The fishing season for Cottonwood Lakes opens July 1st and runs to October 31.
Directions Cottonwood Creek Basin
From Lone Pine
Cottonwood Creek Basin is located in the southern Sierra Nevada in Inyo County. The trailhead is located 24 miles from the town of Lone Pine off Highway 395. The paved road is usually open late May to late October. To reach Horseshoe Meadow Road, turn west on Whitney Portal Road at the traffic signal in the center of Lone Pine. Drive 3.5 miles and turn south (left) on Horseshoe Meadow Road. Continue about 20 miles to the sign for Cottonwood Lakes / New Army Pass Trailhead. Turn right and drive about one-quarter mile to the hiker / backpacker parking lot.
Cottonwood Lakes - Golden Trout Wilderness
Cottonwood Lakes are perched in the high Sierra east of Lone Pine. Cottonwood comprises a chain of five lakes which are roughly similar in size. These lakes, along with Cottonwood Creek, are home to healthy populations of California golden trout.
The individual lakes within the chain are simply numbered one to five (e.g., Cottonwood 1 pictured below). From the trialhead, it's about a 4.5 mile hike to reach Cottonwood 1. I place the parking lot next to the trailhead at about 9700 feet and Cottonwood 1 at about 11000 feet, so it's a climb to get there - with the steep portion near the end.
Until 1998, California Fish and Game allowed fishing on Cottonwood 5 only. Now, anglers have access to all five of the lakes, but with Cottonwood 1 through 4 being restricted to catch and release only (i.e., zero-bag limit). Please consult the Department of Fish and Game's Regulations for complete details before you go to this unique and special fishery.
If you are planning to hike into Cottonwood Lakes - or any high elevation destination for that matter - be sure to pack foul-weather gear, bug repellent, and plenty of water. During my trip in early July, the skies dumped hail-stones, rain and mosquitoes.
Brood Stock for California Golden Trout
The California Department of Fish and Game has used the trout in Cottonwood Lakes as a source for eggs since 1918. Recently, biologists concluded these fish are hybridized with rainbow trout and that the offspring are not genetically pure California goldens. To make matters worse, the offspring of these fish had been planted extensively in the Sierra Nevada range including more than 300 lakes and 700 miles of stream.