The Wonder Lakes near Bishop lie in a bucolic offtrail Sierra basin with easy weekend access. Quite wonderful indeed.
Mileage: 10 miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain/Loss: 2000 feet
Day(s) Hiked: 7/5/13 > 7/7/13
Dog Friendly: Yes
The route to the Wonder Lakes starts with the Lamarck Lakes trail. It begins as a flat walk through a lush aspen grove and then ascends gently up through a pine forest. This stretch is a piece of cake, and you might forget that you are in the steep Eastern Sierra for a moment.
After about a mile, the trail reaches an intersection to Grass Lake. From here, the trail to the Lamarck Lakes becomes significantly steeper. The payoff for the aggressive ascent is a great view of the green meadow surrounding Grass Lake and a glimpse into the Sabrina Basin.
A couple miles from the trailhead, the trail reaches Lower Lamarck Lake. This is a gorgeous place worthy of an extended stay.
The easiest place to enjoy this lake is from the eastern side.
There are some outcroppings that provide fantastic views of Grass Lake and the ridge lines to the south.
If you are around in the morning, you can catch some alpenglow on the lake. It was partially blocked by some clouds on our visit.
Once you reach Lower Lamarck Lake, the rest of the route through the Wonder Lakes is essentially offtrail. The occasional use trail and cairns will show up, but it’s easiest to just choose your own path. The route starts along the northern side of Lower Lamarck Lake, which is a steep loose slope that requires a bit of caution with a heavy pack.
On the other side of the lake, the path ascends back up the steep slope.
Callie glided up and down the slope wondering why we took so long. Your dog may vary.
Soon, the entire Wonder Lakes basin comes into view. Your own slice of paradise.
This area has it all: plenty of trees, wildflowers, grassy meadows alongside streams and lakes, flowing waterfalls, all kept together in a carved granite bowl. The only thing it is lacking is people and evidence of them. We hardly saw any established campsites in the area. It felt much more pristine than a convenient location like this normally does. Editor’s Note: If you visit, please keep it that way! The couple bits of trash we saw were packed out.
Offtrail travel continues to be slightly steep, but completely manageable, up to the second and third Wonder Lake.
The nice thing about steep hills is that there is usually a pretty nice reward at the end. The view back towards Lower Lamarck Lake is stunning.
The third Wonder Lake has a beautiful inlet stream with a waterfall flowing down from the cliffs above. The sound of rushing water is ever present.
The Wonder Lakes basin is filled with these types of cascades, and they are the clear highlight of the area.
Above the third Wonder Lake, the trees thin out a bit and offtrail travel becomes simpler. Just hike up the granite wherever looks best.
We did not make it to the highest lakes in the basin. Once we reached the fifth lake, we were so impressed that going any higher seemed pointless. The lake has yet another waterfall tumbling down into its western end, and the tall granite cliffs on each side make it the most dramatic of the Wonder Lakes we saw.
On the hill to the south of the lake, there is an exquisite view of the outlet waterfalls and stream flowing into the fourth Wonder Lake.
Heading back down is always bittersweet, but the views looking down the Wonder Lakes basin are sublime and different enough to keep things interesting.
Before you know it, you’ll be back at Lower Lamarck Lake with a nicely groomed trail awaiting you.
From there, it’s smooth sailing down a couple of miles to North Lake. Heading down, you can even see the lake trailhead and maybe even your car.
This was a great hike. If you are clamoring for some High Sierra solitude, but don’t have the ability to get into the deep backcountry, then this might be the next best thing.