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Valentine Lake

December 23, 2019

Just south of Mammoth Lakes lies the trailhead to Sherwin Lakes, the gateway to Valentine Lake. This 9 mile round trip hike stays below 10,000 feet, placing it on the easier side of Eastern Sierra trails.

I hiked to Sherwin Lakes a few winters prior to see the lakes frozen over and covered in snow. This time it felt just as cold, but I was treated to stunning fall colors instead of snow-covered terrain.

Leaving the trailhead
Leaving the trailhead

The trailhead is easy to find, and accessible via Sherwin Creek Road from both the town of Mammoth Lakes and Highway 395. This dirt road that leads to the parking lot has plenty of space for most hikers, as well as a vault toilet and bear-proof trash can.

Leaving the trailhead provides you with the typical Eastern Sierra hiking experience. You begin by walking through fields of sagebrush until reaching a canopy of pine trees. After crossing a footbridge over Sherwin Creek, the trail follows long switchbacks up the mountain’s north face.

View towards Mammoth Lakes and Highway 395
View towards Mammoth Lakes and Highway 395

The top of these switchbacks is a great place to stop and look at views to the north. Highway 395 is visible, as are the Glass Mountains and Mammoth Yosemite Airport. The trail flattens out slightly before reaching the basin of Sherwin Lakes.

Arriving at Sherwin Lakes
Arriving at Sherwin Lakes

I was hiking in early October, just as the Aspens began to cover the mountainsides with beautiful fall colors. The lakes were deep blue in color, surrounded by downed trees and sandy beaches.

Sherwin Lakes
Sherwin Lakes Sherwin Lakes
Sherwin Lakes

There were only a few other cars at the trailhead when I started, and most of them stopped at Sherwin Lakes to fish for trout. As a result, they would all miss out on the massive Juniper Pines that littered the trail to Valentine Lake.

Sherwin Lakes
Sherwin Lakes Trail from Sherwin Lakes to Valentine Lake
Trail from Sherwin Lakes to Valentine Lake Trail from Sherwin Lakes to Valentine Lake
Trail from Sherwin Lakes to Valentine Lake

The sandy nature of the trail and twisted Junipers reminded me of the Hilton Lakes trail, not too far south of Mammoth.

I stopped at Lost Lake for a few photos just before reaching Valentine Lake. The wind was starting to pick up, and the trail was now completely covered in snow. Mammoth recieved it’s first light dusting of the seaosn after a cold front had arrived just a few days earlier.

Lost Lake
Lost Lake

As I approached 10,000 feet in elevation, the last bit of trail was now covered in 2-3 inches of fresh snow. The final ascent to Valentine Lake was steep, therefore making the trek through the snow a little tricky.

Valentine Lake
Valentine Lake

The views were beautiful, but the wind was now a constant annoyance. Temperatures were already near freezing, meanwhile the wind cancelled out any warmth provided by the sun. Shockingly enough, sticking my hands into the cold water to refill my bottle didn’t help at all.

Valentine Lake
Valentine Lake

I sat behind a few boulders to escape the wind as I ate lunch. Getting back to the trailhead was nearly all downhill, but the snowy section near Lake Valentine proved to be tricky. I had put away my treking poles in an attempt to warm my hands, but quickly realized I would need them to traverse down the steep, icy trail.

Valentine Lake
Valentine Lake

I made it back to the trailhead in good time, and even stopped at Sherwin Lakes again for a few minutes. This is one of the less traveled trails near Mammoth, as most people prefer the ones closer to town. In short, the views combined with the easy-to-moderate difficulty of this trail makes it a must-hike for anyone who loves alpine Lakes.