The perfect first kids backpacking Trip (Chickenfoot Lake)

If you’re reading this, then you already may know that there’s something special about being in the back country of the Sierra. The trick that we had to find out, is how to get there while toting along our 4 year old daughter.

Doing some local day hikes we found that she could go 3 – 4 miles pretty easily, and we had done a few excursions about 10,000′ when she was 2 and 3 years old but this would be her first over night backpacking trip where she would be carrying some portion of her own gear (well her water and snacks). How would she fair carrying that at 9,000′ and doing the same mileage?

Rather than throw her right into the wolves den and hike something tough for a 4 Year old like Kearsarge pass or George Lake, I remembered one of my favorite fishing hikes. Little lakes valley above Rock Creek. What we would sacrifice in solitude would be more than made up for in the experience of being able to throw on the backpacks and hit the trail with our daughter.

Below is a summary of our trip and what you might expect if you are planning the same adventure. First of course you must obtain a permit from the Forest Service. The trail you are looking for is “Little Lakes Valley”. It is a VERY popular permit, so make sure that you plan well in advance to secure yours.

Day 1 of Chickenfoot lake (total distance 3 miles)

The first “day” is spent getting from the Trailhead above Rock Creek Lake to our campsite at Chicken foot Lake. You must arrive early to the trailhead (before 0730 ideally) as the parking quickly fills up due to the popularity of the area with fishermen and day hikers.

We began the day with all smiles and energy. The weather was perfect for starting out. Just the want for a light jacket but no wind to be a bother.

All Smiles at the Little Lakes Valley Trailhead
Destination: Chicken Foot Lake!

The hiking was blessedly uneventful, on the way you pass several lakes, some easily accessible for fishing, others take some effort. There were plenty of “Good Mornings” and exclamations of how great you’re doing, all of which served to help keep the motivation up for the easily distracted 4 year old mind. For those of you that have a 4 year old you know how important this can be for distraction and motivation purposes.

Also helpful were the sporadic stream crossings where we could peer in the water for fish or frogs or other creatures

About 2.5 miles from the trailhead, the trail finally begins to have the makings of some elevation gain. It was at this point that the 4 year old had decided that she definitely had enough of this kind of fun and with that dad was relegated to holding the water/ snack backpack and the trekking poles. Fortunately, despite the consistent declarations of “I’m tired” or “I’m bored” we kept our feet moving in the right direction. After several (several dozen?) snack and water breaks. we reached our destination for the day.

In true 4 year old fashion of course, all the tiredness and boredom was instantly gone when we arrived at camp. You’d think that she had just started her day. Us two adults who were out of shape from not taking nearly enough trips in the last four years while raising this child just wanted to sit back and relax but the child’s energy was renewed and we just had to go exploring around. Even the Maileg Mice got out for an adventure, although unfortunately it would seem that one of them had a bit of an accident while rock climbing.

Chickenfoot lake Maileg Mouse
Maileg mouse had a bit of a rough go

After a nice Mountain house dinner we settled in for the night among the trees in our new Nemo Dagger 3 person tent. I have to say, coming from the Tarptent Double rainbow that we use when it’s just the two of us, this tent is MASSIVE! And more importantly (to me at least), it doesn’t break my back with weight

Day 2 of Chickenfoot lake (total distance 2.4 miles)

After a good nights sleep in the new tent we woke up feeling refreshed and ready for the days adventure. We decided that we would attempt to make it to the top of Morgan pass, a short 1.5 miles or so from our campsite, but did include a decent elevation gain.

Hiking along we didn’t see too many people to start our day, but soon we began to see the first day hikers, including a large group who was quite inspirational in their own right as they attempted to make the pass on their hike.

As you’re following the trail to Morgan Pass past the Gem Lakes turnoff you may notice that it turns from a trail, into much more of a “road”. including industrial debris that gives a look into the history of this area. this trail used to be a road to the tungsten mines that live just over the back side of the pass.  Anyways, after several more dozen water and snack breaks we ourselves made it to the top of Morgan Pass.

Morgan pass summit
Break time at the top of Morgan Pass

Once we got the 4 year old back out of whine mode, we began our way back down toward the Gem Lakes turn off. The trip down was fairly uneventful with only a few day hikers passed on the way. We made it to Gem lakes and found it blissfully deserted with the exception of 2 day hikers that were lounging around. Lunch was had there (Peanut butter and jelly tortillias!) and we fished for a while without too much luck although we saw some fish swimming around.

After lunch we did a bit of exploring. There’s a nice spot between the first and second lakes where you can entertain yourself and do some rock hopping. Might be good to have a spare set of socks if you plan to have your 4 year old do this though.

4 year old Rock hopping at gem lakes
time out for rock hopping

After our exploration was done, it was time to head back to camp at Chicken foot lake and see what else the day had to offer. The trip back was very uneventful, and after our nice lunch break and exploration break also ended up being executed without whining or crying which was a very nice surprise after the hike up the pass that morning.  After our arrival back at camp we filtered some more water in preparation for making dinner later, then made time for some more fishing. This time we were more successful and caught a couple of small but still pan sized rainbow trout.

Chickenfoot Lake Rainbow Trout

After the full day of hiking, exploring and fishing, we all ate dinner and turned in early for the night. We would get an early start the next day

Day 3 of Chickenfoot Lake (Total distance 4 miles including the detour)

We woke up bright an early on our final day to a beautiful sunrise and flat calm weather. We had a nice breakfast overlooking the lake, watching the trout snack on whatever bugs happened to stray too close to the water.

Chickenfoot lake sunrise with the trout rising too

Not sure what came over me, but talking to a few other folks and looking at the maps I got the idea that we could take a different route back to the trail than the one that we came up on. After some discussion we decided to give it a try, and after hiking about 1/2 mile we came to a pretty significant canyon that while the adults would have no trouble navigating down but might be tough for the 4 year old. Add to that we were not able to see a clear path out of the bottom of the canyon, and we therefore decided to retrace our steps and go back and use the original trail back. This little excursion added about an extra mile to our trip but was a good experience and gave us some idea of what we might explore on our next trip to the area.

This added distance didn’t set well with the 4 year old toward the last section of trail and once again there was much encouragement and even a bit of bribery involved in making our descent to the trailhead possible. We did persevere though and made it out to deliver this trip report to the Internet world.

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