There’s truly something inspiring about traversing a trail with your camera slung over your shoulder and spotting a sign announcing the John Muir Wilderness. Just seeing the majestic beauty that drew the likes of Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell and so many others to call the Eastern Sierras home is enough to humble any photographer. I’ve hiked and roamed the trails in and around Mammoth Lakes for forty years, usually during the summer months when the trails can be crowded and noisy, but when September chugs toward October and the Aspens transform themselves from canopies of green to strands of fiery gold, there’s no better time to load the Outback with gear and head up north.
With warm days and cool, damp nights the colors can change rapidly and one hike might be almost ready to “pop” whereas another just a little higher (but not too high) will be in full bloom. It’s a bit of a guessing game best played by asking some of the locals where they’ve hiked recently but even then you can’t count on them being totally upfront. But with trails literally at every turn in the Sierras, it’s not hard to find a hike this time of year where you’ll find few others on the trail. In fact, the quiet I encountered while seeking colors was all encompassing. I maybe passed three people on my trek to Parker Lake.
Swinging by the Ranger Station is a good place to start and they let me know that McGee Creek, as well as my favorite hike, Parker Lake, were both in full bloom. To top it off, Convict Lake was also close to peaking, so I was looking forward to putting my Canon 5D MkIV through a good workout. The record setting winter and excessive snowmelt which ran literally into Summer (let’s put it this way, I was snowboarding on June 28) almost guaranteed great fall colors. After years of drought, the region soaked up all that water.
After a couple of days of hiking and a drive on the June Lake Loop en route the the June Lake Brewery (hiking makes me thirsty, you know), my wife and I enjoyed finishing each day with a walk on the Mammoth Lakes Town Loop or driving a couple miles down a local fire road to a special spot where we walked in utter silence amid the blooming Aspens.
Mammoth Area Hikes:
– McGee Creek (Trail at end of dirt road past the horse stables. Ample parking)
-Convict Lake (More like a lazy stroll with little to no elevation but plenty of colors).
-Parker Lake (Enter June Lakes Loop from northern part and follow signs for Walker Lake/Parker Lake. Good, moderate hike along creek and ends at Parker Lake)
-Mammoth Creek (Access from Old Mammoth Road across from park in Mammoth Lakes. More of a fire road stroll good for dogs and lots of trees).
-Mammoth Lakes Bike Loop (Wonderful miles long, paved walking/biking path with portions along Mammoth Creek and great views of the mountain and Mammoth Rock. Plenty of Aspens)
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