For the past few summers, we have been in search of the best mountain lakes to visit in California. On our most recent trip, we hiked to TJ Lake, a stunning alpine lake nestled within the Mammoth Lakes wilderness not far from Lake George.
The TJ Lake Trail via Lake George leads to multiple serene lakes with beautiful views of the surrounding mountain landscapes. This location also offers great swimming, bouldering, and fishing opportunities.
In this post, we share details for hiking TJ Lake Trail including where to park, hiking tips, and what you need to know before heading out there!
Quick Trail Highlights
Here are a few quick trail highlights before we go into more details:
- Length: 1.5 miles out and back
- Elevation Gain: Around 300 feet
- Time Needed: 1-2 hours
- Difficulty: Easy
- Dogs Allowed?: Yes, this trail is very dog friendly
About TJ Lake Trail
TJ Lake Trail is a gorgeous 1.5-mile round-trip wilderness hike that leads to three different lakes:
- Lake George
- Lake Barrett
- TJ Lake
The trail ends at TJ Lake, a gorgeous alpine lake with rugged mountains as its backdrop. Visitors can also go on a short loop around the lake to different vantage points that require a bit of scrambling.
The TJ Lake Trail is a great option if you’re looking for a short trail to do with your family or dogs. This trail can be used for outdoor activities like hiking, swimming, and fishing but not for mountain biking.
I would qualify the TJ Lake Trail as easy, but there is a steep uphill climb through a forest that gains around 300 feet in elevation gain.
Overall, this is a short route but you might feel winded from the altitude, especially if you’re not used to it. If you do, go slow, take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water.
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.
On hot summer days, TJ 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 underneath your clothes so you can jump into the lake to cool down!
Dogs are also welcome to use the TJ Lake Trail. Overall, Mammoth is a very dog-friendly place and most people bring their four-legged friends on trails with them.
Here are a couple of things that I bring for outdoor trips with my dog:
- Collapsible dog bowl. A collapsible dog bowl is a must 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 hiking. It’s especially handy in rocky sections with cliffs and steep drop-offs.
- 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!
Location & Parking
There is a large visitor lot where you can park your car next to the Lake George Campground. This parking lot is decent in size but it can fill up quickly, especially on the weekends. Many people come to this area for picnicking and fishing along Lake George so I recommend arriving early to secure a parking spot.
For directions, you can look up ‘Lake George Campground‘ on Google Maps and park in the visitor lot that’s adjacent to the campground. You can also look up ‘TJ Lake via Lake George’ on AllTrails hiking app and set directions through the app.
Once you arrive at the visitor parking area, you can find the TJ Lake Loop Trailhead next to the Lake George Campground.
Hiking TJ Lake Trail
So what can you expect to see along the trail? Here is the detailed breakdown of the TJ Lake Trail covering what the hike is like and highlighting some of the main stops.
The trail will start on a wide path that follows next to Lake George. This can be a pretty busy location with families heading down to the lakefront for picnicking and fishing. The further you will venture away from the parking lot, the fewer people you will encounter.
Soon after the trail will pass a small wooden bridge and start an ascend into the forest. When you see a junction sign – be sure to go left to follow the Barrett Lake Trail to TJ Lake.
The next part is the steepest section of the trail that climbs up rocky steps. It will gain around 200 feet of elevation in just 0.2 miles but will flatten out towards Lake Barrett at the top.
Lake Barrett is a great spot to take a quick break. Compared to other alpine lakes in Mammoth, this one is pretty small and looks more like a pond than a lake. The water level of Lake Barrett was especially low this year after drought and very little rainfall.
After Lake Barrett, keep going on the trail until you see a sign for TJ Lake Loop. For the shortest route go left and soon after you will see TJ Lake peek through the trees.
Most people hang around the little sandy beach at the beginning of the lake. If you want more privacy, keep going along the lake where you can find plenty of space away from other visitors.
We especially enjoyed the unobstructed views from the other side of the lake. All in all, TJ Lake Trail is a great choice if you’re looking for a hike that is easy and not very crowded!
Other Visitor Tips
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 in Mammoth, you will need to book wilderness permits and campsites ahead of time.
- Most trailheads have designated parking lots with bear-locked trash cans and restrooms.
- Carry plenty of water. I always carry several bottles of water, 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 in Mammoth.
- Bring bug repellant. The lakes in Mammoth attract lots of mosquitos and they are very persistent. I even saw people turn around and exit trails because the bugs were too much to handle.
- 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!
- Pack mineral sunscreen, lip balm, polarized sunglasses, and a hiking hat to avoid getting sunburned.
- Use trekking poles. This is not a technical day hike but trekking poles can help if you’re new to hiking or get winded easily from the altitude.
Where To Stay Nearby
Before you embark on your upcoming mountain adventure, these best hotels in Mammoth Lakes will ensure you’ll have a wonderful trip!
Nestled right outside downtown Mammoth Lakes, the Snowcreek Resort offers an incredible mountain getaway. Guests are provided with complimentary access to the resort’s athletic club equipped with a fitness area, tennis courts, a steam room, and two swimming pools.
As for booking options, visitors can choose between one, two, or three-bedroom apartments, all of which feature laundry and a fully stocked kitchen. The resort typically has a two-night booking minimum, but it can vary depending on the time of year.
The Juniper Springs Resort is a lovely four-star hotel nestled into the side of Mammoth Mountain. Noteworthy hotel amenities include a community fitness room, game room, swimming pools, and hot tubs.
All units are private condos that at the minimum feature a balcony, fireplace, and a stocked kitchen. There’s even childcare available if needed!
This trusted hotel brand is ideally situated at the base of Mammoth Mountain and features excellent amenities such as airport pick-up and a 24-hour gym. On The Westin Monache Resort grounds, enjoy a soak in one of two hot tubs or take a lap in the heated outdoor swimming pool.
There are suites of differing sizes, but most can accommodate groups of four and six. Each suite features a fireplace, flat-screen TV, sofa bed, and a coffee maker.
Other Hikes Nearby
Looking for more things to do in the area? Here are a few other awesome day hikes in Mammoth Lakes that you may like:
- Barney Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes
- Horseshoe Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes
- Hiking Skelton Lake Trail In Mammoth
- Hiking Heart Lake Trail In Mammoth
- How To Hike Inyo Craters Trail In Mammoth Lakes
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