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Arrowhead and Skelton Lakes

John Muir Wilderness

October 6th, 2012

3.5 miles
900 vertical feet
Total Time: 3:56

Starting elevation
9082 feet
Max elevation
9907 feet

Rating: 7/10

Directions: From Highway 395, take Highway 203 into Mammoth Lakes. Turn left onto Lake Mary Road. Turn left toward Coldwater Creek Campground. Enter the campground (the campground may be closed in October, but you can still drive through it). Drive through the campground to the day use lots at the other end of the campground. The trailhead for the Duck Pass trail is the second lot.   View Driving Map

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GPX File

We took our time getting ready after a late night, finally getting to the trailhead around 11:30am. It was warm in the sun but chilly in the shade, where the occasional breeze was biting cold. But it would warm up a bit more later. It would be in the 60's and maybe low 70's today.

There are actually 3 trailheads here, and we actually stopped briefly at the wrong one before I asked someone if they knew where the Duck Pass trailhead was; they pointed up to the next parking lot. There were a handful of cars in the large lot as we started our hike around 12pm.

There's a bathroom with actual flush toilets at the trailhead. There's also a large display with maps and descriptions of the area. Almost immediately after starting the hike, there's a trail intersection; the trail to the right leads toward Emerald Lake. We continued straight toward Arrowhead Lake. You could take the right trail and visit tiny Emerald Lake as part of a loop; the trail eventually meets up with the main trail between Arrowhead and Skelton Lakes.

Start of the Duck Pass trail

The trail then starts climbing immediately through the forest. There isn't much in the way of views here. There is a glimpse of Lake Mary below (looking back over the parking lot), but nothing really impressive.

Looking back at Lake Mary

After about 0.7 miles, we saw a path leading off the main trail to the left. There was no sign here. Based on the map and description it looked like this should lead to Arrowhead Lake, but we eventually decided not to take it. I had read that there was another path to the lake further on, and since we couldn't actually see the lake yet, I didn't want to take an unsigned trail.

We didn't have to wait long until we reached a well-signed intersection, with a path to Arrowhead Lake leading to the left. The trail heads slightly downhill, with the lake clearly visible through the trees.

Trail to Arrowhead Lake

From a satellite view, the lake clearly looks like an arrowhead, but you can't really tell from the shore. There were some yellowing bushes on the opposite shore, but not much else in the way of fall colors. The lake is bordered on the east side by a lightly forested mountain, while forest lines the western shore that we were on. We were one of the only ones at the lake. There were a few people at the southern end of the lake; they looked like they might be fishing.

Descending to Arrowhead Lake

Arrowhead Lake

Arrowhead Lake

After a 45 minute lunch break, we continued along the Duck Pass trail. The trail climbs a bit more, then levels off for a while. I kept looking for signs of the trail to Emerald Lake on the right, thinking we might take it on the way back. I saw one trail that looked like it might be the right one, but it wasn't obvious. If you're planning to do the loop, it's probably better to visit Emerald Lake first (instead of Arrowhead Lake), as it will be obvious once you reach the main Duck Pass trail. Then you can visit Arrowhead Lake on the way back.

Soon enough we were at Skelton Lake. There's a little beach here, but I eyed a little rocky peninsula on the left that I thought would provide some good views. We walked over to it. From there, we could see the "finger" of the lake on the other side (this is clearly visible on a map). There were a handful of other people here, including some fishing on the opposite shore.

While it had been almost cloudless earlier, passing clouds now started to hide the sun. When we got to the peninsula, I happened to look at the lake when the sun was just out but the clouds were reflecting in the water, getting an interesting abstract-looking photo. It almost looks as if there's some milky substance in the lake until you realize it's a reflection.

Clouds reflecting in Skelton Lake

Although Skelton Lake is about the same size as Arrowhead Lake, Skelton Lake seemed larger to me. Perhaps this is because we were on a peninsula in the middle of the lake. From here we had nice views of the mountains to the south behind the lake. It is definitely a more photogenic lake than Arrowhead Lake.

Skelton Lake finger

Skelton Lake

Skelton Lake

Western shore of Skelton Lake

Skelton Lake shore

After a shorter break of about 20-30 minutes at Skelton Lake, we returned to the main trail. If you have more time, you can continue along the Duck Pass trail to Barney Lake, much larger Duck Lake, or even Duck Pass itself. We were just doing a short hike today, though, so we turned around here.

Heading back toward the main trail

It was cloudy as we started the hike back, but it cleared up a bit and warmed up. The hike back, of course, was easy. We thought about taking the trail to Emerald Lake, but decided it wan't worth the possibility of getting lost since the trail wasn't signed on this end. We simply went back the same way we went in, arriving back at the parking lot around 4pm.

Mountains north of Arrowhead Lake

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