Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Though I’m still on vacation, I just returned to civilization from several days camping in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. One of the highlights of this trip was a fantastic hike to Dinkey Lakes. It was the first time I’ve done this hike, which has entered my “top five all-time hikes” list. Others on this list include: The Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah; Angels’ Landing in Zion; Chocolate Lakes Loop out of Bishop, California; and Treasure Lakes in Little Lakes Valley, California.
dinkey lakes hike loopThe Dinkey Lakes hikes is almost a perfect short hike, easily done in a half day. It’s a seven-mile trip, two-thirds of which is a loop. Though you hike up from the trailhead to several lakes, the uphill climb is very gradual, especially for a High Sierra hike. This would be an outsanding introductory hike for folks who aren’t sure they want to brave the challenges of high mountain trails.
You might expect such a wonderful hike to be awash in people. It’s not. In fact, we saw relatively few people along the trail, and those we ran into were quite friendly. But there’s a good reason the Dinkey Lakes trail is uncrowded: the drive to the trailhead. You don’t get to start this hike without a major investment in wear and tear on your car . . . and your body. First of all, you have to drive from Fresno, California (in the San Joaquin Valley) to Shaver Lake, an hour-long drive, the last stretch of which is very curvy. From Shaver Lake, you drive for about 9 miles on a two-lane mountain road until you get to a sign that points in the direction of Dinkey Lakes. From the sign, you have 9 miles of a paved, single-lane road with hundreds of hungry potholes. Then you take a side road for 4.7 miles of a very rocky, bumpy, mostly unpaved surface. Finally you’ve got 2 more miles on a narrow, steep, tortuous dirt road. You can make this drive in a passenger vehicle (if it doesn’t have low clearance), but it’s one of the toughest drives I’ve ever made. The good news about this drive is that it protects Dinkey Lakes from the littering crowd who ruin so many Sierra trailheads. You don’t drive to this trailhead unless you really love nature!
dinkey lakes hike forestThe first section of the hike wanders along a creek through pine forests and verdant meadows. Though we hiked after the main flower season, there were still lots of wildflowers decorating our path. The trail works its way uphill along the creek, but the grade is easy and the path free of rocks and horse manure.
We took the left trail at the first fork, about a mile and a half in. Before long we came to First Dinkey Lake, a pristine lake from which there were stunning views of the Three Sisters peaks. (Photo below: An inlet of First Dinkey Lake with the Three Sisters in the background.)

first dinkey lake three sisters

south lake dinkey rest shoesAfter a brief rest at First Dinkey, we made our way along the shore until another trail junction. Taking the right fork, we made our way to South Lake, where we paused for lunch. It doesn’t get much better than sitting beside a High Sierra lake, enjoying the view and a Cliff Bar for lunch.
After lunch, we headed to the next lake. Swede Lake was the high point of our journey at 9224 feet, or about 700 feet above our starting point. At Swede Lake my son and nephew decided it was time for a swim. They said the water a surprisingly warm for a Sierra lake. Sometimes the high ones can be well under 50 degrees. But Swede Lake, no longer snow fed, had plenty of time to absorb the High Sierra sun. My guess is that it was at least 67 degrees. (My son has been known to swim in lakes that are virtually frozen. I don’t know how he does it! Photo below: jumping into Swede Lake.)
Swede Lake jumping inFrom Swede Lake we made our way to Mystery Lake, which wasn’t especially mysterious. There we found some campers from Orange County, where we used to live. They explained that they camped there every year. I can see why!
The hike from Mystery Lake back to the trailhead, about two and a half miles, was delightful . . . a gentle, downhill run through forests and meadows illumined by the late afternoon sun. Sigh!
The Dinkey Lakes hike is a winner, even if getting there takes a toll on your car. It’s an especially fine hike for people who want to enjoy High Sierra beauty without taking on a Herculean hike. I recommend it highly.

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