Twenty Lakes Basin Loop Trail

MODERATE 75 reviews
#1 of 9 trails in

Twenty Lakes Basin Loop Trail is a 7.8 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Lee Vining, California that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, horses, and mountain biking and is best used from May until October. Dogs and horses are also able to use this trail.

DISTANCE
7.8 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
777 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Loop

dog friendly

hiking

horseback riding

mountain biking

forest

lake

views

wild flowers

wildlife

rocky

snow

no shade

A day hike around beautiful lakes in the eastern Sierra, just outside the east entrance to Yosemite on Tioga pass. This alpine basin studded with lakes and ringed by spectacular mountains appeals to hikers seeking exceptional scenery without the stiff elevation gains required of most lakes in northern Yosemite Twenty Lakes Loop is a beautiful hike that starts from the Saddlebag lake (10,000ft) and takes you around some of the most amazing alpine lakes. You get great views of the near by peaks: North Peak and Mt. Conness. This is an easy hike if you are acclimatized to the altitude. You might feel short of breath if you just arrived and started hiking, since the trail head is at 10,000ft. The section of trail between Shamrock Lake and Lake Helen is often covered with snow into late season. Be prepared to climb down a steep rock near the lower crossing of Mill Creek. The hike is about 8 miles but if you take the water taxi across the saddlebag lake, you can cut down a couple of miles, allowing small children to enjoy a short segment of the hike. The Saddlebag Lake Resort boat taxi operates July through early September. Wear sturdy shoes as this is a rocky hike.

1 month ago

It was hard to find the path sometimes but it was amazing hike.

2 months ago

11/4/18 Lovey hike, not a lot of elevation gain/loss. We saw a bear and her cub! Only saw a handful of other hikers.

hiking
3 months ago

Wonderful hike back into small, beautiful lakes. recommend taking the southern side (on the right as you look at the lake from the trailhead parking lot) around Saddlebag lake as the northern side is very rocky and hard on dogs paws.

hiking
3 months ago

We (2 couples) hiked it in early October - it was cold (35F) and mostly windy - dress accordingly.

The way in/out is somewhat boring (Oct - no boat taxi) and long. The trail isn't well marked and it's relatively easy to lose your way (we didn't, thanks to the AllTrail app). The lakes are nice - but we've seen nicer in this area...

4 months ago

So good!

hiking
4 months ago

The name is not an exaggeration, so many lakes! I only saw about 7 people past Saddlebag Lake so the solitude was great. If I had more time it would've been enjoyable to fish some of those lakes.

backpacking
4 months ago

We did a three day/two night trip over Labor Day weekend, 9/1/18 - 9/3/18 with a dog. The drive up was slightly rough (the roughest was right at the beginning of the 2 mile dirt road) but not bad and we made it just fine in a small sedan. We started at Saddlebag Lake, taking the trail on the east side of the lake. We chose this trail after reading reviews on here stating that it is longer but easier on dog's feet and more shaded. I would agree with this, even after only taking this trail, and would recommend this side to anyone with a dog. As others have said, there is no boat running to get across this lake.

We got a free permit (required to camp) for Steelhead Lake. There wasn't much camping around this lake but we took the little trail off to the left to Towser Lake (very close to Steelhead) and camped there. Awesome spot to camp! It was a popular spot but there is a lot of area to spread out and be away from others.

The next day, we did the Twenty Lakes Basin loop, going clockwise. This was not a very tough hike but very rocky, we had doggie booties but Osker blew out two of them on the trail. We completed the trail fine, but we were worried that he was going to have pad issues; luckily he did not. The trail itself was ok, nothing too special; a lot of the lakes were not easily accessible, but were pretty scenic. Also, the trail is not well marked when doing this loop clockwise. Right after passing Lake Helen, keep your eyes out for the signpost to continue on the trail. It is across a small water crossing and down hill a little ways. It could easily be missed if not paying attention.

Overall, I would highly recommend hiking out to Towser Lake and camping there but would only recommend hiking the Twenty Lakes Basin loop trail to those that are looking to get some miles in with some good (but not great) views. Also, make sure to have doggie booties if you're doing the loop trail!

hiking
4 months ago

We did this trail on 9/2, as a group of 10 folks of varying fitness and ages. We also had a 15 month old puppy. I had read this page thoroughly, so I was prepared.

- Get AllTrails Pro, the trails are not marked. This saved us.
- For the puppy, we got booties and they kept coming off. Thanks to the kindness of strangers who were returning after backpacking, we had a pack of self adhesive tape that they used for their dog. This was a life saver.
- 4 out of the 8 miles is on scree and talus. I was afraid for the puppy, she did fine, but for one small cut in her paws, the booties helped. You have to watch each step you take.
- From the top of saddlebag lake, I highly recommend doing it the counter clockwise (see my track upload). The climb down to Lake Helen is hard and I was glad I was going down in that scree and not up. Further, you hike towards North Peak when you go counter clockwise and it is stunning.
- Yes, there is not much elevation gain, so our group was able to do it comfortably, but it did take us nearly 7 hours (4:30 moving), between the scree, the puppy and the elevation of this area (10,200 feet+).
- The views are astonishing. The teenagers in our group was awestruck. "Bob Ross painting in each turn" - one exclaimed.
- It is more or less completely exposed, so be prepared.
- We had plenty of company during labor day long weekend, but we didn't mind it. If we were a noisy bunch and ruined your day, we are sorry. We had 5 teens in the group :).

Highly recommend this trail. Highly recommend AllTrails pro.

hiking
4 months ago

We did this hike on 8/30. We were excited based on the description and reviews. It is a great trail with amazing views. But we realized we didn't do enough homework before heading out. Here are my Cons and Pros

Cons
1. The water taxi (as someone mentions from July below) is not running. We have an old dog and a child and the extra miles and exposure weren't great.

2. Although dogs are allowed, the surface of the trail was tough on our dogs paws. It has taken him 3 days to recover from the experience.

3. You are exposed for 98% of the trail. We applied sun screen before we headed out, but you will need to reapply. Wearing a hat and pants and long sleeved shirt recommend. Also, bring more water than you thing you will need.

Pros
1. It is an easy hike - this is true as there isn't a lot of elevation change but I would rate it as moderate with the water taxi not running, the trail surfaces, exposure, etc. But it is doable.

2. There were just a few people on the trail.

3. The views.

fishing
4 months ago

Fun trip off the beaten path. The paths are dried creek beds from snow runoff. I was breathing heavy at 10,000 ft but the backpack trip wasnt as hard as something like Half Dome in the same area. We left Saddlebag and went counterclock wise from the old boarded up resort.

Hummingbird-Nothing
Odell-nothing
Helen-2 Brook, 1 Brown
Shamrock (campsite day 2) - 2 Brook
Steelhead- 4 Brooks
Small Lake above Steelhead-2 Brook
Secret - little Brooks no bites
Sadlebag-nothing(not much time spent)

Found multiple ponds, If Tadpoles and frogs are presnt no fish.

4 people, 2 Fly poles with wet flys on big lakes, dry on little ones.
2 powerbait poles, also used local grasshoppers

Start the loop via the right fork - many people get lost going the other way due to the way the trail is marked. Very exposed, bring good sun protection. Overall not a strenuous hike at all, but the elevation can take some getting used to.

hiking
4 months ago

Hiked 8/23/18. Clear skies, around 75 degress with a wind. Absolutely beautiful trail hike. A five star rating, rightfully so. All the reviews were spot on...(thank you hikers for taking the time to leave a comment, very helpful!) We walked left of Saddlebag Lake (clockwise) then went counterclockwise taking the loop past Hummingbird, Odell, Lake Helen...etc. Highly recommend hiking shoes/boots due to the terrain. Walking on scree and gravel most of the time. Only a little shade at the top of Saddlebag then pretty much in full sun. Aside from a couple spots I would say account for the moderate rating a very doable hike and worth every step. We saw an eagle fly over us, a majestic sight all its own. Lots of water and don't forget your sunscreen. Plenty of parking, no permit required for day hike, the 2 miles of road to get to Saddlebag parking is mostly gravel maneuvering around potholes.

5 months ago

Simply fantastic! One of the best all around bang for your buck hikes I’ve ever done. Very enjoyable walk (fit hikers won’t get their heart rate up even once on this) with nonstop views that change around every corner. Did this on a Friday and saw very few people. Wear sunblock, there is not much shade.

5 months ago

This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful hikes in the eastern Sierras where you are treated with spectacular views at every turn. The alpine lakes and mountain views are breathtaking. The trail can be difficult and hard to find at times due to the fact that you are often walking over shale rock. I would not rate this trail as moderate for the average hiker but it is so well worth it!

hiking
5 months ago

One of my favorite hikes of all time! The name "twenty lakes basin" definitely does it justice as there's at least one lake in sight for most of the hike. I personally did more of a figure 8, going around both sides of saddlebag lake, which I'd recommend to make it even more interesting. If you are used to hiking and living at a high altitude, I would still classify this as easy, but maybe moderate if you're used to sea level. My coworker called it "probably the flattest longer hike in the Eastern Sierra". There was still a bit of snow on the trail as of mid July which made it a little tricky to follow but never too bad. As a bonus, it's just outside of Yosemite, so you get the beauty without the crowds or the entrance fee. Loved it!

hiking
5 months ago

Simply spectacular. We used the trail on the far side of Saddlebag lake from what's shown on the map and I think it's got more interesting terrain and flora and is less exposed. Recommend walking the lake loop clockwise from the top of Saddlebag–the second half of the trail has some sections that were still covered in snow in mid July that were much easier to navigate from that direction than the reverse, as well as some climbs up scree that I would not have enjoyed going the opposite way. This trail wouldn't be particularly challenging at lower elevation, but as it's between 10 and 11,000, you may feel any climbs and be a bit worked over by the end if you're not acclimated.

hiking
5 months ago

An epic hike! Completed this with two great friends who were kind enough to invite me to join them for a weekend of day hiking. We hiked the Shadow and Ediza Lakes Trail the day before and I'd thought that that was the most scenic hike I'd completed to date. Then we did this hike... and it took #1 for scenery on my list. Both hikes are fantastic. Now I just keep imagining myself living in a small cottage located in any of the alpine meadows we hiked through on the Twenty Lakes Basin Trail. I could live like a Pika (which we were happy to have seen many of along the way).

We hiked this counterclockwise from the parking area for Saddlebag Lake. Confirming what others have pointed out, there are sections of the trail that can be rough on the feet and ankles due to scree (aka shattered stone). The section of trail approaching Shamrock Lake from Lake Helen is where cairns proved to be very helpful as they were the means to determine the direction of travel over the solid stone surface.

5 months ago

This hike is as good as it gets. There's nothing more you can ask, just an absolutely amazing experience. I disagree with people that call this hike easy, the terrain is very challenging for a lot of the hike and hard to follow at times. Bring flip flops or waterproof shoes, you will get wet!

5 months ago

Easy enough. Well marked with exception of a portion past steelhead if you’re going clockwise. But, there’s cairns to help you out if you look. Thunderstorms come in really fast so be aware. But all in all great trail. My 8 and 11 year old completed the whole trail with me.

fishing
6 months ago

FIve of us did this as a backpacking trip over 3 nights on 7/2/18. Melissa K review is spot on. A few things to add
-Road to the trailhead is paved until 2 miles of dirt road. The rocks on the road made driving slower but not too difficult for a sedan.
-Mosquitoes may be few on the trail but near the lakes or staying overnight, they are LOTS. Be prepared with deet.
- This is not an easy hike and more difficult with a heavy backpack.
- The trail along the eastside side of Saddlebag seems really long but is much easier hiking than the rocky path on the west side of the lake.
-The trail shown behind Steelhead lake leads up the mountain to an abandoned mine. There isn't much of a trail, good luck finding the mine.
- Fishing is decent at Steelhead, Shamrock, and Helen lake. We didnt get a chance to fish Hummingbird or Odell but they looked great. Didnt catch anything over 12"' but saw some larger ones lurking, especially at Helen Lake.
- Couldnt find any suitable camping spots at Odell lake and only a few scattered sites at Hummingbird.
-HIghly recommend camping near Shamrock lakes and hiking the small mountain in the middle of the basin for sunrise. Spectacular views as the sun rises from up from Helen Lake

Flat but difficult hike, some parts a bit technical and scary with a pack. Views are well worth it! Great experience

6 months ago

Completed the hike 7/6 with my sister. This was not an easy hike!!

First, no water taxi - the resort is closed - didn’t see any repair work being done and I believe the place is for sale. You have to hike around saddlebag lake to get to the trailhead.

We did the trail counter clockwise. Yes, many of the sections are flat and there are a few kind of steep sections...but what makes it hard are the jutting rocks (very rocky trail!), the loose scree and talus and the snow crossings and the major amount of areas where the trail is not marked.

As of 7/6, there are two snowfields you need to cross. One is fairly easy and the other is quite steep...as we were going counterclockwise, we needed to climb up the steep snow. My sister had a very tough time with this and got stuck. She was clinging to the side of the snow on the steep hill. She made it but not without bruises and cuts (see pics)

After the 2 snow crossings, the rest of the trail was pretty easy but again, parts were very rocky. There is also a snow cave before reaching lake Helen, but you don’t cross it on the trail. Mosquitos were nearly non existent.

I want to reiterate that this trail is not well marked!!! We had the AllTrails pro with offline maps, which saved us from getting lost. Very few people were on this trail (only saw 3 groups of hikers during our hike). Do not do this hike without some sort of gps map! There are a lot of side trails as well, and you can and will get turned around!

I also wouldn’t bring a dog on this trail - too much loose scree and talus, especially near Lake Helen.

Yes, it’s beautiful and probably one of the most scenic hikes in the area but prepare for a tough, rocky hike. And those snow crossings aren’t going away anytime soon! (The steep one is easier going down so if you go clockwise, it might be easier, but after Lake Helen, you have a steep uphill field of talus to deal with. Pick your poison, I guess)

hiking
6 months ago

@nancy - thanks for the update on water taxi. Will be prepared to hike 9 miles then :).

hiking
6 months ago

Breathtaking scenery! Definitely a must-do. The climbing wasn’t difficult and the views are amazing around every corner. The mosquitoes were relentless this time of year so be prepared. This higher altitude of this hike helped us acclimate for a much longer hike the next day. We liked the longer trail on the east side of the lake better than the scree field on the west side because there was some shade, the trail was in good condition, and there were less mosquitoes.

6 months ago

Best hike in the area. We used to take boat taxi. Sadly, the resort and docks suffered extreme damage from snow 2017. It is now for sale. No boat taxi and store closed. Just add on couple miles to the hike.

hiking
8 months ago

I have a question. I’m planning to do this trail for Labor Day and taking my pet. Do they allow dogs in the taxi?

How hot would it be for Labor Day?

hiking
Monday, October 02, 2017

I'd give it 6 stars if I could. This is the kind of hike where you stop every 20 steps to take a photo. It's not difficult because the trail is pretty flat. We walked clockwise because I wanted to photograph North Peak and Mt. Conness in morning light and the best views of them are on the west half of the loop. The east side of Saddlebag Lake is much less rocky though and much easier to walk on for our pup. All in all, one of my favorite trails ever.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Overall one of the best hikes we've ever done. Something new to see with every turn. Great views of Mount Conness, beautiful lakes, and snow-covered mountains. A few snow and river crossings in early September 2017. Minimal effort for maximum reward.

Monday, August 07, 2017

I did this hike aug 6 2017. It's a beautiful hike and the weather was great. Be prepared to get wet crossing some of the streams. There isn't a ferry by Saddlebag lake. This app was a big help with finding the trail.

hiking
Sunday, July 16, 2017

We hiked the Twenty Lakes Basin Loop two days ago. We appeared to be the first people to attempt this hike this year, because 75% of the trail is still covered in snow and there were no other tracks. The hike was incredibly beautiful, but you absolutely need GPS and a trail map because so much of the trail is buried. We used the AllTrails app to keep ourselves near the trail when it was covered. We brought snowshoes, but we did not need them. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen, because this hike is long and there is no shade. The boat is not running because Saddlebag Lake is still covered in ice, so plan on hiking from the parking lot. The first part of the hike (along Saddlebag Lake) is the toughest, because it is all loose shale or snow on a 30 degree slope. Once you get to the other side of Saddlebag Lake, the hike gets easier. We hiked back on the west side of Saddlebag Lake, which is much easier (and very different if you prefer loops to out and back trails), but also much longer. This hike was a challenge because of all of the snow, but it was amazing nonetheless.

hiking
Sunday, May 14, 2017

Nice boat ride/taxi across the lake.
Dog friendly.
Spring flowers in late Summer.
We are planning a return trip in 2017. Photos from 2009:
https://flickr.com/photos/29498007@N05/sets/72157622467067148

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