Hiking to Minaret Lake in Mammoth Lakes, California
Miles: 13.4 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 2,437 feet
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous
Permits: Not for day hikes, for backpacking only
When to go: July through early November
The hike to Minaret Lake was one of my favorite hikes. It’s challenging but the elevation gain is spaced out enough that you don’t feel the burn as much. The views are stunning and around every turn, they just keep getting better and better.
When I went in July, there were a lot of mosquitoes. It was also a high snow year, so it was even worse than in normal years. If you’re going at a time when there are lots of mosquitoes out, bring bug spray.
There is also one water crossing where your feet will get wet. I suggest bringing water sandals and changing out of your hiking boots for it. I wore Keen Whisper sandals to cross and when I got into Minaret Lake.
Minaret Lake is stunning. Just breathtaking.
The water is very cold. I was once told that the darker the watercolor the colder the lake, I’m not sure how true that statement is, but the lake looked black and it was very cold. There was also snow still covering the ground, so that could have contributed to the temperature of the lake.
The trail starts from the Devils Postpile trailhead. In the summer months, you do have to take a shuttle into the Reds Meadow/Devils Postpile area from the Main Lodge in Mammoth. But you can drive in before 7am or after 7pm. The last shuttle leaves at 7pm, so keep this in mind if you’re using the shuttle.
I decided to drive in and start early. I like to beat the summer heat and start on trails before the sun beating down on my head tires me out and I like having my car waiting for me at the end.
It took us 12 hours to hike it with some route finding because some of the trail was still under snow when I went and lots of breaks for snacks and photos.
From the parking lot, follow the signs to Minaret Lake. You’ll cross a bridge over the Middle Fork San Joaquin River and then continue for a portion of the John Muir Trail. About 0.75 miles you’ll pass the Pacific Crest Trail junction, head left towards Minaret Lake.
This section of the trail has some elevation gain but it’s mainly through the trees so you’ll have some shade.
Throughout the hike, there are a few water crossings but only one big one. It’s also 2019 and the summer after California got over 300% above average snowfall so there was more water on the trail than in normal years.
The large water crossing is about 1.5 to 2 miles into the trail. We sat down, changed into water shoes, put away the cameras - I tried to take a video at first when crossing and almost fell in, learned my lesson and put everything away to focus on the crossing. The water was FREEZING. So cold I ended up running through it and my legs were burning and starting to turn purple. Bright side, it’s a great way to keep your feet from hurting while hiking! The water ended up getting to my upper thigh (I’m 5’6”), and this was the only place to cross. But thankfully the water wasn’t moving fast.
On the other side, we dried off, let the burning in my legs and feet die down, put on our socks and shoes and kept going. We also did this fairly quickly because the mosquitoes started coming out. Due to the high snow year, there’s a lot of extra water on the trails, and the snow lingered for most of the summer so there was a late hatch. So starting mid-July the mosquitoes were bad. I covered my clothes and backpack in Sawyer’s permethrin spray at home and brought Sawyer’s picaridin (alternative to DEET) lotion and I brought their DEET lotion too. I didn’t bring a head net, but a couple of others did in the group and it would have been good to have. Granted this is an abnormal year and they’re not normally as bad. But research the mosquito situation before going if you’re going mid-summer. In the fall months, it should be better.
The covered forest starts to open up to a more exposed trail, and you’ll come across an enormous waterfall! There was a fallen tree in the middle of the trail, so we scrambled on the side of the trail around the tree, stopped to take in the views and the light mist from the falls, reapplied sunscreen, snacked and continued.
After the waterfall, you ascend a few switchbacks which take you to the top of the falls and over a ridge. For most of the trail, you’re now following Minaret Creek which flows from the outlet of Minaret Lake.
About halfway up the trail, we decided to stop for lunch before continuing. We found a place that was shaded with beautiful views and very few mosquitoes.
The trail continues in and out of trees and finally opens up to views of the Minarets and the Ritter Range.
As we hiked higher and closer to Minaret Lake, there were more glorious mountain views around every bend. I kept singing “Just Around the Riverbend” from Pocahontas in my head for most of the hike just thinking about how the views got prettier and prettier with every turn on the trail.
The last mile or so we had to use some navigation skills. For the most part, this trail is easy to follow, but in the last few miles we started to see snow and the last mile is when there were sections (short but still) covered in snow. So we used our maps and Garmin In-Reaches to make sure we were following the correct trail.
In the last stretch, we continued to ascend and then finally dropped down into the bowl that Minaret Lake sits in and it was just stunning. Worth every mile to get here. The jagged peaks in surrounded by a cold alpine lake. There was still snow covering the banks of the lake, I still got in. Not for very long, but I was on a mission. Normally I’m ok with cold lakes, they’re very refreshing to swim in after a long hike in the summer, but this was cold. I guess the snow didn’t give it away. I could only soak my feet in for a few seconds at a time.
If you’re going swimming, please rinse off any bug repellent and sunscreen before getting into the lake. Rinse away from the lake. This helps protect the ecosystem in the lake and from the chemicals from getting into the water.
When we got there, there were only a few mosquitoes! In comparison to the rest of the hike, this was glorious! Our fastest miles were in sections when the mosquitoes were the worst.
There was a man who had backpacked in (we were only day hiking) with an inflatable kayak and he was having a great time on the lake. I think it’s worth the extra weight to carry one in, we all wished we thought of the idea.
After about an hour and a half of hanging out at Minaret Lake, we headed back down to the car. Overall we hiked for 12 hours which included running from mosquitoes and all the snack and photo breaks we took.