Horseshoe Meadowand Cottonwood Creek
(Mulkey Pass, New Army Pass, etc.)
Revised 11 Jun 2012 - please send updates to the webmaster
NOTE: There are two ways to leave Hwy 395, but they both end up on Horseshoe Meadows Road. There are no signs OTHER than that road sign that say 'Horseshoe'... but all the signs near the trailhead say 'Cottonwood' instead of 'Horseshoe'. Don't be confused. You will drive all the way to Horseshoe Meadow only to reach the Cottonwood Pass or Trail Pass trailheads, otherwise you'll turn off before reaching the actual meadow.
While there is Pacific Crest Trail access from this trailhead there don't seem to be any PCT signs.
From the north, follow GPS Route COTTONWOOD NORTH through downtown Lone Pine:
Take the Whitney Portal Road west from the center of Lone Pine (waypoint LONPIN). About 3 miles west turn left (south) on Horseshoe Meadows Road (waypoint HORSEJ), and follow the pavement all the way to Horseshoe Meadows (about 22 miles from Lone Pine).
From the south, shortcut 8 miles via GPS Route COTTONWOOD SOUTH on rural roads:
Take Lubken Canyon Road west from Hwy 395 (waypoint LUBKCE) just over 4 miles south of Lone Pine. There's a sign, but the trailer park is a better landmark. This shortcut bypasses LONPIN and HORSEJ, and intersects Horseshoe Meadows Road at waypoint LUBKCW.
Continuing uphill, you will cross Carroll Creek (waypoint CAROLC, elevation 5500') where there is a gate and the road is technically closed in winter. Some years the gate doesn't seem to be locked, and some have driven all the way to the road's high point (waypoint HIROAD, elevation 9400', just after an unmarked saddle) in mid-winter. In 2006 the gate was closed and locked as of late April. Conditions do vary!
This road is heavily switchbacked, as shown on both maps, and direct cross-country walking to shortcut the switchbacks is nearly impossible due to the steep rocky slope. There are often lots of large rocks on the road during the off-season. The top switchbacks are between steep walls on both sides, where snow often drifts in winter and lasts into spring.
GPS Routes COTTONWOOD NORTH and COTTONWOOD SOUTH end at
The old trail up Little Cottonwood Creek leaves from a pullout at waypoint LITCOT, but it is seldom used and may not exist. There is no visible trail at the paved pullout, and no trailhead sign, but the 7.5' map shows the trail staying right by the stream north of the road.
NOTE: Secor says this old trail (the red line from ARMYOT) is a quarter mile longer and has 500' more gain than the newer trail (the green line from ARMYNT), but the old trail looks shorter to me, it starts only 400' lower than the new trail, and the new trail has considerable uphill walking on the way out. I think it's about a draw. Both trails will get you to either Old Army Pass (still passable and a shorter walk) or New Army Pass (less steep and less snow), after going past a private in-holding (Golden Trout Camp), following Cottonwood Creek, and then branching past Long Lake for New Army Pass or Cottonwood Lakes for Old Army Pass. There is also a good cross-country route, especially useful in winter, which follows the South Fork directly to South Fork Lakes from where the new trail crosses the South Fork.)
The original Army Pass trail is the red line going west-northwest from
waypoint ARMYOT (elevation 9600') on this map. The old trailhead is no longer
marked but the trail still exists. Use it in winter if you can't get your car
to the new parking lot. There is a wide shoulder down-canyon on the south side
of the road for parking. About 100 yards up-canyon from where the trail
intersects the road there is an obvious single-car pullout on the
north side of the road (near where Cottonwood Creek crosses the road).
The old trail stays north of Cottonwood Creek, and at some point (?probably near Golden Trout Camp?) joins the currently maintained trail. You can get to Old Army Pass or New Army Pass from either trailhead. Without a GPS you may not be able to locate this old trailhead, but as of 2005 it still showed signs of use. Also as of 2005, there was no visible junction where this trail intersects the trail from the new trailhead, so remember where to go if you park here!
The old Mulkey Trailhead (waypoint MULKEY) is now an unmarked dirt
road with a sign that says 'closed to all vehicles'. It is by far the
most efficient trailhead to get to the Mulkey Pass, even though
the trail crews would rather have you walk all the way around
Round Valley on the main trail. This trailhead is intended
for horses, and there is a horse trailer parking lot on the north
side of the paved main road that serves the unmarked trail
(waypoint MULKEY) going south (the yellow line on this map).
If you're going to Mulkey Pass (for Muah, Cartago, etc), this trailhead is a lot shorter than going to the Cottonwood Pass trailhead (waypoint COTTON) and looping way around the west end of the meadow. Don't try to cross south through Round Valley from the Cottonwood Pass trailhead/campground except in the driest of conditions, because it's often more of a bog than a lawn.
NOTE: Secor says this new trail (the green line from ARMYNT on the map below) is a quarter mile shorter and has 500' less gain than the old trail (the red line from ARMYOT on the map below), but the new trail looks longer to me, it starts only 400' higher than the old trail, and the new trail has considerable uphill walking on the way out. I think it's about a draw. Both trails will get you to either Old Army Pass (still passable and a shorter walk) or New Army Pass (less steep and less snow), after going past a private in-holding (Golden Trout Camp), following Cottonwood Creek, and then branching past Long Lake for New Army Pass or Cottonwood Lakes for Old Army Pass. There is also a good cross-country route, especially useful in winter, which follows the South Fork directly to South Fork Lakes from where the new trail crosses the South Fork.)
The current Army Pass trail (green line) is not on the 7.5' maps, not even the updated ones on TopoZone.Com - the maps all show the trail coming out at the old trailhead (waypoint ARMYOT - see above for details) which is no longer a marked trailhead. The signs to the new trailhead are good, but don't count on walking the line on a topo map if you get lost. (That's why we provide GPS coordinates!) The green trail line shown on this topo map is the APPROXIMATE route of the new trail, with the crossing of South Fork Cottonwood Creek (upper left corner) the only waypoint I checked - it does NOT cross further southeast where the topo map shows.
Go past the Mulkey Pass trailhead parking loop and turn right at the sign to Cottonwood Lakes and New Army Pass (waypoint APTURN). Go past the Cottonwood Pack Station turnoff (waypoint COTWPS) and the overflow parking turnfoff (waypoint APOVER). At the Army Pass trailhead sign (waypoint ARMYNT) there is an outhouse and several bear boxes for trailhead food storage. Adjacent to the trailhead parking is a small campground where you can pitch a tent for $6/night (as of 2005). There is a water spigot between the trailhead sign and the outhouse (working as of mid-Sep 2005).
Go past the Mulkey Pass trailhead parking loop (near waypoint MULKEY) and go past the New Army Pass turnoff (waypoint APTURN), continuing straight and following signs for Cottonwood Pass and Trail Pass. The Cottonwood Pass trailhead (waypoint COTTON) is at the end of a parking loop, due south and downhill from the Army Pass trailhead. There is an outhouse, trash bin, and some steel bear boxes at the trailhead. The water spigot at the Cottonwood Pass trailhead is right behind the bear boxes, by the outhouse (as of 2006). There is an adjacent campground which used to be free but was $6/night in 2005.
You can reach either Cottonwood Pass (blue line off the map to the west)
or Mulkey Pass (yellow line) or Trail Pass (purple line) from waypoint COTTON,
elevation 9900'. The trail goes west, then turns south for Trail Pass,
then turns back east (red dotted lines, either down at Round Valley or
up on the ridgeline) for Mulkey Pass. If you are headed
for Mulkey Pass and you don't want to use the Mulkey Pass trailhead
(waypoint MULKEY, see above) you can save some mileage by heading south
cross-country to cross the outlet stream of Horseshoe Meadow and skirt
Round Valley to the east. Don't try to cross directly through Round Valley
from the Cottonwood Pass trailhead/campground except in the driest of
conditions, because it's often more of a bog than a lawn.
It's a reasonable day hike from COTTON to peaks like Muah, but be prepared for little or no water (and contamination by herds of cattle) when heading south from Horseshoe Meadow.