Little Lakes Valley Trail Chain of Lakes, California, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - California - High Sierra -

Also known as:  Mack Lake, Marsh Lake, Heart Lake, Box Lake, Long Lake, Chickenfoot Lake, Lower Gem Lake, Upper Gem Lake

The Little Lakes Valley Trail is an ‘easy’ trail, according to experienced hikers in California’s High Sierras. However, these beautiful lakes are located at a high altitude which may be difficult for those unaccustomed to the thin atmosphere. The trailhead starts at 10,300 feet, which is the highest trailhead in the Sierra Nevadas. From there, it’s only another 650 feet up to the highest point on the trail. The trail is less than seven miles along eight spectacular small lakes in Little Lakes Valley. The string of lakes in the glacier-gouged canyon are all set amid outstanding scenic vistas and are breathtaking.

This interesting trail along Rock Creek levels out somewhat after the first initial climb to a series of low hills which hide a string of beautiful and unspoiled alpine lakes. This is the John Muir Wilderness, filled with breathtaking views, inspiring peaks, and unspoiled wilderness. The first lake to come into view is Mack Lake, followed by Marsh Lake over a low hill. A bit larger, Heart Lake is next and is somewhat heart-shaped. Next comes Box Lake, followed by Long Lake. In order to see Chickenfoot Lake (shaped somewhat like a chicken track), hikers take a short loop off the main trail which passes along the lakeshore then circles back to the main trail. Still heading up the trail, hikers are faced with a sign that points either to Morgan Pass straight ahead or Gem Lakes to the right. Some intrepid hikers opt to climb the steep trail to the pass to admire the view or continue on the loner trail. Others head to Lower Gem Lake and Upper Gem Lake. This marks the end of the Little Lakes Trail, although other trails travel through the area for many miles. The trail round-trip is posted as 6.6 miles.

The Little Lakes Valley Trail is extremely popular because of the spectacular scenery and ease of access. The trailhead parking area is located 13 miles off US 395, where hikers may camp for a single night to become acclimated to the elevation. Because the trail is considered easy, experienced hikers choose this trail for a day’s outing with their children and dogs. On warm summer days, the trail may become quite crowded. Several 13,000-foot peaks tower above the little valley, including Mt. Mills, Dade, Abbot and Bear Creek Spire. Cameras are almost standard equipment for the Little Lakes Trail, and many photography buffs make sure to take the hike in different seasons. In spring, wildflowers blaze along the creek and in the high meadows, while aspens shade parts of the path and shelter native wildlife and birds. In autumn, the crowds thin but the scenery becomes a brilliant mass of varied golds and yellows as the aspens change color.

On a deserted week day, the only other visitors hikers may see on the trail is an angler or two. Fly fishermen fish both the lakes and Rock Creek for trout. Brown trout are the most common variety caught, but anglers report catching the occasional brook trout or even a wild rainbow trout. All California fishing regulations are in effect. Because of the altitude, snow may linger long in the spring or arrive early to surprise fall hikers. Spring run-off can swell the creek to a dangerous torrent. The Ranger Station at the trailhead keeps visitors abreast of current weather conditions and issues permits for overnight visits.

For those wishing to spend more than a day hiking the Little Lakes Trail or others in the area, one must secure the correct permit from the Ranger and will be reminded of the rules. No campfires are allowed in the area at any time. Because this is bear country, bear canisters must be used for both food and trash. Once past the vault toilet at the trailhead, there are no sanitary facilities, and any drinking water must be purified. The closest facilities for lodgings, food or a welcome shower are private businesses located at the junction of US 395 and Rock Creek Road leading to the trailhead. Other campgrounds are located nearby in the Inyo National Forest.

The trail is probably most popular as a day hike for vacationers to the Mammoth Lakes area just a few miles to the north. Although most people think of Mammoth Lakes as a winter sports destination, many visitors arrive in summer to take advantage of the excellent accommodations in the area and enjoy boating and fishing. Mammoth Lakes is a full-service resort town with all types of attractions and amenities to please visitors. Winter brings a number of ski slopes, snowboarding, sledding, dog sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and ice skating. Summer invites families with visits to Devils Postpile National Monument, nearby saline Mono Lake with its unusual tufa formations, crystal-clear Lake Mary, or Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. The Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center has information on all of these activities and more. And make sure to save a day for the Little Lakes Trail.

Another town in the area geared to visitors is Bishop, a few miles south of Rock Creek Road on US 395. Besides vacationer-geared attractions and services, Bishop offers a choice of lodgings including hotels, guest cottages and bed-and-breakfasts. Private rentals for ski holidays can be found near both Bishop and Mammoth Lakes. Real estate usually is found in the form of existing housing as little private land is available within the national forest . A few days visiting this area of the High Sierras will convince many visitors that they want to put down roots in this area of pristine wilderness and myriad outdoor activities. Little Lakes Trail will no doubt be a part of the vision that forms. So put on the hiking boots, pack up the fishing tackle and reserve a week’s vacation near Little Lakes Trail.

Things to do at Little Lakes Valley Trail Chain of Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Ice Skating
  • Snowboarding
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Dog Sledding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Forest

Fish species found at Little Lakes Valley Trail Chain of Lakes

  • Brook Trout
  • Brown Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout

Little Lakes Valley Trail Chain of Lakes Photo Gallery

Little Lakes Valley Trail Chain of Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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