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Convict Lake

Inyo National Forest

October 10th, 2009

3.6 miles
420 vertical feet
Total Time: 4:32

Starting elevation
7630 feet
Max elevation
7743 feet

Rating: 7/10

Directions: From Mammoth Lakes, take Highway 395 south for about 4.5 miles. Turn right onto Convict Lake Road. Follow it for about 2 miles to the signed day use parking area on the left. If you plan on hiking up the canyon past the lake instead of doing the loop, you could instead park at the trailhead parking just before reaching the lake.   View Driving Map

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The large day use parking area only had a handful of cars on this warm sunny fall day, but there were lots of other people milling about the lake, most of them fishing. There's also a campground next to the day use lot, although it didn't look too appealing -- no trees, no shade.

We walked across the road and down to the paved part of the lake shore trail. From here you can walk a few feet down to the water's edge, if you can find a spot that's not already taken by a fisherman. We continued along the paved trail, stopping briefly at a platform which was billed as a handicapped-accessible fishing area. There are also displays here which explain some of the history of the lake. It was named Convict Lake after a bunch of escaped convicts had a gun battle with a posse here in 1871.

From the platform is a nice view of the entire lake. Aspens and other yellow trees line the far (western) and southern shores. Aspens can be seen up the canyon at the far end of the lake. Moving along, we passed the boat launch, where the boat operator asked us where we were hiking. I told him we were just doing a hike around the lake (about 3 miles). I think perhaps he might have been wondering because our kids were so young.

Convict Lake

Convict Lake

Past the boat launch, the trail is no longer paved. We turned left and headed along the narrow dirt trail along the northern shore of the lake. This part of the trail is somewhat barren compared to the other side of the lake. There are no aspens, only low dried brown bushes. There are nice views of the aspens on the other side of the lake and the far end of the lake. In fact, the views from this northern part of the trail are nicer than the views from the southern part of the loop.

Trail along the north shore of Convict Lake

Looking at the far end of Convict Lake

Further along the trail are a few evergreen trees. At the far end of the lake a trail continues up the canyon. We'd reached this location pretty quickly, so instead of having lunch here we discussed the possibility of going up the trail until it reached Convict Creek and have lunch there. We were just about to go left and stay at Convict Lake, but then Jared said he wanted to go uphill to the right. Did I mention he's still not even 4? That bodes well for doing longer hikes and backpacking trips in the years to come. So we took the Convict Creek trail. If we continued on this trail, we'd reach Mildred Lake about 5 miles from the trailhead. That was never our intent, of course. As it turned out, after a few minutes and a quarter mile we decided that the trail was taking too long and climbing too high before even reaching the creek.

We turned around and rejoined the lake loop trail. There are several nice places to sit down and eat on the edge of the lake here. We encountered two hikers who wanted their picture taken. After doing so, I asked them about the inlet stream that I knew was supposed to be ahead. They said there were several streams along the boardwalk just ahead. We went a little ways, but quickly decided that our best bet for a lunch spot was back where we'd just been. So we retraced our steps and plunked ourselves down on the edge of the lake underneath some trees.

Lunch spot next to Convict Lake

Deciduous trees at the far end of Convict Lake

Far end of Convict Lake

View looking north from the far end of Convict Lake

We enjoyed our lunch and the view of the lake, watching the small boats floating around the lake. The kids enjoyed throwing some of the many rocks available here into the water. After lunch we continued along the trail onto the boardwalk. The boardwalk goes on for a while, with several small inlet streams coming in from the right. Aspens and other colorful trees line the route.

Boardwalk next to Convict Lake

Trees at the far end of Convict Lake


At the end of the boardwalk, we went off the main trail and followed a use trail into the aspens. We kept heading toward the canyon, getting better and better views of the surrounding mountains and of the aspens leading up to and into the Convict Creek canyon above. One interesting juxtaposition was the sight of cactus growing at our feet with colorful aspens close at hand. I don't think I've ever seen them growing so close together before.

More aspens

Back lit aspens

Laurel Mountain

Looking up Convict Canyon

Cactus near the aspens

The afternoon sun was backlighting the aspens in front of us like a Christmas tree. They looked more impressive from a distance, but when we passed them and they were no longer backlit, they didn't look nearly as colorful. Still, it was all a pretty sight.

Looking up Convict Canyon

Laurel Mountain

(Click image to view full size)


We returned to the main trail and continued the loop around the lake. We stopped briefly at a gravel beach so the kids could throw some more rocks. While there, I noticed a raptor soaring above the lake and then into the trees 50 feet above us. I pointed out the bird, then just as it entered the trees I thought about what I'd just seen and said out loud, "Hey, was that an eagle?!" I'm used to seeing turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks, but this was something different. A few minutes later, a couple fishing nearby walked past and asked if we'd seen the beautiful bald eagle. I replied that I had just glimpsed it. I wish I could have gotten a better look, but for now I'll have to be satisfied with my first sighting of a bald eagle in the wild.

Boats on Convict Lake

Laurel Mountain and Convict Lake

Throwing rocks into Convict Lake

View of north shore of Convict Lake

Along the way back a man asked us if the loop had taken us an hour. He was shocked when I told him it had taken us 4 hours (with lunch), but I guess I should have mentioned that normal people without kids could do it in under 2 hours, maybe close to an hour if they rushed. But I don't think he had any idea that it was 3 miles around. He and his family weren't carrying anything, and soon headed back to the parking lot.

We passed lots of fishermen along the shore now. There's another parking area on the right here. We stuck to the shore, but eventually were forced up onto the road before rejoining the paved trail near the end of the lake. From there we went back to the viewing platform (missing the unsigned use trail to the day use parking area), then walked back along the road a short way back to the day use parking lot.

In summary, it was a pretty little hike with some nice yellow aspens, but no extraordinary color at this time.

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