Last weekend I backpacked in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, east of Fresno. The name doesn't do the area justice. The lakes were named for a dog named "Dinkey" who saved his master from an angry grizzly bear. He didn't deserve his name, either.
The Dinkey Lakes Wilderness is one of the smaller Sierra wilderness areas, but it contains some really nice lakes and some surprisingly easy terrain. It's a great place to go if you're learning to backpack or aren't up for a difficult trip. The main trail access begins northeast of Shaver Lake. From the parking lot, it's less than two miles to the first of four lakes in a seven-mile semi-loop. I hiked it a couple of years ago as a moderate day hike. This time we returned with a first-time backpacker and made our camp at the first lake.
We're not sure how this spot earned its name "Mystery Lake." It's a beautiful subalpine lake with a granite ridge along its southern shore. The only mystery was how we found ourselves without any company on a Saturday night. Like most other "easy" backpacking destinations, this one is fairly popular. The sheer number of campsites spread out around the shoreline attests to it. In less than two miles, the trail only climbs 400 feet. When you reach the top of the second climb you'll be within sight of the lake. If you feel like continuing, Swede Lake is only about half mile further. South Lake is another half mile, and First Dinkey Lake a mile beyond. Side trails continue to a number of other lakes, all of which offer fishing opportunities.
A wilderness permit is required for overnight trips and can be obtained from Sierra National Forest in Prather. The station is on the way up to Shaver (www.fs.usda.gov/sierra). When you arrive in Shaver, turn right on Dinkey Creek Road. Turn left on Rock Creek Road about 10 miles beyond the town. The distance from the paved road to the trailhead is about 12 miles. A high clearance vehicle is recommended due to some serious bumps in the road, but four-wheel drive is not necessary. Turn right at the junction with Road 9S09 and again at 9S62. Usually there are signs, but this cannot always be guaranteed -- signs on forest roads have a bad habit of disappearing. For planning trips and finding your way on the trail, the Guide to the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness published by the USDA or Tom Harrison's Dinkey Lakes Wilderness Map are both excellent choices.
For some other relatively easy backpacking trips, you can also try:
Tuolumne River/Lyell Fork
Possibly the best "easy" trip in Yosemite, this is gentle four-mile walk starts at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and follows the river through a stunning canyon with only a 200-foot elevation gain in four miles. You must camp at least four miles from Tuolumne Meadows, but after that the choice is up to you. Campfires are allowed below 9,600 feet in the Yosemite Wilderness, which includes much of the Lyell Fork. For permits go to www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm or call (209) 372-0740.
Twenty Lakes Basin
For a taste of high mountains and blue lakes above treeline, try the Twenty Lakes Basin in the Hoover Wilderness. The trail starts at Saddlebag Lake, just outside Yosemite's eastern entrance. Take the ferry across the lake ($11 adults, plus $5 for overnight packs) and pick up the loop trail to Greenstone, Steelhead, Shamrock, Odell, Helen, and Hummingbird Lakes. A number of other lakes are close to the trail and easily accessible with a bit of route finding. The entire loop is only about 5½ miles and the elevation gain is minimal. Campfires are not permitted. The road from Highway 120 to Saddlebag is unpaved, but passable for any vehicle if drive carefully. For permits, go to www.fs.usda.gov/htnf/ or call (760) 932-7070.
Camp and Bear Lakes
This pretty pair of Emigrant Wilderness lakes are 3½ miles from the trailhead at Crabtree near Dodge Ridge. Ironically, camping isn't permitted at Camp Lake, so hikers must continue on to Bear Lake. The elevation gain is only about 600 feet and the trail tends to meander up and down rather instead of climbing steeply. The road is unpaved and high clearance vehicles are strongly recommended. Campfires are allowed. For permits, go to www.fs.usda.gov/stanislaus/ or call (209) 586-3234.
Adam Blauert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.