Bureau of Land Management National Park Service U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service U.S. Forest Service

Cottonwood Creek, California

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Managing Agency:

U.S. Forest Service, Inyo National Forest

Designated Reach:

March 30, 2009. From its headwaters at the spring in Section 27, Township 4 South, Range 34 East to the northern boundary of Section 5, Township 4 South, Range 34 East.


Wild — 17.4 miles; Recreational — 4.1 miles; Total — 21.5 miles.

Cottonwood Creek, California


Cottonwood Creek Planning Process

Photo Credit: Bureau of Land Management

Cottonwood Creek (California)

Cottonwood Creek originates in ancient bristlecone forests and is the longest perennial stream east of the White Mountains. The creek flows eastward from the 14,000-foot crest of the White Mountains and steeply descends through groves of aspen, eventually flowing into a sagebrush desert. Numerous springs feed the creek as it meanders through large meadows in the upper reaches. Stands of aspen and bristlecone pine can be found in the higher elevations, while lower elevations are marked with stands of pinyon and juniper trees.

Cottonwood Creek is home to the Paiute cutthroat trout, one of the rarest trout in North America.

Outstandingly Remarkable Values


The creek is very remote, but offers numerous opportunities for primitive recreation, including hiking, backpacking, equestrian use, angling, hunting and bird watching. Anglers visiting the lower portion of the creek can find a quality brown trout fishery. There are no formal trails accessing the area; however, one can find user trails accessing portions of the creek.


Being Revised


The lush riparian plant community along the bottom of Cottonwood Creek contrasts dramatically with the surrounding stark and primitive White Mountain Wilderness study area located to the north and south.

Wildlife & Plants

The stream is flanked by a rich forest of aspen, willow and cottonwoods and is home to an 'Unusual Plant Assemblage' in the California Desert Conservation Area Plan. Wildlife supported by this plant community include a number of special status and/or sensitive bird species, such as yellow warbler, yellow-breasted chat, prairie falcon, sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawk, and the basin is potentially suitable habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, a federally endangered species. This segment of Cottonwood Creek supports over 70 species of birds. The lower segment of Cottonwood Creek is also an important habitat for the spotted bat, which is a federal and California state special concern species. Paiute cutthroat trout, a federally threatened species, inhabit the north fork of Cottonwood Creek in the Inyo National Forest.