Photo of Buck Lake, Emigrant Wilderness,  Tuolumne County, CA

Buck Lakes Fihing

Emigrant Wilderness

Photo of Buck Lake

Lower Buck Lake

Buck Lakes are tucked away deep in the Emigrant Wilderness, with 20 other lakes within a three mile radius. Sure, some of those other lakes require a lot of up-and-down and round-about hiking, but Buck Lakes will provide enough great fishing to keep you busy for a long weekend in the back country. If you should seek other waters, nearby Emigrant Lake should be just what you were seeking.

In My Creel

  • #16 Black Gnat
  • #16 Red Quill
  • #14 Adams
  • Panther Martin Gold
  • Rooster Tail Rainbow
  • Acme Kastmaster

Since I planned to fish Summit Creek along the way as well as giant Emigrant Lake, I brought along a lot of different flies and lures that I thought might work out well. As it turned out, on my last trip in late August 2011 mosquitoes were swarming at the highest lakes because of the late spring and gnats did well, as did anything that resembled a little mosquito. Panther Martins were the best lure I tried.

Two Approaches to Buck Lakes

The Gianelli Cabin Trailhead

You can approach Buck Lakes from several different directions. Probably the most direct route is to hike the 13-mile trail to Buck Lakes from Gianelli's Cabin near Burst Rock. To reach Gianelli's Cabin trailhead, leave Highway 108 on the Crabtree Road just a short distance east of Cold Springs. The last part of the road is gravel and makes for slow travel.


Numerous side trails and the lack of high peaks to serve as guides make path finding a little difficult. Good maps and a GPS are advised. Follow the trail over Burst Rock and out to Whitesides Meadow, about 6½ miles. Then make Deer Lake your destination, staying on that trail for another 5½ miles. From Deer Lake it is only another 1½ miles over a ridge and down to Buck Lakes.

It is also possible to find a similar route with about the same mileage from the Crabtree Trailhead.

The Kennedy Meadows Trailhead


An alternate route to Buck Lakes begins at the Kennedy Meadows trailhead high on Sonora Pass. Although the trail is 5 miles longer (18 miles altogether), it takes you up beautiful Lunch Meadow and past magnificent Emigrant Lake along the way. This was the route I used on my most recent trip to Buck Lakes.

Photo of Emigrant Lake

Emigrant Lake

Except for super-hikers, it is a two day backpack trip. You can find good campsites along the way at Sheep Camp, Lunch Meadow, and Emigrant Lake, among others. The total climb is about 3000 feet. A great alternative is to be packed in from Kennedy Meadows by the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.

Upper and Lower Back Lakes

The upper and lower Buck Lakes are completely different in character. The upper lake is more of a meadow lake with shallows and swampy areas near its upper end, while the lower lakes are deeper and ringed with glacier-polished granite that offers great places from which to cast. Because other well-known lakes are closer to the trailheads, the string of Buck Lakes doesn't see as many anglers such as the more popular Emigrant Lake. You'll find lots of coves and inlets around the shores and plenty of good places from which to cast.

Photo of  upper Buck Lake

Upper Buck Lake

Accommodations and Supplies

Good backpacking campsites are plentiful around Buck Lakes, especially in the area between the two main lakes. A few places are marked for site restoration.

If you are seeking campgrounds to spend the night before your trip, you can camp at either trailhead before setting out. Otherwise there are numerous Forest Service campgrounds around Kennedy Meadows and Pinecrest Lake. For lodging, consider the Pinecrest Resort, the Strawberry Inn, Dardanelle Resort, or Kennedy Meadows Resort. For more information about camping and lodging on Sonora Pass, see Sonora Pass Vacations.

California's Best Camping logo

To find the very best campgrounds in the area and all across California, visit California's Best Camping.

Fishing supplies can be purchased locally at the following places:

Recommended Books for Fishing the Emigrant Wilderness

Photo of Lower Buck Lake, Emigrant Wilderness, Tuolumne County, CA

Lower Buck Lake


Sidetrips from Buck Lakes are almost anywhere you look. Among the most popular fishing destinatiions are Huckleberry Lake, Wood Lake, Emigrant Lake, and Deer Lake.

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