This hike begins from the Little Lakes Valley trailhead which is the same trailhead for the popular Little Lakes Valley hike. The main parking lot gets full quickly in summer. There are additional parking spaces on the side of Rock Creek Road about a mile away from the trailhead.
We came here last summer with a friend to do Little Lakes Valley hike but we couldn’t find parking near the trailhead, and we didn’t want the dogs to walk on the pavement after the hike for a mile so we ended up not doing the hike. Since then, this trail has been on my list.
Although we arrived at the trailhead late in the morning close to 10AM, the main parking lot was only 1/3 full. After all, it was late October. The anticipation of waiting to find out what’s ahead of us was killing me. We geared up quickly and began the hike.
Little Lakes Valley Trail runs parallel to Rock Creek. There were creek access trails along the trail. Xena wanted to take a detour to check out the creek, so I stayed back and took some photos while waiting for her.
By the way, I forgot to pack my Polar GPS watch so I had to use the MapMyHike app on my phone. I don’t like using the app because of its inaccuracy, but I had no choice. From my years of experience, MMH always undercounts mileage and elevation. So please keep that mind if you care about the mileage remarks.
At the about 0.3-mile mark, you will come to the trail sign below. Take Mono Pass Trail on the right. If you are doing the Little Lakes Valley hike, you need to take the trail on the left towards Morgan Pass as Xena’s showing you below.
Once we were on Mono Pass Trail, the trail began to gain elevation, and the views got even better. Little Lakes Valley hike takes you by several lakes. On Mono Pass Trail, we had an awe-inspiring view of the lakes – Mack Lake, Marsh Lake, Heart Lake & Box Lake – from a higher elevation with a better perspective. Unfortunately, from this angle, we couldn’t see the heart shape of Heart Lake.
This hike has sections that require you to take big steps. Trekking poles are highly recommended especially if you have tender knees or IT band syndrome like I do. Beyond that, the trail is well-maintained and overall, it’s easy to follow.
I missed a switchback once, but once I realized it, I saw someone tried to block the passage with branches. I am directionally challenged at times so you might be just fine.
Near the 1.9-mile mark, we came to the first sign for Ruby Lake. I love finding rustic wooden signs on trails and this one had a rustic pole too! I needed to take a picture of it. I didn’t realize then Xena was matching my smile. 🙂
Another wooden sign for Ruby Lake appeared on the left in 100 feet or so and the trail split. We continued on Ruby Lake Trail on the left. The trail took us by a pond then a creek.
About 1/2 mile after that, we reached Ruby Lake. There are a few nice spots to set up tents by the lake. An excellent place for overnight camping if anyone is interested. Don’t forget to get a permit.
A few hikers passed us near the lake with fishing poles in their backpacks. They settled on the opposite side of the lake eventually. Once in a while, we would hear them cheering. Other than that, it was quiet and peaceful.
When you are ready, go back the way you came up. It’s an out and back hike. We passed more hikers and dogs on the way down now that the sun was higher in the sky. They looked like locals than visitors. How lucky for them to live next to trails like this! But they will have to deal with harsher winter than we do so that is a good justification for me. 🙂
This hike isn’t too demanding with a total elevation gain of just 1,000 feet. The real challenge is the elevation where you are hiking. Ruby Lake sits at 11,200 feet. This was the highest elevation we’ve climbed yet. Woohoo!
If you have not done hiking in high elevation before, keep in mind you will feel the high altitude here, and it will take you longer to hike 5 miles than usual so plan accordingly.
Good to Know:
- Hike date: 10.27.18
- Length: 5 miles RT
- Elevation gain: 1,000 ft (starting elevation: 10,200 ft)
- Difficulty rating: Challenging
- Trailhead: Little Lakes Valley trailhead (enter into your GPS device)
- Toilet available near the trailhead but kept locked during off-season
- Permit/Fee: None for day hikes but overnight camping permit required for backpacking in John Muir Wilderness
- Parking: Free
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