Sherwin Lakes Trail is a stunning mountain hike in Inyo National Forest that leads to an alpine lake. Located on the outskirts of Mammoth Lakes, this is a secluded wilderness trail that doesn’t get as busy as some of the other day hikes in Mammoth.
If you’re planning a trip to Mammoth, we cover where the Sherwin Lakes Trail is located, hike difficulty, and other tips to know before you head out there!
Quick Trail Highlights
Here are a few quick trail highlights before we go into more details:
- Length: 4.5 miles long out and back
- Elevation Gain: Around 900 feet
- Time Needed: 2-3 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Dogs allowed?: Yes, this trail is very dog friendly
About Sherwin Lakes Trail
Sherwin Lakes Trail is a serene 4.5 miles long wilderness trail that travels through a forest to a mountain lake. This lake is decent in size although due to a recent drought, the lake water level has dropped significantly.
Due to its length and elevation gain, the Sherwin Lakes Trail can be rated as moderate in difficulty. This trail can be used for outdoor activities like hiking, horseback riding, and fishing but NOT for mountain biking.
The Sherwin Lakes Trail is not a technical hike so it’s doable for most people, kids, and dogs. The hardest part about this trail is hiking in altitude, especially if you’re not used to it.
The trail climbs to 8700 feet in elevation so you might feel a bit winded from lower oxygen levels. If you do, go slow, take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water.
The Sherwin Lakes Trail gains around 900 feet in elevation through switchbacks that level out near the top. Sherwin Lakes Trail is not long but it does have a good uphill climb. Some sections of the trail cross giant rocks and tree roots so sturdy hiking shoes are highly recommended.
For wilderness 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, it’s easy to get lost, even on short day hikes. The Sherwin Lakes Trail follows the same path for the entire time but it can get confusing as you near the lake.
On hot days, Sherwin Lake is a great place to go for an alpine swim. Swimming is allowed at Mammoth Lakes, but the higher you go, the colder the water might be. Bring a bathing suit or wear one under your clothes so you can jump into the lake for a refreshing swim.
Dogs are also welcome to use the Sherwin 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!
Location & Parking
Most day hikes in Mammoth are located near Lake Mary. However, Sherwin Lakes Trailhead is located outside of the main cluster of Mammoth Lakes Basin, just slightly southeast of the town. Since this trail is a bit more hidden, you won’t encounter the crowds that you would at the centrally located trails like Crystal Lake, Skelton Lake, or Horseshoe Lake.
Sherwin Lakes Trail is popular between Mammoth locals and those who have done enough research to find it through AllTrails or spot it on the map.
There is a designated dirt parking lot by the Sherwin Lakes Trailhead that can be used by visitors and wilderness hikers. This parking lot is decent in size so parking was not an issue when I arrived. I came towards late morning and was able to find a spot easily right by the trailhead. There is also a basic restroom for visitors and bear-locked trash bins.
Once you’re ready to start your hike, the trailhead can be found at the center of the lot.
Hiking Sherwin Lakes Trail
After parking, you can walk down to the Sherwin Lakes Trail entrance where you will see a large trailhead sign covering leave no trace principles.
The trail starts on a narrow dirt path that travels through low shrubs and bushes. Shortly after the trail turns into an alpine forest and stays like that until you reach the lake.
If you’re planning to hike this trail in the summer months, keep in mind that it can get pretty hot up in the mountains.
Thankfully the trees provide a much-needed shade but be sure to bring a lot of water to get you through the hike.
The first section of the trail is not very exciting as you’re mostly climbing endless switchbacks in a forest.
Once the tree line starts clearing, you’ll be able to see views of the surrounding mountains in the distance.
The Sherwin Lakes Trail is narrow but there is plenty of space to let other people pass coming back down. This trail doesn’t get as crowded as other hikes in Mammoth and I only ran into a couple of locals and a few other groups.
Keep climbing up and at 1.5 miles the trail will flatten out. The last part of the trail travels through overgrown shrubs but once you clear those, the lake will be to your right soon after.
Despite the low water level, Sherwin Lake is a lovely alpine lake. It has a greenish-blue tint to its color that looks especially stunning in the daylight.
I tried to walk around the lake to get different perspectives of it, but the large boulders along the shore made it hard to do so. Most people end up hanging out along the shore on the north end of the lake.
If you’re up for a challenge, you can keep going for another 2.5 miles to Valentine Lake. For me, the Sherwin Lakes Trail was challenging on its own so after visiting Sherwin Lake I turned around and started heading 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 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. You can also bring a Sawyer water filter and get freshly filtered water from the alpine lakes in Mammoth. I ran out of water after reaching Sherwin Lake so I refilled and filtered water there for the way back.
- 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!
If you plan to stay in Mammoth Lakes overnight, there are a few campgrounds to choose from in this area. Some of the most popular ones in Mammoth are:
If you’re looking to stay near the trailhead, the Sherwin Creek Campground is a great choice as well.
For those traveling in a campervan, Mammoth is a very campervan-friendly destination. I always take my Promaster campervan to Mammoth and sleep at a trailhead.
I did see a few campervans parked at the Sherwin Lakes Trailhead – overall it’s a pretty quiet spot with a bathroom and trashcans so you could spend the night before or after the hike.
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:
- McLeod Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes
- Horseshoe Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes
- Hiking Skelton Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes
- Crystal Lake Trail In Inyo National Forest
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