7 Fall Color Hikes Near Mammoth Lakes
Aug 30, 2022
There is something about fall in the Eastern Sierra. It’s not just the beauty of leaves changing color, but also the quietness on the trails and the crispness of the air. Cool mornings and chilly nights mean winter is just around the corner, but the midday sun warms the leaves on the ground. Fall foliage provides a spectacle of colors, carpets the trails with falling leaves, and offers a certain smell that is familiar and heart-warming.
To experience fall in Mammoth Lakes, set out on foot and hike some of the top trails for fall colors. Our favorite trails are abundant in aspen trees because of the color show the leaves put on in the fall, but the options for fall hiking are almost endless. Wherever you hike, don’t forget to stop, take a deep breath, and enjoy the autumn air.
Fall Color Hikes in Mammoth Lakes
The Heart Lake Trail in the Mammoth Lakes Basin is a favorite hiking route in Mammoth Lakes’ backyard. Aspen trees offer a colorful backdrop of fall colors in front of the blue Sierra Nevada sky. From the Coldwater Campground Trailhead, take the Heart Lake trail on the eastern side of the parking area. Stay right on the trail as it passes small spurs that lead to the Mammoth Consolidated Gold Mine. In one mile, you will see the heart-shaped lake, which is situated beneath Sherwin Ridge and Pyramid Peak.
Trail: Take Heart Lake Trail
Distance: 2.25 miles round trip
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
READ MORE: Hiking in the Mammoth Lakes Basin
Traversing the steep flanks of the legendary Sherwin Range, the Mammoth Rock Trail rises briefly as it emerges from the lodgepole pine forest. Within minutes, hikers attain a grand view of the valley and the town of Mammoth Lakes below. Groves of quaking aspen and stands of willow display their autumn radiance of yellows, oranges and rare reds against a backdrop of brown meadows and deep green forest.
The trailhead is located near the end of Old Mammoth Road, just below the legendary monolith of Mammoth Rock, on one end and off Sherwin Creek Road at the beige propane tanks on the other.
Trail: Take Mammoth Rock Trail
Distance: 2.5 miles one way
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Fall Color Hikes in Reds Meadow
The Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River
The autumn season is one of the best times to visit the Reds Meadow, and there are few trails that rival the River Trail for fall foliage. The trail parallels the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River and winds amidst a vast array of quaking aspen groves of diverse sizes, shapes and colors. These trees usually pop with fluorescent yellows throughout October.
Trail: Take the River Trail
Distance: 15 miles
Difficulty: Moderate in terrain but strenuous in length
READ MORE: Hiking in Reds Meadow
Fall Color Hikes Just Outside of Mammoth Lakes
McGee Creek Canyon
McGee Creek Canyon is not only a favorite for spring wildflowers but also a top spot for fall foliage. The McGee Pass Trail follows the aspen-lined creek up to a number of alpine lakes and offers big mountain views. Steelhead Lake is a popular destination, though the trail continues on to Big McGee Lake and eventually reaches the Sierra Nevada Crest at McGee Pass.
The route meanders along the creek for a short while passing through tunnels of aspen trees before beginning a gradual climb up the canyon. In 4.5 miles take the left turn to Steelhead Lake. From there it is another mile of climbing to the lake. For an easier hike, just turn around at any point and enjoy the views.
Trail: Take McGee Pass Trail
Distance: 10 miles roundtrip to Steelhead Lake
Yost Lake on the June Lake Loop
Located just north of Mammoth Lakes, the Yost Creek – Fern Lake Trail is a scenic destination for a short day hike in the June Lake Loop area. The trail is an unrelenting uphill climb though it is not technically challenging and relatively short to get to the lake. Aspen trees lead the way and views of June and Gull Lakes are spectacular from the trail. At one mile, stay right at the Yost Creek trail junction and continue on another 0.7 miles to Fern Lake.
Trail: Take the Yost Creek – Fern Lake Trail
Distance: 3.4 miles roundtrip
Known for its wildflowers and blooming aspens in the spring, Lundy Canyon is also spectacular for golden hues in the fall. The trail gradually climbs the canyon past beaver ponds and cascading waterfalls. With aspen trees changing colors, it is a great hike for fall foliage viewing and photography.
At 2.2 miles you will reach the base of two cascading waterfalls. Lundy Falls is a perfect turn-around point for an easy day hike. Or continue on for a longer hike and climb a steep talus field to Helen Lake. At 3.3 miles, you will reach the lake’s shore.
Trail: Take Lundy Canyon Trail
Distance: 6.6 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous
Little Lakes Valley in Rock Creek Canyon
Arguably the most scenic hike in the Eastern Sierra, the Little Lakes Valley is spectacular year-round, but also a favorite for fall foliage. With numerous lakes, creeks, meadows and tall rugged peaks, the landscape is even more photogenic with alpine grasses and aspens changing colors.
The trail gently climbs for 0.5 miles from the Mosquito Flat Trailhead in Rock Creek Canyon and meanders past a number of alpine lakes, lined with yellow and orange aspen in the fall. All of the lakes in the valley make for great fall color destinations, so hike as far as you would like and then turn around.
Trail: Take Little Lakes Valley Trail
Distance: Up to 14 miles roundtrip
READ MORE: Hiking Just Outside of Mammoth Lakes