Bucket List Guide to Hiking in the Eastern Sierra

The Eastern Sierra is home to hundreds of miles of hiking trails. From mountain vistas to alpine lakes, trails lead us to spectacular destinations. It would take a lifetime to hike every mile of trail that the region offers, so we’ve created a bucket list guide to the most spectacular trails near Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra dividing them by region. Each trail offers a suggested destination and round trip mileage, however most hikes can be adjusted in length and difficulty depending on where you turn around. These are your bucket list hikes from Rock Creek Canyon to Bridgeport, including Mammoth Lakes and the Reds Meadow Valley.

Rock Creek to Convict Canyon

Little Lakes Valley to Gem Lakes 7 miles – The Little Lakes Valley Trail at the Mosquito Flat Trailhead is the quintessential Eastern Sierra Nevada hiking destination and is arguably the most popular hiking trail in the region. You’ll hike along the creek through alpine meadows to numerous lakes under towering granite peaks. Hilton Lakes 8 miles – Though Hilton Lakes are located in Rock Creek Canyon, this trailhead is much less busy than trails up the canyon and the final destination is just as spectacular. The trail climbs steeply to the high alpine lakes that are situated below Mt. Huntington. McGee Creek to Steelhead Lake 11.4 miles – The sunny and exposed McGee Creek Trail is a favorite for wildflowers viewing in spring and summer, but the trail also offers creekside hiking and lakes at the end of the trail. Steelhead Lake is a favorite medium to long day hike, though the trail continues on to Big McGee Lake and eventually reaches the Sierra Nevada Crest at McGee Pass. Convict Canyon Trail to Mildred Lake 9.8 miles – Convict Canyon’s geological diversity makes the trail fascinating and unique. The sedimentary rock layers are exposed and put on a display of natural rock color. Head up the canyon to Mildred Lake before returning the same way.

Mammoth Lakes

Crystal Lake 2.7 miles – Tucked under mammoth Crest behind Crystal Crag, Crystal Lake offers a lot of great mountain scenery for a short day hike. It’s one of the most popular hiking trails in the Mammoth Lakes Basin offers a bird’s eye view of the lakes basin below. Keep your eyes open for bald eagles. Duck Lake 10 miles – Duck Lake is a spectacular and large backcountry lake situated beneath Pika Peak. The Duck Pass Trail passes by Skeleton and Barney lakes along the way. These lower lakes are also great hiking, fishing and picnicking destinations, but none are as spectacular as the final destination. Emerald Lake – Sky Meadows 4 miles – The microclimate of Emerald Lake and Sky Meadows offer a variety of different flora and fauna. The cascading Coldwater Creek drainage is a lush and green, which gives the lake its emerald green hue. Sky Meadows is perched below the snowfields and granite peaks of the Mammoth Crest, and is a spectacular alpine meadow close to Mammoth. Mammoth Pass Trail 4.1 miles – From Horseshoe Lake, take the Mammoth Pass Trail past McLeod Lake and head over the pass. The trail opens up on the west side of the crest, and offers dramatic views across the valley of the Minarets and Ritter Range. The trail ends at Red’s Meadow Resort near the Rainbow Falls Trailhead and San Joaquin River. Take the shuttle bus out for an easy one-way downhill hike, or return the same way for an 8.2-mile round trip hike. Mammoth Rock Trail 2.6 miles – Mammoth Rock Trail is the best trail closest to town—it’s literally in our backyard. Mountain bikers also love the downhill and sometimes-technical singletrack descent that traverses the Sherwin Ridge. You’ll get up close to the base of Mammoth’s iconic limestone monolith, perched above town. You can hike this one way with a car shuttle, or go fro the 5.2-mile round trip hike.

Reds Meadow Valley

Shadow Creek Trail to Ediza Lake 15 miles –Tucked under Mount Ritter, Ediza Lake is a top destination for a long day hike in the Reds Meadow Valley. The Shadow Creek Trail drops from Agnew Meadows trailhead to the San Joaquin River before climbing steeply to Shadow Lake and continues on to Ediza at the base of the mountain. Minaret Lake 14 miles – Minaret Lake is tucked under the Minarets, an iconic sawtooth landscape in the Ritter Range. A hike up the Minaret Lake Trail into the region is worth the close-up vantage point of the alpine crags. The trail climbs steadily from Devils Postpile Trailhead and passes by a number of cascading falls before reaching the destination. Rainbow Falls – Devils Postpile Loop 5 miles –The San Joaquin River plunges more than 100′ at Rainbow Falls, which has a stunning rainbow when the sun is shining at the right angle. While most people hike the out-and-back to Rainbow Falls and Devils Postpile the hike is best as a loop. Hike along the Rainbow Falls trail to the waterfall, and take the Devil’s Postpile detour on the return. You’ll follow the river to the monument, a pile of polished basalt columns that formed during the cooling of a volcanic lava flow from 100,000 years ago. Continue on to the trailhead and pick up the shuttle bus at the Ranger’s station. Starkweather Trail 2.5 miles – Rather than take the bus into Reds Meadow Valley, take the quiet yet spectacular Starkweather Trail from Minaret Vista to Starkweather Lake. The trail passes through meadows and old growth Jeffrey Pines, and past bubbling spring creeks. Mountain views can be seen through the trees from a number of points along the trail. Sotcher Lake Nature Trail 1 mile – Though Sotcher Lake is a popular destination for fishing and canoeing, the self-guided nature trail is one of the most beautiful easy hikes in the area. The short and gentle trail circles the lake, traveling through microclimates lined with wildflowers, past sandy beaches, and over a large granite cliff. The High Trail to Thousand Island Lake 17.4 miles – Thousand Island Lake is one of the most popular overnight camping destinations in the area, but is also a great destination for a long day hike. The Pacific Crest Trail and High Trail overlap in this region and traverses along the San Joaquin Ridge before reaching Badger Lakes and eventually ending at Thousand Island Lake. Banner Peak is a stunning backdrop to the lake, which is dotted with hundreds of tiny granite islands.

June Lake to Bridgeport

Rush Creek Trail to Gem Lakes 9.4 miles – From Silver Lake, the Rush Creek Trail quickly climbs the steep rocky hillside past an old hydrological tramway, around a seasonal waterfall, and on to a series of dams that create lakes brimming with water on big snow years. You’ll first reach Agnew Lake, but continue on to Gem Lake which is a great destination for a moderate day hike. Twenty Lakes Basin Loop 5.4 miles – Located just outside Yosemite National Park, the Twenty Lakes Basin might be the most stunning, yet relatively easy hike in the region. From Saddlebag Lake Resort take the boat taxi across and hike the loop trail past numerous alpine lakes. The basin lies beneath the granite peaks of northern Yosemite and is blanketed with alpine meadows and wildflowers in the early summer months. Lundy Canyon Trail 6.6 miles – Known for its lush greenness in the spring and golden hues in the fall, Lundy Canyon is a favorite hiking destination in the Eastern Sierra. Aspen trees and wild grasses line the trail as it climbs the canyon past beaver ponds and cascading waterfalls. Virginia Lakes Trail to Summit Lake 10.3 miles – Situated just outside of the Northern Yosemite border, there are a number of lakes along the Virginia Lakes Trail that make for a fantastic day hike at various distances. You’ll pass Cooney Lake and the popular Frog Lakes before you reach a high elevation mountain pass. The trail descends a short while before reaching Summit Lake and national park boundary. Green Creek Trail to East Lake 9 miles – The Green Creek Trail climbs along its namesake creek through endless groves of aspen trees to three large lakes situated in the Hoover Wilderness. You will pass Green Lake and a trail junction to West Lake, continue on to East Lake and return the same route. Robinson Creek Trail to Barney Lake 7.8 miles – The Robinson Creek Trail to Barney Lake is the most popular hiking destination in the Bridgeport area for its relatively easy grade and stunning scenery. The route follows the creek to Barney Lake, which is situated below the craggy Sawtooth Ridge.

Monica Prelle

Monica Prelle is an outdoors, wine, and travel writer who would rather be running, climbing, or mountain biking. See more of Monica's posts here, read more of her work at monicaprelle.com and connect on twitter @monicaprelle

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