Hiking Little Lakes Valley | Gem Lakes
Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
Little Lakes Valley sits just 45 minutes south of Mammoth and 50 minutes north of Bishop in the Eastern Sierra. This day hike quickly became one of our absolute favorites thanks to a collection of pristine alpine lakes that are surrounded by a series of jagged peaks.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to hiking Little Lakes Valley is the starting elevation which is over 10,000 feet. If you’re like us and spend most of your time near sea level, it can be a bit of a challenge without some acclimation ahead of time.
Hiking Little Lakes Valley: Hike Details
Starting Elevation: 10,300 ft.
Distance: 9.60 miles, round trip
Elevation Gain: 1,296 ft.
Hike Type: Out and back, day-hike
Difficulty Level: Moderate (a high starting elevation is the biggest obstacle here)
Date Hiked: October 14, 2018
Hiking Little Lakes Valley: Getting There
Little Lakes Valley is easily accessible as it sits between two relatively good sized towns: Bishop and Mammoth. We like to stay in the Mammoth area, simply because the town is a little larger, and there are more lodging and dining options.
From Mammoth, take Highway 395 south from 15 miles and then turn right on Rock Creek Road which dead ends at the trailhead parking lot.
Hiking Little Lakes Valley: The Hike
When we arrived at the trailhead at 8:00 a.m., it was 27 degrees, and we were the only car in the parking lot. After throwing on our jackets and backpacks, we were ready to hit the trail. It doesn’t take long to see why this trail is so popular, and we were quick to fall in love with it.
Conservatively, if you hike to Gem Lakes at the end of the trail, as we did, you can anticipate seeing seven to nine lakes. There are additional side trips that can be taken to both Mono and Morgan Passes, which will add more miles and more lakes, or you can come back and make those trips separate hikes!
As we continued along the trail, there is a split to Mono Pass off to the right. We stayed left on the Little Lakes Valley Trail, and were greeted by Mack Lake almost immediately. Despite the cold temperature to start the hike, it was a bright blue sky day and the sun warmed us up quickly, so we removed our jackets.
Hiking Little Lakes Valley: The Lakes
A short while later, we met up with Marsh, Heart, and Box Lakes, making a stop at each of them.
Long Lake was up next, followed by a short walk down to Chickenfoot Lake. The mountains, having received a dusting of snow the week prior, made for a picturesque backdrop over the duration of our hike and we frequently stopped to enjoy the views.
We followed the signs to Gem Lakes, crossed the creek over a small series of stone steps and climbed up to a view overlooking the lake. The water was calm, and the mountain reflected perfectly, making this an ideal lunch spot. After enjoying our sandwiches, we spent some time exploring the area around the lake, before deciding it was time to head back.
On our return trek, I briefly toyed with the idea of hiking up Morgan Pass. Chatting with a hiker who was coming down, he mentioned that there wasn’t much of a view from the top, and I was persuaded not to add the extra distance, which was probably for the best. We made good timing on the hike back, and found the trail to be much more crowded as the day had progressed. Always a nice reminder that getting an early start is the best idea you can make on a hike.
Have you been to Little Lakes Valley? Let us know in the comments!
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