This climb is excerpted from Best Short Hikes in California's Southern Sierra, by Karen and Terry Whitehill, published by The Mountaineers, Seattle. ©1991 by Karen and Terry Whitehill. All rights reserved.
The trailhead for Dinkey Lakes is hard to find and difficult to get to, but this delightful hike would be worth a drive that was twice as aggravating. Simply put, the Dinkey Lakes loop is a Sierra masterpiece, especially in July when the wildflowers are at their best.
To reach the trailhead, turn off Highway 168 at the south end of Shaver Lake, and drive the paved Dinkey Creek Road 9.1 miles. Turn left onto a rough, unpaved road signed for the Dinkey Lakes trailhead. Continue 6.0 miles to another junction signed for the trailhead, and go right.
Stay on this main, unpaved route 4.7 miles (shunning branches to the left and right), and watch for yet another Dinkey Lakes trailhead sign, marking a spur road to the right. A second sign says, "Road not suited for passenger cars," and it's probably right; however, a skillful driver can make it.
A final 2.2 miles of slow, bouncy driving leads to the trailhead parking area. You'll want to keep to the left through a clearedout gathering point for fourwheeldrive vehicles as you near your goal. Begin the hike with a short, steep descent to the columbinedecked banks of Dinkey Creek. Cross the pretty waterway, and climb gently for a time. You'll regain the creek's company at 0.3 mile. Enjoy level walking through lodgepole pines, savoring the abundance of blossomcovered Labrador tea on the forest floor.
Recross Dinkey Creek, and reach a sign for the Dinkey Wilderness at 0.5 mile. Continue gently uphill with the water. Watch for the blooms of mountain pennyroyal, meadow penstemon, sticky cinquefoil, and golden brodiaea as you walk to a junction at 1.3 miles. Go right for Mystery Lake, and recross Dinkey Creek soon after.
It's a steady climb to the shore of midsize Mystery Lake at the 1.6mile point. Go left with the trail along the meadowy lakeshore, stealing views out across the water. Leave Mystery Lake at 2.0 miles, and cross the outlet creek descending from Swede Lake.
A gradual ascent leads into a fullscale assault of the hillside. The trail climbs steeply, slicing up a treesprinkled slope in a score of switchbacks. Arrive at Swede Lake, gasping, after about 0.3 mile. What a lovely spot to catch your breath!
With a shoreline ruled by Labrador tea, lodgepole pines, and mountain hemlocks, Swede Lake paints a serene Sierra picture. After you've rested your lungs and legs, push on to cross an outlet creek choked with shooting star and tiger lily. Continue along the shore, and resume climbing at 2.7 miles.
A mercifully brief uphill melts into a downhill ride to South Lake at the 3.2mile point. This large lake boasts a score of campspots, good fishing, and a handsome granite backdrop to tempt those who wish to linger.
Cross South Lake's outlet creek, and then descend beside it, with views of Dinkey Lake ahead. You'll arrive on First Dinkey Lake's meadowy shore shortly after. Go right with the trail along the lakeshore, and come to an unsigned junction at 3.7 miles. Keep left toward Dinkey Lake.
Draw in close to the lake as you continue, and savor what must be one of the most beautiful meadow scenes in the entire Sierra Nevada. If you time your hike for the height of the wildflower season, you'll be treated to Lemmon's paintbrush, bistort, primrose monkeyflower, meadow penstemon, and shooting starto name just a few of Dinkey Lake's meadow treasure.
With the meadow in the foreground, the view out toward 10,612foot Three Sisters Peak above Dinkey Lake's calm surface is a Sierra scene you'll never forget. Drink your fill of Dinkey Lake's calm beauty, and then press on to another junction at 4.1 miles. Keep left along the shore, and begin a gradual descent beside Dinkey Creek soon after.
You'll regain your entry route at 5.7 miles as you go right at a signed junction for Willow Meadow. A final 1.3 miles leads to the trailhead parking lot. With any luck, the memory of this loop's matchless scenery will keep you humming throughout your potholepeppered drive back toward civilization.ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Karen and Terry Whitehill live in Portland, Oregon. Avid outdoors people, they have cycled all over Europe and walked 4,000 miles from Paris to Jerusalem. They are the authors of three other guidebooks for The Mountaineers: Europe by Bike, A Pedestrian's Portland, and the first volume in the Sierra series, Best Short Hikes in California's Northern Sierra. The Whitehills have spent several summers in the Sierra Nevada doing the field work for this book, and even packed their baby daughter, Sierra Jo, to the top of Mount Whitney during their research.