Rock Creek Canyon is located in the Eastern Sierra Nevada north of Bishop and south of Mammoth Lakes. The canyon can be easily accessed from Highway 395 by a paved road. Cascading from a high alpine valley in the John Muir Wilderness, Rock Creek provides 20 miles of a gorgeous creekside setting for year-round outdoor recreation.
Rock Creek Canyon is famous for Little Lakes Basin, where a string of high-elevation lakes are linked by leisurely hiking trails surrounded by 13,000 foot peaks.
Summer & Winter Recreation
Summer activities in the canyon include hiking, fishing, boating, horseback riding, and lakefront and streamside camping. Lodging, general stores and food services are offered at two resorts, one of which operates as a cross-country ski lodge during the winter. Shimmering fall color graces the canyon in the autumn. Lower Rock Creek continues its rush to the Owens Valley alongside the old highway 395, where the Rock Creek Trail is accessible to hikers and mountain bikers much of the year.
Mosquito Flat Trailhead is located at the end of Rock Creek Road. At an elevation of 10,300 feet, Mosquito Flat starts at an altitude many trails struggle to attain. As a result, this area is perfect for even the most inexperienced hiker due to its accessibility to easy trails. The area is a haven for photographers, fishermen, botanists, backpackers, and anyone who loves the backcountry. Two very popular hikes can be started from Mosquito Flat ranging from easy to strenuous, both leading to spectacular areas of Rock Creek's backcountry.
The Morgan Pass Trail winds through Little Lakes Valley (see movie clip above found on YouTube), a beautiful area containing several lakes, incredible wildflowers, riparian meadows, and excellent views of the 13,700+ foot peaks surrounding the valley. Several species of wildlife thrive in the valley, including marmot, deer, chipmunk, squirrel, pine marten, pika, and many species of birds and fish. Although small brook trout is the most prevalent species of fish, 3-5 pound browns are caught out of these lakes every summer. Some lakes have wild rainbow trout in them as well. This is a heavily-traveled trail, especially in July and August.
Mono Pass is another hike that is started at Mosquito Flat. This hike is much more difficult than Little Lakes Valley, and is drier, particularly on the upper slopes. This hike does have its advantages, however. Incredible views of Little Lakes Valley can be had from various points along the trail, fewer people use this trail compared to the Little Lakes Valley trail, and Ruby Lake, a large, secluded, and picturesque alpine lake, is accessible from here. The Mono Pass Trail continues west over the Sierra Crest and drops down into the Mono Creek Recesses and Pioneer Basin. The pass tops out at an elevation of 12,000 feet. Access to lakes containing golden trout can be achieved from this trail. Golden Lake at the headwaters of Mono Creek and Summit Lake at the top of Mono Pass are 2 of these lakes. Mono Pass is very popular with the Rock Creek Pack Station. Popular pack station trips are to Fourth Recess Lake and Pioneer Basin.
The Hilton Lakes are situated in a wooded, moist, lake-filled basin, and are very popular with fishermen and backpackers, as well as the Rock Creek Pack Station which takes several pack trips into the area each year. The trailhead for the Hilton Lakes is about 1/2 mile beyond Rock Creek Lakes Resort on the right, or about 1/4 mile below the Rock Creek Pack Station. Adequate parking and bear boxes for storage are present at the trailhead, along with a restroom and public telephone.
The trail leading to the Hilton Lakes is dusty and dry, and is used heavily by pack animals. There is very little water on the trail and the hike is roughly 5 miles to Hilton Lake #2 and Davis Lake. The lakes themselves are beautiful. Trees thickly line the shore and slopes at both Hilton #2 and Davis Lake, and the entire basin that holds these lakes is very wet. As a result, mosquitoes are a constant nuisance in the Hilton Lakes area during the early-mid summer months. Hikers should come prepared for the worst possible mosquito conditions. The upper Hiltons are less-wooded and drier than Davis Lake and Hilton #2, and fewer people travel to these lakes. For more serenity and fewer mosquitoes these lakes are a great alternative.
Fishing in the Hilton Lakes is excellent. Brook, rainbow, and brown trout thrive in the lower lakes, and goldens can be found in the upper Hilton Lakes. Fly and lure fishing are the most productive form of fishing, although live bait will also work well in these lakes.
Rock Creek Lake
The Tamarack Trailhead is located at Rock Creek Lake at an elevation of 9,700 feet. This trail leads to 5 named lakes and many other un-named ponds. This area is much drier than Little Lakes Valley. Very few people take this hike, and it can be very rewarding due to the seclusion of the area. East Fork is the main creek that drains this section of Rock Creek Canyon. Dorothy Lake, Francis Lake, and the Tamarack Lakes are the most popular destinations for hikers on this trail. The easiest route for climbing Mt. Morgan is accessible from this trailhead. Use Francis Lake as a base camp if you don't want to try it as a day hike.
Francis Lake is incredibly scenic despite its small size. In early summer, wildflowers add to the lake's beauty. The easiest route for climbing Mount Morgan is accessed from here. Insects including mosquitoes may pose a problem at Francis, especially in the early-mid summer months. Campsites are present near the lake’s outlet.
Dorothy Lake is another lake accessible along this trail. There is a beautiful, expansive meadow as you approach the lake which is filled with wildflowers in the early summer. Wildlife may also be spotted in the meadow. Campsites are scattered along the entire lakeshore. This is an excellent spot to use as a base camp for hikes to the Tamarack Lakes, Francis Lake, and Wheeler Crest.
The Tamarack Lakes are perfect examples of rugged glacial remnants. Rocks left behind by receding glaciers have dammed up the lakes, and their high elevation of 11,600 feet keeps most people and animals out of the area. As a result, the water in Tamarack Lakes is crystal clear. This hike is worth it for hikers that enjoy alpine lakes at or above timberline. Bighorn Sheep have been seen along the ridgetops around the Tamarack Lakes area, one of the few areas in the Rock Creek drainage where they're occasionally spotted. Brook trout occupy the lakes, and it's rumored that goldens also are present.
Fishing in Rock Creek
The Eastern Sierra is home to some of the best trout fishing in California, and Rock Creek is a big part of the equation. Golden, brook, brown, and rainbow trout thrive in Rock Creek's various lakes and streams. In the campgrounds, anglers can expect to encounter stocked rainbow trout, as well as small brook and brown trout, while some backcountry lakes hold larger browns, small brookies, and even the elusive golden trout. Monster browns exceeding 12 pounds swim Rock Creek Lake's waters, and large Alpers trout are planted in the lake and creek at various times during the fishing season. The largest fish ever caught in Rock Creek was a 15.5 pound female brown!
Rock Creek has some of the most beautiful campgrounds in the Eastern Sierra. There are 13 campgrounds in Rock Creek Canyon with over 300 campsites. Most of the sites are tucked away under juniper, pinyon, jeffrey pine, lodgepole pine or aspen trees. Except for Holiday Campground, the campgrounds in Rock Creek Canyon are located near the creek and the lake.
Nearly all of the sites are provided with a metal fire ring, picnic table, bear box for food storage, space to park two vehicles, and a good deal of seclusion and serenity. A dump station is also present at the bottom of the canyon across from French Camp for your convenience.
Each campground is equipped with cold water faucets, and all have flush toilets, except for Upper Pine Grove and Tuff which have clean chemical toilets. Most campgrounds in Rock Creek Canyon are not reservable. However certain sites in East Fork, French Camp, and Tuff can be reserved. Two campgrounds require reservations: Aspen and Rock Creek Lake group camps.