Photo of Gilbert Lake, CA

Gilbert Lake Fishing

John Muir Wilderness - Inyo County

Photo of Gilbert Lake, Inyo County, CA

Gilbert Lake

Gilbert Lake rewards anglers with pleasant fishing in lightly forested setting in the John Muir Wilderness region of the Eastern Sierra. Beyond the lake, jagged peaks stand along the Sierra crest, marking the edge of Kings Canyon National Park. At 10,400 feet, Gilbert Lake offers cool mountain air and good fishing for brook trout and few brown trout.

Only a short distance up the trail from Gilbert Lake is Flower Lake, popuar with backpackers and also known for its enjoyable fishing. A number of other lakes are nearby, such as Matlock Lake, which can be reached by side trails or short cross-country jaunts. Gilbert Lake is 2 miles and a 1,200-foot climb from its Onion Valley trailhead, making it an easy day trip for those used to hiking mountain trails.

In My Creel

  • Adams
  • Elk Hair Caddis
  • Parachute Adams
  • Olive Wooly Bugger
  • Luhr-Jensen Hus Lure
  • Mepps Little Wolf
  • Panther Martin

Fishing improved as soon as I moved away from the easily accessed shore of the lake. At the upper end I found some open places where it was easy to cast.

Making Your Way to Gilbert Lake


The trailhead for Gilbert Lake is at Onion Valley, 15 miles east of Independence on Highway 395. The trailhead is popular with backpackers heading over Kearsarge Pass into Kings Canyon National Park. Facilities at the trailhead include ample parking, vault toilets, information kiosks, usually (but not always working) potable water, and bear boxes. Don't leave any food or scented items in your car. Label it and put it in the bear boxes while you are away.

Photo of trail leading up to Gilbert Lake

The Route to Gilbert Lake

Along the Trail

The trail starts uphill right away with swtichbacks across an open hillside. You soon pass a side trail leading to Golden Trout Lake, a tempting diversion. From the trailhead Golden Trout Lake is a little over 2 miles and a 2,200-foot climb - better saved for another day.

Watch for waterfalls all around you. I counted six on my most recent trip to Gilbert Lake. You'll look down on Little Pothole Lake, likely with good fishing, but I passed it by. Its big brother is up the trail at the foot of Kearsarge Pass. Eventually the trail levels out and you find yourself at Gilbert Lake.

Photo of Little Pothole Lake, John Muir Wilderness, CA

Little Pothole Lake

Accommodations and Supplies

I have seen people camping at Gilbert Lake, but a little farther up the trail more spacious campsites can be found at Flower Lake. Those seeking a little more solitude head over to Matlock Lake or one of its several neighbors. Wilderness permits are required for overnight camping in the John Muir Wilderness.

A number of Forest Service campgrounds are in the area, including Onion Valley Campground at the trailhead and Upper and Lower Grays Meadow Campground farther back down the road. For a complete listing of area campgrounds and great camping all over California, see California's Best Camping - Southern Inyo County.

California's Best Camping logo

Fishing supplies can be purchased locally at the following places:

Recommended Gear and Books for Fishing Gilbert Lake

Photo of Gilbert Lake

Gilbert Lake

Photo of Pothole Lake near Kearsarge Pass, Inyo County, CA

Big Pothole Lake


Golden Trout Lake is 2 miles and a 2,200 climb from the Onion Valley trailhead. A number of lakes with brook trout are clustered around Golden Trout Lake. Only the smallest and lowest of the lakes has Golden Trout.

A trail from the Onion Valley Campground climbs a little over a mile to Robinson Lake with fishing for rainbow and brook trout.

Nearby Matlock Lake, Slim Lake, and Bench Lake offer enjoyable fishing for book trout.

Other Featured Trips Near Gilbert Lake

  • Big Pine Lakes - Start from the end of the road 9 miles east of Big Pine. Backpack into the Big Pine Lakes area for days of great fishing in spectacular country.
  • Bull Lake - an easy hike out of South Lake takes you to this often overlooked gem a half-mile off the main trail
  • Marie Louise Lakes - great little lakes near South Lake
  • Hungry Packer Lake - spectacular scenery, top fishing spot
  • Baboon Lakes - beautiful lakes to explore, days of good fishing

High Sierra Trails

A Backpacker's Guide to the
Most Spectacular Trails
in the Sierra Nevada