Land Of A Thousand Alpine Lakes – John Muir Wilderness, CA

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
John Muir

Terry poses by Heart Lake on the hike

I’m a sucker for a good mountain hike and totally jive with that John Muir quote. A couple of weeks ago, when we discovered the Virginia Lakes hike in the northern section of 395 we were so ecstatic we ended up doing it twice. Those kind of walks are a balm for the soul and I remember thinking at the time that the only possible thing that could make it any better was a little snow on those mountains.

Well, guess what baby….it snowed!

Hiking by Long Lake

We’re too far away from Virginia Lakes to do it a third time (not that I wouldn’t mind you), but here in Bishop we are right next to the gorgeous John Muir Wilderness which holds its very own in eye-popping beauty and heart-stopping-lake-fabulousness. In fact in many ways, this wilderness area is even more intriguing.

The John Muir Wilderness is a massive 651,992 acres (2638.52 km2) in size, stretches over 100 miles of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, boasts 57 peaks over 13,000 feet (4,000 m) in elevation (including the tallest peak in the lower 48 states Mt.Whitney), contains 589.5 miles (948.7 km) of hiking trails and encloses the largest contiguous area above 10,000 feet (3,000 m) in the continental United States. This is high country, very high country…with all the stunning peaks, alpine meadows and literally hundreds of lakes in between. Many would claim this is some of the prettiest mountain country around.

Long Lake in all its’ glory

I was sure we’d be able to find a good hike here…one hike to rule them all if you will, and I headed down to the ranger station to seek out the very best one. A quick chat with the local ranger revealed “nothing compares to Little Lakes” so that won the contest hands down and promised lake-after-fabulous-lake on an easy 7 mile trail with only ~650 feet of elevation gain (practically flat by Sierra standards).

Hiking back to the car along Long Lake

So with snow on the mountain-tops (could it be any more perfect?) and the promise of a pristine day “the pack” headed out to tackle the trail. Our chosen hike started at Mosquito Flats, not the most alluring-sounding spot, but actually a lovely trail-head at  a creek at 10,300 feet that winds leisurely up a canyon past no less than SIX gorgeous lakes to Gem Lake (you can go much further of course, but this was as far as us intrepid hikers had planned). Given its relative ease it’s a popular hike, but our early start meant we got to enjoy most of the trail to ourselves and it was, indeed, amazing! View after gorgeous view, dramatic snow-topped peaks, and crystal clear lakes with reflections ad infinitum.

Five hours and four hundred photos later we made it back to the car, totally exhausted but completely visually satiated. A great hike in an awesome spot on a perfect lovely day. Mr. John Muir, I think you were onto something….

P.S. To get to Little Lake Hike, take Hwy 395 25 miles north from Bishop, turn left at Tom’s Place and follow Rock Creek Canyon 10 miles to the parking lot. The hike to Gem Lakes is 7-miles round-trip and is 100% paw-friendly.

And a pose for the picture books
High country and high rainbows -> an awesome moment!
Snow-covered vista
Paul poses at a stream crossing
Polly checks out the trail
More gorgeous lake reflections
Yet another grand view
And one more….need I say more?
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

  1. says

    Extraordinary! especially that rainbow shot. You are absolutely right there are a lot of hidden gems along 395. Even if we wont make stops there, your beautiful pictures are more than enough to quench the desire. Thank you.

    • libertatemamo says

      You could easily spend many months exploring this section of 395. We’ve been down twice and STILL have lots of stuff we haven’t seen. If the weather holds by the time you get here and you’ve got a few weeks of warmish temps I’d recommend giving it a try.

  2. Rob says

    Great pictures once again! 400 to choose from, that has to be the hardest part of all this.
    Mt Whitney… back in my Boy Scout days we went up it, 14496.811 ft is how I remember the plaque up there. I also remember the altitude sickness . That was back in the late 60’s.
    Some did Mt Whitney (up & back) in a single (long) day.
    For those interested here is the Whitney Portal webcam
    I for one am looking forward to your choices for the next batch of photos!

    • libertatemamo says

      I’m thinking we’ll probably take a trip to the Portal and visit while we’re in Lone Pine. I’m too lazy to hike the peak, but may do a few miles on the trail just to say I was there :) Can’t believe you did the whole thing in a day…that’s QUITE the hike!!

    • libertatemamo says

      Would certainly recommend this area! I imagine it’s gorgeous in the spring-time with new flowers too!

  3. says

    You really captured some beautiful photos Nina. I’m glad I didn’t read your post before I sat down to write. As always, I learned a few things from your writing. Thanks for a great day! :)

    • libertatemamo says

      It was fun to have you guys along for the hike! Paul was also happy he had some “stand-ins” for photos :)

    • libertatemamo says

      The rainbow was probably the highlight of the day. Paul spotted it for us and I must’ve clicked at least 25 shots of it before it dissapeared. An amazing experience!

  4. Rowanova says

    I’ve always joked that I was born with itchy feet; I love to travel, just go, to see knew places. And I love high mountain places.
    You are making my feet VERY itchy with these photos!!! (But please don’t stop. :-)

  5. says

    Great blog, great post, love the Sierras and want to to the hike to the lakes. How were the crowds on the trail? You went in October, right? I’m also keeping up with your blog, I bought an 18 foot TT this year and have done lots of Southern Utah and Colorado travels, but will full time by 2015.

    • libertatemamo says

      When we went in Oct they were very light. I gather the trail gets popular in summer. It’s a gorgeous spot!


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