Mosquito Flat Trailhead - Backpacking

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Backpacking from the Mosquito Flat Trailhead to the Pioneer Basin via the Mono Pass Trail is an unforgettable backpacking experience with some of the most breathtaking scenery in the High Sierras.

Written by

Mike Little


22.0 miles

About 22 miles backpacking plus day hikes for the rest.

Destination Distance From Downtown

235.3 miles


4 of 5 diamonds

The difficulty in this trip is the altitude, for one. It's all above 10,000' with the pass being 12,060'. However, it's a fairly nice and gradual trail to the pass. The next difficulty is that part of the trail is unmaintained and challenging.

Time To Complete

6 days

Setting up a base camp and day hiking on the surrounding trails is a fantastic way to make the most of this trip. We were in for six nights.


Spring, Summer, and Fall

For my money, the high Sierra (the eastern part of the range near Bishop, Lone Pine, etc.) in September is backpacking heaven. But the pass will get a lot of snow and there's no hiding from avalanche danger in that pass, so if you go in snow, be wary.

Dog Friendly


Dogs can come in the area, but note that the rock on these trails is continuous and sharp. I would not bring my dog.

Fees Permits


You can reserve online. The fee is $5 per person. The rangers will ask to see your permit and they will insist upon you having a bear canister. These are cheap to rent in the area including from the Forest Service.



The trip starts from the highest trailhead, Mosquito Flat, in the Sierras at 10,200', and from there travels up past Ruby Lake and then over Mono Pass (there are two Mono passes in the Sierras) at 12,060', then down to the Mono Recesses (big side canyons) area. By avoiding the very popular Recesses you can have solitude in the huge and beautiful Pioneer Basin. The trail isn't always great, but the scenic rewards most certainly are. We recommend returning via Golden Lake.

What Makes It Great

First off, the high Sierras are simply wonderful. John Muir had it right when he called this the "Range of Light." This particular trip starts high, which helps you avoid gaining 2,000-3,000 feet on day one.  

Hiking to Ruby Lake is an easy first day and is a jewel of a trip. The trail up to Mono Pass is a nice one, and the pass itself is reminiscent of a desolate Moonscape. Expect wind and sometimes rain and even the occasional hailstorm. The pass runs North to South unlike most Sierra passes.  

Going down from the pass, the trail toward Trail Lake is nicely maintained until it reaches Golden Creek. The trail up into Pioneer Basin is not maintained, and hiking it is something similar to rock-hopping up a steep, rocky creekbed. There are many lakes in Pioneer Basin. We bypassed the ones that might have made for better camping in order to camp a bit higher. You can roam and climb for days in this basin.

Exit by dropping back down and following Golden Creek up to Golden Lake, which is a wonderful hike to nice cirque lake. The trail back to Mono Pass angles up along the steep, loose rock above the west shore of the lake.

Lighting can be an issue during the warm months. 

Who is Going to Love It

You'll get to experience the forests, and the barren high country of the Sierra. You will enjoy this trip if you appreciate solitude and a somewhat challenging trail up into Pioneer Basin. If you love rugged white granite peaks mixed with those of red or black rock, crystalline lakes of all sizes, idyllic meadows, (often) wonderful weather, higher altitudes, and free roaming in vast open spaces, then you should love this trip. 

Mid-September is the best time to go, as there are far fewer people, no bugs, and great weather (usually). A book by John Muir would be a good read up there.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Take highway 395 to Toms Place and then the road past several campgrounds to Mosquito Flat. Get a permit at either Mono Lake or in Bishop. Reserve ahead online at  A bear canister is required and if you are caught without one, you'll likely be fined. Plus, it's foolish not to use one. Parking can be a problem during busy times. In late season I've never had an issue. Bishop has an outdoor store, groceries, and a gym where you can have a hot shower after your trip.

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