Convict Lake is a picturesque lake in Inyo National Forest that features turquoise water, mountains, hiking trails, and secluded beaches. This area is also popular for fishing, swimming, boating, and backpacking.
Despite a strange name, Convict Lake is one of the most scenic lakes near Mammoth and a must visit for anyone traveling in the Central California region. The most popular day hike at Convict Lake is a 3-mile loop that goes around the entire lake.
Location & Parking
Convict Lake is a drive-up lake and can be easily accessible from Highway 395.
We usually take Highway 395 when driving up to Mammoth and we’ve passed this area numerous times without realizing that this lake is here. Even if you don’t have the time to do the 3-mile hike that loops around the lake, we highly recommend stopping by to take in the scenery of Convict Lake.
There is plenty of day parking available at Convict Lake but it does get very busy especially from Friday to Sunday. Many people come here and stay for a long time while hiking, boating and trout fishing.
If the main parking area is full, there is a second more hidden overflow parking lot closer to the exit. This parking area is located less than a mile from Convict Lake and is connected by a smaller side trail so you don’t have to walk on the main road.
Address: Convict Lake, California 93546
About Convict Lake
When we first came to visit Convict Lake, I couldn’t believe how gorgeous it was. My first impression of Convict Lake made me think of a mix between Lake Tahoe and Glacier National Park.
The dramatic mountain landscape that surrounds Convict Lake is the result of ancient glaciers that shaped this region. While the glaciers are long gone, the beautiful scenery remains including a rocky shore and turquoise water that looks especially blue on sunny days.
Convict Lake is one of the deepest lakes in the Sierra mountains and the lake color changes depending on the depth and weather conditions.
But the most fascinating part about Convict Lake is its unique name that was given to it after a group of criminals escaped prison and took refuge here in 1871.
There are lots of activities to do at Convict Lake from fishing to boating, swimming, camping, backpacking, and hiking.
For day hikers there is a popular 3-mile-long loop that goes around the entire lake and can be rated as easy. This trail is mostly flat but does have a few narrow sections with steep drop-offs.
Hiking Convict Lake Loop
When we arrived at Convict Lake we got really lucky and found a spot near the trailhead right by the boat dock.
You can hike the Convict Lake Loop either clockwise or counterclockwise – the scenery is stunning going either way.
We were parked closer to the trailhead by the north shore so we did the Convict Lake Loop going counterclockwise.
Convict Lake loop hike is very easy and only takes around 2 hours but you should try to avoid going in the middle of the day when the sun shines right down on you. This hike has few trees and can get very hot.
Convict Lake Trail is dog friendly but it was a bit tough on our dog who had a difficult time walking in the hot sand and over sharp rocks. Convict Lake allows swimming so we tried to get him in the chilly water multiple times to cool off from the hot hike.
Starting from the boat launch we hiked along Convict lake and the scenery was simply jaw-dropping.
There were a few access points and side trails that led down to the lake with some people fishing out on the rocks, but many were overgrown with thick bushes.
Convict Loop trail is pretty narrow and on busy days you’ll encounter lots of people along the hike. We had to keep moving over to let groups pass by us.
Before you reach the opposite end of the lake you will come across a junction. This is where the backpacking trails start so keep to the left to continue along the Convict Lake loop.
About halfway through the trail, we reached a grassy shaded beach on the other side of the lake. There were a few boats docked here and families enjoying a picnic while hanging out by the water.
We took a little break here, ate some snacks, and let our dog rest for a minute before heading on. This is one of the few parts of the Convict Lake hike that has trees so it felt nice sitting in the shade.
We walked around the shore and the water here looked so blue especially set against the green mountains in the back.
There was also a small tent made of tree branches that someone had created.
The next section of the Convict Lake hike follows along a wooden path inside a forest.
The path elevates hikers above the Convict Creek that can be full of water especially in springtime as the snow melts in the mountains and flows into the lake.
Once the wooden path ends the trail climbs slightly up through rocky terrain offering elevated views of the lake.
The Convict Lake hike ends at a small sandy beach called the Fisherman’s Trail. There were lots of people hanging out on this beach and enjoying a sunny afternoon.
From here on we followed the paved road back to our car and finished up the 3-mile long Convict Lake loop.
Other Convict Lake Hiking Tips:
- Mountain bikes are not allowed on the Convict Lake Loop
- All overnight backpackers are required to get a wilderness permit beforehand
- Any garbage or trash needs to be carried out by following “Leave No Trace” practices
- There are picnic areas throughout Convict Lake and some bathrooms at the beginning of the lake
- Campsites and campfires are only allowed in established campgrounds
- This trail can get very hot so make sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water
- Convict Lake is located at 7800 feet in elevation. If you start feeling sick from altitude make sure to take a break and drink water
Other wonderful hikes to explore nearby: