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I’ve wanted to see some alpine lakes in the California Sierra for quite some time but always assumed that would require some serious backpacking and probably a sobering elevation workout to enjoy a classic view of blue water bordered by bold granite features. You all know the pictures I’m talking about.

Then I stumbled on a posting about Little Lakes Valley on Outdoor Project ( It basically said you could get the alpine views without the lung-busting grade challenges generally associated with alpine views in the Sierra. I checked out a similar review on All Trails ( that said the same thing.  Big experience on a small (fitness) budget.

OK, got a destination. Now logistics.

I figured out a time slot where Susie and I were both free. Weekend before Labor Day. That’ll work.

Then I figured out how to get there (ranch > central valley > Tioga Pass through Yosemite > Hwy 395). (Google maps)

Then figured out where to stay (camping? Too beat to bother. Mammoth Mountain = off season room rate!). Within the budget.

Then get somebody to feed the horses and watch the ranch (thank you Malia).

And one more thing: Order a couple of Zeiss Batis lenses from Lens Rentals ( just to round things off.

We loaded up the car (no chihuahuas this trip) and headed across the Central Valley and up into Yosemite.  Got to the entrance with my debit and senior discount cards in hand, only to find out access to the park was… free that particular day. It just keeps getting better.

We then took Tioga Pass through the park, which will take you past spectacular scenery as you climb to 9,000 feet or so. We then descended down the eastern side onto Hwy 395, ending up at Mammoth Mountain resort.

After spending the next morning at Mammoth, we headed out for a beautiful ride south on Hwy 395. We turned onto Rock Creek Road for an equally pleasing drive to the Little Lakes Valley trailhead. (John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest) The road turns into gravel, but Google said we need to keep going, which we did. Incidentally, we passed numerous creekside campgrounds and a few lodges on Rock Creek Road, which we made a note of for our next visit.

We pulled into the almost full parking lot (it was a Saturday after all) loaded up the cameras and some water (in that order) and started the GPS tracker. To my astonishment, we were already at 10,000 feet. I’m like, wait… what?  We’re already at 10,000 feet? It just doesn’t seem that high. I just never thought I could drive to a parking lot in the Sierra that rests at 10,000 feet.

We started on the well marked trail and within minutes Mack Lake came into view.