Backpacking the Valley of Little Lakes



Trail: Little Lakes Valley Trail to Gem Lakes

Distance: 7.2 miles round trip

Elevation Gain/Loss: 994 ft.

Location: Inyo National Forest/ John Muir Wilderness

Trail head: Mosquito Flats

Permits: Required for backpacking. Wilderness permits can be reserved here.


Trail so nice, I’ve hiked it, well.. several times this summer; twice backpacking and twice day hiking! Easy enough for beginner hikers with views that you don’t necessarily have to “work” for, although the hike is rated as “moderately strenuous” due to the elevation at the trail head,which is 10,000 ft. For backpackers, obtaining a wilderness permit is only half the battle; I understood that this was a popular trail in the summer and secured a permit as soon as I was able.

June 28, 2018 It was the last week of June and my sister and I had four days to explore what had been a top back country bucket list destination. We were excited to explore a new area in the Eastern Sierras and even more excited about all of the lakes we’d have access to. As usual, our hike started a lot later than we had planned. It was necessary for us to accumulate to the elevation, so we spent a little longer packing up and getting ready in the parking lot. It was also very necessary to shower ourselves in as much deet as possible or we’d get eaten alive by mosquitoes! We did not have a set destination for the day for we understood that the very first lake was only 0.4 miles from the trail head.

It was around 7 pm when we officially started hiking in. The elevation caught up to us and our 32 lbs. packs, so you could only imagine how slow we were moving. The sun was starting to set just as we reached the second lake. It was time to bust out our head nets as the mosquitoes were too much to handle. We must have hiked about a mile in a half before we decided to call in and search for a place to sleep, since we were loosing daylight, we were loosing out on our surroundings.


I remember the night being warm and not having to fully sleep inside my sleeping bag. I was comfortable the entire night and it was really nice. We woke up refreshed and to a pretty awesome view of Box Lake and took our time crawling out of the tent to prepare breakfast. The morning was crisp and not a cloud in the sky.  We had a little less than three miles to our destination for the day and then the whole day to explore, so we took our time and lounged a little at every lake we passed. When we reached the outlet of Long Lake, there were people scrambling to cross the creek. Neither my sister nor I had trekking poles, so we opted for another option and made it safely across. Long Lake was beautiful! The mountain range behind Long Lake was unlike anything I’d ever seen in California and that was just the beginning!

There are seven alpine lakes in Little Lakes Valley and all but one can be reached directly from the Little Lakes Valley trail. At 2.7 miles from the trail head, there is a short junction to Chicken foot Lake. Unfortunately, you cannot see the chicken foot shape from lake level but I’ve heard you can clearly see it from the summit of Mount Morgan. We checked the surrounding area for a decent camping spot with no luck so we dropped our packs for a snack before hiking the last half mile to our destination, Gem Lakes.

July 14, 2018 My second experience along this trail was a short day hike with Brandon. It was the middle of July on a Saturday afternoon and the clouds had completely covered the sky. The parking lot was full and so were the first three overflow lots. It was definitely a busy weekend and so much more different from my first experience. I was prepared for the mosquitoes but we were not prepared for the rain. It was a dark and gloomy day so we decided to only hike until it started to rain. It was Brandon’s first time, so we checked out each lake as we passed by. We made it to Box Lake and stopped for lunch before we heard thunder then felt some rain. It rained just enough to get everything wet and kept the mosquitoes away.

August 18, 2018 My third time on this trail, was my second time backpacking it. We lucked out on wilderness permits once a family camping trip was canceled last minuet. My sister, her dog Babygirl, Brandon and myself spent another two nights here basically repeating everything we did the first time, minus Chicken foot Lake. This was my first time ever hiking, camping and backpacking with a dog and it was surely a different experience. I’ve never camped with kids, but I imagine it to be quite similar. It was the end of August so one would expect lots of mosquitoes, but actually we didn’t have any issues with them! We started way late and within the first mile or so, we were stopping to break out and turn on our headlamps. Even Babygirl had her own light and pack. The next day, we made our way to Gem Lakes where we would be camping and hanging out for the remainder of the day.

September 3, 2018 The most recent experience I had on this trail was just about two weeks ago, during Labor Day weekend. My friend Tiffany and I day hiked Morgan Pass and Gem Lakes. We  originally had plans to climb Mount Morgan that day, unfortunately, we were both a little too tired from the previous days backpacking trip to Duck Lake. It would have been a first for us both and neither of us felt inspired enough to push through. So instead of a failed attempt, we opted for an easier day hike and I knew exactly where to go! 😉

It amazed me how much has changed within the few weeks I had not been there. Fall is right around the corner and it was totally beginning to show! The surrounding area is already blessed with tons of color and now that the seasons are changing, I couldn’t believe I was hiking within the same area.

The hike to Gem Lakes is fairly easy. We wanted something a little harder with amazing views, so we decided to climb Morgan Pass in hopes of being able to look down on Little Lakes Valley. Unfortunately, you cannot see the valley from the top of Morgan Pass, but we did see Upper Morgan lake from up above. Finally, after three times hiking in the area, I finally witness the other side of Morgan Pass. A little disappointed because I was also expecting a grand view of Little Lakes Valley from up above.

We hiked back down and made our way to Gem Lakes. The plan was to jump in for an end of summer alpine lake swim, but I think we got enough of that from Duck Lake the previous day. It is still too early in the season to say that I will not be back until next year, as I’m really looking forward to seeing the seasons completely changing!


6 thoughts on “Backpacking the Valley of Little Lakes

    1. Thank you for reading! Inyo Wilderness is my home away from home and one of my favorite places to hike/camp/backpack! I’m also looking forward to backpacking in Yosemite this summer! Happy Trails!


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