If you’re looking for an excellent hike to an isolated lake basin with grand scenery that offers one of the best chances for quiet seclusion in Bishop Creek Canyon, the hike to the Tyee Lakes is for you.
The trail begins less than two miles from South Lake on the west side of South Lake Road. Take Highway 168 west from downtown Bishop to South Lake Road and then look for the Tyee Lakes information board at the trailhead, where there’s a bridge over the South Fork Bishop Creek.
Even though it is less than four miles to the fifth Tyee Lake, the trail gains just under 2,000 feet on well graded and easily followed switchbacks to all of the lakes. The grade is somewhat challenging to non-conditioned and unprepared hikers but most everyone will be able to enjoy the scenery while taking short breaks and proceeding at a leisurely pace.
At just over two miles and gaining a good portion of the elevation, you’ll arrive at Tyee Lake No. 1 at 10,300 feet above sea level. Wildflowers in early summer add to the beauty of this marshy lake amongst tall trees and superb mountain vistas.
Staying on the trail as it winds around the west shore, ascend switchbacks up to Tyee Lake No. 2. This lake and Tyee Lake No. 3, which is located off the trail to the left and basically inaccessible by trail, are smaller than the first lake. But continue on to the fourth and fifth lakes, which are the biggest and the best of the bunch.
Ascend a few more easy switchbacks, gain a level section of the trail and arrive at the east end of big and beautiful Tyee Lake No. 4. At an elevation of 10,800 feet and nearly three-and-a-half miles from your car, you’ve reached the second largest of the Tyee Lakes. Enjoy the rocky shore and if you’ve brought your fishing pole, try your luck at catching some elusive rainbow and brown trout.
Just a few more steps on the trail, which winds around the south side of lake No. 4 and then shortly ascends the west end, arrive at Tyee Lake No. 5 sitting at just over 11,000 feet. It is possible to hike around the entire lake but the place to rest tired feet is on the sandy north shore where there’s a small beach and meadow near an inlet creek coming down from the ridge to the north.
When I was there in early June, I watched in amazement as rainbow trout were spawning up the inlet creek while a bald eagle circled above and then disappeared over the peaks to the south.
If you’re still energized and eager for more adventure and have visited lake No. 6, just above No. 5 and much smaller, follow the main trail as it ascends the north ridge near the summit of Table Mountain and enjoy the 360 degree views of the Inconsolable Range and the Evolution Region before retracing your steps back to the trailhead.
AT A GLANCE:
• Well-marked trail mostly through forest to beautiful alpine lakes.
• Wildflowers in early summer
• Great fishing opportunities
• Mosquitoes in June and July. Bring plenty of repellent and apply liberally.
• Thunderstorms possible at any time. Wear proper hiking apparel, bring warm clothes and plenty of food and water.
(Craig Jackson is a Bishop resident and avid hiker/backpacker who enjoys exploring his new backyard after having relocated here last year from Southern California.)