, then sprinted up the steep slope at an impressive speed. Further up the mountain I saw a herd of deer, nearly a mile away, watching me ( I spotted them with binoculars). At the summit of the pass, after passing a large skeleton (deer or elk?) I watched a herd of Bighorn Sheep (9 ewes and 4 lambs) grazing on lichen, as best I could tell, because there was no soil up there, only rocks. Down the slope to Baxter Lake, and the trout were jumping out of the water for insects, in the bright afternoon! Orange rockchucks sunning themselves on boulders by the water, a dark eagle soaring far above me. Heaven on earth.

James Caster, 2/20/2014

I have to echo much what James Caster wrote. Forty-two years ago I was the California Bighorn Sheep Zoological Ranger and this was one of the trails I patrolled with backpack. It was not as "brutal" as going up Sawmill or Shepherd Passes, but it came close. I would watch the bighorn sheep traverse the steep, rocky slopes and then disappear down over the edge. When I followed their paths I often was stopped short. What they could descend in a few seconds and without hesitation, would require me to rope up if I wanted to follow. I did not. Other times I would watch a small herd of bighorn walking single file on a narrow ledge. That same ledge I would have to crawl on all fours. The Baxter Pass Trail travels into some incredible country and the bighorn truly have an advantage in this land of granite.

Jon Wesley Sering, 3/25/2014

I did it about 28 years ago with good friends from high school. We had no idea what we were getting into. We came across Summit Meadow on day 2 and we were revitalized. Thought for many years about doing it again, but work, money, time, careers, and three knee surgeries later and I did not think it would happen again. Also I assumed I must have imagined that it was so much better than it really was. I saw other people's photos and thought about it again. As hard as it was, my wife and best friend (one of the five of us who went years ago) are planning a trip. Highly recommend it, but be ready for a solid hike!

Robert Jimenez, 8/3/2014

I hiked up Baxter Pass 5 days ago. It is an AWESOME pass but steady climb for 6,000 plus feet. The trail is mostly marked, be watchful. I saw several Big Horn's on top. In the few days we were in there we saw no one. Fishing was great in Baxter Lake.

Kevin Sullivan, 8/5/2014

I hiked it in September, 1963 with my buddy who went on to become a plant pathologist. We caught an early snowstorm camped at Baxter Lake and thought we better get down. We came up the east side from Independence. A great experience.

john bihary, 5/31/2019

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