Crystal Lake Hike in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, California

Adventure Trip Report from June of 2012 – Crystal Lake Hike in the Mammoth Lakes Basin

Crystal Lake lies just beneath the Mammoth Crest and Crystal Crag in the Mammoth Lakes Basin at 9600 feet.

This awesome high-mountain lake trail is a great place for a 3-4 hour session of Hiking and exploring. Add in Lunch and Fishing, and you can make this a day trip.

It’s a good hike for a family adventure for sure, even the dogs can come, but need they need to be on a lease on this trail.

The hike to Crystal Lake takes about 30 – 60 minutes. This trial is moderate in difficulty. Over a 1.75-mile hike, you will gain about 800 feet in vertical rise.

This hike feels longer and steeper because of the very high elevation peaking just before you reach the lake at 9,607 feet. 

There are lots of vista points to stop at and rest while on your way up. The view from some of those vista points is stunning, to say the least.  The photos below are looking down on Lake George, Lake Mary, and the Sherwin range.

This hike starts from the Lake George parking lot in the Mammoth Lakes Basin.  Take Lake Mary Road to Pokenobe Lodge and turn left.  At the next junction, just after the bridge, turn right, and you are about 1/2 mile from the parking area.

As you come up to the parking area, you will see this.  The trailhead is on your right of this sign and is well-marked.

This hiking trail is well maintained, however, there are a couple of sections that lead you off the main trail and can be confusing at first. Just stay on the main tracked path, and you will have no problems getting to the Lake.

The trail starts as a series of quick switchbacks until you reach the halfway point, and then it’s more of a long straight hike than more switchbacks.  There are lots of viewpoints to stop and take photos as you make your way up to Crystal Lake.

Near the top of the hike, You will pass a sign and junction that leads to the summit of the Mammoth Crest; stay to the left-hand side so you are still on the Crystal Lake hiking trail.

Here are some of the prime view photos you can get as you get higher up on the trail.

Eventually, the trail tops out on a plateau and then drops back down a couple of hundred feet to the lake’s shoreline.

On the left side of the lake, you will see Crystal Crag, which tops out at an elevation of 10,403 feet. If you’re into some very steep climbing, you can make it up to the top of the Crag.

Once you’re at the lake, there are two trails, the left side and the right side.

The trail on the left does go all the way to the back of the lake on a good well-traveled path.

There are some nice little beaches and rocks to check out down the left-side trail. This is a good area to swim in if you want to take a refreshing swim.

The left side trail appears to go all the way around the back of the lake.  We tried it and got bogged down in some swampy mud with lots of biting bugs and never made it all the way around the lake.

The trail on the right side trail quickly gets steep and bouldering is necessary, fun if you are into this type of adventure. I have never gone up those rocks about .5 mile in on the right trail, but they do lead to the Crystal Lake Cliffs.

We have seen people jumping off the cliffs in the past when the lake was full. The advice we got was to swim out and know where you’re going to land before you jump.

Fishing:  This lake has been well-stocked in the past, so there are fish here to catch. Please practice catch and release at Crystal Lake, stocking is rare these days and we would like to keep fish in the lake. Fly fishing will get you the best results in this lake’s environment.

Crystal Lake has a few Beaches, and they are located on the left side of the lake.  The right side has a mix of rocky and forested shorelines. The right side of the lake also provides a couple of great spots to kick back, eat, explore, and fish.

Please pack in and out your own food, water, and trash for the day.  We do not recommend you drink water out of the lakes or creeks in the area without a filter. 

Hot Tip: make sure you check the Mammoth Lakes Basin weather forecast before heading out. During thunderstorm cycles make sure to bring a rain jacket or better yet hike early and get out before the storms hit