Top 5 Hikes off the Beaten Path

Jul 14, 2021

Explore More of Mammoth Lakes’ Backyard

Mammoth Lakes is one of the top hiking destinations in California for a reason. There are endless destinations with rugged beauty and hiking trails to lead you there, but like any popular area, the trails can be busy especially during peak hiking season.

Next time you are heading out for a hike, try a new trail that is a little off the beaten path. There are plenty of trails in our backyard that are less visited and equally as spectacular. Here are 5 hikes to try on your next visit:

1. Heart Lake

Located in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, the Heart Lake Trail is a less visited, yet quality hiking route. 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 Consolidated Gold Mine. Aspen trees offer a colorful backdrop to the blue Sierra Nevada sky, while Pyramid Peak looms in the distance. In one-mile you will see the heart-shaped lake, which is situated beneath Sherwin Ridge.

Distance: 2.25 miles round trip

2. Valentine Lake

Valentine Lake is an often-overlooked hiking destination in Mammoth Lakes’ backyard. The secluded alpine lake is situated beneath rugged 12,000-foot peaks and the trailhead is located just a few miles south of town on Sherwin Creek Road.

The Valentine Lake Trail climbs up a steep grade through aspen groves and old-growth Jeffrey Pines before reaching a bench. Continue past the Sherwin Lakes Trail junction where the trail begins to climb again. Though the route does not lead to Lost Lake, if you keep an eye-out to the right, you’ll see the small lake surrounded by boulders and aspens on the way up the trail. Return the same way, or take the Sherwin Lakes Trail on the return for a longer loop.

Distance: 9.2 miles round trip

 3. Tamarack Lakes

While Rock Creek is one of the most popular destinations for hiking in the Eastern Sierra, the Tamarack Lakes Trail is must less traveled than the nearby Little Lakes Valley. The alpine lake, is located beneath the 13,000-foot Mount Morgan south, is secluded and just as scenic as other hiking destinations in the area.

From the Rock Creek Lake trailhead, take the Tamarack Lakes Trail, which begins to climb immediately. At the junction with the Sand Canyon mountain bike trail head right toward Tamarack Lakes and continue past the trail junction to Francis Lake. Stay left on the trail as you pass Kenneth Lake. Stay right as you pass another trail junction to Dorothy Lake. The route continues to climb gradually before reaching Tamarack Lakes.

Distance: 9.8 miles round trip

 4. Dragons Back Trail

For a lot of scenery with downhill-only hiking, head up to Mammoth Mountain to hike down the Dragon’s Back Trail. There aren’t too many opportunities for one-way downhill hiking and this one is the best. With a lift-accessed ride to the top of Mammoth Mountain, the downhill trail is easy on the lungs so you can enjoy the view of Mammoth Crest and the Mammoth Lakes Basin below.

Take the Upper Panorama Gondola from Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge to the summit. Follow the sign pointing to Twin Lakes. The trail switchbacks down the south side of Mammoth Mountain as it leads you to Twin Lakes in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. At the bottom of the trail, take the free town Trolley to the Village at Mammoth and jump on the Mammoth Mountain bus to get back to your car at Main Lodge.

Note: You will need to purchase a scenic ride lift ticket to ride the gondola. While you are on the mountain, visit the Interpretive Center before your hike.

Distance: 3 miles one way

 5. Crater Meadow

Horseshoe Lake and the nearby McLeod Lake are popular spots in the summer time, but if you take the less-traveled Mammoth Pass Trail to Crater Meadow you are likely to see less traffic. Situated under Red Cone, a volcanic cinder cone with noticeable red rock, Upper and Lower Crater Meadows are a great hiking destination.

Take the Mammoth Pass Trail west from Horseshoe Lake. The trail climbs quickly for a short stretch before it starts to gradually descend toward Crater Meadow. Take a left at the John Muir Trail Junction and loop around to Upper Crater Meadow following trail signs before returning the same route over Mammoth Pass. Be sure to carry a trail map as this route has many trail intersections and junctions.

Distance: 7.2 miles round trip

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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 and connect on twitter @monicaprelle

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