Updated: Aug 1
In May of 2021, we road-tripped to see the ancient bristlecone pines down in the White Mountains. On our way "out," my husband wanted to take a "shortcut" via Silver Canyon Road. On this route, we happened upon a couple and young adult daughter with vehicle trouble. Long story short (you can read more about it here), after we tried to give their dead vehicle a jump, we drove the daughter, Abigail, down to Bishop, CA, and on that drive, we asked her lots of questions, one of which was, "What is your favorite hike in the area?" Without hesitation, she told us Little Lakes Valley/Rock Creek.
A little over a year later, we finally made it there ourselves.
And let me tell you this hike is going to be difficult to top – it's easy to see why it was so high on Abigail's list. It is likely my favorite hike we have ever done. So far. We go to a lot of amazingly beautiful places on our hikes, but this one was over the top for me. Every view along the trail was like a postcard. (So, this post is going to include a ton of photos and none of them do it justice.)
The time of year we did it definitely played a role in this hike rising to the top of my list. The lakes, creeks, and streams were still full of spring melt, and even though the temperature was on the cool side and parts of the trail were still covered in snow, it was breathtakingly beautiful and I have a feeling that this trail gets substantially busier during the summer. So, we came at the perfect time.
We got up extra early because it was a 3-hour drive ahead of us and we hoped to beat the anticipated crowds on what was a holiday weekend – this will be our third hike of the weekend – Haskell Peak and Tamarack Lakes were the first two.
When we arrived at the parking lot for the trailhead at around 9:30 AM, I was actually surprised that the lot wasn't more full, but we were still glad we got an early start. Several hiking groups and fisher people were also just arriving and having tailgate pre-hike snacks while gathering up their gear.
Our ultimate goal was to hike up to Gem Lake. We knew we'd run into some leftover snow on the trail and we'd be hiking above 10,000 ft. today, so we dressed in layers and used our hiking poles. We grabbed our packs and got going right away.
To start, next to the parking lot was the beautiful, rushing Rock Creek.
Check out that view ahead of us!
I stopped several times to take photos of the amazing landscape along this trail. Running creeks and lakes were everywhere.
This was one of my favorite spots along the trail. A rustic foot bridge over a babbling creek cutting into the landscape and flowing into the blue Heart Lake surrounded by snowy peaks and pines.
A view of Box Lake, the next lake up the chain.
Rock Creek flowing down into Box Lake.
The trail was wet in a few spots. This was one of them. Lots of rocks to use as stepping stones, though!
I love the way the creek cuts through the grass.
Then we were heading on to Long Lake. This picturesque treed corridor was on the way.
That view, though! Just incredible!
Long Lake was also one of my favorite areas of the hike. A lot of times when we're hiking around lakes, the trail is high above the lake and you're seeing it from a distance unless you hike down to the shoreline. On this trail, a portion of it was right alongside Long Lake and it was really neat to be hiking that close to such a beautiful lake. And the backdrop isn't bad, either.
My husband standing on the trail next to Long Lake. The rock wall side of the trail had massive, massive rockslides at some point in history. You wouldn't want to get caught in one of those.
Shortly after Long Lake, we starting hitting more snow on the trail on our way up to Gem Lake. The leftover snow started at about 10,500 ft. We were very glad we had our poles for those sections of trail.
Snow to stepping stones and back to snow.
After navigating through the snowy, wet, muddy, slippery trail conditions (thank you to all who post-holed before us), we arrived at a partially frozen Gem Lake at over 10,800 ft.
As I was taking shoreline pics, a yellow-bellied marmot ran out from the bushes and posed for me.
We had some trail snacks while we sat along the lake's edge and then we got up and started making our way back down the trail.
Our last "lake stop" would be Chickenfoot Lake on our descent.
Walking along Chickenfoot Lake.
Chickenfoot Lake had a really rocky shoreline.
From here, we continued back down to the trailhead, which had gotten somewhat busier since we'd arrived that morning. It was about an 8-mile hike with over 1,110 ft. elevation gain, so it offered a decent challenge, but the entire hike was above 10,000 ft., which is rarely the case on most of our hikes. This one made me work a little bit on both the out and back, but the rewards along the way were well worth the little bit of effort.
By this time, I was ravenous. We loaded up our gear and headed back north on Hwy 395. Sadly, our favorite BBQ restaurant was closed for the day, so we stopped at a newer cafe that we hadn't been to yet. It's called the Coachwhip Cafe and the menu was nothing like we expected. They don't have indoor dining, but you can get your items to-go and then eat at one of the outdoor tables set up in the adjacent pasture.
I scanned the eclectic menu taped to the building next to the ordering window and made my selection. They brought our order out to us at the picnic table we chose and we were delighted that the food was incredibly fresh and tasty. I also had a homemade ginger hibiscus beverage, which was delicious and refreshing. Overall, I would definitely stop here again.
I really loved this hike and it's very high on my list of all-time favorites. Thank you to Abigail for the recommendation! It did not disappoint!
Little Lakes Valley