Convict LAke

Tucked into a glacial cirque, Convict Lake is ringed by dramatic, High Sierra peaks — most notably Laurel Mountain and Mount Morrison. It’s not exactly a wilderness experience, though. A paved road leads here, where you’ll also find a quaint resort, restaurant and campground. As long as you know what to expect, it’s a wonderful place to hike, fish, and pitch a tent — use it as a basecamp to explore the Mammoth Lakes area or while fishing the Upper Owens River.

ABOVE: Sunrise at my campsite at Convict Lake Campground up in the Sierra Nevada. It was late October and the aspen trees lining the creek were on fire with the colors of fall. I was lucky enough to hit it just right. When the wind blew down the mountain, the leaves danced and shimmered in the breeze — like orange insects just hatched into life. It was beautiful.

ABOVE: Convict Lake is startling in its color and clarity. I’m honestly not sure what makes the water so vibrant here. I love peering into the shallows and looking for trout as I hike, especially on the portions of trail that climb high above the lake.

Fishing at Convict Lake

ABOVE: I haven’t fished Convict Lake much. When I’m in the Mammoth Lakes area and I have time to fish, I’m usually on the Upper Owens River chasing big, wild trout. The rainbow and brown trout in Convict Lake are stocked by the State of California, so while the angling here can be good, especially from a boat, you’ll be catching hatchery fish. And I always prefer a skunking on a beautiful, wild river to a good day yanking stockers out of a tub. That being said, I did have one particularly scintillating experience site-casting dry flies to a cruising rainbow that must have been a couple feet long. He played coy, ignoring and sometimes circling my fly, but never striking — until one cast when he charged the fly, tapped it with his nose, then turned and disappeared into the aquamarine depths. In attempting to set the hook, I had yanked my fly into a tangle of branches. Sometimes you win, sometimes the fish wins. This time the fish won.

ABOVE: Convict Creek, which winds through the campground, can also be fun to fish — that’s where I caught all three of those trout you just saw. There are plenty of delicate, pretty, little fish (some of which may be wild) with some larger stockers mixed in for good fun. Fishing dry flies here can be a hell of a good time, especially if there’s a nice pool alongside your campsite.

Laurel Mountain

ABOVE: No, you’re not having an acid trip (at least I don’t think so) — you’re just looking at the north face of Laurel Mountain, which stands at 11,818 feet. Unlike much of the High Sierra, which is composed of the igneous rock granite, Laurel Mountain is made of sandstone, slates, and marbles — all metamorphic rocks. Look carefully and you can see the NE Gully running up the mountain to the summit. This is a popular route for rock climbers, and was the site of the first belayed rope climb in the Sierra Nevada. Read more about this peak on Summit Post.

Wildlife

ABOVE: A fawn looking for its mother after taking a drink from Convict Creek one fall a few years ago, when the aspen trees were straight fire. It was not uncommon to see deer in the campground in the mornings and evenings.

Hiking at Convict Lake

ABOVE: The hike around Convict Lake is easy and fun. This is usually the first place I come after I arrive in the area and set up camp. It’s a pretty flat three miles around the lake, making it a great spot where my dog and I can stretch our legs, and do a little light exercise at altitude, all while soaking up the beauty of the High Sierra. I like to think of it As a good warmup before a week in the mountains, or prior to a backpacking trip. Part of the trail is even paved — and there’s a section of boardwalk that tunnels through the aspens and is absolutely stunning in fall — but most of the trail is hard-packed dirt with some loose rocks. Bring sunscreen — the northern shore is exposed with no shade.

The High Sierra at Night

ABOVE: The harvest moon shining over the hills around Convict Lake.

Sunrise at my campsite at Convict Lake Campground up in the Sierra Nevada. It was late October and the aspen trees lining the creek were on fire with the colors of fall. I was lucky enough to hit it just right. When the wind blew down the mountain, the leaves danced and shimmered in the breeze — like orange insects just hatched into life. It was beautiful.
Convict Lake is startling in its color and clarity. I’m honestly not sure what makes the water so vibrant here. I love peering into the shallows and looking for trout as I hike, especially on the portions of trail that climb high above the lake.

Fishing at Convict Lake

I haven’t fished Convict Lake much. When I’m in the Mammoth Lakes area and I have time to fish, I’m usually on the Upper Owens River chasing big, wild trout. The rainbow and brown trout in Convict Lake are stocked by the State of California, so while the angling here can be good, especially from a boat, you’ll be catching hatchery fish. And I always prefer a skunking on a beautiful, wild river to a good day yanking stockers out of a tub. That being said, I did have one particularly scintillating experience site-casting dry flies to a cruising rainbow that must have been a couple feet long. He played coy, ignoring and sometimes circling my fly, but never striking — until one cast when he charged the fly, tapped it with his nose, then turned and disappeared into the aquamarine depths. In attempting to set the hook, I had yanked my fly into a tangle of branches. Sometimes you win, sometimes the fish wins. This time the fish won.
Convict Creek, which winds through the campground, can also be fun to fish —that’s where I caught all three of those trout you just saw. There are plenty of delicate, pretty, little fish (some of which may be wild) with some larger stockers mixed in for good fun. Fishing dry flies here can be a hell of a good time, especially if there’s a nice pool alongside your campsite.

Laurel Mountain

No, you’re not having an acid trip (at least I don’t think so) — you’re just looking at the north face of Laurel Mountain, which stands at 11,818 feet. Unlike much of the High Sierra, which is composed of the igneous rock granite, Laurel Mountain is made of sandstone, slates, and marbles — all metamorphic rocks. Look carefully and you can see the NE Gully running up the mountain to the summit. This is a popular route for rock climbers, and was the site of the first belayed rope climb in the Sierra Nevada. Read more about this peak on Summit Post.

Wildlife

A fawn looking for its mother after taking a drink from Convict Creek one fall a few years ago, when the aspen trees were straight fire. It was not uncommon to see deer in the campground in the mornings and evenings.

Hiking At Convict Lake

The hike around Convict Lake is easy and fun. This is usually the first place I come after I arrive in the area and set up camp. It’s a pretty flat three miles around the lake, making it a great spot where my dog and I can stretch our legs, and get in a little light exercise at altitude, all while soaking up the beauty of the High Sierra. I like to think of it as a good warmup before a week in the mountains, or prior to a backpacking trip. Part of the trail is even paved — and there’s a section of boardwalk that tunnels through the aspens and is absolutely stunning in fall — but most of the trail is hard-packed dirt with some loose rocks. Bring sunscreen — the northern shore is exposed with no trees for shade.

The High Sierra At Night

The harvest moon shining over the hills around Convict Lake.

Convict Lake

Directions to Convict Lake

Convict Lake can only be reached via U.S. 395, which follows the Eastern Sierra to Lake Tahoe and eventually the Oregon state line. Look for Convict Lake Road, just across from Mammoth Yosemite Airport, which winds two miles up into the cirque. The resort, restaurant and cabins will appear on your right. Keep driving around the lake, then turn left to enter the campground.

Related Organizations

Mammoth Lakes Trails Public Access

MLTPA advocates for, initiates, facilitates, and participates in the planning, implementation, management, and stewardship of a four-season trail system in Mammoth Lakes and the immediate Eastern Sierra.

Eastern Sierra Land Trust

Eastern Sierra Land Trust works with willing landowners to protect vital lands in the Eastern Sierra region for their scenic, agricultural, natural, recreational, historical, and watershed values. By partnering with forward-thinking landowners, agencies, and conservation supporters, they work with their community to conserve the Eastern Sierra for the future.