19 Eastern Sierra Lakes that You Have to Visit

Once upon a time in a land far far away, beyond where most Los Angeles dwellers would go, where the leaves rustle with the simplest of winds, where the lakes glisten when the sun hits them perfectly, where the wildflowers bloom after the snow melts, where the only sound you hear are the birds chirping, where taking a dip in it’s lakes is the #1 rule of our adventures, where life is simpler.  Ok, I’ll get to the point, the place is called the Eastern Sierras.  

Ever since about 10 years ago when backpacking and hiking became part of my life, I’ve traveled a lot to the Eastern Sierras.  You might ask, why not go into the local mountains here in Los Angeles and I have my reasons, but mostly because the Eastern Sierras have a certain beauty that is unmatched to anywhere else I have been.  The mountains are more or less untouched by civilization and it better stay like that because it is hard to find places like this!  One of the biggest reasons I like to adventure here is the abundance of lakes, water and mountains that can be explored.

The Eastern Sierras are located in California on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.  The gateway to its dramatic scenery of desert floor to mountains is U.S. Route 395.  I know this highway like the back up my hand now and wanted to share some of my favorite lakes that I have been to, whether it be hiking or just driving to (I’ll warn you, most of these lakes are hiking adventures and the occasional backpacking trip).

Personally, I’d like to see every single lake in the area.  By no means is this the list of all the lakes in the area.  I noticed that when I reminisced about each of these lakes, they all had their own stories to tell, the experience, meeting certain individuals, experiencing failure or accomplishments, etc.  I put together a map of these lakes on google if you feel the desire to get out and explore one of them.  Check them out here: Eastern Sierra Lakes.

Since I drive from Southern California, the list is in order of South to North not by map, but by trail head. 

If you haven’t already check out my YouTube channel for some of my adventures. Beyond Limits on Foot YouTube Channel.



Chicken Spring Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Lone Pine Hike 9.0 miles (round trip) 1,302 feet

Sitting at 11,242 feet, to reach Chicken Spring Lake you begin your journey at Horseshoe Meadow.  About 4 years ago, I did this trail as a solo day hike to train for climbing Mt. Whitney.  I had planned on it being a training also for a half marathon I was supposed to do in Mammoth Lakes.  Well, I’m going to own it and say I overslept and didn’t make my bus to run the half marathon (I will one day I promised myself).  The trail to Chicken Spring Lake other than the elevation is fairly easy after the first climb to Cottonwood Pass.  I had the honor of meeting some hikers who were exiting the JMT (John Muir Trail) through Horseshoe Meadow.  Read more about my solo trip here: Chicken Spring Lake – Golden Trout WildernessOvernight permits required.


Cottonwood Lakes

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Lone Pine Hike 4.3-8 miles (one way) ~1,000 feet

Each Cottonwood Lake sits above 11,000 feet; there are 6 lakes and they each have their different back drops which makes a perfect backpacking destination.  Choose from 1 of 6 lakes below.  These lakes are great for if you are willing and ready to summit Mt. Langley a 14,000 foot peak in the area.  The Cottonwood Lakes is a great area to go fishing.  Overnight permits required.

We attempted Mt. Langley a couple years ago, and when I say attempt, we were 3 miles away from the summit, 1 mile from where we set up camp.  It was going to be dark and we had started the lake hike considering we couldn’t drive up till that morning and had to wait till 8:00 am to pick up our permits.  We probably made the right decision to just go back and camp and honestly I was ok with this decision because we swam a little, fished and relaxed the rest of the night.  (We will come back for you Mt. Langley, I promise!)


Consultation Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Lone Pine Hike 12 miles to the overlook (out and back) 3,300 feet

Consultation Lake is a lake you only find yourself at if you feel like you want to venture off and take a freezing dip after the summit of Mt. Whitney the highest peak of the lower 48.  Both times I hiked Mt. Whitney we stayed the night above Consultation Lake and were able to sit perched above the lake under the stars in our sleeping bags until we fell asleep.  Our first time up Mt. Whitney we ended up falling asleep outside and woke up at midnight to get into tent.  There is something magical about sleeping under the stars and the view we had of Consultation Lake was breathtaking.  Overnight permits required.

Further reading on our trip to Mt. Whitney and why Consultation Lake was a perfect place to stay at:  Mt. Whitney – Inyo National Forest.


Big Pine Lakes – Second Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Big Pine Hike 5.5 miles (one way) 2,400 feet

I had the pleasure of visiting this place twice, once in the summer and another time in the summer with snow (yes you heard it right, us Californians have snow in the summer too)!  The first time in the area, we actually hiked up to the Third Lake because there were so many people at the Second Lake.  Warning, this is a very popular trail and if you are looking for solidarity, you will not get it here unless you go further to the upper lakes.  The reason why Second Lake is visited often is due to the view seen in the picture above; during the summer the water is fine turquoise with the sun being out and the backdrop is Temple Crag, one of the most beautiful crags.  Overnight permits required.

Check out my video for North Fork Big Pine on my Beyond Limits on Foot YouTube Channel.


Long Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Bishop Hike 2.0 miles 1,823 feet

Long Lake sits peacefully at 10,758 feet, just 2.0 miles from the trail head.  It’s literally a Long Lake that you will pass on your way up to Bishop Pass or it can be made your destination by taking the Bishop Pass Trail from South Lake.  We set eyes on hiking to Bishop Pass, which is 5.5 miles from the trail head, but neither of us in the group were feeling that great with lack of sleep and a hard week, so we decided to find a camp spot at the end of Long Lake and relax on its banks.  Another adventure that didn’t go as planned, but hey we got some fishing in (did not catch anything, probably related to the time we fished) and relaxed in the outdoors.  Honestly, I want to come back and get up all the way to Bishop Pass as there are approximately 4 other lakes you can hit.  A side trip to Chocolate Lakes on the way back would be in order as well.


Blue Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Bishop Hike 3 miles 1,350 feet

To get to Blue Lake, you begin your journey on the banks of Sabrina Lake.  On our way into the Sabrina Basin, it was a beautiful fall day and we got to experience the most abundant colors of fall.  The road up to Sabrina Lake would have been just enough to put a smile on my face, but hey why not throw in a hike.  Blue Lake sits at 10,400 feet with towering walls of granite slopes surrounding it.

With just a little over 3 miles to hike to the lake, this is a perfect destination for day hikers.  We opted to backpack to the lake and slept on the west banks high above the lake, which amounted to great views from above and less mosquitoes to bother us.  I was hoping to hike further in, but the mosquitoes were unbearable and we spent some time in the tent to get away from them.

I remember reaching our camp spot and before we did anything else all of a sudden I heard a huge splash in the water.  Of course my boyfriend didn’t tell me the course of action he was taking and jumped from the ledge into the water.  I wimped out and did not do the jump mainly because it felt like there would be some rock climbing I was not ready for.


Ruby Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Bishop Hike 5.23 miles 899 feet

Ruby Lake is also a great spot for a day hiking destination.  Ruby Lake sits just above Rock Creek Lakes an area known for it’s fly fishing and abundance of water and lakes.  Just remember certain times of years the mosquitoes can be brutal here.  We opted to stay the night at Ruby Lake to fish and tan and relax.  We may have also jumped in as that is our #1 rule, it was freezing, but felt amazing to cool off!  Great way to spend a quick weekend away from the city.  Read more about this hike: Ruby Lake via Mosquito Flats: John Muir Wilderness.

Also, check out my YouTube video: Ruby Lakes via Little Lakes Valley Backpacking.


Lower Pine Lake

Closest City Type Mileage
Bishop Hike 2 miles

Pine Lake sits just under the 10,000 foot mark at 9,942 feet.  To get to Pine lake is just under 2 miles, therefor we decided to hike in later after work on a Friday to get to the first lake on the trail at least.  We got there in the dark, so we didn’t get to see the beauty of the lake until the next morning and the way down.  We went on to explore more of the trail doing both Italy and Pine Creek Passes; the back country in this area has an abundant amount of lakes.  I really cannot wait to come back here.  On our way out back to the cars is when we caught Pine Lake’s perfect serenity; the water was absolutely calm and we could see the mountains and trees, the landscape around, reflection in it.


Big McGee Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Bishop Hike 15.4 miles round-trip 2,950 feet

Big McGee Lake is over 7 miles in from the trailhead, sitting at 8,131 feet. We did this trail in the early season and were lucky enough to see the area flourished with flours in the meadows especially. It’s a great

Read more about this hike: Big McGee Lake via McGee Creek Trail: John Muir Wilderness.

If you want to see the area a little more in depth, check out my Big McGee Lake Backpacking Trip on YouTube.


Convict Lake

Mildred Lake

Lake Dorothy

 

Lake Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Convict Lake Bishop Hike/Drive 3 miles around lake Little to none
Mildred Lake Bishop Hike 4.25 miles one-way 2,200 feet
Lake Dorothy Bishop Hike 5 miles 2,900 feet

I put these 3 together as they were a backpacking trip we’ve done twice and they are all worth it to see. If you’re not a backpacker, go check out Convict Lake; lots of things to do there: hike around the lake, get on a kayak on the lake, fish, etc. There’s a campground also
that you can reserve ahead of time that’s right by the lake and very convenient if you love the lake.

I never normally do the same trail twice backpacking, but that has changed over the years as I noticed that going back to the same place twice isn’t so bad; it gives you more opportunity to explore more of the area honestly. One of our first major backpacking trips was in this area and we went back 8 years later. It was epic both times and I love the fact that there are so many lakes in the area, great for lake hopping and base-camping at one.

Convict Lake – 7,850′ feet; Mildred Lake – 9,850′; Lake Dorothy – 10,350′.


Thousand Island Lake

Thousand Island Lakes
Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Mammoth Lakes/June Lake Hike 6.3 miles 2,900 feet

Thousand Island Lake (9,850 feet) is a well-known destination (no camping near the lake) amongst backpackers and honestly permits to get here have been very scarce because they go so fast as soon as they are open. It is one of the largest high-country lakes and of course was named because it literally does have thousand lakes. It’s regarded as one of the most astounding lakes in the Eastern Sierras with Banner Peak sitting above at 12,936 feet.

I was given the chance to see it again when we hiked the John Muir Trail.  My first time up at this lake we hiked up from the June Lake Area side from Rush Creek Trailhead near Silver Lake.  Spent a night at Waugh Lake then headed over Island Pass to find it’s jaw dropping beauty below as well descended down. I wish we could have camped there, but trekked on further after a nice lunch view/spot because of the restrictions.

My second time was on the John Muir Trail, I wanted to stay at this lake, but it was just a little too far for one of our days and we were given the chance to see the mighty Banner Peak from Garnet Lake.  I didn’t put this lake on my list, because if you visit Thousand Island Lake, you are less than 2 miles away from Garnet and can make the side trip.

You can read more about our trip here: Ansel Adams Wilderness Area.


June Lake

June Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
June Lake Drive Drive N/A

I picked June Lake because it’s a hidden gem above the well-known Mammoth Lakes and it’s worth a visit especially if you are in the area. We’ve been to June Lake several times and for different reasons: to snowboard, to fish, to try something at the brewing company, to camp before backpacking, to backpack, to have an amazing burger after backpacking and just to drive the scenic loop which includes other lakes in the area as well. Great vacation spot if you want to stay in an area that is less populated than Mammoth Lakes. I’d take a weekend getaway here anytime.


Lake Mary

Lake George

Crystal Lake

Barney Lake

Pika Lake

Closest City Type Mileage Elevation Gain
Lake Mary Drive Drive N/A
Lake George Drive Drive N/A
Crystal Lake Hike 3.0 miles round trip 900 feet
Barney Lake Hike 5.0 miles round trip 1,090 feet
Pika Lake Hike 10 miles round trip 1,390 feet

The Mammoth Lakes area is definitely a favorite of mine to visit throughout the year weather it’s for snowboarding, fishing, backpacking, hiking, etc.  The top 2 lakes that I would go to if we were driving or camping are Lake Mary and Lake George.  Lake Mary is nestled perfectly in the valley and has awesome boating activities.  We stayed once at a nearby campground and got up early to rent a boat for fishing; awesome lake for that.  Lake George is our go to spot to fish on the side of the lake, there’s even an awesome jump that we did from a rock; we paddled out climbed it and jumped in and paddled back.  Only offset of these two lakes are they are very popular because you can drive up to them.  Parking is difficult in summer months.

As for the other 3 lakes that I picked for this article they are all accessible by foot only.  Crystal Lake is a good climb and along the way up, the views get more and more spectacular.  This place is a good day hike for families; we opted to carry our paddleboards up and use them on the lake.  The other two lakes we did as one of our Labor Day Backpacking Trips:  Barney Lakes is on the way to Pika Lake, so you can hit both at the same time.  We didn’t sleep at Barney Lakes, we ended up going more into the backcountry and on our last night out, found a nice spot hidden away at Pika Lake.


Get out there

I just wanted to share all the amazing places that I’ve been to and my hope is that I at least gave you the reader the ambition and inspiration to get outside and explore what this amazing place has to offer.  I love the Eastern Sierras; honestly these aren’t all the lakes I’ve been to, maybe I’ll compile a whole list in the long run – but these were my most memorable.  Please if you have any questions, comment below and I’d be happy to reach back out to you!  Hope you enjoyed!

Happy Adventures!

Annette

 

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One Comment on “19 Eastern Sierra Lakes that You Have to Visit

  1. Stunning photos of stunning lakes and peaks. You’re pretty lucky over there with your scenery – and definitely with your weather.

    Same excellent amount of detail as usual too 🙂

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