California's Cottonwood Lakes

The trails are lonely and the trout are always biting in this Inyo National Forest hideaway.

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The starting point for this hike in the Eastern Sierra seems scenic enough, but those who have been here know the trip just keeps getting better, especially if you have a thing for wild trout. Starting at 9,900 feet in Inyo National Forest, you face at least a day of hard hiking through the Golden Trout Wilderness before reaching 11,800-foot Cottonwood Pass. Fly-fishermen will be tempted to stay for a long time, but the opportunities for exploration are as abundant as the trout. Trails are numerous around Cottonwood Lakes. Two destinations to set your sights on: seldom-trodden Miter Basin and gem-like Sky-Blue Lake, which lies at 11,545 feet.

RECOMMENDED HIKE: A strenuous 27-mile loop follows Horseshoe Meadow via Cottonwood Pass trailhead to Rock Creek along the Pacific Crest Trail, then up the creek, over 12,400-foot New Army Pass, and then exiting through Cottonwood Pass trailhead in Golden Trout Wilderness.

WHERE: About 225 miles (4 hours) north of Los Angeles. Follow US 395 north to Lone Pine. Drive west from town on Whitney Portal Road, then south on Horseshoe Meadow Road to the trailhead.

MAPS:Golden Trout Wilderness ($4, USFS, 415-705-2869) and Mt. Whitney High Country ($7.95, Tom Harrison Cartography; 800-265-9090).

CONTACT: Inyo National Forest Wilderness Reservation Service, (888) 374-3773. A permit, which costs $3, is required from the last Friday in June to September 15. You can fax in a wilderness permit request to (760) 938-1137.