Backpacking to Ediza Lake

Sometimes I wonder if these types of posts need any narration at all. Sometimes I feel the pictures tell the full story, and they do a better job than I ever could describing the grandeur and beauty of the Eastern Sierra backcountry. So, I’ll try to let them do most of the talking… I only…

Linda Ly
Ediza Lake

Sometimes I wonder if these types of posts need any narration at all. Sometimes I feel the pictures tell the full story, and they do a better job than I ever could describing the grandeur and beauty of the Eastern Sierra backcountry. So, I’ll try to let them do most of the talking…

I only go backpacking once or twice a year, and every time I do, I wonder why I don’t do it more often. Backpacking takes me deep into the dream worlds I can’t see from the road or experience on a day hike. Backpacking feels like a secret society of sorts; where only you and your fellow Bonesmen know what gems lie beyond the trail and just over the ridge.

Ediza Lake is one such gem. An alpine lake at 9,300 feet elevation, it can be done as an out-and-back hike but you end up missing much of the scenery surrounding it. The jaunt to Ediza is one of the most beautiful trails in the Ansel Adams Wilderness and needs an overnighter to fully appreciate.

We had our sights set on Ediza last September. Summer is a spectacular time of year in the Sierra, and especially the end of summer, when the leaves are just starting to turn color but the air is warm and fragrant.

We arrived in Mammoth Lakes a day before the hike and spent a relaxing afternoon sunning on Lake George and watching kayakers paddle across its turquoise waters. It’s one of the most photogenic lakes in the region with a clear view of Crystal Crag looming above the Mammoth Crest.

Lake George and Crystal Crag

Lake George and Crystal Crag

To end our very rough day, we drove to the hot springs off a dirt path near Benton Crossing. There we found a geothermal pool in the middle of a meadow all to ourselves. As we soaked in a hot mineral bath, we watched the sky turn all shades of orange and red and purple as the sun slowly dipped below the Sherwin Range in the distance.

The meadow at Mammoth hot springs

The meadow at Mammoth hot springs

Sunset in Mammoth

Sunset at Mammoth hot springs

Can I just say that a pre-hike hot tub is the way to go for multi-day backpacking trips? I slept so soundly that night that I woke up refreshed and energized for the haul ahead.

We started our hike on the Shadow Lake Trail in Agnew Meadows, descending into the San Joaquin River Valley as we passed creeks and cascades along the trail.

Beginning the hike to Ediza Lake

Following the Shadow Creek trail

Beautiful day in the backcountry

Shadow Creek

At the halfway point about three and a half miles in, we reached Shadow Lake. Despite the frigid alpine water, it looked so inviting on that hot summer day that we couldn’t help but heave our heavy packs off our backs and jump in!

Cooling off at Shadow Lake

Summer day at Shadow Lake

I almost could’ve stayed at Shadow and been perfectly content with our trip. The Sierra solitude was spectacular. There were smooth granite slabs everywhere, baking in the sun and just beckoning us to take a nap on them.

Relaxing at Shadow Lake

Picking up the trail again, we connected with the John Muir Trail for a while as we followed Shadow Creek.

Shadow Creek

While making a random restroom stop, we discovered a small waterfall about 50 feet off the trail that flowed into a deep swimming hole. It was magical!

Cascades along Shadow Creek

Ice cold waterfall

Cascades in the backcountry

We continued another three miles up Shadow Creek, rolling through green meadows and climbing up a granite staircase until Ediza Lake came into view.

Beautiful meadow turning colors

Follow the leader

Ediza Lake

Ediza Lake

Most people set up camp at Ediza and call it good. After all, this is where the trail ends, and it’s definitely not a shabby place to put up a tent. The shores of Ediza were dotted with all likes of shelters and though I wanted nothing more than to kick off my boots down by the lake, I also wanted something special. I always want to know — what’s just over that next ridge?

High mountain meadow

Hiking beyond Ediza Lake

Another mile ahead, we found ourselves in a postcard — standing in the middle of a high mountain meadow at the base of Mount Ritter, with the Minarets to the east and Banner Peak to the north. It was breathtaking. There was not another camper around.

Mount Ritter and Banner Peak

High mountain meadow at the base of the Minarets

So happy to get my shoes off

I fell asleep to the sounds of the waterfall outside our tent and woke up to the Ritter Range bathed in the glow of early light.

Waking up to the alpine glow of sunrise

We spent the afternoon doing a day hike to Iceberg Lake, scrambling up a slope and boulder hopping back and forth across a stream. The more adventurous among us even took a skinny dip in the icy waters!

Climbing over a ridge to Iceberg Lake

Scrambling up a slope with Ediza Lake in the distance

Scrambling up a slope to Iceberg Lake

Day hike to Iceberg Lake

A creek flowing out of Iceberg Lake

A creek flowing out of Iceberg Lake

A creek flowing out of Iceberg Lake

Iceberg Lake

Iceberg Lake

Iceberg Lake

Iceberg Lake

Instead of coming back down the way we came, Will and I decided to traverse the talus to the other end of the lake. Ascending several hundred feet above Iceberg, we could see Cecil Lake in the distance.

Grassy meadow at the foot of the Minarets

Grassy meadow at the foot of the Minarets

Iceberg Lake with Cecil Lake above

We continued up a cliff that looked like a stack of building blocks. And because no climb is complete without a sequence of classic butt shots, here are the best ones that Will so meticulously captured.

Climbing up the Minarets

Climbing up the Minarets

Climbing up the Minarets

Clilmbing up the Minarets

Climbing up the Minarets

Climbing up the Minarets

Once up and over the ridge, we down climbed the rocky northern slope below the Minarets. My knees thanked me when I finally made it to the meadow!

Down climbing the Minarets

Down climbing the Minarets

Hiking off the Minarets

High mountain meadow

Our last day was leisurely. Our friends hiked out after breakfast, whereas we slept in and bathed in the waterfall. It was a lovely lazy day… and a Monday at that.

After lunch I went exploring while Will started packing.

A creek flowing below the Minarets

Alpine waterfall

I climbed atop one of the granite domes in the meadow, taking in the views of our little gem of a campsite. Breathing the air. Finding my bliss.

Can you spot him fluffing our orange tent below?

High mountain meadow with a view of the Minarets

Packing away the tent

Hiking out, the eight miles to the trailhead didn’t seem nearly as long as the way in. It was familiar yet unfamiliar. Every turn was a new way to look at the landscape.

Hiking out of Ediza Lake

Hiking out of Ediza Lake

Log crossing at Shadow Creek

Log crossing at Shadow Creek

Granite wall on the Shadow Creek trail

Summer in the backcountry

When we stopped at Shadow Lake for a snack and a swim, taking in the surroundings, I had to wonder — what’s just over that next ridge?

Shadow Lake


  1. Love your post. We did Garnet lake about 20 years ago when I was dating my husband and it was my first backpacking trip. Fast forward we want to take out son who is 17 on this trip late August.

    When you got to Ediza lake, did you continue on the trail to find your camping spot or just went off the trail somewhere?

    Also we really want to find that swimming hole – was it a slide as well? Any help in finding it? RE: While making a random restroom stop, we discovered a small waterfall about 50 feet off the trail that flowed into a deep swimming hole. It was magical!

    Mahalo ( Thanks)


    1. Iceberg Lake is an easy day hike from Ediza (I mention it in my post) and Cecil Lake is just beyond that. I have not hiked to the other lakes, but you can call the ranger station to check for permits in the area.

      As for our campsite, we continued on the trail another 2 miles past Ediza. We were almost to the base of Ritter. I don’t remember where that swimming hole was… that’s a little gem waiting to be explored and discovered out there. 😉

      1. We camped on the north side of the lake, I didnt notice any ‘campsites’ there as a website says. Has it changed since 06? It was isolated back then, no sign of shelters on the lake.

  2. Wow these photos makes me want to cry. I am so excited to be there. we are going in a month and I am just itching to get there now!! My husband and I have been living in Hawaii this year which is so fun but we miss the mountains! theres nothing like the sierras. Anyways, I was wondering if you knew the name of those hot spings near Benton Road or if you know the gps location or any way for us to find them?!

    1. Those hot springs are pretty popular in the area; I forget the names, but there are 3-4 of them in the same area. If traveling north on Hwy 395, turn right at the green church (Benton Crossing Road, near the town of Crowley Lake). From there, you can turn down any of the dirt roads and they’ll lead you to the springs. I usually drive by a few of them before deciding which one to soak in, as I like to have my own private tub. 🙂 The largest spring is about a 5-minute walk in on a defined path; the others you can drive right up to.

  3. I really enjoyed your story about you hike to Lake Ediza. Having been there twice I can safely say it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I have traveled extensively and seen many wonders but none compare to the beauty of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  4. Great pictures; unfortunately for the chemtrailed sky, the only thing good coming outta that is pretty, unnatural sunsets!

      1. CHEMtrails as I called them or PERSISTENT CONtrails is the PC way of saying it is not the same as CONtrails. This isn’t the place to particularly distract from her pictures by getting a debate going, but several pictures had persistent CONtrails that last much longer spreading out across the sky instead of disipating like normal contrails do within a reasonable distance and time following the jet. re: geoengineering.

  5. Are you Linda Tran from Long Beach. I interviewed you five summers ago at Upper Cathedral Lake. The documentary will finally be finished this fall. It’s about why Americans need vacation time. John de Graaf.

  6. thank you soo much for this <3! We are planning to go here during Labor Day weekend. How many days did you guys backpack?

  7. We’re backpacking to Ediza Lake this weekend, thanks to your inspiring post. We’re expecting much more snow this time of year though! Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. Ooh I’d be interested to see how it is in the spring! I was just camping at around 10,000 feet last week at Virginia Lakes (near Bridgeport) and there was still plenty of snow on the trails. Have a safe and wonderful weekend out there!

      1. Ediza was spectacular- almost completely frozen over still this late into spring. We passed through Bridgeport on the way and added Virginia Lakes to our “to hike list” for the future. Again, thanks for the inspiration!

        1. So the lake was frozen still in late May, was the ground also covered with snow and the streams frozen, or was it mostly the lake that was holding out?

          I’m thinking of doing an early May hike and wondering if that’s really something feasible or not.

  8. Stunning, stunning, stunning! I’ve been trying to figure out where we want to go on vacation this year and I definitely need a backpacking trip. If you ever have the time I think one of the long distance trails would be right up your alley!

    1. You mean the John Muir Trail or Pacific Crest Trail? I’ve hiked portions of both, but I’m not sure I have the discipline to spend that much time on the trail in one shot!

      If you end up backpacking Ediza, have an amazing journey! It’s definitely become one of my favorite places in the Eastern Sierra.

  9. Love this post! Wish I could have been there since it looks so amazing. Though I have no clue how to backpack 🙂

  10. Thank you for the virtual hike:) we had a baby last year so haven’t been out as much as we like and I have really enjoyed these posts! We will be getting out soon as we need to turn her into a trail junkie.

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