Hiking 20 Lakes Loop with Sally & Fannie

I just returned from a few days of camping at the Saddlebag Lake area, one of my favorite summer hangouts. To get to Saddlebag Lake, I exited the east entrance to Yosemite National Park at Tioga Pass, then drove east on Hwy 120 about 2 miles to Saddlebag Road. Heading up the mostly dirt road to Saddlebag Lake, I stayed at the Saddlebag Lake Campground in the Inyo National Forest above the resort. If you are daytripping it, there is parking at the resort or at the adjacent backpacker parking lot.

One of my adventures was hiking a looped trail around several high lakes. I don’t always stick to the trail in this area but I did this time. If you feel comfortable going off trail, those are also several pretty lakes in the center of the loop that you can head cross country to see such as Z and Twin Lakes, along with many small tarns. Or you can head up to Cascade Lake to the west of Steelhead Lake to see small lakes nestled in the granite.

There is a trail that goes around the lake called the Saddlebag Lake Trail and you can start from either side of the lake to head to the trail that leads you to the 20 Lakes Basin. You can also take the water taxi that is operated by Saddlebag Lake Resort because it is up and running! More about that at the end of the blog.

Sally the Weimaraner and I have done this hike many times but it was the first time that Fannie the Corgi did the entire loop. Fannie wears a harness that has a handle on it to help me lift her over a few things along the trail. Sally wore her pack on so she could carry the dog things such as dog first aid kit, booties, poop bags and treats. I carried the people stuff in my pack. Both dogs were kept on leash at the beginning because I didn’t want them to waste energy running around. We had some miles to do and this was their first hike at elevation up here this season. I also didn’t want to risk them wearing their paw pads or slicing them on rocks early in the hike.

We started our hike on the east side of the lake and the wind was already up some so no reflections to be had in Saddlebag Lake.

Saddlebag Dam (10,090′ elevation) was built in 1921 to enlarge an existing alpine lake for hydropower generation purposes. The dam was raised and a spillway was added in 1925. The reservoir is oversized compared to the volume of water produced in its watershed and the agreement between Southern California Edison (SCE) and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) requires it to be very low every spring. The water from Saddlebag Lake is used to generate power in Lee Vining and the water then flows to Mono Lake or it is diverted to the L.A. Aqueduct System.

Wildflowers that included monkshod were blooming along the trail.

After we made it to the north side of the lake past the Ranger’s Cabin, we entered Hoover Wilderness. I took a look back at Saddlebag Lake, Mount Dana and where we had traveled.

We passed by some small tarns full of reflections.

The trail led us onward.

A short spur trail leads to Hummingbird Lake (10,255′ elevation), which we could see from the main trail but we didn’t wander over there.

The next lake was ODell Lake (10,263′ elevation).

The trail headed down a rocky chute to Lake Helen (10,263′ elevation). It was too much to walk down the wobbly rocky trail with the dogs, so I let them off leash to find their own way down the trail. Fannie needed a little help down in one section.

There is a little patch of columbine in this area but it wasn’t quite ready to bloom. When it is ready, it is very pretty.

We crossed the outlet from Lake Helen with the help of strategic rocks that had previously been placed in the creek. After getting over that creek, there is a wall of rock to get up or around. Sally has been this way many times and has a work around but going through the water and around wasn’t going to work for Fannie’s short little legs. I picked her up and lifted her up as high as I could on that rock wall, then climbed up, but not until I caught this look from the dogs as if to say, “what is taking you so dang long?”

The trail had some rocky sections and I kept the dogs off leash until we got though those spots. I looked across Lake Helen and back at where we had come down that chute with the snow in on the left.

The trail went through and by several small patches of snow which the dogs thoroughly enjoyed.

After that break playing in the snow, we followed the trail that led us by tarns and small lakes with no names.

As the trail led us over the top of the hill, we soon had a view of Shamrock Lake (10,266′ elevation).

We wandered onward past more beautiful tarns.

We were almost to Steelhead Lake when we had another small creek crossing.

Fannie followed me across the log but was stuck and needed a little help to cross that final section. As you can see, it is probably 6 inches from the log end to the rock but must have looked 10 feet to Fannie. That handle on her harness did the trick.

One last tarn.

We reached Steelhead Lake (10,279′ elevation), then followed the old mining road from the Hess Mine which is the trail back to the intersection of the trail that I had headed up in the morning.

A last look back at Steelhead Lake and the Hess Mine.

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