eastern sierras travel journal: lundy lake

You have not seen true Fall colors until you’ve visited the Eastern Sierras in mid-October. The shimmering, brilliant yellows, oranges and reds of the Aspen trees lining Rush Creek and clustered on the edges of any one of the beautiful lakes across the rugged country are unlike anything you’ve ever seen… but you have to time your trip right or you’ll miss the peak.

IMG_0118On our most recent trip to the Sierras, we didn’t plan it to coincide with the Fall colors but we arrived just days after the peak and enjoyed plenty of brightly bordered roadways and waterways as we explored.

One of our favorite places to stop for a picnic lunch, fishing trip or longer hike is Lundy Lake, located just northwest of Lee Vining. As you turn left off Highway 395 a few miles out of town, the hills don’t give away the epic beauty the lies in Lundy Canyon.

Before you reach the lake, Lundy campground appears in the small valley to the left of the road, and during the Fall colors, it looks like a sea of yellow, the leaves moving like the waves of the ocean. We attempted to take some photos that captured this amazing view but nothing compares to seeing it in person, feeling the breeze on your face and taking a deep breath of that mountain air. Can you tell we’re in love with Fall in the Sierras? Just a little bit.

IMG_0076Because the season was over and everything was closed, we parked just off the boat launch and walked a short distance over rocks to our favorite fishing spot. The dogs are always thrilled to see a lake (because that means swimming, YAY!) but they soon realized they would have to wait until the fishing is done.

As Logan set up the gear, the kids and I began looking around and immediately spotted a Bald Eagle soaring over the lake, looking for dinner. The kids were thrilled to see such a huge, majestic bird and it was an experience I will never forget. The bird landed in the trees across the lake from us so we got to enjoy his company for quite awhile, talking about how big eagles are, what they eat and whether or not he would be jealous if we caught a fish.

IMG_0123With our lines in the water, we had a quick snack break before one of the tips of the poles began to dip. Our little fisherman immediately popped up to help daddy and reeled this guy in all on his own! He was so excited to catch the first fish of the day all by himself, with a smile that lasted all afternoon.

Our daughter is only a year old and everyone’s attention spans are not long so I’m always sure to pack some toys and snacks that are fun to play with sitting on a lake shore. My tried and true favorites are oat bars and water bottles, digging tools, tractors, bubble wands and cars or trucks to drive all over. With some creativity and a lot of patience, we can usually make their interest stretch a couple hours.

IMG_0109When those hours are up, we can generally sense that it’s time to pack up, but not without one last hurrah. After all, we promised the pups that they would get to swim in a lake every day of our trip! Lundy is a great place for the dogs to frolic and play but please be sure you are not near any fellow fishermen so you don’t disturb their water. You would never believe that our water dogs are 9.5 years old watching them play in the cold water of the Sierras!

In keeping with tradition, we always load up the truck and venture farther up Lundy Canyon before we leave. Especially in the Fall, be sure you plan ahead and leave yourself plenty of daylight as you don’t want to get stuck up an unfamiliar dirt road in the dark.

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Once you drive past the Lundy Lake Resort and upper campground area, the road opens up into a gorgeous pond – look closely, there are beaver dams and you may just see some rare wildlife around. Also, a lot of folks like to park and hike up the road through this area, enjoying the still calm of the water and meadow behind it. Watch carefully as you’re driving for humans, dogs, deer and anything else that may cross your path.

Also, if you venture down to the water of Mill Creek, be careful of the current as the water moves quite quickly in several areas, with slippery rocks and steep drops throughout.

IMG_0111We’ve found that the lazy, curving, sometimes bumpy road is a great way to get the kids to fall asleep in the car after an afternoon of fishing, so take advantage of a quiet drive up this beautiful canyon, which I would imagine looks very similar to how it did more than 100 years ago when W.J. Lundy founded his sawmill and mining camp.

If you don’t have small children and are looking for a more adventurous trip to Lundy, consider taking the approximately 3.5 mile trail that begins on the south side of the dam (there is plenty of parking at the trailhead) and borders the southern shore of Lundy Lake until it curves up into the higher elevation valley above – the gateway to Oneida and Crystal lakes.

The hike is rated moderate-to-intense by Mono County’s website and rated difficult by AllTrails.com – you climb the entire way but your reward for making the trek is some incredible Brook Trout fishing in the upper lakes. Every time I have visited, we stop for a little while and it seems we put a line in the water and get an immediate fish on.

In addition to the fishing, the remains of the May Lundy Mine are scattered around the upper lakes, giving you a glimpse into the past. Be sure to keep children and pets away from the mine itself as they have tried to block any entrances but deep holes into the underground are never a safe place to play. Read a bit more about the history of Lundy Canyon and the May Lundy Mine here. (Note: linked historical information is unverified)

Once again, if you decide to make the hike, start early enough in the day that you return before dark and bring plenty of water, a sturdy pair of hiking boots and layered clothing just in case. We always bring an emergency pack and extra food as well, just to be on the safe side, should we need it.

Lundy is a must-visit destination but seems to be lesser known. Maybe we shouldn’t share how wonderful this little canyon is but we can’t help ourselves. If you have the chance to at least drive through, we promise you won’t be disappointed.

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