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Lake Crowley Columns Hike

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

Location : South of Mammoth Lakes in Mono County, CA

Parking : Park at trailhead, if driving a sedan or SUV. Park near the lake only if driving a high clearance 4x4 or truck

Trail type : Out and Back

Trail Length : 4.2 miles rt

Elevation Gain : 515 ft

Difficulty : Easy until you reach top of columns. Strenuous going down to lake level and coming back up.

Trails traversed : Crowley Lake Trail





The Crowley Lake Columns are mysterious stone structures formed on the banks of Lake Crowley in the Eastern Sierras. Just like the Tufas at Mono Lake nearby, these stone columns look like they belong to a different planet. They are up to 20 feet tall and are connected by high arches, as if part of an ancient Moorish temple. Researchers have found that these columns were created due to volcanic activity under the earth surface and were exposed when the Lake Crowley reservoir was built in the 1940s. To reach the stone columns, it requires hiking for about 2 miles to the top of the cliff and then down a very steep incline down the cliff face to lake level. Despite the difficulty, these structures are totally worth a deviation if you are in the area. We visited these columns as part of our leaf-peeping road trip to the Eastern Sierras.

 

>> Got a question about this hike that you need answered quickly? DM me on Instagram @SolaraStills and I’ll be happy to help! I only accept DMs from followers, so hit the follow button before sending.

 

Parking: Parking is the singular most important aspect of this hike, as the entire trail is a dirt road with deep ruts, and many websites suggest driving SUVs all the way to the end of the trail. I highly discourage this as we saw a number of SUVs and 4x4s (Toyota 4Runner, Ford F150, Honda CRV, etc) which couldnt circumvent the deep ruts. Having just a 4x4 will not work. You need to have a vehicle with its frame custom lifted or having a high clearance. The only vehicles we saw that made it to the end of the trail were a couple of Rivian trucks and a GMC truck.

If you are driving a sedan, then the answer is easy - park at the trailhead at the intersection of Owen Gorge Road, as shown in AllTrails map and hike your way in/out.

If you are driving a 4x4 SUV, you can drive a little further up the trailhead, where there is a large parking lot to the left of the trail, les than a quarter of a mile from the trailhead. I do not recommend taking a sedan to this designated parking lot, as the entry and exit to the lot is very steep and the dirt road may damage the bottom of low clearance vehicle. Here's a video of an SUV trying to maneuver over the deep ruts.



The Trail: The first two miles of the trail is easy to follow, pretty gradual and completely exposed with no shade. So highly recommend going early in the morning or late afternoon when the sun is low. About a quarter mile into the hike, you will notice the deep ruts in the trail. If you are lucky, you will see 4x4s struggling to make their way over the deep ruts.

A view of the ruts in the trail

Beyond that, it is a long, boring walk along a sandy dirt path with just desert scenery around you and the constant sound of the gravel crunching under your feet. After about two miles, the trail abruptly ends at the edge of a sandy cliff overlooking Lake Crowley. This is a good spot to take in the beauty of this large lake and the view of the stone columns in the distance, before making your way downhill.

Can you see the stone columns in the distance?

There is no defined trail leading down, but it is easy to figure out the path to the bottom of the hill.


Sandy, steep hike down

Once down the hill, the columns are right there to explore. They look even more massive up close. There are many small caves to explore between the columns.


The horizontal striation represents the lake level during non-drought years


A "stone"man

This is a great spot to have a picnic on the lake shore as well as swim in the lake. When we went on a Saturday afternoon in mid October, there were only a handful of people at the lake and along the trail.

Lake Crowley at sunset

When you are ready to turn back, the hike up that steep, sandy hill can be quite intimidating. But it can be done if you are in decent shape, with multiple stops to catch your breath.


Hard climb back to the top of the hill!

Once you are on top of the hill, it is another boring walk for two miles back to your car.

In summary, this hike is a case of the destination being better than the journey. The columns are like none other in any part of the world, and despite the uncharacteristic hike to reach it, is a must see, if you are in the Mammoth Lakes area.



 

>> Got a question about this hike that you need answered quickly? DM me on Instagram @SolaraStills and I’ll be happy to help! I only accept DMs from followers, so hit the follow button before sending.

 

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