Barney Lake Trail is a stunning wilderness hike in Mammoth Lakes that leads to several different alpine lakes. I’ve done this trail multiple times over the past few years and there’s always something new to discover that keeps me coming back!
The ease of accessibility and the gorgeous landscape makes this route one of the most popular hiking options in Mammoth. Along the way, you’ll receive great views of Skelton Lake, Barney Lake, meandering creeks, and lots of opportunities for rest breaks and taking photos.
In this post, we cover where the Barney Lake Trail is located, what you can expect if you plan to hike it, and other visitor tips!
Quick Trail Highlights
Here are a few Barney Lake Trail highlights before we go into more details:
- Length: 5.5 miles long out and back
- Elevation Gain: Around 1200 feet
- Time Needed: 3-4 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Dogs allowed?: Yes, this trail is dog friendly
About Barney Lake
Barney Lake is one of the top day hikes in Mammoth Lakes for its beauty, views, and the opportunity to visit multiple lakes along this route including:
- Arrowhead Lake
- Skelton Lake
- Barney Lake
You also have the option to go on a side trail to Emerald Lake which I highly recommend! The route to Emerald Lake is short but will require a bit of scrambling over large rocks.
Barney Lake is located high up in the Inyo National Forest wilderness, at 10,200 feet in elevation. Due to the altitude, you might feel winded, especially if you’re not used to it. If you do, go slow, take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water.
Hiking in Mammoth is best in the summertime, mostly between June to September when the snow has melted off. The higher elevation hikes can still be covered under snow, even in the summer.
We attempted this trail in early July a few years back and there was still snow on the ground preventing us to go past Skelton Lake without winter gear. If you plan to do this trail in the snowier months, come prepared with microspikes and snowshoes.
This year we hiked the Barney Lake Trail in mid-August and all of the snow had melted off providing us with clear access to all of the lakes along this route.
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Overall I would classify the Barney Lake Trail as moderate due to the length and 1200 feet elevation gain. This trail is not overly difficult or technical, but it is quite long. If you start feeling tired, you can turn around at any point!
Before heading into the Mammoth backcountry, I recommend downloading an offline map. There is limited to no reception in the wilderness so having a fully charged phone, a portable phone charger and an offline map is a must. We use a combination of AllTrails and Maps.Me hiking apps to track the route and distance.
Dogs are also welcome to use the Barney Lake Trail. Overall, Mammoth is a very dog-friendly place and many people bring their four-legged friends on trails with them.
Here are a couple of things that I bring for outdoor adventures with my dog:
- Collapsible dog bowl. A collapsible dog bowl is a must-have item for hiking with a dog. Collapsible bowls are lightweight so you can throw one in a backpack and easily carry it everywhere.
- RUFFWEAR dog boots. In the summer I bring these in case the sand gets too hot during the day or the trail has sharp rocks that can cut his paws. It can take a few days for your dog to get used to hiking boots so it’s best to practice walking at home before trying them on a trail.
- 2 Hounds No Pull Harness. I love this harness because it comes with multiple clip-on points providing more comfort for my dog and extra control for me when walking.
- Biodegradable poop bags. Dog’s waste can be harmful to wild animals and nature. It’s always good practice to bring extra poop bags and follow the ‘Leave No Trace Principles’. These waste bags are also biodegradable – even better!
Location & Parking
Barney Lake Trail starts at the Duck Lake Pass Trailhead, next to the Coldwater Campground. This trailhead can be easily reached from Mammoth Lakes town within a short drive.
There is a designated day visitor parking lot that is located at the far end of the Coldwater Creek Campground. There is usually plenty of parking available at this lot unless you come on a busy weekend, in which case we recommend getting there early.
This is also the starting point for Heart Lake Trail and overnight backpacking trips. The earlier you arrive, the better chance you’ll have of securing a parking spot.
For directions, you can look up ‘Duck Lake Pass Trailhead’ on Google Maps which will lead you to the trailhead. You can also look up ‘Barney Lake Trail’ on the AllTrails hiking app and set directions through the app. Both will take you to the same starting point.
Hiking Barney Lake Trail
So what can you expect to see along the trail? Here is the detailed breakdown of the Barney Lake Trail covering what the hike is like and highlighting some of the main stops.
This hike starts at the Duck Lake Pass Trailhead and goes for about 5.5 miles to Barney Lake out and back. It’s easy to find the starting point from the far end of the parking lot. Look for the ‘Duck Pass Trail’ sign next to the restrooms where you will also find information about this area.
On the weekends, you’ll share the trail with hikers, people heading out to fish, families with kids, dogs, and even horses!
This is also a popular route for trail running. We saw multiple joggers pass us, which is very admirable at this elevation. We were so winded from the altitude that we could barely walk at our regular speed!
The trail starts with a steep incline in a forest gaining around 700 feet in elevation in the first mile. The hike will flatten out near Arrowhead Lake and will continue with a steady, but lesser incline from there on.
About 1 mile into the trail, you will reach the turning point for Arrowhead Lake. If you wish to walk down to the shoreline, take a left turn into a side trail. You won’t be able to see Arrowhead Lake from the main path so many people miss this lake, but it’s well worth a quick stop!
After stopping by Arrowhead Lake, return to the main trail and continue on. In about 0.5 miles you will reach Skelton Lake, the second lake along the Barney Lake Trail.
Skelton Lake is one of my favorite lakes in Mammoth that has a wide, sandy shoreline – perfect for taking a rest break! On a previous trip, we had the opportunity to camp near Skelton Lake and enjoy a quiet sunrise overlooking the lake. This trail truly offers some of the best views in California for somewhat little work!
If you have the energy and time, continue along the trail to Barney Lake for another mile. Once you start the climb up to Barney Lake, you will be rewarded with sweeping views of the surrounding wilderness. This section is exposed to the sun so be sure to pack sunscreen.
Soon after, you will see Barney Lake peek through the trees. The first thing you will notice about Barney Lake is the bright turquoise color that looks especially stunning on sunny days. While most lakes in Mammoth have a deep blue color to the water, Barney Lake is much lighter in color with a teal tone to it.
At the lakefront, you can take a snack break or jump into the icy alpine water to cool off. Swimming is allowed at Mammoth Lakes, but the higher you go, the colder the water might be. Bring a bathing suit or wear one underneath your clothes so you can go for a swim in the lake (if you dare!).
After spending some time at Barney Lake, we started heading back. If you’re looking for a challenge, you can keep going past Barney Lake across the Duck Pass to Duck Lake and Pika Lake. Just keep in mind that this will double the distance and elevation so bring plenty of food and water. Barney Lake is as far as we’ve gone on this trail, but I do plan to come back and backpack to Duck Lake in the future.
On the way back I recommend taking the alternate route that passes by Emerald Lake. Emerald Lake is small but it’s one of the prettiest lakes in Mammoth that consists of a deep green color and jagged mountains as its backdrop. After exploring the lake, you can follow the Emerald Lake Trail back to the parking lot.
Things To Keep In Mind
Here are a few things to keep in mind for visiting and hiking in Mammoth Lakes:
- It’s free to day hike in Mammoth Lakes. If you plan to backpack or camp along the Duck Lake Pass Trail, you will need to book wilderness permits and campsites ahead of time.
- This trailhead has a designated parking lot with bear-locked trash cans and restrooms.
- Carry plenty of water. I always carry several water bottles, even on short day hikes. If you don’t want to carry heavy water bottles, you can also bring a Sawyer water filter and get freshly filtered water from the alpine lakes and rivers along the Barney Lake Trail.
- Bring bug repellant. The lakes and rivers in Mammoth attract lots of mosquitos and they are very persistent!
- I always bring a first aid kit, headlamp, and a portable phone charger, even on day hikes. It’s always best to go prepared!
- Pack mineral sunscreen, lip balm, polarized sunglasses, and a hiking hat to avoid getting sunburned. While some portions of this trail follow through the forest, other sections are exposed to the sun.
- Use trekking poles if needed. This is not a technical hike but trekking poles can help if you’re new to hiking or get winded easily from the altitude.
- This is a ‘No Drone’ zone. While Mammoth Lakes is not a National Park, drones in this area are not allowed.
Camping & Backpacking
If you plan to camp in Mammoth Lakes overnight, there are a few campgrounds in this area. Some of the most popular ones are:
A couple of years back we also camped along this route while attempting to backpack the Duck Pass Trail. Unfortunately, the trail was completely covered in snow and Skelton Lake is as far as we could go. We were able to set up camp near Skelton Lake before heading back the next day.
If you wish to camp next to Barney Lake or any other lakes along the Duck Pass Trail, you will need to secure a backcountry permit ahead of time.
For Inyo National Forest wilderness permits you can go on the Recreation.gov website here and see what permits are available:
- Click on ‘Explore available permits’
- For Permit Type, select ‘Overnight’
- Select the date that you are interested in camping
- Enter the group size (ex. 2 people)
- It will ask ‘Is this a commercial guided trip?’ – select ‘No’
Barney Lake is part of the JM01 Duck Pass entry point so getting a permit for Duck Pass will allow you to camp at Barney Lake as well. Scroll down to ‘Duck Pass’ and it will show how many permits are available on the nearby dates.
Places To Stay Nearby
Looking to book a hotel in Mammoth instead? Before you embark on your upcoming adventure, these places to stay in Mammoth Lakes will ensure you’ll have a great trip to the mountains!
The Tamarack Lodge is a three-star hotel located on Twin Lakes, away from the busy Mammoth Lakes downtown. This lodge has a cozy and rustic atmosphere and is surrounded by fantastic views of the mountains and Twin Lakes.
This historic Mammoth Lakes establishment was founded in 1924 and is an ideal choice for those who seek a quieter stay immersed in nature. There are many booking options available that include one or two bedrooms and the opportunity to book a cabin with a sofa bed.
This townhome is managed by a professional vacation rental agency and offers accommodation that can sleep up to twelve guests – ideal for larger groups and families.
All townhomes have access to a shared outdoor area furnished with a spa and hot tub. Guests can also enjoy a private patio, fireplace, and grill. The units are all stocked with complimentary toiletries, and there are laundry machines if needed.
For a relaxing and upscale experience, consider The Westin Monache Resort in Mammoth! This gorgeous hotel offers suites of differing sizes, most of which can accommodate groups of four and six. Each suite features a fireplace, flat-screen TV, sofa bed, and a coffee maker.
On the hotel grounds, you can enjoy a soak in one of two hot tubs or take a lap in the heated outdoor swimming pool. This trusted hotel brand is situated at the base of Mammoth Mountain offering easy access to nearby trails and attractions.
Looking for more things to do in the area? Here are a few other awesome day hikes in Mammoth Lakes that you may like:
- McLeod Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes
- Horseshoe Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes
- How To Hike Inyo Craters Trail In Mammoth
- Hiking TJ Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes
- How To Visit Hilltop Hot Springs
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