All's Well That's Elwell

Hike to the Summit of Mount Elwell in the Lakes Basin, Sierra Nevada

Hike to the Peak of Mount Elwell in the Lakes Basin

There’s no denying that the summit of Mount Elwell offers one of the best views of the northern Sierra. What’s up for debate is how you get there. Whatever hiking route you choose, you’ll clock between 7 and 8 miles round-trip to the 7,818-foot peak. It’s a tough hike.

Gallery image 1 of 3
Gallery image 2 of 3
Gallery image 3 of 3

The shorter option, an out-and-back, has you starting at the Lakes Basin Campground. Enjoy the incentive scenery of Long Lake as you head up to Elwell. People who love loops and a hidden lake can take what we’ve nicknamed the “sugar pine way.” This is a longer route, climbing nearly 2,000 feet through a sugar pine forest with uniform tree stands covered in bright green lichen. Halfway up you’ll pass Maiden Lake, an oasis favored by those who like skinny dips (the Farmers’ Almanac simply cannot forecast all the full moons!).

Mount Elwell Peak Hike Lakes Basin Sierra Nevada

Either way you go, the final section is about a five-minute scramble up craggy boulders (tip: Cairns provide a route on the south side. Take your time and use caution). And the summit views? Cinematic. It’s an eye-max of the northern Sierra landscape, including mountain peaks like Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen, the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout, as well as Bear Lakes, Silver Lake, and Round Lake to the south, and Gold Lake and the Sierra Valley to the east. There’s a scroll you can sign, and you’ll see remnants of a former fire lookout.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST: In the episode “Secret Sierra” Weekend Sherpa co-founders discuss their trip to the summit of Mt. Elwell and exploring the Lakes Basin.

CAMPING TIP: There’s great lakeside camping nearby in the Lakes Basin. Goose Lake Campground is a nice one with only 14 sites. There’s also Gold Lake, Snag Lake, Haven Lake, and others.

Gallery image 1 of 2
Gallery image 2 of 2

For the shorter out-and-back option, start at the trailhead at the end of the Lakes Basin Campground. You’ll see two trailheads (Bear Lakes and Long Lake). Start on the Long Lake Trailhead. Hike up about 0.75 mile and turn right following the sign for the Long Lake Connector. This takes you to the Long Lake Trail, where you turn left and hike up to Mount Elwell following the signs. Return the way you came.

For the longer round-trip option: Start at the Smith Lake Trail near Gray Eagle Lodge. Hike up the Smith Lake Trail. Go left at the intersection with Smith Creek Trail. A short distance later bear left on Mount Elwell Trail. The trail ascends 3 miles to Mount Elwell. Descend on the Long Lake Trail, which takes you back to where you parked.

Trending Stories Northern CA

View all Stories
  1. Image that represents the story
    Sponsored

    Wildflower Hiking Guide

    California’s wildflowers will be lovely this spring! So how do you find the best in bloom? Check out POST’s complimentary Wildflower Guide to find the best hiking trails with wildflowers.

    View
  2. Image that represents the story

    Tam It All

    The hills have gone green just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, and this 7.5-mile lollipop loop hike passes through some of Mount Tam’s lushest spots, with bridges, creeks, a waterfall, and big views.

    View
  3. Image that represents the story

    Headlands Over Heels

    People come from all over the world to get a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. Get a dramatic and novel view of the bridge without all the people on this moderate 6-mile hike in the Marin Headlands.

    View
  4. Image that represents the story

    Moore Wildflowers!

    Napa's got poppies on parade! Hike the 4.3-mile Valentine Vista Trail at Moore Creek Park. It's spectacular for views, and the spring wildflowers are a colorful bonus!

    View

Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Image that represents the story

    Truly Grand Day Hike

    One of the best spring day hikes in the Grand Canyon? See layer upon layer of the park’s grandeur—including the river—on this 3-mile (one-way) journey to Skeleton Point via the South Kaibab Trail.

    View
  2. Image that represents the story

    Do it Yourself Walking Tour of Solvang

    Solvang has long been described as a “little slice of Denmark in Southern California." Experience the historic village on a 3-mile walk that explores the architecture, food, wine, and green space.

    View
  3. Image that represents the story

    Pinnacles of Spring

    Why hike at Pinnacles National Park? The wildflowers are in overdrive during spring. And you might spy the magnificent California condor soaring while you gain soaring views from the High Peaks Trail.

    View
  4. Image that represents the story

    Stairstruck in Hollywood

    Beachwood Canyon in Hollywoodland has an action-packed adventure with A-list workouts, big-budget views, and a stair-studded cast. Running time is 1.25 miles with five staircases

    View