Highway 395 south of Lake Tahoe

Draft, as of June 2024. I should have this complete by mid-July.

Map of the area

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Hiking trip destinations (north to south)

Saddlebag Lake loop

West of Lee Vining and Mono lake, we’ll drive up Highway 120 towards Tioga Pass for a hike at abour 10,000 feet elevation. The Saddleback Lake loop is about four miles, and since it loops around the lake there are no serious hills to climb. Much of this hike is above the treeline, we we’ll be hiking on exposed granite for much of it.

If we have a sub-group that wants to extend this hike, they can go half-way around the lake with us (the east side of Saddlebag Lake) then venture off towards Twenty Lakes Basin for an eight-mile hike. This is a bit longer than our usual hikes, but sometimes we have folks who want to go a bit further. This hike extension loops around the Twenty Lakes Basin before returning to Saddlebag Lake to complete the west side to get back to the parking lot.

Mono Lake region

Lee Vining is the town that houses the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center. Most trips will involve a short stop here; it has a good view of the lake as well as excellent exhibits (and restrooms). I’ve found that the Mono Lake Navy Beach Viewpoint has excellent views of Tufas without the crowds of the main preserve. There is a nice 1.3 mile hike that loops through the South Tufa Area where you can walk right next to tufas.

Devil’s Postpile/Mammoth Lakes area

Devils Postpile National Monument is known for it’s 60 foot columnar basalt, but we’ll also hike to the 101 foot high Rainbow Falls. Our main hike here will be about five miles of ‘moderate’ hiking. To get to Devils Postpile, we’ll have to take a shuttle from the Mammoth Mountain ski area (the roads are too busy). There is a fee of about $15/person. More details on the shuttle will be posted before each of our trips here.

After the Devil’s Postpile hike, we’ll take a quick stop at an earthquake fault chasm that runs about 60 yards with a depth of about 4-10 feet.

Hot Creek

On the east side of Highway 395, south of Mammoth Lakes, we’ll explore the Hot Creek Geological Site. This creek has several locations on our 1.5 mile hike where boiling water and steam seep out of the ground. There is no swimming or wading here; the water can have plumes of water that can scald someone.

We’ll make a stop at the Hot Creek Trout Hatchery may we can walk around and see trout in various stages of growth. There’s no staffed visitor center here, but if we’re lucky we may be able to see fish receiving vaccinations (I saw this when I visited in 2022, and the workers were happy to talk to me about the process).

There are several ‘wild’ hot springs in the area that are suitable for soaking in. We’ll explore these on the way out (bring a suit).

Camping location

Most years we’ll stay at the Obsidian Flat Group Campground. This campground is isolated from other campgrounds, so it will just be us. It is located right below an obsidian dome, so we can explore it before or after dinners.

This campground is about five miles down a well-graded dirt road that any car can handle (the last half-mile is on a narrow road that requires slow, careful driving). There are only vault toilets, and no running water, so we’ll need to bring water with us.

External links

General guides

Science/geology based guides

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Other tidbits