Rock Creek Canyon

 ~Here’s How You Do It

When traveling California’s Route 395 North it is always a good idea to chat up locals along the road. We have discovered some amazing secret gems this way and now are passing along one slice of heaven for the day hiker as well as weekend backpacker. Rock Creek Canyon could be easily overlooked by the Yosemite/Mammoth crowd but it is a star all on its own, and as a weekend get-away, is a cost efficient alternative to pricier areas.

Aspens on the road to Rock Creek
Aspens on the road to Rock Creek

If camping is the plan, there are over 300 campsites. These need to be reserved in advance in the peak months but stopping by a ranger station could yield a plan B of dispersed camping for the free spirit who eschews advance coordinating and winds up campsite empty. If you are backpacking, your permit allows for camping along the creek at Mosquito Flats the night before, and these campsites are the bomb! They are located at the very end of the road a little over 10,000 feet in elevation. Lush purple lupine flanks the rushing creek and enormous trees make a canopy over the sites which come complete with picnic tables and fire rings. Someone please tell Yosemite about this so that the grueling attempts at sleep, pre-backcountry trek, in a backpacker’s dirt lot with no accommodations are improved.

Below was sunset from the campsite.

Rock Creek Cyn-

 Rock Creek offers many trails as well as lakes but we focused on the Mosquito Flats trailhead, which proved glorious in both August as well as the end of September when the color change of the Aspen trees left us breathless.

Two trails branch off of this trailhead, Mono Pass and Morgan Pass, with the latter being day-hike friendly. Every single half-mile of Morgan offered up a gorgeous lake and the trail was easy enough that a fair amount of kids under 5 as well as elderly hikers were spotted traversing the tree studded paths while we were there. Weekends in the busy season are a little crowded for the hiker seeking solitude but for those who don’t mind sharing the trail savor the families and dogs that joyfully lope across the fields and splash in the water. A not to be missed tip is sunrise with a capital S. People, I know for many it is painful, but there is a heavenly ten to twenty minute window of time at start of the day when the sun lights the peaks orange and the water in Heart Lake is crystal clear and completely still. And the day this hiker was there, there was not a soul in sight.

 Now if even more solitude is what you are seeking and you would like a night out under the stars, Mono Pass is the way to go. You’ll be among the few and mighty backpackers who head out for an overnight or more. This trail engages cardio when taken on with a backpack but the payoff is worth it. Beautiful views, clean air, and pristine lakes await. Ruby Lake is lovely and a good place to replenish water before climbing up to 12,000 feet for stunning views. Camping along the way and then returning after a day or more of fishing for trout and relaxing makes for the perfect low cost get-away, or for the wildly adventurous, continue and meet up with the Pacific Crest Trail.

 Weekend travelers: remember to think ahead for this nirvana if you plan on getting a reserved campsite but also know that you can drive to the top and park for free as a day hiker at Mosquito Flats. Two chemical toilets are at the trailhead but no running water, so pack your water bottles and don’t forget to purify if you need additional along the trail. And one final idea for the backpackers’ campground: get there the afternoon before your trip, make a fire, kick back, and thoroughly enjoy what is included in your permit for free. When morning dawns, put extra food in the trailhead bear lockers, toss the camp chairs in the car, and hit the trail.


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