Mileage: Just under 3 miles around Saddlebag Lake
Twenty Lakes Basin is a beautiful setting for a day hike just east of Tioga Pass. This alpine basin is nestled beneath a wide cirque of rugged peaks and allows easy access to an area that is perfect for first-time backpackers or those hikers needing more gentle terrain. I highly recommend visiting this area if you want a glimpse of the treasures of the Sierran sub-alpine zone, with quick and easy access from a main thouroughfare.
The trail to Twenty Lakes begins at Saddlebag Lake Resort, where you can find a general store and regular ferry service to the far end of Saddlebag Lake. We opted to start our hike from the ferry landing, and began by walking over the dam to the trail on the west side of Saddlebag Lake. The first 1.25 miles of the trail traverses a slope of white and red rock along the edge of the lake. From there, we could see the ferry bustling back and forth across the lake. We were met by a couple on two big tire mountain bikes, coming from the opposite direction (presumably they rented the bikes at the resort). The rocky slope was fine for hiking, but it looked like a pretty bumpy and precarious ride for novice bikers.
As we reached the head of the lake, the clouds brushing the mountains above us were beginning to turn a more ominous grey. It was already blistery cold with the wind coming across the lake, and we didn’t want to get stuck in the basin in a storm with our little ones. So instead of continuing into 20 Lakes Basin, we completed our loop around Saddlebag Lake by continuing around the eastern shore. For a while, the trail wandered through a forested hillside, past an old hunting cabin at the head of the lake, then opening up more into the sunlight as we rounded the rocky shore back toward the resort.
We knew we had made the right choice as the temperature dropped significantly as we reached our car, and everyone was ready for more snacks. A little less than ideal weather wouldn’t have deterred us before (and actually would have made things even more fun), but hiking with children changes things. We will return to see the rest of 20 Lakes Basin another day- perhaps as a first backpacking trip with our kids.