Sabrina Lake to Hungry Packer and Moonlight Lakes — Inyo National Forest, CA

We randomly took a chance on this backpacking spot, and we really were not prepared for how beautiful and special this basin would turn out to be. One of my most memorable backpacking trips to date, Sabrina Basin encompasses the true Sierra spirit: flower-filled meadows, turquoise alpine lakes, dramatic pinnacles, and even an idyllic waterfall. 

 

Backpacking Trip Info

Dates: 07/13 - 07/15
Miles: 14 total (6.5 miles directly to Hungry Packer)
Elevation Change: 2000 ft
Trail Type: Out and back

Sabrina basin map from CaliTrails
Sabrina basin map from CaliTrails

 

Getting There

The trail from Sabrina Lake up to Hungry Packer and Moonlight lakes is very well maintained and not too difficult for how rewarding the views of snowy mountains, endless trout, alpine lakes, waterfalls, and flower meadows are. Acclimating to the 11,000' air is definitely recommended, as well as some major mosquito repellent.

This was Ed and JQ's first backpacking trip, and Kyle and I were hoping to get them hooked so we could have some more backpacking buddies. After picking up a bear can rental from REI for them, we headed to pick up our permit from the overnight box in Bishop. For 4 people for 2 nights, the online reservation only came to $26. Don't forget to call a couple days before to have your permit set up for nightbox pickup if you can't make it there during open hours.

Turning left onto the 168 from Bishop, the road climbed steeply up, and we passed numerous campgrounds. Sabrina campground (the closest to the TH) was full, so we ended up camping at Upper Intake 2 campground right next to the river for $21 a night.

Our camp spot at Upper Intake 2
Our camp spot at Upper Intake 2

 

The Backpacking Trip

Many of the beautiful photos from this post are by Kyle McBurnie

The next morning we woke up, packed our bags, and headed to park by the road about a 10 minute walk from the TH.

Kyle, JQ, and Ed at the TH

Kyle, JQ, and Ed at the TH

Starting at 9,080', the hike slowly climbed around Sabrina Lake, and we were definitely feeling the high elevation already.

Making our way around Sabrina Lake
Making our way around Sabrina Lake

The several rocky switchbacks took their toll, and the 3.3 mile climb to Blue Lake (10,390') took us several hours. To recharge, we had a delicious pizza lunch by Blue lake, and even though it was quite windy, and we enjoyed our first lakefront view of the weekend. There were plenty of other day hikers and backpackers around the lake.

Crossing a log jam at the outlet of Blue lake
Everyone is excited for gourmet pizza lunch!

JQ and Ed in front of Blue Lake

Finding our way back to the trail from the lake, we continued on until we realized the trail began to thin out. We followed a small stream until it disappeared at a large rock pile, and when we checked the map we realized we had missed the junction to Hungry Packer lake over a mile ago.

We hiked all the way back to Blue lake and found the sign for the junction just a few feet from where we had returned to the trail from lunch and missed the sign. Even though we only had about 1.5 miles to Dingleberry lake (10,600'), the switchbacks and exposed trail were exhausting on top of the extra 2 miles we added on.

The rocky switchbacks up to Dingleberry lake from Blue lake
Small but still beautiful Emerald lake
Taking a break on the trail before descending to Dingleberry lake to find a camp spot
Taking a break on the trail before descending to Dingleberry lake to find a camp spot

Since we were tired, we decided to camp at Dingleberry lake and found a beautiful camp spot with views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. There was only one other group camped by the lake when we got there.

Our Marmot Limelight Tent near Dingleberry Lake

The back view from our camp site. The main trail crosses the river using the rock path crossing

We made an early dinner of beef lasagna, mashed potatoes, and soup, watched the sunset, and then all climbed into Ed and JQ's 3 person tent to have a group stretch session. Kyle shot some long exposure pictures, and we saw several shooting stars before returning to our tents to sleep. The windy, cold, and cloudless night gave us a clear view of the milky way arching over the sky.

Kyle's amazing capture of the milky way over our tents
Kyle's amazing capture of the milky way over our tents

The next morning we woke up at sunrise, had some oatmeal, packed our daypacks, and set out on our adventure by 9:05AM. We reached Pee Wee and Topsy Turvy Lake (10,800') by 10AM, and after a short break we continued on to beautiful Middle Lakes and Sailor Lake (11,040').

Ed at Topsy Turvy lake, check out how clear the water is!
Ed at Topsy Turvy lake, check out how clear the water is!

The meadows near Middle and Sailor lakes were absolutely gorgeous, with purple flowers and gushing streams all surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Looking at the trail up to Hungry Packer lake
The meadow at Sailor lake was my favorite

We saw a steep mountain ahead of us, and decided to continue to Hungry Packer Lake, 6.5 miles from the TH. We followed the stream up and finally saw the beautiful blue of Hungry Packer lake.

Looking downstream at the outlet of Hungry Packer lake
Looking downstream at the outlet of Hungry Packer lake

We relaxed here for a little bit, while Ed climbed the steep ridge on the left and found some marmots while Kyle explored the right edge of the lake. We found some great campspots here and encountered one other backpacking couple with their dog, but the wind coming over the ridges was quite cold, so we regrouped and headed on out.

Me at Hungry Packer lake
A mother and her two baby marmots!
Looking at Hungry Packer lake from the right side

Headed back down the trail to Sailor Lake, we crossed the meadow to head over to Moonlight falls. The trout at the bottom of the waterfall seemed to be enjoying the fresh water pouring into their pond, and these were the biggest fish we've seen all weekend.

The view from the top of the falls looking over the meadows
Moonlight falls

After having lunch at the top of the falls, we decided to follow the stream up, hopping from rock to rock until we clamored over the top and discovered the gorgeous Moonlight lake (11,060')! We were all stunned by the color of the lake, and we took off our shoes and waded around in the shallows. We watched the clouds come over the top of the mountains for hours, and Kyle even took a swim in the frigid lake.

Facing the outlet stream of Moonlight lake (where we came from)
Beautiful Moonlight lake

We decided to start hiking back, and instead of following the trail back, we chose to follow the stream down. We hiked through beautiful meadows sprouting flowers of all colors, and lots of small ponds and little waterfalls that seemed too picturesque to be natural.

Ed sitting above the crystal clear waters of Hungry Packer lake
Looking over the meadows and Middle lakes
We were in absolute awe of how beautiful this place was

We were in absolute awe of how beautiful this place was

Sabrina Basin

We followed the river to Topsy Turvy lake and continued following the river until we saw some cairns. We followed these all the way down to the basin floor and eventually merged with the main trail.

Ed looking over a small cliff on our way back
Ed looking over a small cliff on our way back

In one of the meadows, we even saw a doe! We watched him for 5 minutes, and he just watched us until the mosquitoes chased us away.  Back at our camp site, we decided to jump into Dingleberry lake to freshen up and ease our mosquito bites.

Kyle looking back at the rest of Dingleberry lake
Kyle looking back at the rest of Dingleberry lake
Half in and half out of Dingleberry lake
Half in and half out of Dingleberry lake

For dinner, we made a meal of mashed potatoes, beef stroganoff, and Knorrs chicken pasta with fruit snacks as dessert. The sunset that night was absolutely amazing. The clouds and the entire sky turned pink and purple, and the reflection off the lake was almost magical.

We pulled out our sleeping bags to watch the stars together, as it was a much warmer and windless night. We ended up falling asleep outside for a bit before stumbling back to our tents. The next morning we woke up at sunrise, had some oatmeal and coffee, and were out of our camp spot at 9:05AM. Since it was mostly downhill and we were eager to get an early start on the road, we reached Blue lake by 10:15AM, and were back at our cars by 11:30AM.

Thankfully, the hike back to the car was mostly downhill and easy

Thankfully, the hike back to the car was mostly downhill and easy

Following tradition, on the way home we stopped for some delicious ice cream shakes at Lone Pine. Sabrina basin was one of my favorite backpacking trips, and I'm glad JQ and Ed had a great first trip as well :)

 

Favorite gear from this trip: