Land Of A Thousand Alpine Lakes – John Muir Wilderness, CA
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
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!
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.
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).
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.