The Duck Pass trailhead is located at the end of Coldwater Campground south of Lake Mary in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. From the trailhead a well maintained and traveled trail leads south towards the Duck Pass in the John Muir Wilderness. Along the way you will pass several, beautifully-situated lakes. This route description illustrates the trail from the trailhead to Skelton Lake, about half-way up to Duck Pass.
From the very south end of Coldwater Campground (Duck Pass trailhead), the trail leads south into the forested drainage of Mammoth Creek. The slope is initially gentle and you enter the John Muir Wilderness shortly (after about 0.3 miles). On the left (east) you will see the beautifully colored slopes of “Red Mountain”. The slope to your right (west) is a glacial moraine separating the Mammoth Creek from the Coldwater Creek drainage. The trail soon switchbacks up the forest and then leads more or less straight south.
After about one mile you reach a junction, from which a short trail leads east and downhill to Arrowhead Lake. This short detour is well worth it, as the scenery at the lake with beautiful views at the Sherwin Range and “Red Mountain” is splendid. You can easily walk along the western lakeshore to its southern end and the inlet stream. There are some nice cliffs on the southern side. After crossing the inlet stream an easy scramble up the cliffs provides a first-row view over the lake and an appreciation of its arrowhead shape. From here you can retrace your path to the junction or hike cross country along the inlet stream uphill. The scenery along the stream is marvelous as the water cascades over dark rocks down from Skelton Lake lined with beautiful flowers and lush vegetation. When the bushes get to thick you can veer off away from the stream to the west and will shortly intersect the main Duck Pass trail. Follow the trail further south and after about one mile (from the junction to Arrowhead Lake) you can see Skelton Lake to your left. You can now follow the trail, which will eventually lead to the lake or you can turn left anytime before that and find your favorite spot on the lake. The views again are simply gorgeous and unobstructed towards Duck Pass to the south. The Sherwins are to the left (east) and the Mammoth Crest (Sierra Crest) to the right (west). From Skelton Lake the trail leads further south to Barney Lake before it switchbacks up steeply to Duck Pass at the Sierra Crest.
Overall, the route from the Duck Pass trailhead at Coldwater Campground (9,120’) to Skelton Lake (9,920’) is about 4 miles roundtrip (with excursion to Arrowhead Lake) and about 1,100 feet of elevation gain.
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 next intersection stay left and follow the road on the east side of Lake Mary. At its southern end where the road turns right, make a left turn to Coldwater Campground. Drive all the way to the very end of the campground. There is ample of parking there. The first trailhead is to Emerald Lake. Duck Pass trailhead is just a little it further at the most southern end.
Although heavily traveled the Duck Pass trail is certainly very well worth your time regardless whether you venture all the way to the pass or stop at one of the lakes before. The short excursion to Arrowhead Lake is highly recommended. Besides hiking it’s also a very nice place to fish. I saw someone catching five Eastern Brooks within one hour at the lake. The highlight of our hike up to Skelton Lake (besides the sceneries from the lakes of course) was the scramble along the inlet stream from Arrowhead Lake to Skelton Lake. We started in the late afternoon from the Coldwater Campground, so we only made it to Skelton Lake. In time, this report will be expanded to illustrate the entire trail to Duck Pass.