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.
There is something hauntingly beautiful about this environment. It obviously needs no “human touch” to be extraordinary. I’m glad we still have serious wilderness in this country.
That’s exactly how we feel, Sheila — it’s incredible how much wilderness there still is in our country, especially in the West.
So gorgeous – what an amazing hike you walked.
How long did it take? Really beautiful photos of
Little Lakes Valley, favorite photo of you both
#16 A Chilly Day At Upper Gem Lake. Keep taking those perfect photos and writing your thoughts.
So glad you’re enjoying the blog and photos, Peggy. We’re happy you’re following along with us. :-) The Little Lakes Valley hike took us about five hours of steady hiking, including a short break for lunch. oxox
I need to hike this gorgeous trail! Stunning photos of a truly beautiful day on the trail. Bookmarked for our next pass through the Eastern Sierra!
Thanks, Lisa — you and Hans will love this trail. Be sure to take all of the side trails to the various lakes along the way.
Wow- what beautiful weather and incredible country side. We have gone through there but it was incredibly windy and we had a timetable to keep.
We look forward to exploring that area some day soon:-)
Bettina, fall is generally a great time to visit the Sierra Nevada. We had a few rain storms during our stay, but the changeable weather didn’t really slow us down, and made for some good photo opportunities. You guys will enjoy it, for sure!
Yay, you posted about Little Lakes Trail. This hike is our favorite hike in the Sierras as well. I am guessing no matter the season, these views would be spectacular. How wonderful to meet up with fellow full-time travelers.
Thanks again for recommending this hike, LuAnn. ;-) We loved all of our hiking in the Eastern Sierra, but this one was especially spectacular. I’d like to hike it in wildflower season sometime.
Wow! Beautiful hike! We’re working our way south, hope to see you in FL.
Hi R & K, we’re slowly making our way to Florida, planning to be there shortly before Thanksgiving. Can’t wait to catch up with you guys!
Little Lakes Trail looks lovely. I’m glad we didn’t end up hiking it with the heavy, low clouds, not sure how pretty things would be without the sunshine. Your photos show the difference between the sunny times and the clouds. One really needs sun for the water to have color. I like the creek crossing:) And the snow on the trail is wonderful!! Of course, snowy mountains around is extra special! Thanks for sharing with us. Next time we will choose a better day AND the appropriate clothing:)
Pam, it was a gorgeous hike, and a trail that you and John would really enjoy. There were several creek crossings, all involving boulder hopping — fun! I think you’re right that it wouldn’t be as beautiful without sun — and yes, you definitely need appropriate clothing. No shorts in October on this hike. :-)
Boy that is seriously high praise in your first line and your gorgeous header picture most assuredly supports it. But what a name. Would have scared me away given that I am apparently the mosquito’s most preferred food. Glad you brought such beauty to my attention so I’ll be sure to hike this rather than avoid it. Love that there is a “upper” Gem Lake, and a lower gem I assume. Your pictures really show those gem qualities. And the snow capped mountains make them picture book photos. Stunning color and contrast. But then that’s what you two always do. Could you have chosen to stay closer to the hike if you had wished to? Nice picture of Jodee and Bill. Hope to meet up with them some day on the road but at least for a while or perhaps longer, I don’t think David can travel too far from his east coast doctors. So glad we’ll see you in a few weeks.
Sherry, there are lots of Forest Service campgrounds in the Sierra, so I’m sure you could camp closer to Mosquito Flat. We passed by several pretty campgrounds, but were ready for a couple of days of electric/water hookups. We’re looking forward to seeing you two in the Keys!
Totally gorgeous!! How long is the hike? Time frame? Outhouses out yonder?
Glad you enjoyed it, Brenda! The hike took us about five hours of steady hiking (with a short lunch break and lots of photo taking, of course). It’s a seven miler, but we added on close to an additional mile with all of the extra exploring we did. There’s an outhouse at the trailhead, but other than that, you do what the bears do (but away from streams). :-)
What a beautiful hike! The snow looks cold but it sure makes for wonderful photos. That brewery was such a great meeting, we had so much fun getting to know you two.
Jodee, we’re really glad we got to meet up with you and Bill and Tessa — it was a fun reward at the end of our hiking adventure!
Yes, we really have to pass through there again. Your captures convinced me, it sure is beautiful out there. The snow dustings enhanced your hike experience although I would not wish it on us. So many gems we missed.
Mona Liza, you guys definitely need to get back to the Eastern Sierra. It’s your kind of place! The snow just added to the beauty of the hike — but I wouldn’t mind hiking it again sometime a bit earlier in the season.
Yes, that is a wonderful hike. We went a bit farther up to Morgan Pass for even better views. Looking at all the snow in your photos I’m glad we were there in September. You looked cold!
As much as we liked that trail (we went back again to both Gem Lakes), I think we liked the 20 Lakes Basin trail at Saddlebag Lake even more. Be sure to check it out next time!
We had planned to go up to Morgan Pass, but needed to get back to meet up with Jodee and Bill. There will be a next time, though — and the 20 Lakes Basin trail is definitely going onto our list, too! Thanks for the suggestion. As far as the temps, the only time we felt cold was when we sat down to eat lunch. Those boulders were freezing!!
That looks pretty damn quintessential, all right! We love the Bishop area, but haven’t tried that trail–good to know about. Did you guys hit Schatz’s Bakery while you were in town? Gotta hike a lot of miles after that to recover. :)
Gretchen, you guys would love the Little Lakes trail! And yes, we did swing by Schatz’s Bakery for a couple of dark-chocolate dipped macaroons and almond crescents that we enjoyed over the next couple of days. Yum!
That definitely is a hike we’ll need to do next year in our travels through the Eastern Sierras. And the Mountain Ramblers Brewery sounds like the perfect spot for a Yahoo Rambler to enjoy a post hike brew!
Henry, there’s more good news — can’t get lost on that trail. :-) You guys would enjoy both the trail and the perfectly named brewery.