Backpacking to Minaret Lake in Inyo National Forest is about 13.4 miles. This trail gains roughly 2,437ft of elevation and is rated as a hard trail with lots of foot traffic. This out and back trail is popular among backpackers and day hikers looking to explore into the Eastern Sierra. It features beautiful meadows, a waterfall, and a breathtaking alpine lake in the Ritter Range.
Permits are required for all overnight trips in Eastern Sierra’s, including backpacking to Minaret Lake, and can be reserved via recreation.gov
60% of permits are released on a first come first served basis 6 months ahead of your start date (so for June 4th, you would book January 4th), and the other 40% are released 2 weeks prior at 7am.
Check for your desired backpacking dates above on Outdoor Status or sign up to receive a push alert to your phone if your desired dates become available.
↟ There is an alternate trail that continues passed Minaret Lake towards Iceberg and Cecile Lake. This trail is absolutely spectacular but the trail in between Minaret and Iceberg is not well maintained and requires a bit of scrambling. If you are not comfortable with this, please do not attempt.
↟ No campfires at Minaret Lakes or Deadhorse Lake; and no campfires at all locations above 10,000 ft.
↟ Parking can be a bit hard to find in Reds Meadow and there is a shuttle bus that runs directly to the trailhead if you need to bus in. It is shuttle stop #6, at the Devils Postpile Visitor Center and shuttles begin at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center.
↟ Choose a campsite at least 100 feet away from lakes, streams, or trails. It is very important to do this in order to protect fragile ecosystems.
↟ Recreate Responsibly, and Leave No Trace. Stay on trail, don’t cut switchbacks, pack out your TP and trash, and be a good nature-loving individual.
Trip Dates: July 24h-25th, 2021
Total Mileage: 14
Trail Type: Out and Back
Trailhead: Red’s Meadow
I left my set up in the high desert of the Sierras at dawn for the trailhead. Upon arriving at Devil’s Postpile Visitor Center, I pull my car into the Backpacker Lot and begin shuffling my belongings into my pack. There were not many other cars this early into the day, and the temperature was still moderate. Tourists and day-hikers began to file into the Visitor Center quickly, and I made my way towards the trailhead, to some of my favorite mountains in the Sierra, the Ritter Range.
A few weeks ago I was just down the road, backpacking the River trail to Thousand Island Lake, Iceberg Lake, and Cecile Lake. The scenery felt familiar and comfortable to me, which was good because this trip just so happened to be my first solo backpacking trip. I normally don’t take trips alone, but Reid was in Colorado hiking the Colorado trail, I wanted to go backpacking, and there was one permit left for Minaret Lake. It seemed like fate.
The climb up towards the lake was very gradual at first, passing by a few beautiful meadows and lakes. After Minaret Creek it started to get a bit steeper, but nothing that felt too extreme or tiresome. Just after the halfway point there was a waterfall to the left of the trail, and I stopped there to pack in a quick lunch. I packed the normal meal: tortillas, cheese, a mustard and mayo packet I saved from a sandwich shop, avocado, and Chunklight Tuna- the sweet chili flavor. I thought I was smart for bringing the babybell brand cheese with me on the trip, something that I wouldn’t need to store in a bag, and I realized pretty quickly that my stomach was not happy with the unaged dairy. Great.
After a few more miles of climb, the trail started to flatten out just a bit as I neared the lake. After coming around a bend and hearing a few voices, I realized there was a Wilderness Ranger coming towards me with another person. She stopped me, asked me to see my permit, and quizzed as a Ranger would. “Where are you going, do you have a bear can, how are you disposing of waste, where will you camp…” and luckily I had every answer she needed to hear- including a valid permit. This was the first ( and still is the only) time I have ever been stopped by a Ranger in the backcountry.
Walking up to the lake was extremely scenic. The peaks of the Ritter Range on this side were jagged and rough, and from some parts of the trail you could see into the valley. I crossed the trail over to my left and walked around for a bit trying to find a place to pitch my tent. Reid had our regular Zpacks Duplex tent on the Colorado Trail, so I rented a Quarter Dome SL 1 Tent from REI. It was a great size, but I desperately wished I had some sort of footprint to lay on the ground. The fabric was desperately thin.
After moseying around the lake for about an hour and settling into the tent, I noticed some really dark clouds moving in from the west. Storms are common in the Sierra, and weather forecasts can change almost instantaneously. I prayed for no lightning or rain, but was quickly met with some fierce winds threatening to knock down the tent. I threw on my Columbia Rain Jacket and Rain Pants, slipped on my merino wool socks and camp sandals (A pair of Croc Slides making their maiden voyage), and began to walk around looking for better shelter.
Reid always makes fun of my pitch spots for being “scenic over practical”. I like to be able to watch the conditions of my landscape compositions from the comfort of my sleeping bag. Because of this, if a spot is a bit exposed, or maybe a tad slanted, I will choose to sleep there over a spot between trees or rocks that provide more shelter. I’m never extreme with this, and would never camp somewhere that I am not supposed to or something that would be uncomfortable. It was in my tent at this time, that light rains were starting and the wind was howling, that I made a very conscious decision to move my tent behind a rock and tree, protecting me from the wind. No regrets.
It was several hours before the sky began to clear. I desperately hoped it would break before sunset, and though the gray still lingered, it was much more peaceful then the leading hours. The scattered clouds swirled in the wind, dyeing pale shades of purple and pink. I sat on some rocks overlooking the lake, and made my dinner, instant ramen, rice, and some Brookside Chocolates.
I set my alarm for 5:30, and pulled back the damp flaps of my tent, hoping to see blue. When I did, I lept from the tent and began walking around capturing as much of the morning light as I could. Another photographer was perched at the lake, an older gentleman in a small group, and we talked a bit about our cameras and what we like to shoot.
While walking around, I snapped a couple shots of the alpenglow as they bid good morning to the Ritter Range, and walked back to the tent to make some breakfast. I boiled some water for my Bobs Redmill Oatmeal and tea, a pack of Oregon Chai Tea Latte Powder packets that I have grown to love for backpacking, and swear by.
I rolled up the tent, being extra careful of the thin fabric next to the twigs and sharp granite, and threw on my pack. It was still early in the Sierras, and most backpackers were breaking down camp for the weekend as I started to head back down trail. I bid adieu to the Ritter’s, hiking back to Devils Postpile, and into reality.
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