There’s nothing quite like packing up your food, shelter and warmth for staying the night out in the back country and finding a place to make camp. It’s always an exhilarating experience, especially if you’re exploring a new area, because you won’t know where you will sleep until you’re there! Our second backpacking trip took us to Duck Pass Trail located in the Mammoth Lakes Trail system and Inyo National Forest.
Duck Pass Trail can be done as a day hike, but is also perfect for a one night backpacking trip.
- Our hike date: August 12, 2017
- Difficulty: Moderate (beware of the altitude)
- Length: 8.8 miles roundtrip
- Elevation gain: 9,147 ft – 10,810 ft (1,663 ft gain)
- Dog Friendly: Yes
- Trailhead: Duck Lake Trailhead Parking Loop, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
- Restrooms at trailhead
The night before setting out on our adventure, we car camped at Alabama Hills along US Highway 395 so that we would have a shorter drive to the trailhead in the morning. It’s the perfect place a little more than halfway between San Diego and Mammoth where you can camp for free.
The drive from Alabama Hills to the trail takes about 2 hours, so we arrived at the trailhead at around 9:30 am. There is plenty of parking in the lot, but it was a Saturday and it was CROWDED. We didn’t see any signs forbidding overnight parking (and Utah was still there the next day), so as far as I know a permit was not necessary.
We finished packing all of our gear into our packs and double checked we had everything we needed before heading out at 11 am. All three of us had our packs loaded up and ready to hit the trail!
The first part of the trail quickly ascends with switchbacks shaded by trees.
After about 1.7 miles we reached Skelton Lake, which was to the left of the main trail. The water was crystal clear and ice cold. It was the perfect place to let Cosmo cool off and have a drink!
After Skelton Lake, the trail leveled out for a bit as we made our way to our destination. The next stop was Barney Lake at about the 3 mile mark. This is a good place to stop and have a snack break, because the next part gets very rocky and steep, but takes you to the best view of the hike in my opinion!
Here it is! This is the view you get after about a mile of hiking switchbacks (in the right of the picture) from Barney Lake. The switchbacks are very rocky with both big rocks and loose ones, so watch your step! Once we arrived at the viewpoint we were able to see everything we had hiked past up to this point.
From here it was only about another mile until we reached Duck Lake. Coming over the ridge, the trail was a steep incline followed by a relatively steep decline.
We made it! It took us a little over 4 hours to reach Duck Lake and to find a spot to set up camp.
We managed to find a sandy patch right near the lake to set up the tent and cooked up some backpacking meals with our Jetboil. Since we had plenty of sunlight left in the day, Adam took a quick dip in the freezing cold lake before the three of us took a nap in the warm sun. Afterwards, Cosmo spent hours fetching sticks and digging in the sand.
Cosmo loved the tent and went in on his own when he finally got sleepy. We ended up calling it a night pretty early since I had a headache from altitude sickness; however, we did wake up in the middle of the night to see the most amazing night sky. If you go, definitely remember to look up and maybe even shoot some night photography!
The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise and made some hot coffee to sip while we enjoyed the view.
The lake was so calm in the morning that after the sun came up, the mountains reflected perfectly on the water. We enjoyed the views before packing up camp and heading down the mountain.
We hiked back the way we came and made it back to the parking lot at around 2 pm. We had reserved a campsite at Coldwater Campground that evening, which is right next to the parking lot and trailhead so we didn’t have to go far to our next destination. Our second backpacking trip was a SUCCESS!
RECOMMENDATIONS AND THINGS TO KNOW:
- A permit is technically required to camp overnight at Duck Lake, but we did not have one and did not see any rangers there to check.
- Bear canister is required for overnight backpacking.
- No fires allowed! So make sure to bring some sort of gas powered stove to heat water for meals. We have a Jet Boil that we love!!
- BRING BUG SPRAY if you hike during summer! There were tons of mosquitoes on the trail, and I got bit through my leggings, so bring potent bug spray to keep them away.
- Get acclimated to the altitude before you hike since this hike starts at 9000′. I suggest sleeping at altitude the night before, or else you may end up with altitude sickness like I did!
- Coldwater Campground is located just steps from the trailhead, so it’s a great option for a place to sleep before or after your adventure!