Lee Vining, California

Hike 20 Lakes Basin Loop

9.1 Miles Total - 1305 ft gain - Loop Trail

Originally added by Marlena Steiner

This incredible day hike through the Eastern Sierra is often overshadowed by its superstar neighbors Yosemite and Mono Lake. This hike remains a hidden gem through some of the most astounding views the Californian mountains have to offer.

This trail is overall very easy to hike, but the 9.1mi distance at a 10,000ft altitude is what makes it a bit of a doozy for people who aren't frequent hikers.  That said, if you are a relatively in-shape individual, you should have no problem with this trail.  Remember to take frequent water breaks.

Since it's a loop, you can start out in either direction, but I would recommend going counter-clockwise for the best views.  This is also the order of how my description will follow.

The trail starts out following the eastern side of Saddlebag Lake before slowly turning and meandering around several small lakes and some medium sized ones.  Even in the peak of summer you'll encounter plenty of snow, so remember to watch you footing to avoid sinking.

Eventually you will begin to make your way downhill toward Helen Lake where you will find a moderately challenging stream cross and rock scramble before continuing on.  You'll also see a beautiful waterfall tumbling into the lake.  This is where the best views begin to unfold.

Make your way around Helen Lake, past the waterfall and up through the running streams.  This area can sometimes get a bit tricky due to the snow, so keep an eye out for tracks from previous hikers if you need guidance.

You'll pass several small lakes and streams before reaching Steelhead Lake which offers stunning views and waterfall sightings in the distance.  Keep left at the fork to continue along the loop back toward Saddlebag Lake.

As you continue toward Saddlebag Lake, take in the sweeping views of North Peak and Mt. Conness.  This is truly the most rewarding section of the hike.

Once you connect back around to Saddlebag Lake, there is the option to take a boat ride back to the parking lot.  Although the last section of the hike on the western side of Saddlebag Lake is not challenging, it can be a bit scary for those who are afraid of heights, especially because the snow can get slippery.  

Watch your footing and take this section slow before connecting back around and crossing the bridge to the parking lot.

On a holiday weekend in the middle of the summer, this trail was hardly trafficked much at all.  Many of the visitors come to enjoy Saddlebag Lake or fish in Greenstone Lake, so if you are looking to escape the crowds then this is the perfect hike for you!

For more details and ranger contact info, head to the Forest Service website.

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Overall rating: 

20 lakes basin

Beautiful place. Hike wasn’t too bad. Fishing was great.

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