McLeod Lake Trail is a short wilderness hike in Mammoth Lakes that leads to a stunning alpine lake. If you’re looking for a relatively easy and quick trail – put McLeod Lake on top of your list!
The Mcleod Lake Trail is less than 2 miles long so it’s perfect for families and dogs. This lake also offers great swimming and fishing opportunities (catch & release only).
In this post, we cover where the McLeod 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 quick trail highlights before we go into more details:
- Length: 1.8 miles out and back
- Elevation Gain: Around 350 feet
- Time Needed: 2 hours
- Difficulty: Easy
- Dogs allowed?: Yes, this trail is very dog friendly
About McLeod Lake Trail
McLeod Lake Trail is a beautiful 1-mile-long wilderness hike that leads through a forest and ends at a small mountain lake. You can extend this hike by another .8 miles by taking a loop that goes around the entire lake (which I highly recommend you do!).
The McLeod Lake Trail is easy and only gains around 350 feet in elevation through a steady climb to the lake. It travels along a narrow forest path with some rocky sections so hiking shoes are preferable.
This is not a technical hike and is doable for most people and kids as well. But this is a mountain trail located at 9300 feet in elevation so you might feel slightly winded from the altitude – if you do, take frequent breaks, drink lots of water, and go slowly.
For wilderness hiking trips, I always use a combination of AllTrails and Maps.Me hiking apps to track my route and distance. This is a pretty straightforward trail, but without a map, even easy trails can get confusing.
On hot days, McLeod Lake is a great place to jump in for a refreshing alpine swim. Swimming is allowed at Mammoth Lakes, but the higher you go, the colder the water might be.
For those who are interested in fishing at McLeod Lake, there are a few rules to keep in mind:
- You can catch & release only. All trout must be returned to the lake unharmed
- Only artificial lures are allowed
- Flies with barbless hooks can be used
- Baits or scented products are not allowed
McLeod Lake is also a very dog-friendly trail. I hiked this trail with my pup Quito and he had the best time. Here’s a couple of things that I bring along for outdoor trips with my dog:
- Collapsible dog bowl. A collapsible dog bowl is essential for hiking, camping, and road-tripping with a dog. This bowl collapses small and is lightweight so you can throw it 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 for his paws in the summer or the trail has very sharp rocks.
- 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 poop bags are also biodegradable – even better for Earth!
Location & Parking
McLeod Lake Trail starts at Horseshoe Lake in Inyo National Forest. There is a large paved parking lot that can be used by Horseshoe Lake visitors and wilderness hikers.
This parking lot has many spots available so parking here doesn’t seem to be an issue. I came towards the evening and only some of the spots were taken.
Once you park, make your way to the west end of the parking lot where you will see a sign for the “McLeod Lake”.
Nearby you will also find large signs covering information about Horseshoe Lake, wilderness practices, and trail maps.
Hiking McLeod Lake Trail
So what can you expect to see along the trail? Here is the detailed breakdown of the McLeod Lake hike covering what the trail is like and highlighting some of the main stops.
After arriving at Horseshoe Lake, I found parking near the trailhead. If you have the extra time to visit Horseshoe Lake as well, it is an interesting stop on its own.
The trail starts in a region full of fallen, dead trees. As you can learn at Horseshoe Lake, due to earthquakes high amounts of CO2 can be found in this area causing the trees to die.
It can also be dangerous for humans and pets to spend a lot of time in areas with high CO2 levels and it can lead to headaches and flu-like symptoms.
Once you head into the McLeod Lake Trail, you will soon start climbing in elevation where the wilderness returns to a healthy pine forest.
The trail to McLeod Lake is only 0.5 miles each way. Although the hike does feel a bit strenuous due to 350 feet elevation gain, I arrived at the lake very quickly. I got to the lake near sunset and most people were heading out, as I was coming up.
Despite being such an easily accessible trail, it wasn’t overly crowded. The entire hike felt very serene and peaceful.
If you come up here on a hot, sunny day – bring your bathing suit so you can jump in for a refreshing swim.
McLeod Lake is made of crystal-clear water with a shallow sandy shore scattered full of rocks, fallen tree roots, and boulders.
To get different views of the lake, I recommend taking the 0.8 mile-long loop that goes around the entire lake. From this loop, you’ll get different perspectives of jagged snow-covered mountain peaks that surround this lake.
After enjoying the lake and the views, you can head back the same way that you came. If you plan to stay until sundown, just make sure to bring along a headlamp for the way back.
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 some sections are pretty steep so trekking poles can help.
- 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 bring plenty of water. If 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 in Mammoth.
- Pack mineral sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses, and a hiking hat to help with the sun. 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.
- I always bring a first aid kit, and a portable phone charger, even on quick day hikes. It’s always best to go prepared!
If you plan to stay in Mammoth Lakes overnight, there are a few campgrounds in this area. 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.
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
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