May I introduce you to the Meysan Lake Trail. A trail within close proximity to the infamous trail to the highest peak on the lower 50 states, Mount Whitney, this place gets little visit in comparison.
- Miles: 8 miles Round Trip to Grass Lake (11,200 feet)
- Elevation gain/loss: 3,120 feet
- Type: Out and Back
- Trailhead: Whitney Portal Campground (8,080 feet)
- Location: Inyo National Forest, CA
- Permit: Overnight only; Not required for day hike
- Permit Issuer: Easter Sierra Inter Agency Visitor Center - US 395, Lone Pine, CA
- Notes: Primitive campsites; No bear box/food lockers available; Mostly exposed trail; No campfires allowed; Strenous
- Weather Forecast via NOAA: Meysan Lake Trail Weather
Permits for overnight trips are free for walk-ups and can be obtained at the Eastern Sierra Inter Agency Visitor Center in Lone Pine at the corner of US 395 and SR 136. However fees apply if you reserve in advance. For a fee, permit can be reserved online at recreation.gov and choose JM37 for Meysan Lake. Fees are $5.00 per person with $6.00 added after the per person total as "reservation fee".
An email confirmation will be emailed to you after reservation with instructions to complete your permit application.
"Parking is more of a turnout along the Whitney Portal Road" - Permit Issuer at Lone Pine.
If headed up, it will be on the left. If coming down from the Whitney Portal Store, it will be on your right. There are signs that say "Meysan Lake Trailhead" on the side of the road from both directions. The turnout is between both signs. Park by the closed metal bar gate above the Whitney Campground.
As soon as you park your car, walk past thru the metal bar gate. Beyond it, there is a large sized bear box or food locker to store all the scented items you have so your car will be less likely be rummaged through by a bear. Bears are active in this area. Whitney Portal gets really busy and where there's food.. yogi can come by sniffin' and trying to score an easy meal. Cars have been known to have been broken into around these parts.
When we picked up our permit, we were informed that the only lockers available were by the Portal Store, which is still a mile up the road from the Meysan trail head. So we used that, only to find out after we parked that there is one specifically labeled "For Meysan Lake Trail Use". Last use for established pit toilets here, too.
To get to the actual trailhead, you'll walk through the Whitney Campground along the pavement towards the "back" of the campground. Then step onto a dirt trail for a couple of switchbacks, past some Summer log cabin homes. Then back on the dirt trail again.. for good. The direction going towards the trailhead are clearly marked by signs.. easy to follow.
The dirt trail from the campground, before the actual trail, was a great indicatiion of how the rest of the hike will play out. It is going up.. up.. and up. It didn't take long (just minutes in, actually!) before the trail took us up and above the Whitney Portal Road.
The hike up is mostly on exposed trail. The higher the elevation, the lesser the trees. So bring bring a hat, sunblock or an umbrella if you are so inclined!
There were 3 sets of switchbacks I noticed, counting 17 switchbacks on the second set (I may or may not have missed or double counted some!), the trail levels out momentarily. Stepping over a teeny-tiny creek, the trail gives as a reprieve from the sun and all the climbing to an even clearing at about 2.5 miles from the the start.
Leaving the small clearing, the trail continues to climb through a shaded short switchbacks. Not long, the trail returns you to the open skies and the ground beneath changes into a sandy trail. To which, by the way, sandy switchbacks are no fun! From below looking up, it's hard see where the trail goes unless you're right smack-dab about to turn on the next switchback.
At the top of the loose sandy switchbacks (sorry, didn't count them this time!), the last rocky short stretch of the trail finally takes you to the sign pointing to Grass Lake (camp!) and the trail to continue on to Camp Lake and Meysan Lake.
You'll walk up to small pond on the left and cross a tributary to get to the main Grass Lake just beyond a clearing with small meadow patches and rocks. Good spot to camp.
With Leave No Trace in mind, this is a good place to pitch up your tent. Be mindful, it can get windy in this bowl. We all had a restless night on our trip, with unreasonable fears of being Dorothy and Toto from inside our tents! The winds went on all night long and most likely dislocated a few rocks on a nearby slope and woke us up on an already restless night with a loud booming rock slide. Wake up call anyone?!
Grass Lake is a good base camp to climb peaks in the surrounding area or to continue on to explore Camp and Meysan Lakes with a lighter load on your back.
We chilled at camp for the night, exhausted and our plans for a morning exploration were deterred by the prevailing winds from the night before and some dark rolling clouds fast approaching us, no thanks to the wind.
I'll be back for you, Meysan Lake. Just you.