Backpack to Duck Lake

8 miles 1362 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Sierra Joy

Backpacking to Duck Lake offers amazing lakeside camping and stunning, expansive peak views.

The Duck Pass trail in the John Muir Wilderness combines breathtaking views, wildflowers and plenty of icy mountain lakes for swimming into a trail that is moderate in both difficulty and distance. With multiple lakes along the way to pitch your tent and plenty of day hike options from a base camp, this trail makes a perfect weekend getaway or offers opportunities for longer expeditions into the Sierras.

Duck Pass Trail begins at a parking lot near the far end of Cold Water Campground and is well marked. The climb is steady but mild, zigzagging through the forest. After 0.9 miles you will reach a fork in the trail where a short detour will take you down to Arrowhead Lake. Just over a half mile past this fork you will pass Skeleton Lake. The lake shore offers small beaches for picnics lunches in the shade beneath the pines and shallows for wading in. As you climb above Skeleton Lake the trail goes through less dense patches of forest and meadows for about a mile. Be sure to turn around once and awhile to get glimpses down the canyon as the views to begin to open.

Barney Lake lays nestled below Duck pass, standing behind the clear waters in a conglomeration of rock slab. The pass is hot, so consider filling your water bottles, soaking your hat or taking a plunge into the clears alpine waters (though cold, I highly recommend swimming on a hot day, half way up the pass you’ll be wishing you were back in that water).

The pass itself is abrupt: not long but steep, made less so by a series of switchbacks. The path is rocky and requires watching, especially for anyone with weak ankles. It’s rocky nature leaves it void of shade and hot, but this is countered by unblocked views of the valley and lakes behind that require stopping to enjoy, even if you don’t need to catch your breath. You can see Mammoth Mountain to the northwest and near the top of the pass you can see the top of the Minarets above the ridge to the west.

From Barney Lake you will climb a little over a mile to the top of the pass. Upon reaching the top of Duck Pass you are rewarded with another, equally spectacular vista: that of Duck Lake in all of its breadth and depth of color. Bloody mountain stands tall over the far side. In summer wildflowers dot the sloping meadows around the lake.

Duck Lake lies in a glacial cirque, surrounded on three sides by peaks with its outlet on the far side. As a result, camping around Duck Lake is limited. A side trail on your left will take you around the head of Duck Lake over to Pika Lake which offers ample camp spots in the trees around the lake. The water in the smaller, shallower Pika lake is slightly less cold than Duck lake and nicer for swimming (or rather quick, artic plunges).

Do check both lakes for reflections in the late evening and early morning when the wind is calm. Reflections across the expanse of Duck Lake are mesmerizing when they happen. You can continue backpacking from here by heading towards Purple Lake and Lake Virginia, or you can day hike around the area or simply enjoy being lakeside in the wilderness for awhile.

Notes:To stay overnight you will need a backcountry permit, which can be booked in advance and picked up at the visitors center in Mammoth Lakes.

For people with less time, you can easily day hike up to Arrowhead, Skeleton or Barney Lake, or stay overnight around Skeleton or Barney Lake for an easier backpacking adventure. If you want to day hike all the way to Duck Lake be sure to leave early and take plenty of food and water, it will be easier without a pack, but plan for a full day.

Read More

Tags

Camping
Photography
Swimming
Backpacking
Hiking
Dog Friendly
Forest
Lake
Wildflowers
Wildlife
Swimming Hole

Reviews

Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

🥉Contributor

about 2 years ago

Great Time For A Bachelor Party

I did this hike with 9 friends for my buddy’s bachelor party. We hiked in past Duck Lake and did the extra mile in to Pika Lake which is right next to it. There we set up camp and did day hikes from that location. The hike in is work as it’s about 5-6 miles depending on where you set up camp and it’s all up hill the entire way with the last mile being switch backs so if backpacking be prepared for a leg work out. Overall it was an amazing time and highly recommend.

🥉Contributor

over 5 years ago

One of *the* best places to hike in the Sierra's.

Stay Nearby

Mammoth Lakes, California

Pine City

Overview ****This location is not reservable on Recreation.gov **** Pine City Campground is located in the Inyo National Forest in California's Eastern Sierras, near the town of Mammoth Lakes. The...

Crowley Lake, California

Twin Lakes Campground

Overview Twin Lakes Campground is located in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California. It offers lakeside camping with breathtaking scenery and many outdoor ac...

Sawmill Cutoff

New Shady Rest Campground

Overview New Shady Rest Campground is a large facility convenient to numerous outdoor activities and attractions in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. The campground is popular for hiking, mounta...

Unnamed Road

Palisades Group Campground

Overview Palisades Group Campground lies along Rock Creek in Inyo National Forest, near Mammoth Lakes and Bishop, California. Well-suited for large families and groups, the facility provides access...

Nearby Adventures

  • Hike to Skelton Lake

    The hike to Skelton Lake in Mammoth Lakes, CA starts off at the Duck Lake Pass trailhead just past Lake Mary. The hike starts off with quite a few switchbacks as you climb through the John Muir Wilderness. About one mile up the trail, you'll see a...

    4 miles 872 ft gain

  • Hike to Pika Lake

    As many of the other hikes start in this area, you start at the Goldwater Creek Campground where there is plenty of parking and restrooms. You will take the Duck Pass Trailhead for this hike.• I wanted to point out that this is not the easiest hik...

    10 miles 2000 ft gain

  • Hike to Arrowhead Lake

    If you make your way to the Goldwater Campground there is plenty of parking. The trailhead you take leads to many lakes but the Duck Pass trailhead is the on you want to take.This is a easy trail to follow and walk with very little obstacles. You ...

    2.6 miles 600 ft gain

  • Hike to Heart Lake, Mammoth Lakes

    Starting by parking at the Goldwater Creek Campground parking lot, you will see a couple trailheads. This one is specifically marked Heart Lake. There will be a couple forks in the trail, but if you stay right and on the more obvious path, you wil...

    3.2 miles 500 ft gain