Little Lakes Valley
Rock Creek Recreation Area, California
Little Lakes Valley, located within the John Muir Wilderness of Rock Creek, is the type of destination that every hiker dreams about—sparkling mountain lakes, towering Sierra peaks, and pristine alpine scenery, all accessed from a high elevation trailhead and reached with little effort or elevation gain. Thanks to its majestic views, moderate terrain, and excellent fishing opportunities, the route through Little Lakes Valley is a favorite with hikers from all around the world—so lace up your boots and set off for Morgan Pass, your gateway to the High Sierra.
To gain access to the Little Lakes Valley, locate the 10,300-foot Mosquito Flat Trailhead at the end of Rock Creek Road—drive Highway 395 about 15 miles south of Mammoth Lakes, turn west at Tom’s Place and follow Rock Creek Road deep into the Inyo National Forest until it divides at 9.7 miles, stay left to reach the trailhead in another 1.2 miles.
You only need to hike a few steps from the Mosquito Flat Trailhead to realize the splendor that is in store for those who wander deeper into the Little Lakes Valley—in as little as a half-mile you can find yourself standing amid the jagged peaks that loom unflinchingly at the head of the valley. From the trailhead, hike south along the wide trail—an old mining access road—skirting first the west bank of Rock Creek, and then the distant shores of Mack Lake. As you hike southwest along the gentle grade, the skyline becomes increasingly dominated by soaring mountains, most over 13,000 feet—namely, from left to right, Mt. Morgan, Pyramid Peak, Bear Creek Spire, Pip-squeak Spire, Mt. Dade, Mt. Abbott, and Mt. Starr.
Shortly after leaving the trailhead, you enter the John Muir Wilderness and gradually climb up a slope to reach a trail junction—at the junction, 0.6-mile from the start, stay left for Little Lakes Valley—following the signs for Morgan Pass, a right leads to Mono Pass.
Soon after passing the Morgan Pass trail junction, the path leads to a spectacular trio of subalpine lakes—first Marsh Lake and then Heart and Box Lake. The scenery encountered in this area borders on perfection—open meadows, sparkling lakes surrounded by tall grasses, a scattering of grand old pines thrown in for good measure, and of course, those dramatic high-mountain peaks combine to form a post-card perfect landscape.
The shores of Marsh Lake can be explored by following a short spur trail off to the left, which leads to a jumble of rocks and the water’s edge—climb the rocks to get a perspective usually reserved for our feathered friends. If the wind is calm, the lake’s surface will provide the ideal mirror in which to capture the reflections of the towering, serrated peaks.
To explore further, follow the trail past Marsh Lake, ford the stream that connects Ruby Lake with Heart Lake—taking time to discover their scenic shores as well—and then gradually ascend to the west side of Box Lake. This fourth lake, marked our turn around point, but it is possible to delve much deeper into the backcountry of Little Lakes Valley—the first good campsites are found along the shores of Long Lake, 2.0-miles from the trailhead.
Retracing our steps back to the car, we commented on the beauty and accessibility of the Little Lakes Valley—agreeing whole-heartedly that if any destination could convert a day hiker into a backpacker, this would be the place! Indeed, if you find yourself in the Eastern Sierra—with a backpack or without—do yourself a favor and head for the Little Lakes Valley, especially if you only have time for one hike, because you will definitely not be disappointed.