You get two-for-one on this fascinating, wildflower-trimmed trail. First, there’s a panorama of some of the Sierra’s craggiest peaks. Then there’s the view of the lunar-like landscape of Mono Lake and nearby Panum Crater and other Mono Craters, about a half-hour north of Mammoth Lakes. The combo vista documents volcanic and glacial action—fire and ice—side by side in the Eastern Sierra. And it’s all topped off by a colorful array of flowers, especially in late June and early July.
“The first part of this hike follows the Parker Bench and enters a wonderland of aromatic sagebrush scrub,” notes Karen Wiese, a botanist and expert on Sierra Nevada plants. A scattering of wildflowers is tucked in among the blanket of spicy-smelling sagebrush and bitterbrush, but that’s just “phase one” of this mixed-terrain trail. Look over your shoulder as you ascend to catch big views of Mono Lake and the surrounding high desert.
Soon the landscape transitions from sagebrush plains into a forest of enormous Jeffrey pines and quaking aspens trimming Parker Creek. Wiese says to look for showy clusters of yellow wallflower (get down low and sniff their intoxicating scent) and bright white mariposa lilies with yellow centers speckled with maroon. There’s also desert paintbrush, mountain mule ears, lupine, phlox, prickly poppy, scarlet gilia, and much more. This streamside stretch is so lovely that it’s hard to move on, but just a short distance beyond lies stunning Parker Lake, a deep blue pool backed by 12,861-foot Parker Peak. Return to your car for a four-mile round-trip hike.
DIRECTIONS TO TRAILHEAD: From Lee Vining, drive five miles south on U.S. 395 to the north end of the June Lake Loop (State Highway 158). Turn right and drive 1.3 miles, then turn right on the dirt road signed for Parker Lake. Continue 2.4 miles to the trailhead at the end of the dirt road.