The Emerald Lake Trail Hike is a great option if you are looking for respite from the summer heat that bakes the Sierra. The trail is mostly shaded by trees and vegetation, and a swim in the lake awaits on hot days. Hiking to gorgeous, high alpine lakes and breezy, rocky summits is the key to beat the heat and still enjoy this magnificent terrain in the summer. This is a great hike for families with children, those new to hiking, and for fisherman, as Emerald Lake is filled with brook trout. You'll also catch a magnificent wildflower display in years with high snowpack or rainfall, though you are sure to notice a healthy mosquito population as well.
Getting to this trailhead is rather simple as it’s located at the end of Coldwater Campground in Mammoth Lakes. Keep an eye out for the correct trailhead as this parking lot shares access to Heart Lake Trail and Duck Pass Trail. As such, this popular area gets very crowded during the summer. Arrive early to secure parking and to have more of the trail to yourself.
This hike can be completed as a there-and-back, but there are also two loop variations if you’d like to travel further. The first connects to Duck Pass Trail, and the second traverses across to Coldwater-George Trail toward the Lake George Campground.
Emerald Lake Trail starts at around 9,120 feet in elevation. You climb up rather quickly for less than a mile before it flattens out to a perfectly blue and turquoise lake with Mammoth Crest beaming in the background. The round-trip distance for this beautiful walk clocks in at a tidy 1.2 miles.
Make more out of this short hike by continuing on up past Emerald Lake along Coldwater Creek up to Sky Meadow. This stretches your journey to a 4-mile round-trip hike from the trailhead and adds another 900 feet of elevation gain. This easy uphill route is surrounded by wildflowers and gives you several water crossings.
Blue Crag is the towering monolith that you just can’t miss from the meadow. In wetter years you will also get to see a waterfall toward the back of the clearing. Continuing on at this point leads you toward the other side of the Coldwater-George Trail, or simply return back along the Emerald Lake Trail to the trailhead.