The Little Lakes Valley is a spectacular, glacier-carved canyon bursting with lakes and wildflowers. What makes it even more special is that the Mosquito Flat trailhead lies at 10,300 feet, giving easy access to the rarified High Sierra. So your car does the bulk of the climbing, instead of your feet.
According to botanist Karen Weise, it’s a great chance to look for plants that thrive at the Sierra’s highest elevations. “This trail hugs the upper threshold of the subalpine zone,” she explains. Look for limber pines and endangered whitebark pines—both species that grow only at the highest elevations. She recommends looking for various species (and colors) of heath in bloom, as well as gentian, elephant’s head, and crimson and Coville’s columbine. Peak bloom time is usually mid to late July.
Wander as far as you wish amid this lake-filled wonderland. The trail stays remarkably level as it leads past Mack Lake and shallow Marsh Lake to Heart Lake in the first 1.5 miles. Continue to discover Box Lake and Long Lake, then turn around here for a seven-mile round trip. Those with more stamina can continue to Chickenfoot Lake (3 miles) or the Gem Lakes (3½ miles). Many hikers consider the Gem Lakes to be the loveliest of the lot, but that’s a tough contest.
DIRECTIONS TO TRAILHEAD: From U.S. 395 at Mammoth Lakes, drive south 15 miles to Tom’s Place. Turn right (west) on Rock Creek Road and drive 10.5 miles to its end at the Mosquito Flat parking lot.