Camping · Trip Report

Western Sierra: Lake Thomas Edison 

In July 2017 we spent a long week exploring the Western Sierras. The first leg of our journey was spent at Mineral King, which you can find here. In the second leg of the trip, we headed north to Lake Thomas Edison.

The drive to reach Thomas Edison Lake involves about 30 miles of rough, twisty, half-asphalt half-dirt road, which in most places is only wide enough for a single vehicle (but with plenty of pullouts). The road is full of cliffs and blind corners, but it is also one of the most spectacular mountain roads you can drive, so it is almost worth it.

Zachary and I had visited Thomas Edison Lake years ago on a backpacking trip, but we had never visited the area on our own. We decided to look for camping off the Onion Springs OHV route. In the National Forest you are allowed to camp just about anywhere off the main roads. We were excited to find plenty of camping opportunities in the area and chose one with a great view and a huge fire pit built next to a boulder.


On our first full day in the area, we went on the short hike to Doris Lake from Mono Hot Springs Resort. This was Juniper’s first Sierra hike on her own two feet, as in past years she has been small enough to ride in the baby backpack. She did really well going up to the lake even though it was steep and hot. She was very excited to wear hiking shoes and to carry her backpack with her very own snacks in it.

Doris Lake is ringed by smooth granite cliffs and is popular with patrons of the resort because of its warmer temperature and great jumping rocks. 

Apparently, the warmer water attracted other patrons as well- water snakes!! They seemed relatively harmless but it was pretty unnerving to see them swimming around.


The lake was also heavily stocked with trout. The kids and I dipped our toes in and enjoyed a little splash around the shallows while the trout nibbled our legs. We didn’t see any snakes while we were swimming, fortunately (but it’s probably just a matter of not knowing that they were there).

The hike back was much harder for J. She was already tired and kind of crabby. We make it all the way back though and she took a nap in the car on the way back to camp. All the kids sleep extra soundly on bumpy roads. It’s probably the great combination of the rattle-y motion and rumbling sound.

Zachary gave me the gift of the chance to sneak away in the evening to watch the sunset alone. I loved having a few moments to breathe and just listen to the wind and the birds as the shadows lengthened.


Early on the second morning, I woke up to bright but silent flashes of lightning. The storm must have been above some distant pass because I never heard the sound, but the flashes seemed to fill the sky. We got some rain at camp around 11am but that was all of the storm that reached us. I love the kind of drama that weather has in these mountains.

On our drive out from camp, we ran into a boyscout troop in 2WD vans heading to the trailhead. They were concerned about the difficulty of the road but we told them it was just a bit further. They were bouncing around but doing ok. All the boys were hooting and hollering as the van bounced up and over rocks and bumps, so even if they were having a hard time of it, at least they were having fun!

Late in the morning we took a hike from the Vermillion trailhead to Cold Creek, and then beyond another mile or so until we left the trail to find a swimming spot on the shore of Edison Lake. We all got in the water and had a wonderful swim and lunch. The weather was a bit overcast but the temperature was so perfect- warm during the day and cool but not cold in the evenings. Juni did a good job again hiking on her own. Sage likes to nurse the entire time we are hiking so she was pretty happy too. Max has the best seat, riding on Daddy’s back in the backpack. We all love our snacks and love being in the mountains together.

On the way back, we ran into the Boy Scout troop again! They had gone to the wrong trailhead! They were now hiking past Cold Creek to the opposite end of Lake Edison as we were headed back to our car.

We stopped at the Vermillion Resort to pick up some groceries. It is a pretty cool place that definitely caters to JMT/PCT thru hikers. You can work for a few hours in exchange for free dinner and a beer! It is 7 flat miles around Edison Lake from the JMT/PCT so I’m sure it’s a very good stop to resupply and enjoy a beer.
Our third day at Edison, we drove out to the Bear Creek OHV route past Mono Hot Springs. It is moderately rough route over smooth granite slabs, with the trail twisting along stands of junipers and pines. There were some great views of Bear Dome & Mono Divide. 

Near the end of the trail, rushing Bear Creek comes into view at the bottom of valley. The route ends at the Bear Creek diversion dam, which was very spectacular this time of the year, and after such a heavy winter of snowfall.


After Bear Creek, we got back on Kaiser Pass Road to drive to Florence Lake. There really wasn’t much for us to do there because the Hooper OHV route was closed and most of the hikes were far beyond the little ones’ level of endurance, so we headed back the way we came.

We decided to stop at Mono Hot Springs to let the kids splash around in the shallows near the campground. We all needed a good soak and the frigid water was so refreshing. Clean and rested, we returned to camp for our last night at Onion Springs.

 

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