Hike Report

Eastern Sierra: Devil’s Postpile & Rainbow Falls

After a two year hiatus from the eastern Sierra, we return with our family for a week-long adventure in the area of Mammoth and June Lake.

Devil’s Postpile & Rainbow Falls

Elevation 7559 ft (Trailhead) to 7400 ft (First Viewpoint). -159 total
Mileage: about 4 miles

Page 80 & 84 of Hot Showers, Soft Beds, and Day Hikes in the Sierra in the Sierra by Kathy Morey

In the past, most of our visits to the eastern Sierra were focused around a multi day backpacking trip, so we usually didn’t have time to day hike in the area before or after our primary trip. I really enjoyed getting to see a different side of the Sierras on this visit as we took our time to savor day trips and shorter hikes each day.

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Devil’s Postpile is a national monument right outside of Mammoth. We caught the Red’s Meadow/Devil’s Postpile shuttle into the valley from the top of the Mammoth Mountain Ski area. From there, it was a 45 minute ride down to the Devil’s Postpone trail head. Those 45 minutes were probably the longest 45 minutes of the entire trip for us and all of our fellow bus-riders (just imagine a two year old with no seat belt and a bus full of captive strangers to entertain). From the Ranger station parking lot, it was a short .5 mile walk to the Postpile. We took the spur trail up the hillside to the top of the Postpile first.

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Zachary and I are geology geeks so we were thrilled by the crisp hexagonal tiles of basalt. These columns of rock were formed by the rapid cooling of a lava flow approximately 600,000 years ago, and over time they have begun to crumble into the famous pile of rubble we know as the Postpile. According to an interpretive sign, the shape of a hexagon appears in nature quite regularly because it is the most efficient structural shape (think of honeycombs and snowflakes). From the top of the Postpile, you can see the polished face of the lava flow, and the rows of future postpiles waiting for their turn to crumble.

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Next we looped our way down to the bottom of the Postpile and continued on our way to Rainbow Falls. The area south of the Postpile experienced trauma from the Rainbow Fire in 1992, but we enjoyed seeing how many “Christmas trees” had sprouted up from the ash.
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In about a mile, we came to the intersection with the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail where it crosses the Middle Fork San Joaquin River. There was a really cool bridge so we stopped there for some pictures. I liked to imagine the hundreds of hikers heading south towards Mt. Whitney on that same trail.
It was about another .5 mile to the first overlook of Rainbow Falls. The San Joaquin has done an incredible job of carving away at the gorge over thousands of years. You can see where the original cliff face must have been, but the brink of Rainbow Falls is several hundred feet back from the rest of the cliff face. There was an awesome rainbow in the mists rising up from the falls. A little further beyond the overlooks, you can take a steep trail all the way down to the river at the bottom of the falls. Another day, in another era, we would have been all over that trail, but carrying 20-30 lbs of kid on our backs made the trail much less appealing. We decided to enjoy the falls from above and had our lunch nearby.
Then, we began the gradual ascent up the trail and caught the bus at Red’s Meadow Resort.
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