The road to Ebbetts Pass is long and twisty, and many people decide that Lake Alpine is as far as they need to go. But we love this area for its access to some wonderful lakes and remarkable scenery.
Noble Lake--A great four mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, heading south from Ebbetts Pass. From here you can walk all the way to Yosemite, if you want, or you can just stop at Noble Lake and catch nice fat brook trout. And we should warn you that in June and early July, the wildflowers on this trail are among the most astonishing in all the Sierra. The local papers even run special stories to let people know when the blooms are at their brightest. We have never seen lupine like this anywhere else!
Kinney Lakes and beyond--if you don't want to go south, then the only other option is to go north! These lakes are right along the highway, and they are reservoirs, so there's bathtub ring around them most of the year. And there are small brook trout as well. If you keep going north, you eventually can work your way up to Fourth of July Lake and Carson Pass, which is a great through-hike if you can manage the car shuttles.
Highland Lakes and the Canyon--A great trail down the river will allow you to fish for about twelve miles, uninterrupted. This doesn't have quite the scenery of the high mountain lakes, but that's the price you pay for the fishing. The Mokulumne River has lots of rainbows and browns in it, and we have also seen a Pine Marten in this area, working his way a long the river, looking for his own dinner.
Peepsight Peak: We loved the first few miles of the trail, which takes you from Highland Lakes Roads out to the West past wonderful Milk Ranch meadows. And the west end of the meadows, the trail reaches the morraine with amazing junipers on the ridge--the best we've seen. But at this point the trail disappears. We looked for 45 minutes, and never did find it. It may go uphill to the right above the meadow, but we'll never know. We never found it. And we still loved the hike.
Pacific Grade to Bull Run Peak and beyond: this trail starts as a dirt road in lovely Pacific Grade Valley, then climbs up into the mountains along streams and medows. Beautiful country, with views like the one at right.
The stream has trout, the pass is a great entry point into the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, and the views are well worth the effort. It's about 3.5 miles to the pass, another half mile to the top of the peak. And once over the pass, you can hike forever.
Here's the view from the pass...
Wheeler Lake: This trailhead is just a few miles above Lake Alpine from Woodchuck Basin. It leads up through the basin and over the ridge and then down into the Lake. We did this early in the season, and the snow on the northeast side of the ridge was deep and steep. But the views from the ridge are wonderful, including vistas all the way to Emigrant Wilderness and Yosemite. In fact, we'd strongly recommend taking the time to hike out onto the top of the ridge to the East and enjoying the whole view. Wheeler Lake is shallow in parts, and may not have great fishing, but it's still worth the effort. 8 miles rt? You can also take this hike as a shuttle hike if you have two cars, starting at Sandy Meadows Trailhead and hiking down through Woodchuck Basin to Wheeler Lake, over the ridge, and down to the Woodchuck trailhead. Also about 8 miles.
Mokelumne River Canyon: This is not your normal high country trail. It leaves from a couple of miles below Bear Valley, and just heads straight up over the ridge on an old jeep trail, and plummets straight down to the river. once you get there, there are some use trails that allow you to go upriver or down....although down river involves some pretty good bushwhacking after a while. There are a few nice views on the way down, but this is a fisherman's hike. And yes, when you get to the river there are fish. Just be careful if you want to cross over to the other side...pick a nice, slow-moving section and wade across--don't try anything silly. 8 miles rt...plus exploring.
Mokelumne River Canyon: Yes, there is another version of this. Starting at the bridge over the river past Mosquito Lake and the Pacific Grade summit, there is a use trail (clearly marked for the first few miles, then not so much) down the north side of the river as far as you want to go. The most scenic part is probably right up at the top, where you get some nice views. There is a waterfall/cascade at Deer Creek that makes for a nice day-hike destination, or you can fish and hike your way all the way to...Lodi.
Lake Alpine: There's a nice trail around the lake itself--and there are quite a few dayhikers on it. But do take the time to take the side trip up to Inspiration Point--which has great views over the lake and beyond. Enjoy the rock gardens that have been created by other hikers on top of the point. And you can continue out this direction to Duck Lake, as well, with its meadow and granite.
Elephant Rock Lake, Rock Lake: This is a nice trail from the road to Spicer Reservoir. We go to Rock Lake first, which leaves a better trail for the rest of the hike. There's a fair amount of fire damage on the trail to Rock Lake. but it's growing back. And once you turn right at Rock Lake towards the Highland Lakes trail and back to the trailhead, it's a very pleasant walk--with a few views of the Dardanelles between the trees. Early in the season, we've seen more snow drops than anywhere else in the Sierra. Where the trail leaves the Highland Lakes trail to head back to the trailhead, stay left on the Highland Lakes trail for another 1/4 mile down towards the creek...and keep your eyes open. We counted well more than fifty.