I do love to head up to the Tioga Pass area and Saddlebag Lake is one of my favorite spots to do some camping and a little hiking with the dogs. But relaxing, reading some good books and taking a few good naps is also pretty darn nice.
Where: Inyo National Forest, Hoover Wilderness
Distance: 4.16 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Range: 10,063′ – 10,203′
Elevation Gain: 421′
Date: June 28, 2022
CALTOPO: Hiking Saddlebag Lake Loop
Dog Hike? Yes
Sally the Weimaraner, Fannie the Corgi and I recently spent 5 days camping at the Saddlebag Lake Campground in the Inyo National Forest. To get there, we headed up Hwy 140 through Yosemite National Park’s Arch Rock Entrance Station. It was a little after 7 am when we arrived at the Entrance Station and there was no one in line. I showed them my Peak Hour Reservation Pass, ID, Park Pass and in return they gave me my yellow Peak Hour Pass to tape to my lower left windshield.
The road construction in the Tuolumne Meadows is something that we will be dealing with at least all summer long this year. When I went through the Tenaya Lake area, I got lucky and there was a 5 minute wait at the Tuolumne Meadows construction. For the latest on Yosemite National Park’s road construction, including estimated wait time, you can read the latest here.
We continued up to Tioga Road and exited Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Entrance Station, driving about 5 miles to Saddlebag Lake Road then up about 2 1/2 miles to the campground. It is at 10,000′ elevation and pretty small, only 20 campsites. There are no RV hookups and only tents, small RV’s or short trailers can fit into the campsites. Reservations are only available for the large group site. Each site has a table, fire ring, and a food storage locker. Water spigots are located throughout the campground. 2 vault toilets support the campground and there is no cell service. Just my kind of place! If you are daytripping it, you can park in the backpacker parking lot located just before you reach the Saddlebag Lake Resort and Saddlebag Lake Campground. Note that these are two different properties right next to each other and operated by different entities.
The other property is called Saddlebag Lake Resort (SLR) and they have operated a water taxi in prior years but it is not up and running this year. They also own the Tioga Pass Resort (TPR). Here is what SLR posted June 19th on their Facebook Page related to operations this year:
Sally, Fannie and I took a little hike on the second day. I should add that Sally is now over 11 years old and has arthritis that limits her ability (but not her desire) to do the challenging hikes. I wasn’t sure how far she could go and I sure didn’t want to go too far where she couldn’t walk back. I let her decide where we went and how far. The walk along the east side of Saddlebag Lake is fairly level and iused to be a road supporting the mining that took place in the area but does have a little up and down to it.
Of course, I asked the dogs to strike a pose with those beautiful reflections and higher mountains framing the lake. They don’t look too happy at stopping their hike so early but they obliged me.
We continued along the lake.
Wildflowers that included monkshood were blooming along the trail.
We made it to Greenstone Lake and a bit of a breeze was up, blowing the mosquitos away.
We ended up going a little over 2 1/2 miles and Sally told me that it was time that we turned around. As we were getting close to our campsite, we wandered by a pretty little tarn that was full of reflections.
And Fannie found a bit of snow!
We headed back to our campsite for a little rest, relaxation and reading. I finished up Rick Lawin’s new book in no time. It is his third book and you can get it here. If Rick’s name sounds familiar, he and his wife Sharon lived in the North Fork area for many years. This is Rick’s third book and a mountain lion has a role in all three of these mystery books. Some SNO readers may recall my Lessons Learned from a Mountain Lion Encounter Blog back in 2015 when Rick saved my dog Sally from becoming a meal for a mountain lion while we were hiking. This story from the blog is a true story and this fictional book is written by that same Rick.
The next day, Sally stayed at camp while Fannie and I hiked the Saddlebag Lake Loop Trail. It took us a couple of hours and didn’t keep us away from Sally for very long. The hiking stats at the top of the blog are from this short hike. BTW, Sally was fine this next day but I just didn’t want to push her any more hiking.
As we came around to the western side of Saddlebag Lake, I was surprised to find the outlet from Greenstone Lake (Lee Vining Creek) spread out so wide. I wondered what Fannie must be thinking about this “raging river.” She had never crossed anything like it and it must have looked huge to her. It wasn’t that deep and I could rock hop across it. I let Fannie off leash to find her own way across, wading across the 2-4 inch deep water and enjoying her adventure.
Once we made it past the “raging river,” it was smooth sailing for a while.
It was all good because Fannie found a little snow to play in along the trail so we took a short play break. My dogs sure love snow and it brings out the puppy in them to experience it. Check out Fannie frolicking in the snow in this short video:
We continued along the lake and boy, is it low. I could spot people fishing out on the spit.
We walked across the Saddlebag Lake dam and when we reached the middle where a metal grid bridge heads over the spillway, Fannie turned to me as if to ask “Mahm, what do we do now?” I picked her up by her harness handle, carried her across and that was that.
The next days, we took several short walks, exploring the area above the campground.
When I headed home, I did not have a Peak Hour Reservation and utilized the Local Pass Through Pass. When I reached the Tioga Pass Entrance Station, there was 1 car in front of me and when it was my turn, I showed them my California Driver’s License that showed my local address. They asked me which Entrance Station I planned on exiting and I told them Arch Rock. They then printed out a yellow slip for me to tape to my left lower windshield. When I saw the time they stamped it with and knowing the road construction issue, I had my doubts whether I would make it in that time frame. I ended up with a 20 minute wait and a slow two-stop escort. I exited the Arch Rock Entrance Station at 8:58 and they waved their happy wave at me when I stopped at the stop sign. I am pretty sure they realize the construction delays that impact the given time.
A big thank you to SNO reader, Jarrod McKnelly, who shared Yosemite National Park’s Local Non-Fee Transit Program Specific Communities and Eligible Zipcodes for a Pass Through Permit this year.
Mosquitos are part of the experience this time of the year in the high country and there are some big ones out. Wind is also an issue at Saddlebag Lake and these Zepher Winds can gust up to 50 mph or more. Lucky for me the wind blew the mosquitos away from me for the most part on this trip but I sprayed down each day and carried a bug net just to be on the safe side.
On the drive home from the Tuolumne Meadows construction, I had a 20 minute wait and was pleasantly surprised at the progress that they had made paving between the east side and Tuolumne Meadows. Of course, they are working their way westward with the pavement removal and curbs. When I got home and looked at my white pickup, I was not so pleasantly surprised at the oil/dirt slurry that was along the bottom side. The wheel wells and who know what else are going to be a tough job to get clean.
This hike can be a good dog hike if your dog is up to it. The rocky terrain is very rough on a dog’s feet and I packed boots for both dogs just in case they got a sore spot on her paw or sliced their foot on one of those sharp rocks. Even if you think your dog’s feet are toughened up enough for this hike, you can have surprises so please be prepared. This is a good hike for these dogs. It is above tree line and there aren’t any rattlesnakes or poison oak. There is plenty of good, fresh drinking water for them all along the way. That means I don’t have to pack their water and that is a good thing! Sally and Fannie have never had any problems drinking the water out of these higher elevations but some dogs may not be so easy on this issue. I think you need to know your dog and you may need to carry some water for them. This area also has bubonic plague and if you dog gets a hold of a critter such as a squirrel or mouse, this could be something to watch for after a trip in this area.
Here is some information from Inyo National Forest regarding their dog rules:
Traditionally, National Forests have welcomed dogs. However there are a few rules that apply to assure that you and other National Forest visitors have an enjoyable outdoor recreation experience. If you are camping with your pet, please practice the following:
- Leave vicious or unusually noisy dogs at home.
- During the day keep your dog on a leash no more than 6 feet long, or otherwise restrict its freedom to roam at will.
- At night keep your dogs and other pets inside an enclosed vehicle or in a tent.
- Developed campgrounds are for people, not animals. Please do not bring more than two dogs or other pet to any one campsite.
General rules for dogs within the Inyo National Forest:
- Dogs are allowed for trips staying in the National Forest. Pet food must be stored the same as required for your food.
- Dogs are prohibited, as are any other pets, on trips visiting the wilderness of Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
- Pets need to be on leash or under verbal command. Do not allow pets to chase or harass wildlife.
What is a Doarama? It is a video playback of the GPS track overlaid on a 3 dimensional interactive map. If you “grab” the map, you can tilt it or spin it and look at it from different viewing angles. With the rabbit and turtle buttons, you can also speed it up, slow it down or pause it.
Maps and Profiles:
CALTOPO has some free options for mapping and here is a link to my hike this week, which you can view or download: CALTOPO: Hiking Saddlebag Lake Loop
Prior Blogs in this Area: