Crystal Crag looms above beautiful Crystal Lake, surrounded by steep granite peaks and dotted with pines. And this short hike to Crystal Lake in the town of Mammoth Lakes gives you a taste of the Sierra Mountains without the long miles or an overnight backpack, making this a perfect morning day hike.
Getting to the Trailhead
The Crystal Crag trailhead begins near Lake George directly off of Lake George Road (directions via Google Maps), about five miles from the town center. Free street parking is available along Lake George Road — but make sure your car is entirely off the pavement to avoid being ticketed.
Better yet, you can take the free Mammoth Lakes Tram which runs approximately every 30 minutes.
We arrived fairly late by our normal standards, getting there around 9:30am, but when we got back from our hike, parking was much worse with cars parked even further down the hill. As always, my recommendation is to start earlier to beat the crowds. Morning is a perfect time to explore this trail.
Hiking to Crystal Lake
The Crystal Crag trailhead is well signed, and the trail very easy to follow. You’ll steadily climb a series of well-engineered switchbacks that make the grade fairly easy by Sierra standards. The trail is mostly shaded, giving you some relief from the brilliant mountain sun.
As you climb, pause to look back over Lake George, Lake Mary and even glimpses of Lake Mamie through the pines.
This is a popular trail, and you’re likely to see trail runners, people hiking with dogs and entire families with kids in tow.
At about 1.3 miles, you’ll reach the only junction on the trail. Bear left (straight) to continue towards Crystal Lake. The other route continues up to Mammoth Crest.
At this point, you are nearly at the high point of the trail. Once you reach the crest (about 9,730′) you descend 120′ to the outlet of Crystal Lake.
From the outlet, you have some choices. There some use trails that travel part way back the steep-sloped western shore with access to the lake and boulders to stretch out on. But most people will travel around the east side of the lake, where the slope is gentler, offering more options to spread out for a picnic or even take a plunge in the icy cold water.
We found a boulder to sit on and soak in the views of the crag, the lake and the surrounding peaks. It was an idyllic spot for a snack break, but more than that, it replenished our souls.
Fully recharged, we headed back down the trail, retracing our steps to the trailhead.
Crystal Lake Trail Map
Click on any photo to view a larger version. You can also leave comments on any photo.
Crystal Lake Tips
- No permits are required for this hike
- Start early. This is a popular trail that can get crowded.
- Consider take the free tram from town
More Crystal Lake Resources
- You can also climb Crystal Crag via several routes, including a Class 3 route that doesn’t require any equipment. Get details on the routes from SummitPost.
- Download the GPX file
Great article, thanks Jeff!
Thanks for the memories. Crystal Lake is one of my favorite Mammoth day homes. I’ll be vacationing in Mammoth the first week of August. Think I’ll do this hike again.
Wow, that looks like a fantastic trail!
Kovas Palubinskas says
Amazing views for a simple hike
The great news! Thanks for sharing. Its always great to find good honest practical content. Thank you so much. very nice & fantastic
My daughter and I did this hike two weeks ago! It was breathtaking! As always, Jeff’s narration is spot on!
Carol Eaton says
Friday August 9th, 2016 10:50 A.M start – End 4:45 P.M. (Lots of stops to take pictures & enjoy the endless Sierra Summits)
Hiked Crystal Crag to Crystal Lake with my daughter as we did last year during my first visit to Mammoth Lakes, Calif. Last year, I decided not to continue from Crystal Lake to Mammoth Crest – this year I knew I wanted the adventure – and what a spectacular Adventure it was !!! I’m 66 years young, in fairly good health … Would not suggest this alone … Unless you are experienced hiker …. I “loved this day hike & the memories of the beauty of the perfect day with my daughter will be everlasting”
The hike to Mammoth Crest is filled with change in terrain – ascent is strenuous but filled with real day hike beauty … Views of Crystal Crag, & Sierra Summits were breathtaking, once at the Mammoth Crest the “Ancient Bristlecone Forest” is an award beyond words … So … My daughter & I “DID IT” together and what a Priceless experience we now share … Thank you Mammoth Lakes for this incredible experience …