Commonly Backpacked · Fishing · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Need to Know
Campfires are not allowed above 10,000 feet.
Mono Creek is a major drainage with a huge flow during the snow melt. The trail stays on the north side of the creek. However, to get to the Second Recess, you need to cross the creek. This can be dangerous to impossible until well after the main snow melt.
While it is only 21 miles by trail from Lake Edison over Mono Pass to Mosquito Flats, it is about 7 hours of winding mountain driving to reach there by car, making it very difficult to leave a car on each end. The only on-trail loop run that gets you back to the starting point is a long trek up Mono Creek, over Mono and Morgan passes, down to the Pine Creek Trail and then over Italy Pass to get back to the JMT.
In "Timberline Country, The Sierra High Route", Steve Roper a Class 2 route up the Second recess and over Gibbot Pass to Lake Italy. He also describes a Class 2 route past Laural Lake, over passes to Rosy Finch Lake and from Big Horn Lake over to the McGee Pass Trail
Most runners will do an out-and back, probably adding a detour up one of the laterals to Laurel Lake, Lake Hopkins, or into the Second Recess. If your destination is the Pioneer Basin, or the Third or Fourth Recesses, they are easier to reach by running from Mosquito Flats (Little Lakes Valley) over Mono Pass.
The Mono Creek Trail starts from the JMT less the 1.5 miles above the trail from the Lake Edison ferry, a little over 3 miles from the ferry. It traverses around a ridge and drops down 300 feet to the creek. This is a beautiful forested canyon with a large creek flowing over the rocks and cliffs on both sides that soar 2-3000 feet. From there, the trail gains only 300 feet in elevation over 3 miles, to the Second Recess. Many love this recess. The lower part is an easy climb with crystal clear creek and pine forests. A use trail leads all the way to Upper Mills Creek Lake, but some parts are very steep. In "Timberline Country, The Sierra High Route", Steve Roper describes Lower Mills Lake as one of the most beautiful in the Sierra and he describes a Class 2 route over Gibbot Pass to Lake Italy.
The Laurel Lake Trail is about 0.4 miles farther up Mono Creek from the Second Recess Trail. That trail switchbacks steeply up about 900 feet to enter the hanging valley. From there it is only a 600 foot climb above roughly 2 miles to Laurel Lake. Well before Laurel Lake, a use trail follows the the outlet stream from Grinnell Lake, a much larger and very scenic lake.
The Mono Creek trail continues to climb gradually up the canyon. At 6.7 miles, it passes the junction with the Hopkins Creek Trail. That trail climbs 1,000 feet to Lower Hopkins Lake. Upper Hopkins Lake is over 2.5 miles farther, just below the Class 2 Hopkins Pass, which leads to McGee Creek.
At 7.5 miles, the Mono Creek Trail passes the trail to the Third Recess. It is a 1,000-foot climb to the not-very-exciting Third Recess Lake.
The junction to the much more scenic Pioneer Basin is at 8.7 miles, and just beyond that is the short trail to the beautiful Fourth Recess Lake. From there, the trail begins the steep climb to Mono Pass. At 9.4 miles, it crosses Golden Creek, where an unmaintained, but not difficult, trail leads up a scenic canyon to Golden Lake.
At 10.5 miles and 11,200 feet, the rugged Trail Lakes have the only good campsites between the Fourth Recess and Ruby Lake on the other side of the pass. The trail continues switchbacking up to a great viewpoint overlooking Mono Creek Canyon. From there, you can see the entire Pioneer Basin, with Red and White Mt. and Red Slate Mt. peeking over its western ridge. After the viewpoint, it is an easy run to the barren Summit Lake and on to Mono Pass.
Shared By: Lee Watts