South Warner Wilderness is likely the least visited wilderness area in California. However, Modoc County law has less restrictions and protections for designated wilderness areas which hardly make this one "off the beaten path" if we take that phrase literally. The most glaring example of this is how cattle-grazing is permitted throughout the Warner Mountains. You may stumble upon cows resting along the trail and spook them, causing them to stampede in the opposite direction as I did. Their droppings will be obstacles to avoid on the trail, something one would expect while wandering out in farm fields and not in mountainous terrain at 7,000 feet or so. Keen observers are also bound to notice the more subtle ecological damage done by these grazing mammals - a large portion of native plant species have vanished here.
Despite these drawbacks, which are generally due to Modoc County not having the same wilderness value system as the rest of the state, South Warner Wilderness is worth a visit. The region resembles the Rocky Mountains of Colorado - with wide mountains that gradually rise, aspen and other deciduous trees, rich brown soil, etc. Volcanic formations and scattered remains of metamorphic rocks are also abundant.
Notes specific to this trail: Signs seem rare after the trailhead. Bring a map - unmarked trails intersect so avoid taking a wrong turn. If you are a novice hiker you won't have much obvious reference points other than lakes. Don't expect to see other hikers. I went on Labor Day weekend and saw no one.
This is a great trail, with beautiful lakes and a meadow. the road in was in good condition. the trail is very nice. the trail is about 3 miles to pine creek basin, it will take about 90 min if you are semi-athletic. The trail does get steep near the basin. You can continue up to lake Patterson which will add about 1.4 miles (one way) to your trek and 2000 feet of elevation gain Great fishing, caught 7 fish the first day. I would rate the trail as easy to moderate, but if you continue to Patterson it will be hard. Also there is potential for snow in July so pack accordingly. (see pics, the snow and tent pic is July 10, 2016)
Moire D. on Emerson Creek Trail
Moderate uphill all the way; beautiful and scenic. Mostly in the trees; trail is clear and well defined and there is a shorter/steeper trail from the trailhead that follows the creek and links back into the main trail. Trail come out at Emerson Lake, a small shallow lake. Great trail for enjoying with your dogs, there is usually water along the way nice places to camp or picnic at the Lake. Fishing is supposed to be good as well, though I haven't fished it.
Back P. on Pine Creek Trail
This is a good trail, some awesome views okay fishing. What else could u ask for
Have updated this review... One of the best places to see a hill of solid obsidian - beautiful black glass - although it just looks like rock until you break it open - don't remove it (it is sharp and will cut you). Wear good shoes. 11 miles north of Mammoth Lakes up I-395 from the I-395 and CA-203 intersections, take a left on Obsidian Dome road, and it is 2.7 miles up Obsidian, Glass Flow, and Glass Creek Rds. Dirt road to parking area; hike starts down and to the right of the dome and up a gravel bulldozed hill that takes you into the cone at the top. Really good description here: http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/long_valley/long_valley_sub_page_19.html [along with directions - coordinates - about 37°44.810' N, 119°01.305' W]. Another good hike (more scenic) is Panum Crater near Mono Lake starting near the South Tufa trail [http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/long_valley/field_guides_panum_crater.html].
A great hike for geology nuts and people who like sharp things. The trail isn't really well marked past a certain point, but that just means you choose your own adventure. Sweeping views off to the north and northeast at trail's end - even a glimpse of nearby Lava Beds National Monument on clear days. This was a tool source used by natives for hundreds of miles around, but nowadays more or less in the middle of nowhere, so it's good for a bit of peace and quiet.