Posted by on Nov 13, 2015 in California, Gallery, Travel | 28 comments

If there’s only one hike that you do in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in eastern California, make it this one. You’ll walk through forests of sweetly scented Ponderosa pines, boulder hop over rushing mountain creeks, cross meadows while gazing up at 13,000-foot mountain peaks, and meander past no less than seven glacial-carved lakes reflecting the surrounding landscape.

The Little Lakes Valley trail—at just under eight miles round trip, including side trips to various lakes—is the quintessential Sierra Nevada hike. Here, you can enjoy an adventure in the high Sierra Nevada mountains without: 1) the rigors of a multi-day backpacking trip, and 2) suffering through a painfully steep high elevation climb. This spectacular hike is so easy (we’re grading on the Sierra curve, mind you) that it almost seems like cheating. Views this grand generally require much more effort.

The trailhead—unappealingly named Mosquito Flat—is the loftiest in the Sierras at 10,250 feet, thus the relative ease of getting high into the mountains. Despite the name, the trail was mosquito-free in late October. The fall is also a good time to enjoy this popular trail sans crowds—we hiked for long stretches without seeing another soul. The chilly temperatures and snowfall from the previous day likely had something to do with keeping people away.

From Mosquito Flat, the trail began with a steep uphill rocky climb, but that soon leveled out and opened up to the first magnificent view of a burbling creek and jewel-like lake fed by glacial melt. Along the gently rolling terrain, one after another lake appeared every 20 or 30 minutes, seductively luring us along. All the while we were captivated by the snow-capped mountain peaks fading in and out of the clouds, and entertained by Clark’s nutcrackers calling raucously from high in the ponderosas.

Don’t miss going all the way to the end of the trail: Lovely Upper Gem Lake is an aquamarine jewel set in a granite bowl, bordered on three sides by mountain peaks. It was the perfect spot for lunch and relaxing by the water. We found the return hike just as magnificent, offering a different perspective of the lakes and mountains. (Many thanks to our dear friends LuAnn and Terry, who highly recommended this hike.)

About the campground: We stayed for two nights at Brown’s Town Campground in Bishop, specifically to hike the Little Lake Valley trail (30 miles away). After a week of dry camping in our travels along 395, we were ready for a couple of nights with water and electric hookups. It was a peaceful stay, Verizon coverage was good, and as a bonus, we got to meet up with fellow full-time travelers Jodee, Bill, and their sweet dog Tessa at the Mountain Rambler Brewery for dinner, excellent local beer, and fun conversation. It was a great reward at the end of our long hiking day.

Next up: Tips for High Altitude Hiking

Little Lakes Valley: The Quintessential Sierra Hike

On The Road To Bishop

Into The John Muir Wilderness

Crossing Ruby Creek

Beautiful Box Lake

Side Trail To Chickenfoot Lake

Along The Shore Of Long Lake

Contemplating The Grandeur

Hiking Through The Ponderosas

Trail To Gem Lakes

Fresh Snow On The Trail

Approaching Gem Lakes

First View Of Lower Gem Lake

Lower Gem Lake

Crossing The Creek To Upper Gem Lake

A Chilly Day At Upper Gem Lake

Starting The Long Trek Back

Stunning Mountain Peaks And Streams

Appreciating The Beauty

Rockwork On The Trail

On The Final Stretch

Brown's In Town Campground

Campsite On The Golf Course

Jodee & Bill At The Brewery

Little Lakes Valley: The Quintessential Sierra Hike
On The Road To Bishop
Into The John Muir Wilderness
Crossing Ruby Creek
Beautiful Box Lake
Side Trail To Chickenfoot Lake
Along The Shore Of Long Lake
Contemplating The Grandeur
Hiking Through The Ponderosas
Trail To Gem Lakes
Fresh Snow On The Trail
Approaching Gem Lakes
First View Of Lower Gem Lake
Lower Gem Lake
Crossing The Creek To Upper Gem Lake
A Chilly Day At Upper Gem Lake
Starting The Long Trek Back
Stunning Mountain Peaks And Streams
Appreciating The Beauty
Rockwork On The Trail
On The Final Stretch
Brown's In Town Campground
Campsite On The Golf Course
Jodee & Bill At The Brewery
Little Lakes Valley: The Quintessential Sierra Hike thumbnail
On The Road To Bishop thumbnail
Into The John Muir Wilderness thumbnail
Crossing Ruby Creek thumbnail
Beautiful Box Lake thumbnail
Side Trail To Chickenfoot Lake thumbnail
Along The Shore Of Long Lake thumbnail
Contemplating The Grandeur thumbnail
Hiking Through The Ponderosas thumbnail
Trail To Gem Lakes thumbnail
Fresh Snow On The Trail thumbnail
Approaching Gem Lakes thumbnail
First View Of Lower Gem Lake thumbnail
Lower Gem Lake thumbnail
Crossing The Creek To Upper Gem Lake thumbnail
A Chilly Day At Upper Gem Lake thumbnail
Starting The Long Trek Back thumbnail
Stunning Mountain Peaks And Streams thumbnail
Appreciating The Beauty thumbnail
Rockwork On The Trail thumbnail
On The Final Stretch thumbnail
Brown's In Town Campground thumbnail
Campsite On The Golf Course thumbnail
Jodee & Bill At The Brewery thumbnail