Barney Lake on Duck Pass, Inyo NF

Day Hiking the Duck Pass Trail, Mammoth Lakes

It is fire season in California, which means two things: (1) Curtis leaves me behind to work looking at fire damaged soils, down near this time near San Bernardino, and (2) There is smoke everywhere, including the Mammoth Lakes Basin on the east side of the Sierra from a fire on the Sierra National Forest. But even if the vistas are a little obscured smoke should not, and will not, ruin a perfectly good weekend in the Sierra…. Unless you are trying to hike near the actual fire, then abort the mission! Lucky I was planning to hike up the Duck pass trailhead in the Inyo with my friend Jen and her pup Aspen, far away from any real blazes.

Reds Lake on Duck Pass

Reds Lake on Duck Pass: the smallest and cutest of the chain of lakes prior Ducks Pass. Duck sightings are likely.

Day Hiking to Arrowhead, Skeltor, and Barney Lakes

Directions: Assuming you are starting on the main road (Hwy 203) in Mammoth Lakes continue straight onto Lake Mary Road (do not turn to go up the mountian towards Devils Postpile), then continue until you reach Lake Mary. Turn left on the first road at Lake Mary and continue to the Cold Water Campground. The parking lot is at the very back of the campground, with bathrooms! Map
Distance: We hiked up to Barney lake, totaling 7.3 miles round trip, but the trip could be shortened significantly if only hiking up to the first or second lake. Be prepared to put in some effort, for the steepest part of the climb straight away, and the air is thinner here!

Topo map of Duck Pass Day Hike

Duck Pass Day hike, North is up.

We started the hike late Friday morning, with nothing but time and the goal of Jen catching some fish before we headed back down the trail. The trail has about equal use from lake visiting day hikers and fisher-persons, with a sudden influx of teens during out hike from the most hardcore highschool cross country team run.  I am glad my high school cross country team never did alpine trail runs up and over Duck pass and back down, even if my knees could have handled it then! I saw minimal backpacking action, although they probably just got an earlier start than us. I know I would love to spend the night at Pika lake someday and see if the pikas are comparable to those at Mono Pass.

The smoke did not settle into the trail until after we reached Barney Lake, making for a pleasant hike up. Plus the many lakes along the trail are great for the lazy day hiker, hiking a short distance and settling for a short rest at one lake, than another. The Fishing was less than stellar, Jen did not catch any and the only people we saw catching anything were pulling up tiny little things. I am certain the Inyo must stock fish here, but since the trail is so popular it gets fished out quickly.

Skellton Lake view from up trail

Skelton Lake had a sand beach and the essence of a summertime campfire

We finished off the day by heading back down to Mammoth and hitting up the Mammoth Brewing Company… Simply hiking day perfection. Plus they allow dogs in the brewery! File that one under “Good to know” should I ever get a sweet dog sitting job on the Eastside.

Check out more images from all the lakes in the gallery below, plus a bonus picture of a smokey/foggy Tenaya from my morning drive. Limited visibility can be beautiful sometimes?