Hiking & Backpacking / Outdoor Adventures

Backpacking to Ediza Lake

Ediza Lake

Sometimes I wonder if these types of posts need any narration at all. Sometimes I feel the pictures tell the full story, and they do a better job than I ever could describing the grandeur and beauty of the Eastern Sierra backcountry. So, I’ll try to let them do most of the talking…

I only go backpacking once or twice a year, and every time I do, I wonder why I don’t do it more often. Backpacking takes me deep into the dream worlds I can’t see from the road or experience on a day hike. Backpacking feels like a secret society of sorts; where only you and your fellow Bonesmen know what gems lie beyond the trail and just over the ridge.

Ediza Lake is one such gem. An alpine lake at 9,300 feet elevation, it can be done as an out-and-back hike but you end up missing much of the scenery surrounding it. The jaunt to Ediza is one of the most beautiful trails in the Ansel Adams Wilderness and needs an overnighter to fully appreciate.

We had our sights set on Ediza last September. Summer is a spectacular time of year in the Sierra, and especially the end of summer, when the leaves are just starting to turn color but the air is warm and fragrant.

We arrived in Mammoth Lakes a day before the hike and spent a relaxing afternoon sunning on Lake George and watching kayakers paddle across its turquoise waters. It’s one of the most photogenic lakes in the region with a clear view of Crystal Crag looming above the Mammoth Crest.

Lake George and Crystal Crag

Lake George and Crystal Crag

To end our very rough day, we drove to the hot springs off a dirt path near Benton Crossing. There we found a geothermal pool in the middle of a meadow all to ourselves. As we soaked in a hot mineral bath, we watched the sky turn all shades of orange and red and purple as the sun slowly dipped below the Sherwin Range in the distance.

The meadow at Mammoth hot springs

The meadow at Mammoth hot springs

Sunset in Mammoth

Sunset at Mammoth hot springs

Can I just say that a pre-hike hot tub is the way to go for multi-day backpacking trips? I slept so soundly that night that I woke up refreshed and energized for the haul ahead.

We started our hike on the Shadow Lake Trail in Agnew Meadows, descending into the San Joaquin River Valley as we passed creeks and cascades along the trail.

Beginning the hike to Ediza Lake

Following the Shadow Creek trail

Beautiful day in the backcountry

Shadow Creek

At the halfway point about three and a half miles in, we reached Shadow Lake. Despite the frigid alpine water, it looked so inviting on that hot summer day that we couldn’t help but heave our heavy packs off our backs and jump in!

Cooling off at Shadow Lake

Summer day at Shadow Lake

I almost could’ve stayed at Shadow and been perfectly content with our trip. The Sierra solitude was spectacular. There were smooth granite slabs everywhere, baking in the sun and just beckoning us to take a nap on them.

Relaxing at Shadow Lake

Picking up the trail again, we connected with the John Muir Trail for a while as we followed Shadow Creek.

Shadow Creek

While making a random restroom stop, we discovered a small waterfall about 50 feet off the trail that flowed into a deep swimming hole. It was magical!

Cascades along Shadow Creek

Ice cold waterfall

Cascades in the backcountry

We continued another three miles up Shadow Creek, rolling through green meadows and climbing up a granite staircase until Ediza Lake came into view.

Beautiful meadow turning colors

Follow the leader

Ediza Lake

Ediza Lake

Most people set up camp at Ediza and call it good. After all, this is where the trail ends, and it’s definitely not a shabby place to put up a tent. The shores of Ediza were dotted with all likes of shelters and though I wanted nothing more than to kick off my boots down by the lake, I also wanted something special. I always want to know — what’s just over that next ridge?

High mountain meadow

Hiking beyond Ediza Lake

Another mile ahead, we found ourselves in a postcard — standing in the middle of a high mountain meadow at the base of Mount Ritter, with the Minarets to the east and Banner Peak to the north. It was breathtaking. There was not another camper around.

Mount Ritter and Banner Peak

High mountain meadow at the base of the Minarets

So happy to get my shoes off

I fell asleep to the sounds of the waterfall outside our tent and woke up to the Ritter Range bathed in the glow of early light.

Waking up to the alpine glow of sunrise

We spent the afternoon doing a day hike to Iceberg Lake, scrambling up a slope and boulder hopping back and forth across a stream. The more adventurous among us even took a skinny dip in the icy waters!

Climbing over a ridge to Iceberg Lake

Scrambling up a slope with Ediza Lake in the distance

Scrambling up a slope to Iceberg Lake

Day hike to Iceberg Lake

A creek flowing out of Iceberg Lake

A creek flowing out of Iceberg Lake

A creek flowing out of Iceberg Lake

Iceberg Lake

Iceberg Lake

Iceberg Lake

Iceberg Lake

Instead of coming back down the way we came, Will and I decided to traverse the talus to the other end of the lake. Ascending several hundred feet above Iceberg, we could see Cecil Lake in the distance.

Grassy meadow at the foot of the Minarets

Grassy meadow at the foot of the Minarets

Iceberg Lake with Cecil Lake above

We continued up a cliff that looked like a stack of building blocks. And because no climb is complete without a sequence of classic butt shots, here are the best ones that Will so meticulously captured.

Climbing up the Minarets

Climbing up the Minarets

Climbing up the Minarets

Clilmbing up the Minarets

Climbing up the Minarets

Climbing up the Minarets

Once up and over the ridge, we down climbed the rocky northern slope below the Minarets. My knees thanked me when I finally made it to the meadow!

Down climbing the Minarets

Down climbing the Minarets

Hiking off the Minarets

High mountain meadow

Our last day was leisurely. Our friends hiked out after breakfast, whereas we slept in and bathed in the waterfall. It was a lovely lazy day… and a Monday at that.

After lunch I went exploring while Will started packing.

A creek flowing below the Minarets

Alpine waterfall

I climbed atop one of the granite domes in the meadow, taking in the views of our little gem of a campsite. Breathing the air. Finding my bliss.

Can you spot him fluffing our orange tent below?

High mountain meadow with a view of the Minarets

Packing away the tent

Hiking out, the eight miles to the trailhead didn’t seem nearly as long as the way in. It was familiar yet unfamiliar. Every turn was a new way to look at the landscape.

Hiking out of Ediza Lake

Hiking out of Ediza Lake

Log crossing at Shadow Creek

Log crossing at Shadow Creek

Granite wall on the Shadow Creek trail

Summer in the backcountry

When we stopped at Shadow Lake for a snack and a swim, taking in the surroundings, I had to wonder — what’s just over that next ridge?

Shadow Lake

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

73 Comments

  • Tisha Bohr
    July 8, 2015 at 12:53 am

    He there, love the pics! I’m hiking this trail next week and see that you had dogs with you. How did you get them in? I don’t think they’re allowed on the shuttle bus and I want to bring my muts!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      July 9, 2015 at 11:12 pm

      There was no shuttle required when I did this hike, so I suggest you call Mammoth Visitors Center for more information. Good luck and have fun!

      Reply
      • Mark Simpson
        August 3, 2019 at 4:49 pm

        I did this hike many many years ago.. Gorgeous and quite strenuous.. A Buddy and I and my Black Lab mix spent several days doing it..

        If I remember, we camped at Shadow lake (or maybe it was Ediza where we camped), and then day hiked up to iceberg lake, the meadow and back down to our campsite that same day.. There is a point where crossing the stream was difficult for the dog, and I had to carry her.. There was also a point where you had to scramble a pretty steep climb up some boulders (the stream was flowing underneath, you could hear it but not see it), but if I remember right the dog was able to negotiate that..

        The problem arose when we went across the large talus/boulders to get to the other end of the lake.. The dog made it across getting there, but was pretty scared.. It was hard for a human, worse for the dog.. She refused to cross them coming back.. Tried to get her to swim around them, but she was having no part of that..

        I ended up having to carry her in my arms across the boulders.. Very difficult as you really need your hands and arms to negotiate the rocks.. That was ‘not’ fun and took quite a while (like an hour)… Very precarious..

        The meadow is amazing.. It’s pretty flat, covered with that dense sierra grass (perfect for laying on) in a canyon, with a sandy shallow stream meandering through it, and there are all these pools, each a different vivid color because of the different kinds of algae (or moss or whatever it is) in them.. Blue, purple, red, orange, yellow rust, brown, green, etc.. Seemed like a different planet..

        Always thought that’s where I’d set up camp if I ever went back, but never did..

        Great article.. Found it while searching for the name of the lakes (been a long time, like 25-30 years).. Would have liked some pictures of that meadow, the sandy stream, and the pools.. Also would have liked pictures looking down into the lake at the deep crevasses disappearing into the abyss.. Kinda unnerving to look into.. Yet breath taking..

        I have some pics of all of that somewhere.. I’ll bookmark this article and if I ever find them, I’ll post a few in the comments here…

        Reply
        • Linda from Garden Betty
          August 4, 2019 at 10:59 pm

          It sounds like you’re overdue for another visit to this stunning area! There are so many day hikes out of Ediza Lake that I could camp here several more times and still find something new to explore.

          Reply
  • Tisha Bohr
    July 8, 2015 at 12:52 am

    Hi there! Love your post. I’m hiking this trail next week! I see that you have dogs with you. How did you get them in? I don’t think they’re allowed on the shuttle bus and I want to bring my muts!

    Reply
  • Dennis Kruse
    June 13, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    I just got back from Ediza Lake. I wanted to go before the mandatory shuttle bus started, but after the road was cleared. Probably two weeks too soon as it rained [cold rain!] and there was still snow on trail near Emerald Lake. [Second day i traveled to 1000 Island Lake traveling by Garnet Lake and Emerald Lake.] At Ediza Lake, camped past the Lake on Northern side, where I could find some grass and small trees. Had to wade across stream crossing the trail.

    Great photos! Had a malfunction with my camera and had to use phone, which has only 2 M pixel camera.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      June 23, 2015 at 11:37 am

      Hi Dennis, it sounds like you had quite an adventure out there! It’s been so dry in the Sierra this year that the rain seems like a blessing. I hope you enjoyed your early-season hike!

      Reply
    • Jon Hakim
      September 18, 2017 at 3:30 pm

      When do they typically clear the road?

      Reply
      • Linda from Garden Betty
        November 9, 2017 at 10:39 pm

        Usually mid-June, depending on snowpack. You can call the Mammoth ranger station to find out.

        Reply
  • Pam Decker
    April 30, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Have you done Iceberg lake? Minaret lake? Cecille lake?
    Thanks for your input.

    Reply
  • Pam Decker
    April 30, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    I tried to get permits for late August for Ediza lake and they are gone already,same with Garnett lake. If you camp past Ediza lake do you think you could get permits? for what area? Any suggestions.

    Reply
    • James R
      May 29, 2017 at 8:25 pm

      You can always do walk-in permits. Thats what I did back in 2006 for our group of 4. But they are limited.

      Reply
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