As route 395 winds its way along the base of the eastern Sierra Nevada range, you’ll see roads that occasionally head west into hidden canyons. Here you’ll find trout-filled streams and autumn aspen splashed with gold and orange. Among the prettiest is Lundy Canyon, about 8 miles north of Lee Vining.
The canyon is named after William O. Lundy. He ran a sawmill next to a crystal-clear lake in the glacial canyon that bore his name. Promising gold out-crops were also discovered in 1879. This lead to the formation of the Homer Mining District and the small (7-8 homes) community of Wassen. During the boom years, the town of Lundy (next to Lundy Lake) reached a population of about 500 people. Little remains of it though as most of the buildings were destroyed by avalanches starting back in the late 1800s. Today, just about all that’s left is a quaint little resort with a small dock and general store.
Beyond the resort, a dirt road heads up the canyon among beaver ponds and aspen groves. The road is passable for 2-wheel drive vehicles, but it’s a bit rough. Keep on going until you reach roads-end. There are a handful of parking spots and also a few other areas you can park along the way. There’s also a decent vault toilet next to the trailhead parking area.
The Lundy Canyon trail will take you through a nature’s palate of wildflowers, yellow and gold aspen, grassy meadows, evergreen pines and cascading waterfalls. The reds and browns of the towering metamorphic rock also add to the kaleidoscope of colors. Although the canyon is known for its spectacular fall colors, the cascading waterfalls along the way add to the majesty of the area.
The trail starts at 8,420 feet in elevation and continues about 3.5 miles to the canyon rim at 10,400 feet. This is where the headwaters of Mill Creek form a spectacular waterfall as they pour over the rim. Along the way you’ll also see an old cabin and some weathered mining gear.
Just over the crest of the rim is Lake Helen and Mount Conness. If you’re planning a through-hike, continue on from Lake Helen down to Saddlebag Lake Campground. It’s an easy 4-mile walk and you’ll pass by many beautiful lakes and creeks. Or, you can turn around and head back the way you came.
Lundy Canyon Campground is the only campground in the canyon. It’s located on Lundy Canyon Road, less than a mile before you reach Lundy Lake. It’s also about 3.5 miles from the trailhead. The campground has 36 single-family campsites set among aspen trees which line Mill Creek. All campsites are first-come first serve.
Mono Lake is about 1 million years old (one of the oldest in North America) and has over 65 square miles of water. It’s located near the town of Lee Vining (CA). Over the years, salts and minerals have washed into the lake from Eastern Sierra streams. Freshwater evaporating from the lake each year has left the salts and minerals behind so that the lake is now about 2 ½ times as salty as the ocean and very alkaline. The wetlands of the lake also provide a sensitive habitat for over 2 million birds that feed and rest at Mono Lake each year.
Popular activities include hiking, boating, kayaking/canoeing, photography, swimming and wildlife viewing. South Tufa, Navy Beach, and the Old Marina area are all wonderful places to explore. They are also great areas to cross-country ski in the winter.
Swimming in Mono Lake is quite the memorable experience. The lake’s salty water is denser than ocean water, and provides a delightfully buoyant swim. Just be prepared to clean off all the salt that accumulates on your skin. Old timers claim that a soak in the lake will cure almost anything.
All types of boating are permitted on Mono Lake, although access is restricted to all islands between April 1 and August 1 each year to protect the nesting gulls. Boaters must not approach within 200 yards of Osprey nesting sites located on offshore tufa towers April 1st through Sept. 1st.
Mono Lake offers a unique experience to kayak the mirror-like waters and around the mysterious “tufa towers”. For those interested, “tufa towers” are calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water.
The best place to launch canoes and kayaks is at Navy Beach, on the south shore, where a parking lot is close to the water. For those with boats too large to carry, an unimproved launch ramp is available near Lee Vining Creek. Stop by the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center for directions or for more information.
The State Natural Reserve is surrounded by the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area, operated by the Forest Service. There are no campgrounds in the State Natural Reserve or the Scenic Area. Established campgrounds nearby include Lundy Canyon, Trumbull Lake, Lower Lee Vining and Moraine. The June Lake area (about 14 miles away) also has a few nice campgrounds including: Oh Ridge, June Lake, Gull Lake, Reversed Creek and Silver Lake.