Horseshoe Lake Trail is a beautiful alpine hike in Mammoth Lakes, California. This lake is located within Inyo National Forest and is part of the Mammoth Lakes Basin.
Horseshoe Lake Trail is an easy loop that is popular for hiking and mountain biking. The one factor that sets Horseshoe Lake apart from other Mammoth Lakes is the strange landscape that consists of many fallen, dead trees as the result of earthquakes and high amounts of carbon dioxide gases that can be found in the ground.
In this post, we cover details for where to park, trail difficulty, and what you should know before you head out to Horseshoe Lake!
Horseshoe Lake Trail Highlights
Here are a few quick trail highlights before we go into more details:
- Length: 1.8-mile-long loop
- Elevation Gain: 100 feet (it’s fairly flat)
- Time Needed: 1-2 hours
- Difficulty: Easy
- Dogs allowed?: Yes, this trail is dog-friendly
Location & Parking
Horseshoe Lake Trail starts at the Lakes Basin Path/Horseshoe Lake Trailhead. There is a large free parking lot right next to the lake where visitors can leave their cars while hiking or mountain biking. This lot can accommodate many visitors so usually parking is not an issue.
After parking, you can walk down to the lakefront where the Horseshoe Lake Loop starts. You will see a wide trail entrance and a trail marker.
Multiple hiking and backpacking trails start near Horseshoe Lake. If you have extra time after your hike, I recommend checking out the McLeod Lake Trail as well. This is another short trail that begins at Horseshoe Lake and leads to a secluded alpine lake.
About Horseshoe Lake Trail
Horseshoe Lake Trail is a 1.8 mile-long loop that goes around the entire lake. This trail is fairly flat and can be rated as easy making it a great hike for families and kids.
Horseshoe Lake has interesting geological features that are different from other lakes in Mammoth. After a recent earthquake in 1989, high amounts of carbon dioxide gas were released killing the trees in the surrounding area. What visitors can now experience is an eerie setting with over 100 acres of fallen, dead trees.
Because of these toxic gases, it’s not recommended to spend a lot of time by Horseshoe Lake and avoid sitting down in depression areas where the gas might collect.
Keep in mind that kids and dogs are more at risk because they are lower to the ground. However, this is still a popular lake to visit as long as you take caution, don’t camp here overnight, and stay out of any danger zones.
Horseshoe Lake Loop itself is a straightforward hike. There is no reception in Mammoth wilderness so I always download Maps.Me hiking app before I head out into the mountains, in case I do lose track of the route. I also like to check out the hiking route on AllTrails for any recent comments or closures.
Dogs are also welcome to use the Horseshoe Lake Trail. Overall, Mammoth is a very dog-friendly place and most people bring their four-legged friends on trails with them.
Here’s a couple of things that I pack for outdoor trips with my dog:
- Collapsible dog bowl. A collapsible dog bowl is essential for hiking, camping, and road-tripping with a dog. Collapsible bowls are lightweight so you can throw one in a backpack and easily carry it everywhere.
- RUFFWEAR dog boots. I always keep these in my backpack when hiking with my dog in case the sand gets too hot during the day or the trail has very 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 or in your neighborhood before heading out into the mountains.
- 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 hiking.
- 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 carry dog waste out on day hikes. These waste bags are also biodegradable – even better for Earth!
For those who are interested in fishing at Mammoth Lakes, do note that Horseshoe Lake is not the best spot for fishing. Unlike other lakes in Mammoth, Horseshoe Lake does not get stocked with fish. This could be due to volcanic activity and carbon dioxide gases that can be found in the area.
Hiking Horseshoe Lake Trail
The trailhead for the Horseshoe Lake Loop starts just a short walk from the parking lot.
After parking head down to the lake and walk to the right until you see the trailhead marker. The Horseshoe Lake Trail travels in a counter-clockwise direction around the entire lake.
You will see several large signs covering more about how this area was created, the dangers of Carbon Dioxide gas, and trail etiquette.
There are also restrooms near the trailhead, trashcans, and dog waste bags if you need to grab a few for the hike.
The hike starts in an area that has the biggest concentration of fallen trees from high levels of CO2 gasses in the soil. The scenery here looks pretty surreal and a reminder of the unpredictable forces of nature.
Once you head into the trail, the surroundings turn to a healthy alpine forest again and stay like that for most of the hike.
The Horseshoe Lake Trail follows a shaded path in the forest along a cliffside. A tree line separates the lake from the trail but you still get to enjoy views of the lake during the hike. You can go down to the lakefront at any moment you wish, but the trail down is sandy and a bit steep.
Most of the trail is fairly flat with a mix of dirt and some paved sections. During this hike, you will cross a few wooden bridges and streams that look very scenic.
By taking the loop around the lake you can enjoy different views and perspectives of the jagged Eastern Sierra mountains that have been in the making for four million years. The mountains in Mammoth have been shaped by volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and the movement of glaciers.
Some of the mountains that you can see in Mammoth look red, especially around Lake Mary. This is due to iron dioxide minerals which make the mountains look rusty.
One of the prettiest views of the lake can be found on the opposite end that consists of roundly shaped sandy beaches.
Once you continue, the scenery stays very similar throughout the hike. Overall, the trail felt very serene and peaceful, with almost nobody else around at sunset.
Other Visitor Tips
- Bring bug repellant. The lakes in Mammoth attract tons of mosquitos and they are very persistent. I even saw people turn around and exit some trails because the bugs were too much to handle.
- Use trekking poles. Overall, this is not a technical trail but trekking poles can always help when you start getting tired.
- Carry plenty of water. I always carry several bottles of water, even on short day hikes. Our California summers are just getting hotter and hotter so it’s important to bring plenty of water.
- It’s easy to get sunburned on elevation hikes, even on trails that pass through a forest like this one. Nothing ruins a trip more than a bad sunburn. Pack mineral sunscreen, lip balm, polarized sunglasses, and a hiking hat to help with the sun.
- I always bring a first aid kit, headlamp, and a portable phone charger, even on quick day hikes. It’s always best to go prepared!
Due to the toxic gases that can be found in this region, it’s not recommended to camp at Horseshoe Lake overnight. CO2 collects in low-level shelters such as tents and can cause flu-like symptoms if you’re exposed to it for longer periods.
Thankfully there are many other great campgrounds to choose from in Mammoth. Some of the most popular ones are:
During my trip, I stayed in my Promaster Campervan by the Duck Lake Pass Trailhead which is next to the Coldwater Campground. The Duck Lake Pass Trailhead parking lot is flat, decent in size, and has a restroom with running water.
If you’re looking to stay at a private rental instead of camping, check out this list that covers 10 amazing VRBO vacation rentals in Mammoth Lakes, California!
Other Hikes Nearby
Here are a few other awesome day hikes in Inyo National Forest that you may like:
- Hiking Skelton Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes
- Convict Lake Hike In Inyo National Forest
- Crystal Lake Trail In Inyo National Forest
- Sherwin Lakes Trail In Mammoth Lakes
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