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Convict Lake Snowshoe Hike

Inyo National Forest

February 21st, 2017

2.9 miles
320 vertical feet
Total Time: 2:57

Starting elevation
7608 feet
Max elevation
7668 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. In winter, the day use lot may not be plowed and you may park in the marina lot instead.   View Driving Map

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This winter was marked by heavy snowfall, and true to form it had snowed the entire day yesterday. It wasn't snowing when we arrived at Convict Lake today, though. There were a handful of cars here; we soon found that the day use lot wasn't plowed, so we parked at the marina lot (which is right next to the trailhead, anyway).

This would be our first snowshoe hike in 6 years, so it was strange and exciting to finally be putting on the snowshoes in the parking lot. It had been so long that I noticed the plastic on my snowshoes was starting to crack, so maybe it's time to get some new ones (they may be close to 20 years old now!).

Even though it was nearly noon by the time we got started, we were the first ones on the trail today. This was obvious as we started out over the pristine snow, piled so high from yesterday's snow that it was almost impossible to see the trail. Almost. We could still usually see a faint outline of where the trail used to be, and for the most part followed it.

Convict Lake marina

Convict Lake trailhead

As we walked above the northwestern shore of the lake, we could look out across the snow-covered lake and see the mountains rising around it. We had done this hike in the fall once, and had visited in winter, but never actually snowshoed around it. So it was refreshing to be able to traverse the fresh snow, although the lack of tree cover over this part of the hike did make it a bit cold at times, especially as the wind started to pick up.

Looking south across Convict Lake

Hiking along the northwest shore

Bare branches

We could see the forest at the far end of the lake, but it seemed like they weren't getting closer very fast. We did see one other hiker and his dog behind us, but that was the only person we saw on the trail itself. They turned around; it's likely we were the only ones hiking around the lake today.

Tree next to the trail

While we had seen very small patches of blue sky earlier, it was now completely overcast. When we got to the forest, we sat down and had lunch. It wasn't snowing yet, but a biting cold wind blew across the lake at us. After a quick lunch, we got back on the trail to continue our loop.

Mountains to southwest of Convict Lake

Tree near the shore

I knew there were wooden bridges and boardwalks on this part of the trail, but when we got to them they were of course piled high with packed snow. We had to be careful as we walked on them, sometimes two feet or more above the wooden planks with drops on either side, but we made it across them ok. It is a beautiful part of the hike, going through the aspens (even though the leaves were long gone, of course).

Through the aspen forest

We exited the forest and started to climb when Jared noticed a white bird standing in the snow a hundred feet from us. The bird was so well camouflaged that I had to scan the area several times before I saw its little head moving back and forth.

White bird on the snow

Southwest shore of the lake as it starts to snow

White bird again

We tried to follow the trail up the hill, but the snow was too deep. Eventually we hiked down to the shore. We discovered that the lake wasn't actually frozen - at least, the part we were standing on was slushy. Still, with a couple feet of snow on top of it, and the fact that it was only a few inches deep where we were hiking made it ok. We weren't thrilled about it, but hiking along the edge here was preferable to slogging through the deep snow.

Trying to follow the trail

Looking back at the mountains above the southwest shore

We made one more attempt to climb back up to the trail, but failed as we sank in very deep snow. So we stayed on the shore for a while longer. Meanwhile, it had started to snow a bit and at times we wouldn't see across the lake at all. Eventually it stopped snowing and we regained our view across the lake, just as we found a good place to walk back up to the main trail.

Hiking along the shore

From there, we followed the trail (really, the park road, now covered in snow) back toward our car. One huge gust of wind blew bits of snow into the air, like a sandstorm. It was an impressive but fleeting sight.

Back on the trail

The sun threatens to show itself through the clouds

Back to the plowed road, we took off our snowshoes and walked the short distance to our car.

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