Framed by the iconic Crystal Crag and the wall of Mammoth Crest, Lake George is lovely spot for a quick nature immersion and possible wildlife sighting. It’s just a short drive out of town, and the highest road-accessible lake at 9,250 foot elevation.
Features: Hiking, fishing, camping, rustic cabins, boat rentals, a tackle and snack shop (seasonal), bear proof food storage, and bear sightings
Winter access to Lake George is by ski or snowshoe only
Crystal Lake Trail at Lake George
Distance: ~2.7 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate,
depending on your fitness level & altitude acclimation
Highlights: Panoramic views of the Mammoth Lakes Basin, captivating Crystal Lake
Bartlett Lake & TJ Lakes
Distance: ~1.5 miles
Big views for little effort.
The trail crosses a stream then meanders up through lodgepole pines, hemlocks,
western white pines to the shore of Barrett Lake.
It was along this trail on the edge of Lake St. George that we encountered a large brown bear. I was coming around the corner fast (trying to get as much hiking in before sunset as possible) when I heard a fisherman standing in the lake say in a low voice “Bear there.”
I stopped in my tracks. The bruin was blocking the trail and had its broad back to me. It was busy foraging in the fisherman’s backpack and appeared not to notice us. We quietly retreated up to a high spot off the trail. At one point, the bear looked up, I think he must have detected our scent. That’s when I snapped the shot. After taking another bear detour above the trail, we completed the TJ Lake loop, first passing Barrett Lake, Very picturesque and the light was perfect for reflection shots.
In all my years of hiking, this was my first bear encounter. (Well, I think there was one outside of my tent one night on top of San Jacinto, but I didn’t go out to greet it- just made loud noises to deter it.) What makes me sad is that this wild bear’s days are likely numbered due to it’s habituation to people.
Spent a leisurely morning exploring a few of the wonderful State Parks and scenic reservoirs near St. George, UT.
What’s great about the reservoirs in Utah, is not only are they breathtakingly beautiful, but you’re also allowed to boat, fish, and swim in them.
The 66-acre Gunlock reservoir, as you can see from the picture above is overflowing with scenic beauty. (Pun intended.) We heard that the falls haven’t flowed in about seven years so we got a special treat-they’re quite spectacular as you can see. Unfortunately, people have died cliff jumping here so immerse yourself in the beauty wisely. The park is approximately 15 miles northwest of St. George and the dam was constructed in 1970 for irrigation water and flood control.
Meanwhile, back in Ivins, enjoying a coffee (not as hard to find in Mormon country as you might think) and a stroll around the reservoir. Ivins is a “bedroom community” of St. George that features its own little reservoir and the dazzling artist’s and retirees’ enclave of Kayenta. They have a coffee shop / restaurant, lovely gardens, galleries, and a theater there. Imaging waking up to this view every morning. In the other direction, a snow capped mountain range. Absolutely gorgeous!
So glad I made the drive, not 1ce, but twice for this epic poppy bloom. How many times in our lifetimes does nature serve up such a spectacular treat? (Yes, I’ve experienced super blooms before, a couple years ago in Anza Borrego and way back when in Gorman, CA, but for me their magnificence never gets old.) You’ll have to pardon the abundance of pictures, I can’t help myself!
BTW, Walker Canyon is a 3.5 mile fire road out & back route in the Temescal Mountains. There’s a gradual incline, it’s perfect for trail running. The Temescal Creek flows through the bottom of the canyon. If you look closely you can see it from the trail and if you’re lucky, you might here it’s lovely musical melody too.
The downside of the super bloom? Too many humans, of course. Way, way too many humans and cars. They’re calling the Poppy Apocalypse and Flower Armageddon. But I am happy to see people getting outside and enjoying nature. (Not happy to see people trampling it though.)
Day 2 – Spent my St. Patrick’s Day morning immersed in a flower rainbow
To add to the amazing spectacle, there’s a painted lady butterfly migration going on right now too!
As always, happy trails to you. Let me know which pics you like better – day 1 or 2?
Getting there: Lake Street off the 15 freeway, Lake Elsinore
Driving over the crest of a hill, I caught my first glimpse of downtown Port Angeles, the shimmering water and port in the distance. My first impressions? Wow! Clean, wide roads, nice sidewalks, historic buildings, art installations everywhere you look and great views. From what I’d heard from the Port Townsend and Sequim “ambassadors”, I expected to see a smaller version of skid row—homeless people and druggies panhandling on every corner, litter in the streets and on the sidewalks, dilapidated buildings and overt grime, crime and grit. Not so—quite the opposite. In many ways, Port Angeles has more character, art and scenic appeal than either Port Townsend or Sequim. And my taste tests attest to the fact that Port A has much better restaurants too.
Over the course of my PNW adventure, I spent a total of 3 nights in Port Angeles and thoroughly explored the town and its neighborhoods. Yes, eventually, I saw some homeless people. I have no doubt there are “issues”, but every community has issues and more and more have issues of this type. (For the record, Sequim is not immune – recall the panhandler at the Village Marketplace. No doubt they would say he was just on his way to Port Angeles.)
My first stop, and an easy one as its right on the main drag as you come into town, was Sound Bikes & Kayaks, 120 E. Front Street. My last chance for mountain bike rentals before I headed up the coast. I was so relieved when I opened the door and saw plenty of quality mountain bikes to rent. (And they even have an in-store rock climbing wall there too.) The friendly team at Sound Bikes & kayaks gave me the local scoop on the top mountain bike rides and hikes in the area. I shared my encounters with the Port Angeles and Sequim gloom and doomers and they just shrugged their shoulders. (Tourist dollars are hard to come by, especially in the off-season, perhaps that was what it was all about.)
Lodging was easy to find, I just walked across the street and rented a room in the historic Downtown Hotel. Now it was time to grab a bite with a view at Downriggers at the Landing and plan my active adventures.
Its close proximity to Lake Crescent and Hurricane Ridge / Olympic National Park and its gateway position to adventures farther afield made Port Angeles a great basecamp for my PNW explorations coming and going. Here’s my sampler for ya:
Built in 1916 and renovated in 2003 after a fire, the Downtown Hotel has lots of character. This place made me nostalgic for the old hotel from my childhood. (My family was in the hotel and restaurant business in New Hampshire.) The Downtown Hotel is historic, quaint and clean—and full of old-school charm. You can choose from kitchenette suites, apartment suites, private baths or “European style with a shared hallway bathroom. I picked a suite with a view of the harbor. The bed was a bit small for a queen and the wifi was a bit spotty in the room so I had to take my work conference call in the lobby. Other than that, I loved it. The reading material in the lobby was great. They subscribe to the New Yorker, one of my favorite magazines – another feather to put in the artsy / cultural hat of Port Angeles. It’s a cool, centrally located spot within the heart of Port Angeles. I would stay here again and consider it for a long-term stay. The general manager, Tim, is a bit of a vintage bike nut. If you are too, you might ask him to show you his extensive collection. Notes: no pets allowed and no wheelchair access. The entrance staircase leads from street level to the lobby and rooms are on the second and third floors.
Treat yourself to a great night’s sleep and a spectacular sunrise with a water view room. Extremely comfy bed with a room large enough for a happy dance. (I think it was an ADA room, not sure if they are all like that or If I just got lucky.)
Clean, comfy, convenient and budget friendly. This place has been renovated recently and is downright decent. Wifi and free breakfast are included. Be sure to pay your respects to the resident feline, Douglas. Drop into the locals’ bar, Joshua’s Restaurant and Lounge, next door for a quick bite or nightcap if you’re so inclined. This is where I got the insider tip from locals Kristin and Chef Matt Colony to visit them at First Street Haven for breakfast (see review below).
The Landing mall and the restaurant Downriggers is right on the coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It features spectacular water, city and Olympic Mountain views and and is home to galleries, restaurants, offices, a co-working space, a rowing club and more. I ate a salmon salad at Downriggers my first night. Perhaps not as good as the view, but as good or better than Sirens in Port Townsend. Not that it’s a contest or anything, but if you read my previous post, you’ll understand why I’m making all the comparisons.
The line out the door is a good indication that this is the “go to” spot in Port Angeles for great grub. In general, I avoid meat. Once I caught sight of the burgers here, I caved. Delicious! For those with stronger willpower than mine, there are delectable vegetarian options as well. Whether you’re a carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore, you can’t go wrong here. The outdoor seating is limited, but always my happy preference so I’m glad they have some.
Had some drinks and great conversation with the chef and a waitress from First Street Haven at Joshua’s Restaurant and Lounge the night before. The chef was from Oceanside, CA – small world. (My home base is next door to Oside, Carlsbad.) They said their establishment had the best breakfast in town. After sampling it, I’m inclined to believe them. Crazy delish cinnamon rolls, banging eggs Benedict, and so on…We even scored some local mushrooms. (No, not that kind, come on now!) Excellent cuisine (Chef Matt Colony) and service (Kristin). They are at the top of my list for a return trip.
BADA NW is gooda 118 W 1st St, Port Angeles, WA 98362
This is one of the coolest coffee shops with a great PNW vibe. It’s up there with Woody’s in Hakone, Japan for great atmosphere and quality coffee. They serve food and beer and wine too. (As did Woody’s, coincidentally.) Bold, Ambitious, Dedicated and Authentic (BADA) is gooda.
So Port Angeles, you won me over, 3 days – not only did you not disappoint, you exceeded all expectations. All the locals here I talked to were super friendly and helpful.
Stay tuned for my active adventures in the epic PNW, including Hurricane Ridge, and points beyond.
Difficulty: Yes, challenging – all depends on your fitness level & your knee health. Peak is 14, 505 ft elevation with a gain & loss of 6,100 ft & rocky, uneven, occasionally treacherous terrain. If you have arthritis in your knees, like me, going down is going to hurt. A lot. Even with poles.
First of all, I probably wouldn’t have done Whitney again since I’d already been there and done that (1994) and I’m not much for redos.
But we were up in the area. And my swim buddy, Rosie, and a group of her friends were doing it, and Ken wanted to do it, so I figured let’s leave it to fate.
We raced down from Mammoth Lakes to Lone Pine and lined up at the Ranger and Visitor Center at 11AM sharp as instructed. Ken picked a lucky #3 out of the hat, which put us in the lead to capture a spot. Fate would have it that Mt. Whitney and I would meet again. Off we went equipped with the requisite bear canister.
Note the trail is difficult (altitude, terrain, length, elevation gain/loss). Many people train and prepare for months to do it. We are both endurance athletes and accustomed to pushing our boundaries (sometimes we are [i am] a bit too ambitious though – see our Catalina mt. bike adventure). While we were a little concerned about altitude sickness, we were relatively sure we could handle the hike.
Our trip to the mountains was last minute. We packed up in about 30 minutes and accidentally left out some key items (water purifier, hats, gloves, headlamps) at home. We stopped at the Lone Pine grocery and loaded up on munchies and water and then strolled across the street to pick up a couple headlamps at the Outfitters store.
Note, we were not prepared for high-altitude sub-freezing temps the night we camped (without a tent to keep the packs light) and the morning we hiked to the peak. I’m going to put together a camping checklist and post it here so we don’t leave home without the essentials again.
We could have cut the weight in our packs significantly if we’d brought the water purifier. Contrary to memory of 1994 there was plenty of water along the trail and at Trail Camp – lakes, streams and waterfalls.
We started on the trail at 2:30 PM with the goal of camping at Trail Camp 6 miles up, elevation 12,000 ft. I had a vision of sunrise on the peak that I wanted to fulfill – that would certainly make hiking this monster twice worth it. I had no memory of the lovely lakes, streams, and waterfalls (perhaps it was a dry year) and the beauty of the Whitney.
Note there is an earlier opportunity to camp near a waterfall at Outpost Camp just 3.8 miles up and 10,800 feet elevation.
Waterfall at Outpost Camp
About a mile after Outpost Camp the terrain begins to get a bit more ornery (rocky)…Of course, the views become more beguiling to take your mind off the occasionally tortuous footing. Speaking of footing, I hiked both times in trail runners. Ken wore running shoes and said his feet took quite a beating. It’s really personal preference. A visual poll of hikers, coming and going, was about 50/50 hard-toe hiking shoes, running / trail running shoes.
Some hikers wore no shoes at all.
We arrived at Trail Camp at 6:30 PM just in time for sunset. At least a half dozen other hiking parties had already set up their tents. We laid out our mats and sleeping bags. I jumped in immediately, the temperature was already dropping. The video and the picture below were taken from my sleeping bag vantage point. How dreamy to experience sunset on Whitney and (fingers-crossed) sunrise too.
After chowing down on some nuts, Slim Jim’s and other munchies “in bed”, Ken put the bear canister ~150 yards away and it was lights out. My plan was for a 3:30 AM start. We didn’t sleep much—it was quite chilly (understatement). At 2:30, I saw another group rustling around with their headlamps and beginning their hike to summit. We got our start around 30 minutes later, rising at the crack of darkness to make a run for sunrise at the summit. Watching the string of headlamps bobbing in the darkness ahead and above us, snaking around the ridges through the infamous 97 switch backs was like being in an adventure film. I wish I had taken some pictures or videos, but my phone battery was low and my hands were freezing, despite my improvised sock mittens.
Unfortunately, my headlamp failed (note to self – bring extra batteries – duh). Since my eyesight is so bad, Ken let me lead with the other headlamp. The footing is quite tricky and some areas were wet so it slowed us down a bit. (The puddles had turned to ice when we reached them on the way back.)
When we arrived at Trail Crest, the highest trail pass in the US (13,645 ft) it was still pitch dark and we were half -asleep and perhaps a bit altitude touched. Somehow, we misread the sign and went the wrong way – going about 1/2 mile off course. We thought it was odd that we’d be descending before the peak, but we saw some headlamps down there and none in the other direction…Despite the wrong turn, we made it to the top in time for one of the most memorable sunrises of my life.
This time, no altitude sickness at all, but you can hear me slurring my speech a tad in the video – from the cold & altitude (no mimosas, unfortunately). These past 24 years and my history of running have not been kind to my knees so the way down was much harder (hurt more) than the way up. Not sure I’ll be back again, but ya never know. Maybe I should do it every 24 years? Maybe not. Anyway, it was totally worth it.
The steep drop-offs on the upper trail were equally daunting in the dark and in the daylight.
The view of a few of the infamous 99 switchbacks and the little lake by Trail Camp on the way down.
Ran into my swim buddy, Rosie, on the way down – her way up.
We made it back to Trail Camp by 9AM and out the bottom by 1:30PM – all in a days work – 23 hrs with camping. I recommend camping if you can, you get to enjoy the hike more and see more.
Many thanks to Ken for capturing and sharing his great photos on this post, for always being a great sport on my crazy escapades, and for carrying the heavier pack.
My toenail causality. Guess my foot modeling days are over.
Getting there: Take Whitney Portal road from Lone Pine
Big Sky, unlike Anaconda, has a name that captures its essence as you can see. This vista above was a big highlight on an otherwise fairly unremarkable first couple miles. I’m a bit surprised that this out and back hike in the Gallatin National Forest was rated one of the top 10 in the world. (Guess I’m becoming a bit of a hiking snob.) In wildflower season, I suspect it blossoms beautifully, bewitching its visitors. November is not her best month. It’s either dry and reedy or muddy and icy, but there are shimmering sights at the basin that do reward those with the tenacity to trudge through the thick slime and slog through the snow in the off-season…(Yes, that would be me.)
In my first video, I mistake the first, unnamed lake for the destination lake.
As for equipping myself with the bear spray, I learned that the “griz” are the most active before hibernation and there have been recent attacks in nearby Ennis and Yellowstone National Park. Not to mention that the sign at the trail head was difficult to ignore.
You may notice that I’m wearing a bell around my neck to alert bears of my presence. (Let’s see a bell, chocolate in my pocket -you got it, I’m a walking, talking bear toy.) Have you heard the rangers joke about how you can tell black bear scat from grizzly scat? The grizzly scat has bells in it. I’ve stopped wearing the bell as they say the bears might find the ringing intriguing (or perhaps annoying). They say it’s better just to talk loudly and make a lot of noise in areas with limited visibility. You don’t want to surprise a griz. Supposedly, they’ll hear you coming and go the other way.
The panoramic views were breathtaking. And slogging through mud, ice, and snow mean I’m getting a more intense workout. What’s not to like, right?
Topped off a fantastic day with a feast at the Gallatin River House Grill, what a great spot on the river with outdoor seating, a band stage and volley ball court. Their Famous Flank Steak Sandwich is as outstanding as is their riverfront view. One day, I will return to see the trail in its wildflower splendor and for post hike festivities and another feast at the River House.