Three Sisters Peak Trail to Cliff Lake, Rock Lake, and Island Lake is a 14.3 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Shaver Lake, California that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from June until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail.
My wife was planning a backpack trip for us and found the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness which is tucked up into the John Muir Wilderness. The area ranges from 8,400 to 10,600 feet elevation, and proved to be fantastic area for hiking. The nice thing is the larger number of lakes available in this very small area. My wife and I did this as a backpack trip in September, 2012. The weather was amazing (50-75 Deg F, clear) and the views gratifying.
This trail could easily be accomplished as a day hike, but it is worth bringing a pack and enjoying the relative solitude of the lakes. In September, we saw about 5 people over a 3 day period, but the number of fire rings around Cliff Lake indicated that this is a popular spot during the peak season of June through August.
The trail starts on the west side of Courtney Reservior at the Cliff Lake trailhead. The trail drops down 240 feet in the first mile as you walk through mixed pine and fir forest. At about 1.3 miles, after passing through some bare rock areas, you reach a trail junction with the signed Helm Meadow trail to the right (east). It's easy to miss the junction, but you are just passing through anyway. The trail starts climbing and over the next 3 miles you climb 1200 feet to Cliff Lake. There is a use trail on the east side of the lake or you can follow the marked trail to Rock Lake. Both trails are 100 yards apart. There are wonderful beaches on the east and north sides of tCliff Lake which make for a congenial break spot.
As you pass the north end of Cliff Lake the trail climbs 400 ft to the saddle above Rock Lake. The topo shows a trail on the right at the saddle to Dogtooth Peak, but I never found it. The understory is so open here that it's easy to offtrail, however. Following our plan, the trail drops down 200 ft to Rock lake about 3/4 mile beyond Cliff Lake. The trail skirts the edge of Rock Lake. You pass a marked trail to Little Lake which lies approximately 600 ft lower than Rock Lake. The trail continues past rock lake and then to Second Dinkey Lake. The trail circles Second Dinkey Lake then passes the marked trail down to First Dinkey Lake. As you pass the lake you see the trail to Island Lake which is marked with "Not Maintained for Stock."
The steep trail climbs 200 feet up the drainage for Island Lake until you step out into the stunningly beautiful vista of sundrenched Island Lake. Island lake is another great spot to circle and enjoy lunch. There are several nice spots to the right. The total distance from Cliff lake to here is about 2-1/2 miles. From Cliff Lake trailhead is 7.5 miles (give or take). The goal of our hike, the East Sister or Three Sister peak is the leftmost of the 3 peaks immediately in front of you.
Our trail to the Sisters, 1-1/4 miles and another 800 feet elevation, leads from the Island Lake outfall over granite south. From this point on, there is not a clear trail. I know, I spent some time trying to find one, but no, there isn't. The southeast side of Island lake is a massive, low granite dome. The easiest way to the Sisters is to go directly south. You'll wander over granite, through a dwarf fir/pine forest past a small pond that was dry when I was there in September 2012. Finally, you'll find yourself at the foot a giant boulder pile that is Three Sisters. Start climbing. The way to the top is easy, nontechnical boulder climbing with many paths showing the footprints of those before. I found myself stuck at one point, but I just backtracked and moved around the mountain until I saw an easier way. Eventually I climbed over a lip and found myself on a broad mountaintop with a rock pile making he last 5 meters elevation. Enjoy the view of the other two sisters to the north and Brown Peak to the south. The peak registers contains the thoughts of those who have also done this fun hike as well as some touching mementos.
The way down is as informal as the way up. You can reverse your route up, or you can try another. I moved north to the saddle between the two sister peaks, then climbed down the wash between the two. I still got stuck one or twice, and had to reroute, but going down is not nearly has hard as going up.
Once you reach the meadow from which you started your climb, you are a faced with a decision. You can reverse your route to Island, Second Dinky, and Rock lakes, or you can short cut overland. With my trusty (and newly purchased) Garmin, I did the latter, and it saved me 2 miles and several hundreds of feet. In addition, it afforded me the amazing views from the cliff over Cliff lake. From the meadow under the East Sister Peak, head east or east-southeast to the top of the cliff. Follow this cliff around the lake to the outfall (about 1 mile) and the trail you originally took to Cliff Lake. The hike out is 5 more miles for a total distance of approximately 16 miles.
This trail could also be done missing the Lakes to save two miles. Alternately, o