Backpacking Duck Lake Pass Trail — Mammoth, CA

Less than 10 miles roundtrip, the Duck Lake area makes a great short weekend backpacking trip. It can easily be done as a day hike, but turning it into a overnight backpacking trip is the perfect way to experience the alpenglow on the surrounding mountain ranges and the sereneness of the multiple lakes in the basin.


Backpacking Trip Info

Dates: 7/14/2017 - 7/15/2017
Miles: 8.8 round trip
Elevation Change: 2,248 ft
Trail Type: Out and back
Trailhead: Google Maps

Our backpacking trip from Coldwater Campground to Duck Lake

Our backpacking trip from Coldwater Campground to Duck Lake


The Hike

Starting from the trailhead at Coldwater Campground (9,157 ft), we started hiking up the forested trail that immediately starts climbing several switchbacks. After about a mile and 550 ft of elevation gain, the trail splits off to the left to Arrowhead Lake. 

This side trail is a nice walk along the shore as it follows the south edge  of the lake to the inlet, but you'll either have to backtrack back to the trail or climb up the steep hillside to get back to the main trail.

After another 0.75 miles of hiking, we started to see some patches of snow before Skelton Lake came into view. This looked like a popular spot for day hikers and backpackers with plenty of nice shoreline, fishing opportunities, and comfortable sandy bottom.

Stopping to cool off by the overflowing creek

Stopping to cool off by the overflowing creek

Skelton Lake (9921 ft), only about 1.75 miles from the trailhead

Skelton Lake (9921 ft), only about 1.75 miles from the trailhead

We decided to get away from the crowds and keep going despite the large snow banks and mud covering the trail. Because of the snow, the one mile climb up to Barney Lake was more slow going than normal. We stopped often to rest and look back on the valley we had just climbed out of.

Finally we reached Barney Lake, which sits at 10,210 ft at the base of Duck Pass. All of the snow we trekked through was worth it - the abundance of snow covering the mountains made for some gorgeous dramatic mountain landscapes. We found several options to camp on the peninsula that juts out from the East shore of the lake.

Sunset and sunrise were so stunning in the basin. My favorite part were the perfect snowy mountain reflections multiple lakes, as the perfect stillness of the water is only visible during these times of the day. Climbing up the hillside on the eastern shore also provided views of multiple mountain ranges way off in the distance.

The next day we pumped some water with my favorite backcountry water pump, made breakfast,  packed our daypacks and headed up and over Duck Pass. The trail over the pass is very rocky and was still snow covered in certain places, but as you climb, the views of the basin below get better and better.

Click here to read about my favorite meals for backpacking!

Once we made it over the pass, we saw Duck Lake in all of its glory. The lake is enormous with an impressive and peaky mountain range surrounding the basin. We spent a good portion of the morning exploring the shore of the half frozen lake, relaxing in the hammock, and enjoying the crystal clear waters before heading back over the pass to our campsite.

Click here to read about my favorite hammock for backpacking!

Once we got back to our campsite, we packed up and hiked back out, all downhill and easy going!


Favorite gear for this trip: