Inyo National Forest Trails:

Inyo National Forest

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Inyo National Forest Overview

A flock of phalaropes takes flight against the rising sun. An ancient bristlecone pine waves a gnarled arm into the winter sky. A black storm dumps icy droplets on the Palisade Glacier. If you want wilderness amidst 14,000-foot peaks, birding at the endangered sanctuary of Mono Lake, studying the oldest life high in the White Mountains, watching wild trout running in mountain and desert streams, you will find it, all within an hour of the Mammoth Lakes-Bishop area at Inyo National Forest.

Inyo extends 165 miles along the California and Nevada border. It totals a huge two million acres. It covers the transition zone between the eastern, dry side of the Sierra Nevadas and the western edge of the Great Basin. Inyo is set with pristine lakes, fragile meadows, winding streams, rugged peaks, and sagebrush expanses. Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States, is its crowning landmark.

This is John Muir country. In fact, one of the most spectacular wilderness areas in the forest is named after him. The John Muir Wilderness is a region of snow-capped mountains and alpine lakes. Its brother wilderness area, the Ansel Adams, is set in the rugged high country east of the Sierra crest. The North, Middle, and lower South Forks of the San Joaquin River rampage through deep granite-walled gorges amidst spectacular alpine scenery.

Inyo is one of California's most popular national forests. And rightly so. Go see for yourself—for all its fame, there is still plenty of wide open space.

Hike to the Ediza Lake
Choosing a best hike in Inyo is impossible. But if we had to pick a favorite, the tramp to Ediza Lake, high in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, would be it. Picture this: A solid stone wall circles the west side of Ediza Lake. The Minarets' jagged spikes form the south rampart. A band of snow still surviving the August sun stretches around to Banner Peak at the opposite end. This peak and its companion Mt. Ritter tower over the outcropping. Between the rocky mounds, vibrant green meadows dotted with a handful of evergreens roll down to the shore. Sound good? Well there's plenty more where that came from.

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Take the Long Path to Mount Whitney
At 14,496 feet, Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the lower 48. The 11-mile Mount Whitney trail leads to the top, and is the most frequently walked peak-climb in the Sierra Nevada, if not in the United States. Fine and good for those with little time and who don't mind sharing the trail with hundreds of other hikers. But if you want to avoid the hordes, consider taking a longer backcountry route. The 42-mile backpacking route leads you through legendary Sierra Wilderness, including the John Muir Wilderness and one of the most exalted portions of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Short or long route, make sure you're acclimated before reaching for the top. Otherwise you're sure to get a mighty headache, severe shortness of breath, and possibly worse.

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Visit the Bristlecone Pine Forest
Bristlecone pines are the oldest known living trees anywhere. In Inyo, you'll find a forest of the oldest of the old in the White Mountains, which are east of the Sierra Nevada. Some of these bristlecones are more than 4,000 years old, making whippersnappers out of the oldest giant sequoia, which can be a juvenile 2,500 years old. As centuries pass, the elements sculpt a bristlecone into astonishingly beautiful shapes and forms. While most of its wood is dead, growth barely continues through a thin ribbon of bark. When all life finally ceases, the snags stand like elegant ghosts for a thousand years or more. Dead wood erodes rather than decays.

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Fish Ellery Lake
You'll be amazed at this Yosemite-like location. Right outside the park boundary, Ellery Lake offers spectacular deep-blue waters set in rock in the 9,500-foot range. Unlike Yosemite, however, Ellery Lake actually offers good fishing. Ellery is annually stocked with 17,000 rainbow trout in the 10- to 12-inch class. You'll find the lake offers a fair number of rainbow and brook trout. Fishing along the shore is decent, but you can find really choice fishing by boating to the far southwest side of the lake.

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Bike Mono Lake
Mono Lake is an immense, saltwater lake set high in the Great Basin portion of Inyo. The lake drains seven streams that wash down from the eastern slope of the Sierra; with no outlet to the sea, Mono Lake is intensely salty and alkaline. The surrounding landscape is volcanic, displaying characteristic black tufa stone, worn down cinder cones, and craters. The life in and around the lake is richly varied. Millions of birds stop over on their way up and down the Pacific flyway to feast on the lake's brine shrimp. It all adds up to a fascinating place for a bike tour on the gravel roads around the lake. Make the town of Lee Vining your basecamp, and then it's off and away.

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Cross-Country Ski the Rock Creek Area
This canyon has long been considered the finest in the range for backcountry skiing. The 20-mile route is best for intermediate to advanced levels. Rock Creek Area boasts Treasure Lakes, at the base of Mt. Dade and Bear Creek Spire, which is arguably the finest spring base camp location in the Sierra. The route is blue diamond, full of climbs and descents. Expect wide glaciers, narrow basins, and a route lined with mountain peaks and excellent camp sites.

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