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Duck Lake Trail

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One of my favorites and regular hikes this time of year is the Duck Lake Trail. Not only does this hike offer some of the most spectacular views, it has ever changing scenery that keeps you engaged and amazed throughout your hike. Starting out at the Coldwater Campground at the south end of the parking area, the trailhead begins at a 9,120 feet in elevation.  It’s a quick climb that may have you stopping to catch your breath or force you into a pep talk with your legs almost immediately.  So for all that come from sea level, remember a slow and steady pace is probably a great idea while just starting out.

The hike begins through a majestic shady forest filled with lodge pole, steep switchbacks, and large boulder steps that you will feel the following day depending on the shape you are in. I have personally seen individuals run this.  I am not one of those people. My superpower does not include running any mountain. The trail can take you into a couple different directions, you’re going to pass the boundary of the John Muir Wilderness at 0.2 miles and reach the junction for the Arrowhead Lake trail that goes left at about 0.9 miles. I would highly suggest for your first trip to go and explore. There is a waterfall at the northern end of the lake that is quite a sight. You could then continue by taking the fisherman’s trail along the lake to the southernmost end, where you will find another waterfall a little higher up.

duck lake

When getting back on the trail, take the trail the continues straight, just beyond Arrowhead Lake.  You climb and cross a valley of granite cropping.  This is where I usually start to feel the strength of my legs as I take one step at a time hoping that I am almost there.  Leveling out you move into a pretty meadow and the sound of a stream that connects Arrowhead Lake to Skeleton Lake. I always stop at Skeleton Lake. The calm surroundings and blue shimmering water draws me right over. Reminder: I almost forgot, bring mosquito repellent!  This area is usually heavily engulfed in mosquitoes and if you’re anything like me, you end up being lunch without it.

Generally, you can expect to see fisherman or fisherwomen along the shoreline or families making it there camping grounds for the afternoon, the clear blue waters and turquoise shoreline is an ideal location for all the above.  Don’t stay long, there is more!  You’re not there yet; keep going.

Getting back on the trail you immediately begin another steady climb up along the side of Skelton Lake.  I get right to the middle of the lake as we hike along the hillside and take as many pictures as I can. The view is stunning; you’ll know exactly what I am talking about once your there.

duck passOnce you leave Skelton you will notice the change in scenery. You leave the forest, walk into a meadow and creek that lead you into Barney Lake. This is my usually pit stop. I take off my camelback find a seat along the turquoise water and have a snack. You will probably find a few other hikers doing exactly the same thing. This is an opportunity to take a look at your surroundings and picture perfect scenery. You’ll notice the perfectly curved view of the Mammoth Crest and a direct view of the last part of your hike up to Duck Pass.

Don’t get to comfortable; you have one more push. The scenery takes a dramatic change from beautiful meadows, scattered rocks, trees and streams to a continues climb of broken rocks and unsteady ground. Once you have gotten through the rough, loose rock switchbacks and rocky climb, you’ll reach a point of over 10,000 ft, take a minute to look back. The view of Barney Lake, the backside of Mammoth Mountain in the distance, the Crest and a small glimpse of the previous lakes you had passed on your hike are all present. This view is by far one of my favorites, it takes my breath away every time.

Once you’ve rounded the highest peak it starts to level out and you come to find you aren’t done. Just a little more until the climb stops.  The trail levels out and turns to loose gravel and there it is: The magnificent blue and turquoise shore is guarantee to impress at 10,800 feet!


Keep walking as the trail starts to lead downward and you are met by a sign that directs you left to Pika Lake.  This is one of my favorite places to set up camp for a couple days that sits right behind Duck Lake or the trail right that leads you to the Duck Lake outlet. You are bound to be pleased which ever direction you decide to go. The shimmering deep blue waters or turquoise shoreline is inviting no matter what direction you choose.

Retracing your steps back to the trailhead will lead you home, or continue your journey down to Purple Lake; another one of my favorites.

Written by Tracie White


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