Hiking the Little Lakes Valley Trail

Bishop, CA

On Monday we had a nice, uneventful drive of 162 miles south on US 395 from Carson City, NV to Bishop, CA.  We arrived mid-afternoon at Highlands RV Park, the same place we stayed during a visit here two years ago.  After getting set up in our site we relaxed for the remainder of the day, although a trip to the local chain coffee shop broke up the afternoon.

Early the next morning we set off for a hike to the Gem Lakes on the Little Lakes Valley Trail.  We tried to hike this trail during our previous visit but a little blunder on our part cancelled that hike.  We failed to factor in what an increase of 6,000′ of elevation can do to the temperature.  With temps approaching the high sixties in Bishop that morning we dressed in shorts and tee shirts.  But as we drove up the road to the trailhead we knew we were in trouble.  Arriving at the trailhead we found everyone dressed in heavy coats with gloves and hats, as the temperatures were just below 40 degrees with a strong wind and fog.

This year we were prepared for the cooler temperatures at 10,000′ and dressed appropriately.  But since it is about a month earlier in the year, the temps were much more reasonable, even with the elevation gain.

The Sierra Nevada’s along US 395

To get to the trailhead we drove 20 miles north on US 395, then west on Rock Creek Road.  It is a ten mile drive up to the trailhead, with the first 8 miles a nice, wide road.

The last two miles of Rock Creek Road are on a narrow, paved road just wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other.

Rock Creek Road ends in the trailhead parking area where we were fortunate to find a space.  Apparently during the high tourist season parking is at a premium here.

Little Lakes Valley Trail

From the trailhead at over 10,000′ the trail immediately begins a steady climb as it heads up toward the first of a number of lakes it passes.

As we moved up the trail the views of the mountains were impressive.

Mack Lake

Marsh Lake

Crossing Ruby Creek with Heart Lake in the background

Rounding Heart Lake

When going along the lakes the trail was fairly level, but between lakes it would go sharply uphill.

Box Lake

Passing Long Lake

After hiking over three miles our legs were definitely feeling the effects of the high altitude.  We felt that we were close to our destination, the Gem Lakes, when we came to a fork in the trail.   An old post probably once held a sign indicating which way to go, but the sign was long gone.  So we made a guess and took the left fork, which began to go steeply uphill.  Fortunately, we met a hiker coming back down the trail and he had hiked up a bit and turned around.

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it” – Yogi Berra

We followed his advice, returning back down to take the right fork.  That turned out to be the correct trail, as we soon came to the Lower Gem Lake.

Lower Gem Lake

Laurel and Eric( Raven and Chickadee) had done this hike before and told us to be sure to keep going beyond that point.  So we continued, crossing another creek and making our way further up the trail.

Our extra effort was rewarded when we soon came to the end of the trail at beautiful Upper Gem Lake.

Lunch with a view

A young philosopher ponders life before . . .

. . . disappearing into the cold water

On the return hike we took a side trail for a visit to Chicken Foot Lake.  Look at the lake in Google Maps and you’ll see that the shape of the lake does resemble the foot of a chicken.

Chicken Foot Lake

Passing by Heart Lake on the return hike

We were fortunate to have perfect weather for this hike, a clear sky and comfortable temperatures.  The high elevation made the eight mile trek quite a challenge.  But the beautiful scenery makes it very worth the effort!

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31 Responses to Hiking the Little Lakes Valley Trail

  1. Susan Bank says:

    Wait! your forgot to show us Crowley Lake pictures! Wasn’t that supposed to be your next blog post? Sigh….anyway, I loved this post filled with lake pictures, so beautiful. One of my favorites was “Ponderer in Red”.

  2. Jeff says:

    A few years ago we turned back at Long Lake, the mosquitoes were bad. It looks like you had great weather, awesome views and no bugs! Thanks for sharing.
    I can recommend the turkey on sheepherders at Erik Shat’s while you are in Bishop.

    • placestheygo says:

      No bugs of any kind, Jeff! You’ll have to try it again and get to Upper Gem Lake…a true gem. We enjoyed the turkey on Sheepherder bread during our last visit. It is definitely worth recommending. Thanks!

  3. That was one of our favorite hikes along 395 (along with Saddlebag Lakes), so much so that we did it twice, once going left all the way up to Morgan Pass, and the next time we made it to both Gem Lakes.
    That is some stunning scenery! Glad you had such a nice day for it after your first failed attempt.

    • placestheygo says:

      I’m glad Laurel told us there was one more lake or we would have thought the first couple Gem Lakes together were it. Upper Gem lived up to its name. We had a perfect day for this hike; a drastic difference from our first attempt, for sure.

  4. Sherry says:

    Beautiful scenery is an understatement. Your pictures are gorgeous. No wonder you were determined to return. Looks like perhaps fewer people than your first visit. LOL at the poor young philosopher. Did you call 911??

  5. Now that’s my kind of hike! Stunning scenery and perfect weather!

  6. Ingrid says:

    Stunning scenery. I’ve wanted to visit this area for quite some time now, but scheduling with the weather hasn’t worked out for us thus far. I’ll keep trying … too beautiful to miss!

  7. girlonahike says:

    Wow, what a gorgeous area! Reminds me of the Wind Rivers. That lake is awesome!
    Alicia @ http://www.GirlonaHike.com

  8. exploRVistas says:

    Dang…I hope the philosopher took off his Vasque boots and willed them to me!

    Wow…wow…wow on the scenery! I’d have to acclimate for a week at 10,000 feet, but that looks worth it!

    • placestheygo says:

      Haha! Sorry, Jim, the boots went with him!!! Jumping from a hiking high of 8,000 ft to over 10,000 was definitely a challenge, but so worth it. We returned much faster than we went up!!!

  9. Laurel says:

    I’m so happy you guys returned to do this hike! It remains one of our all-time favorites. It’s definitely strenuous, starting out at 10,000 feet. But so worth it, as you discovered. The sign pointing to Gem Lakes was in place when we hiked the trail a couple of years ago. Glad you found your way there and to both of the gems! It’s a special place, for sure. Thanks for taking us back with your beautiful photos — the only thing better is if we could have hiked it with you!

    • placestheygo says:

      I’m so glad that I looked at your post prior to our visit. I wrote down all the lake/creeks names so I could tell John as we hiked. And I knew I was looking for those huge boulders we used as stepping stones for that last creek crossing before Upper Gem Lake! Your photo tour set up us beautifully!! Yes, it would have been nicer to have you along to share in person!

  10. Now that’s an awesome hike–all those lakes in one day! Great photos!

  11. LuAnn says:

    This is probably our favorite hike in the Sierras. So glad you had good weather to complete it this visit. Your beautiful photos brought this hike back to life for me. 🙂

  12. pmbweaver says:

    When Paul saw your photos on FB, he said this has to be one of the prettiest hikes he has ever seen. I totally agree.Your photos are magnificent. I just love seeing the mountains with the snow. The blue of the water is so pretty. You two are handling that altitude like champs.

  13. Those high mountain lakes do bring out the ponderer in a person.

  14. Steve & Dianne Colibaba says:

    The views on your hike are incredible. Well done!

  15. geogypsy2u says:

    The high Sierras are majestic. A little less snow than when I saw them last March. You definitely captured the beauty of all those gorgeous lakes.

  16. Debbie L says:

    There’s something special about lakes and mountains! Absolutely beautiful and great photos! Love how you two include humor in your posts!

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