Exploring California's Eastern Sierra
A guide by Ridgemont Ambassador Royce Fonseca. Photo: Al (@solo2photo)
Exploring the Eastern Sierra
I’m always up for an adventure and when someone suggests a new place - count me in!
Recently I was invited to see the Eastern Sierras by Al, a fellow photographer, fly fisherman and outdoor enthusiast with his dog Mali. He convinced me that it’s a must-see place and he was right. Talk about an unfamiliar epic location! These areas are all accessible just off the famous US Route 395 and are filled with beautiful trails, colorful Aspens, massive mountain peaks, gorgeous lakes, and cute little towns. There is something new to see around every bend in the road.
Here’s a few top spots we adventured through that I highly recommend:
Want to see an area that is world renowned for the Aspen Fall colors? This is your spot. Just a short drive up State Route 168 to South Fork Bishop Creek will make your jaw drop. The road winds along the mountains and beautiful red, yellow and orange trees aline the hillside. Never in my life have I seen fall colors like this. There are many spots to pull off alongside the road where you will find streams, meadows and of course the best views for some great photo opportunities.
Photo: Al (@solo2photo)
We ventured further into the wilderness on a few hikes, starting with South Lake. The crystal-clear water there is unbelievable, and the landscape is just breathtaking. My philosophy is to try and see as much as possible by daylight (it’s the explorer in me) so we decided to hike up further into the backcountry. Arriving at Ruwau Lake, it was even more incredible sitting at high elevation. It’s surrounded by these unforgiving mountain peaks and really makes you feel so small. Al took the opportunity to fly fish here before the weather turned on us. Using his size 8 hopper pattern in combination with his favorite fly rod (a Sage x 6wt) he had to combat the unpredictable mountain wind. He fished for brook trout which love to eat a big dry fly before fall turns to winter. He caught a beautiful trout and released it back into the lake. I’ve never watched someone fly fish before, but I can tell you it’s an art and a rad thing to see.
One thing to keep in mind here is the weather can change in an instant. After fly fishing we headed back down as soon as we saw the clouds roll in. We found ourselves hiking back in a snow storm which was awesome and made the hike even more epic, but I would caution others to be prepared for the elements.
Hiking Map (Bishop Pass): https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5337638.pdf
This is one of my favorite places in the area and a must see. This little lake is nestled in between the mountain peaks and the water is extremely clear and smooth – a photographer’s dream. What really caught my eye were the rock formations, that were molded by glaciers, it’s spectacular looking. We decided to do some astro shots here at night and got some phenomenal shots with the Milky Way lining up perfectly for us between the two peaks.
This lake has some interesting history behind it, especially how it got its name. Follow this link to learn more: https://www.monocounty.org/places-to-go/lakes-rivers-creeks/convict-lake/
Lodging/Camping info: https://convictlake.com/activities/camping-convict-lake/
Little Lakes Valley
This is another great area for hiking up to some of the most pristine lakes in the backcountry. Mosquito Flat Trailhead will put you in the John Muir Wilderness area (Yup - John Muir – queue the music please! I’m a fan!). You can hike up to a few lakes in the area to camp, fish or just have a quiet outing to yourself. This is a dog friendly trail and of course Mali had a great time exploring with us. We hiked to an undisclosed lake in the area, put up the hammock and relaxed for a bit. I could sit there for hours gazing off into the landscape…a big blue beautiful sky, mountain peaks dusted with snow, gorgeous lake and good company always makes for epic outdoor adventures. Plan for a full day of exploring here.
Mammoth is exactly what it's name is…huge! I have heard about this place but never ventured here and I have to say I cannot wait to come back. We visited the lakes and spent some time at Lake Mary. It was peaceful and still while we watched the sunset over Crystal Crag in the hammock. There are many hikes you can do here, and the campgrounds are in prime locations. The town itself is very cute and has many options for dining. Book in advance as it's a popular area and very busy during the ski season.
A few other locations
Hot Creek Geological Site – a really cool place to check out with some great views and sunset opportunities. https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/inyo/recarea/?recid=20414
Photo: Al (@solo2photo)
White Mountains – if you’re into sunset watching, make sure and look to the East and watch these bad boys light up beautiful shades of pink and orange.
June Lake Loop – try and hit this on your way home. You can take the loop all the way around back to the 395 and you’ll see some gorgeous landscapes here. June Lake is a beautiful shade of blue/green and a very popular place. https://junelakeloop.org/welcome_june_lake_california
The Eastern Sierras have some of the most beautiful places in the backcountry I’ve ever seen. I love the land and all that it has to offer. I highly recommend going here and checking out some of the incredible places I mentioned. A huge thank you to Al and Mali for introducing me to the area, you can follow him on Instagram: @solo2photo
Time to prepare for the next adventure!!
~ Royce Fonseca
Places to Eat & Stay in the surrounding area
Great Basin Bakery: they have the best breakfast sandwiches, perfect fuel for a day of hiking. https://greatbasinbakerybishop.com/
Toms Place: this place is unique, rustic and has great food. They have cabins you can rent and a campground. Make sure and say hi to Cheryl, she’s a native to the area her entire life and could give you a fantastic history lesson. http://www.tomsplaceresort.com/Cafe.html
Mammoth Tavern: awesome atmosphere in a cute place. If you’re a sports fan, hit this place up to see a game. http://www.mammothtavern.com/
Mammoth Brewing Co: this place has some delicious hamburgers and brews! https://mammothbrewingco.com/
Mountain Rambler Brewery: I really loved this place, they have live music and great food. Really cool people here. http://www.mountainramblerbrewery.com/#welcome
I never leave home without my KUHL INSPIRATOR pants, they are my go to hiking pants on every trip. My FIREFLY is a perfect jacket for this area as you can get warm hiking around, it’s lightweight and easy to carry in my pack. Al uses his KUHL SPYFIRE jacket for all of his cold day fishing and photography outings. https://www.kuhl.com/
Photo: Al (@solo2photo)
As always, I hike with my Ridgemont’s, they keep my feet warm and comfy on those long treks. I suggest the Monti Hi’s – they sit above the ankle and provide great support. https://ridgemontoutfitters.com/
This trip I used my THULE PERSPECKTIV Daypack camera bag, it’s waterproof and keeps my gear nice and organized. https://www.thule.com/en-us/us
And finally, you’ll always see me in my Grandtrunk hat and chillin in an epic spot in their hammock. Their hammocks are lightweight, easy to carry, and perfect for an afternoon nap in the wilderness. https://www.grandtrunk.com/collections/hammocks