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Dinkey Lakes Backpacking

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Dinkey Lakes Backpacking

Postby bleusol » Mon Aug 09, 2010 8:54 pm


My friend and I are planning a backpacking trip to the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness area in early September. I haven't been camping (non-backpacking kind) in almost 4 years and my friend has never gone camping. So I suppose we can both be considered beginners.

We're planning to stay 3days/3nights. First day, hike out to the base camp, we're considering First Dinkey Lake, Second Dinkey Lake, and Island Lake (the latter two locations if we can make it out there). And the remaining two days hike out to Dogtooth Peak and the Three Sisters Peak.

I was also wondering what the road conditions are like on the way to the trailhead (Willow Meadows, based on the US Forest Site). Both our cars are very low, Mini Cooper and a Honda Fit, we have access to an SUV but we'd have to drive to SF first and coming from SD we would have to back track a bit before we would actually be on our way.

I read some of the threads about the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness and the hike out to the lakes closest to the Willow Meadows trailhead sounds like it's pretty easy, but there wasn't much about the inner lakes. Any advice about these?

Thank you in advance for all your help!
Any bit of information is appreciated!


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Re: Dinkey Lakes Backpacking

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Aug 10, 2010 6:23 am

I would take neither of those cars to the Willow Meadow trailhead. The road from where it turns off the main road is a haphazard mess of bathtub sized potholes - my Mazda 3 would be hopelessly stranded in one if I weren't good at dodging - then a gravel and dirt, then just dirt, and the last mile is a filthy dusty chuckhole-and-root ridden mess. I have seen older Toyota and Honda passenger cars up there but unless you are very good at dodging or just don't care if you mess up the suspension on your car, either consider the Cliff Lake trailhead out of courtright or take an SUV.

All the lakes are very close together. You don't hear about them because they are all pretty much subalpine lakes full of trout, 5-15 minutes of walking and you are at the next one. When going in from Willow Meadow we make it to Island lake well before dark - one time we didn't leave Fresno til 2, arrived at Willow Meadow at 3:30, got to Island Lake just as the sun set. First Dinkey is a 3 mile hike. Island is another 2-3 miles from there. Our hiking group has day hiked the entire loop before - it's only a 9 mile loop. From Courtright it's farther but the road is paved all the way to the dirt parking area at the trailhead - the first lake from that direction is at 5-6 miles, Cliff Lake, and from there you take switchbacks up over a ridge and drop into Rock Lake, five minutes from Rock (even a very tired hiker takes five minutes) is Second Dinkey, 1/4 mile up a rocky trail is Island, from which we took a cross country jaunt of 10-15 minutes to Fingerbowl, from which we followed the outlet down a steep hill to South Lake - you can do this all day.

The best campsites are at Island, also the best fishing. You get a good view of the whole wilderness from the top of the rock ridge there. Second best would be Rock or Second Dinkey. First Dinkey has some campsites but I would only camp there if you don't mind bugs, or if late in the season, you don't mind people walking trails five feet from camp - the shores of the lake 3/4 of the way around are green meadows and bogs, and you don't want to camp on grass, it's not leave-no-trace and it's asking for condensation inside your tent, big time.

We take newbie backpackers up there all the time; scouts and groups of kids frequently march through. It's a popular place here locally. Get your wilderness permits at the Prather Ranger Station on the way up - they open at 8 but you can reserve them for 5/person and the day before you want to arrive, call and ask them to drop it in the night drop. If you pick up the permit the day before, you can always car camp on the way in either in one of the pullouts along the long road out, or at Willow Meadow trailhead itself (Cliff Lake trailhead is near a car campground at Courtright, and people use pullouts there as well for free, but you don't camp at the trailhead there).

Get the Tom Harrision map for Dinkey Lakes. The trails on the older maps you get from the forest services are wrong.
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Re: Dinkey Lakes Backpacking

Postby jcarney » Tue Aug 15, 2017 6:13 am

Totally agree with all of that information. Just returned from all of those lakes....amazingly beautiful views and well worth trying to get there. The "road" is more like an off road trail with big rocks. We made it in my Prius but would not do that again. Very tricky going and just hoping we didn't gauge a tire or anything underneath. But the real trails of the hike were smoother, if you catch my drift. Yes, some mosquitos near the lakes but really not so bad. We were there for the Perseid Meteor Showers---oh my gosh! Amazing night light show all three nights!! I'll never see anything like that again!

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Re: Dinkey Lakes Backpacking

Postby TehipiteTom » Tue Aug 15, 2017 8:50 am

bleusol wrote:I was also wondering what the road conditions are like on the way to the trailhead (Willow Meadows, based on the US Forest Site). Both our cars are very low, Mini Cooper and a Honda Fit, we have access to an SUV but we'd have to drive to SF first and coming from SD we would have to back track a bit before we would actually be on our way.

I have a Honda Fit and drove to that trailhead, and I wouldn't do it again. I made it, but it was fairly nerve-wracking, especially for the last few miles.

The Courtright trailhead may be an easier drive (I've only been as far as Marmot Rock Campground, so I don't know how the road is beyond there).
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Re: Dinkey Lakes Backpacking

Postby giantbrookie » Wed Aug 16, 2017 5:48 pm

I would agree with the previous posts. Folks do the Dinkey Lakes Willow Mdws trailhead with passenger cars frequently, but this does risk vehicular damage. Prior to getting our Pathfinder in '92 I made multiple trips driving either a '79 Corolla or a '87 Celica; the latter really didn't have much clearance at all. You have the dual issue on the steeper sections of traction plus the clearance issue so you have to drive faster than you should to maintain sufficient forward momentum while deftly placing the tires so as not to bottom out. As also mentioned the "main" road is in some ways even more nerve wracking for a passenger car driver, especially the parts that still have paving, owing to the giant potholes. The gravel parts of that road are better because that section lacks the big potholes and one tends to drive the gravel part slower than the paved part. The Courtright entry is much better suited for passenger cars, although the irony is that my last time there I wasn't paying attention and bottomed out on a rock in or near the parking area (whereas I got thru unscathed in all of my visits to the other one). The disadvantage of the Courtright entry is that the hike distance is about double to the first lake from the trailhead compared to Willow Mdws.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: Dinkey Lakes Backpacking

Postby maverick » Wed Aug 16, 2017 6:25 pm

What AlmostThere said, Island Lake is great, good fishing at Fingerbowl Lake too. :nod:
Climb the Three Sisters to the eastern end, sub-lime views of the Sierra Range, well worth the effort.
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Re: Dinkey Lakes Backpacking

Postby Troutdog 59 » Thu Aug 17, 2017 1:04 pm

I was just there on the 12th and 13th for the meteor shower and the road has gotten far worse over the last 10 years. First off, according to the FS folks in Clovis where I picked up my permit, the main road to the Dinkey trailhead off of McKinley Grove Road is closed due to a washout. I was told to access the TH from Tamarack summit. A 4x4 wasn't needed, but clearance was a must. The TH was packed, but it was all SUVs. Craziest ride I saw at the TH was a church shuttle bus. Something like you see at the airports to get from one terminal to another. I was amazed they had gotten that thing to the TH. If the Dinkeys are the choice, you could hike to Cliff Lake from Courtright Res. The road to that TH is fine for passenger cars. Its not a bad hike and you could explore Dogtooth Peak and Rock Lake from there as well. Another option with easy access would be hiking from Potter Pass TH just above Huntington Lake into the Kaiser Wilderness. Short hike with several pretty lakes to camp by.
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Re: Dinkey Lakes Backpacking

Postby ericZ » Sat Aug 19, 2017 2:46 pm

Great info from previous replies. Those DInkey Lakes are a great destination for beginners. I wouldn't even consider First DInkey as a destination unless you had a late start and light was fading and you needed to drop your packs to make camp.

You're coming from San Diego, and a possible SUV is in San Francisco? ugh! no. Why not look into renting an SUV? the gas you'd save would be worth the rental fee.

You don't necessarily need extra HIGH clearance (like a raised Jeep), the extra you get from a standard SUV would be sufficient. I did it from the usual willow meadow TH in a stock Kia Sorento years ago. I was going to mention the "road" conditions change over the years, and I do not know what it it like this year, but others beat me to that :) interesting to hear about the tamarack detour.

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