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