Day hiking Little Lakes Valley

We returned to the mountains this past weekend for another taste of early summer in the High Sierra. This time, the whole family tagged along and we did some more family friendly dayhikes out of Owen’s Valley. Our first hike was in Little Lakes Valley, which is one of the easiest access points to the High Sierra and also one of the range’s flattest trails. It’s the perfect trail for someone’s first trip to the Sierra.

Trail Details

Mileage: 6 miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain/Loss: 500 feet
Day(s) Hiked: 5/31/14
Trailhead Location
Dog Friendly: Yes

Trip Report

We got a pretty late start on this hike, with a noon arrival time at the trailhead. We were lucky to find a few spaces open in the parking lot on a Saturday afternoon, because the overflow parking adds an unfortunate quarter mile of road walking to the hike in each direction. Shortly after we arrived and were packing our bags, the lot filled up. I’m loving this lucky streak we’ve been having lately.

This trail is one of my favorites. Right off the bat, you feel like you are deep in the Sierra. It starts out with a nice section that runs right next to Rock Creek and immediately establishes ones of the hike’s best attributes. There is no shortage of water around here.

After going up the first small hill, the views open up substantially. The ridge line in the background of Bear Creek Spire, Mount Dade and Mount Abbot is a spectacular sight, and thanks to the open nature of the valley, the trail almost always has clear views of the scene.

Off-trail travel is easy around here, so if you are fishing then you can head down to the water whenever you please. If you are sticking to the trail, Marsh Lake is the first official detour. This is a fine lake that lives up to its name, with a picturesque marsh providing a unique foreground to an already incredible view.

The lakes in this area are tightly packed together and after a few minutes of hiking, Heart Lake is unveiled in one of the most dazzling scenes in the Sierra that I’ve seen. The trail intersects with a beautiful stream that flows into the lake, while the ridge in the background continues to provide the ideal backdrop.

A little further down, the trail goes past Box Lake. Under normal circumstances, a lake like this would be mind-blowing, but by now you may be feeling some level of fatigue from the amount of unfiltered beauty that you are experiencing.

Fortunately, Long Lake comes along and provides another jaw dropping view. The initial sight of the lake is accompanied by a perfectly framed outlet stream that just begs to be photographed.

The trail runs right along the eastern shore of the lake, and the views of the increasingly close ridge line of mountains continue to impress. Long Lake was partially frozen over which only helped to elevate scene.

As I was taking some photos of the lake, Riss captured a shot that reveals my current backpacking training regimen. It turns out that I was carrying more weight on this short day hike than I was on the previous weekend’s three day backpacking trip. Owen acted as my director of photography, and whenever I would take too long and linger on a shot, he would start kicking me to get us moving down the trail again.

Shortly after passing Long Lake, the trail reaches a junction where you can continue to to Morgan Pass or take a side trail to Chickenfoot Lake. We were running low on time, and the trail was starting to get covered in snow in some places, so we decided to make Chickenfoot Lake the final goal of the hike. The highlight here is the lake’s inlet stream which meanders through a wide open meadow with views of all of the surrounding peaks.

The part of the lake that connects to the inlet stream was beginning to melt out, but the rest of the lake was still frozen over.

We headed back the way we came and soaked in each view one more time. Surprisingly, the trail had pretty much emptied out over the afternoon and we got to enjoy it all to ourselves for the rest of the day.

It’s always bittersweet to leave such a beautiful place, but we at least had one more day in the mountains to look forward to. The next day would take us to Treasure Lakes near Bishop, another magnificent area that can be easily accessed as a day hike.

Categories: Trip Report | Tags: , , , , , | 21 Comments

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21 thoughts on “Day hiking Little Lakes Valley

  1. Scott Westfield

    Dude..wonderful stuff as always. I am heading out there with no real destination. ..but I will most likely hit the little lake trail now after seeing the pics. On my way out with everywhere to go.
    thanks again

  2. Amazing TR and pics . I did this trail on the Memorial day and I got similar pictures as you:-)

  3. Little Lakes Valley is the best introduction to the Eastern Sierras I know of. Fantastic hike and great write up and photos.

  4. Great Post. Thanks. Loving the reports.

  5. tree

    Wow seems just yesterday your little man was born! Too bad that’s so far up the 395. That snow had better melt soon…

    • I think that it will all be gone pretty soon. The late season storms gave the snowpack some lasting power, but there isn’t much snow up there.

  6. SD

    Just hiked this yesterday – exquisite ! Had my brother & sis-in- law in from NYC for their first time in the Sierra. They’re spoiled now.

  7. Ewog

    I was there the same day, but took the other trail Eastern Brook Lakes. Too bad I didn’t take the main trail – it would have been nice to meet you! 🙂

  8. Pingback: Hiking South Lake to Treasure Lakes | CaliTrails

  9. MarchAFB

    Thanks for the posting! We are actually headed up there next week, and were looking for a new area to visit, since I think there is still a lot of snow above Saddlebag Lake.

  10. Brandy

    I’m loving your trip, reports…so inspiring! I have a couple of Sierra backpacking trips planned this summer, but was looking for a camping getaway on Labor Day weekend that I could coax my 16 year old to join the rest of the family on. This is PERFECT! I was able to book a spot at East Fork campground and I cannot wait to introduce him to the Eastern Sierras!

    • Great choice for a first timer’s intro to the Sierra. Here’s a tip: The trail might be a bit crowded over labor day weekend, but if you venture off trail a bit to one of the lakes not on the main path, you will get much more solitude.

      • Brandy

        Thanks for the tip…we will be sure to seek out some solitude. I love that this area is dog friendly…we’ll have our little terrier mix trail dog with us on this trip.

        On another note, I just realized that I found your blog last year when I was training to day hike Whitney and was looking for alternate routes up Baldy. It was a little warm to attempt a Bear Canyon death march (even sans margaritas) at that point, so I think we did Cucamonga Peak that day instead and left early enough to test our hiking in the dark abilities.

        Now that I have a trail dog, I’ve bookmarked and followed your blog. Can’t wait to see more of your adventures and go back to read all of the older posts!

  11. tree

    Do you know if you need a permit? Im thinking about hitting this trail after Whitney the weekend after this one.

    • Whitney and Half Dome are the only places in the Sierra where a dayhike requires a permit. So, no permit needed for a dayhike here. If you want to go overnight, then you’d need to get a permit from an Inyo National Forest ranger station.

  12. Alex

    Thanks for a great post!! I found your blog about a month ago via Google search (CA dog friendly hikes, I think), and am happy to report that my boyfriend, our dog Riley, and myself hiked the Little Lakes Valley trail to Chickenfoot Lake last Saturday. SO beautiful, great intro to hiking in higher altitudes, and worth the 5 hour drive from the Bay Area. Thanks so much for such an informative post!

  13. Stephen Cook

    Rumor has it, you can go up to Gem Lakes and there’s a glacier going down into the lake? We’re thinking of hiking a bit further up there, if it’s worth it.

    • Sounds like it. I haven’t been to Gem, but it’s very rare that I am disappointed by a new Sierra locale. I’m sure Gem is nice.

  14. Cissa

    Hello there, do you know if its allowed to sleep in the car at the trail head overnight to start this day hike on the next day? Is there a need for a overnight permit?

  15. Wow! Gorgeous adventure! We’re planning on spending a lot of time in the Sierra’s this year and this article is a great example of why. Also, I love how you include the topographic map of the area for the hike, very useful!

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