There are several trails starting near the campground at Lake George (9,010’) in the Mammoth Lakes Basin of the Eastern Sierra Nevada. To the south an easy trail leads to Barrett Lake and TJ Lake. This route description illustrates the trail to Crystal Lake.
The trail to Crystal Lake starts near the parking area and leads first gently then a bit steeper through beautiful mountain hemlocks. You will go past several cabins settled below the trail. After a little bit over half a mile the trail now switchbacks up the forested slope. At times the trail leads very close to the cliffs from which you have beautiful views down to Lake George and the entire Mammoth Lakes Basin. After about one mile you reach a trail junction at elevation 9,740’, which is the highest elevation you will reach on the way to Crystal Lake. From the junction, one trail leads straight ahead and will eventually reach the Mammoth Crest. At the crest is the boundary of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. From the crest the trail leads south first along the crest and later on its western slopes towards Deer Lakes. To reach Crystal Lake you have to take the trail leading south (left) at the junction and after about 0.3 miles and ~120 feet of elevation loss you cross the outlet of Crystal Lake (9,620’). The Lake itself is situated beautifully beneath the Mammoth Crest to the west and Crystal Crag on its southern end. You can skirt the lake on its eastern side over some slabs towards Crystal Crag. From the south end of the lake you can gain access to the south ridge of Crystal Crag, which offers an exposed class 3 climb up the crag. Overall, the total mileage for the roundtrip from Lake George to Crystal Lake is almost 3 miles with about 850 feet of elevation gain.
This is a Google Earth rendition of the trail from Lake George to Crystal Lake. Click on the numbers to see a view from that approximate location.
No special gear required.
From the town of Mammoth Lakes drive west and follow the Main Street past Old Mammoth Road (going left, south) and Minaret Road (going right, north). The street changes its name to Lake Mary Road. Follow the road up the southeastern slopes of Mammoth Mountain to the Lower Mammoth Lakes basin. Twin Lakes are the first lakes you will see. Stay left and follow the road past Twin Lakes. At the sign for Horseshoe Lake make a right turn, ad then a left turn at the signs to Lake George. You can also follow the Lake Mary Road all the way around Lake Mary, which will intercept the road going to Lake George. There is a parking area at Lake George.
If you are in that area and want a short, but beautiful hike, I can recommend the trail up to Crystal Lake without hesitation. It's a marvelous scenery and well maintained trail through a gorgeous forest. The views over the lakes and the entire basin are breathtaking. Crystal Lake invites to linger longer that you want. The maintained trail ends at the lake but it's fun to scramble and explore the area around the lake more. It certainly is a popular trail and you will meet others on the trail at least on weekends. I saw signs of horses on the trail so you might encounter a pack train, too. When I hiked the trail at the end of August, the trail was pretty dusty, probably from the heavy use. But the scenery and the lake make it very well worth it.