Devils Postpile Area Hikes & ActivitiesMany summer visitors to the Eastern Sierra choose the towns of June Lake and Mammoth Lakes as vacation destinations because of their proximity to Yosemite National Park’s thousands of miles of hiking trails. But did you know that you can hike similar terrain and see equally impressive natural wonders at Devils Postpile National Monument and the surrounding Red’s Meadow Valley? The Sierra Nevada’s granite monoliths, deep glacially carved valleys, and high alpine meadows attract people from all over the world seeking pristine wilderness and a sense of adventure, but locals know that we don’t have to stray far from Highway 395 to find these treasures in our own backyard.
Devils Postpile Ranger Station & Nearby Activities
After a scenic drive down Red’s Meadow Road, you will arrive in front of the historic Devils Postpile Ranger Station. Inside the station, you will find friendly National Park Rangers who can answer questions, provide tips and advice to help visitors enjoy their trip, and distribute Junior Ranger program booklets for kids of all ages. The rangers offer guided hikes to the Devils Postpile once per day and informative porch talks for all ages.
The Willow TrailWhile you are in the area, take a walk behind the ranger station toward the San Joaquin River and follow the Willow Trail a short way. This short and quiet trail winds through willows and leads to a gravel bar along the meandering river. From this spot, you can dip your feet into the cool snowmelt-fed river while watching mule deer grazing the Soda Springs Meadow or Red Tailed Hawks soaring overhead.
Devils Postpile Trail
The path to the Devils Postpile formation begins just past the Ranger Station. Because this trail leads hikers into the forest and straight to the namesake of the monument in such a short time, it is the most popular hike in the area. The Devils Postpile trail lasts about a quarter of a mile and is rated easy to moderate. There are benches and informative signs along the way to help you learn about the natural and cultural history of the area.
While hikers make their way along the trail, they first walk through an alpine meadow where wildflower sightings abound and Belding’s Ground Squirrels burrow. After passing through the meadow, hikers ascend into a mixed conifer forest where many of the area’s most common pine and fir trees grow. About halfway through the hike, there is a junction in the trail that leads over the Soda Springs Bridge toward a few backcountry destinations as well as the famed John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. Stop along the bridge for excellent photo opportunities and a unique chance to peer north and south along the San Joaquin River corridor. This will also be the first glimpse of some remnants of the same lava flow that formed the Devils Postpile.
Once hikers find their way back to the main trail, they don’t have to walk far before they arrive at the towering 60-foot columns of the Devils Postpile. The original lava flow that filled the Reds Meadow Valley cooled over a short period of time and was scoured downstream by an intruding glacier soon after. The Devils Postpile formation is not only one of the most pristine remnants of the original lava flow but is also one of the finest examples of columnar basalt in the entire world.
Top of Devils Postpile
Don’t forget to take the trail up to the top of the Postpile before leaving the area. The short but steep path allows visitors to see the formation and the valley from above. The uniquely smooth and precise honeycomb pattern at the top of the 60-foot columns exposes remnants of the geologic and glacial activity that have occurred in the area.
Rainbow Falls HikeOne of the most popular destinations in the Reds Meadow Valley, Rainbow Falls is an incredible 101-foot tall waterfall along the San Joaquin River. The waterfall pours into a large pool at the base, which causes mist to kick up and expose a rainbow when the sun hits it just right. The area offers perfect spots for photo opportunities, picnics with friends and family, and quiet nooks to sit and reflect or read a book.There are multiple overlooks and a staircase to the base of the falls that allow hikers to experience the majestic cascade from several angles.
Rainbow Falls is one of the main attractions for hikers interested in a short hike with an impressive payoff. Because of the ease of access, the overlooks and base of the falls can be crowded during weekends and holidays, but it is worth the effort to catch a glimpse of the namesake rainbow in the mist at the base of Rainbow Falls.
There are two trail options to access Rainbow Falls. Many visitors plan to continue onto the falls after they have seen the Devils Postpile formation. Choosing this route extends the hike from the Ranger Station to Rainbow Falls into a 2.5 mile one way hike. Another option is to start from the Rainbow Falls Trailhead, located farther down Red’s Meadow Road from the Devils Postpile Ranger Station turnoff, and hike 1.8 miles one way to reach the falls.
Regardless of the chosen route, visitors can expect to walk through thick mixed conifer forest, then an extremely exposed burn area before reaching the viewing areas at Rainbow Falls. Drinking water and sun protection (Hat, sunscreen, layers) are key for this moderate to strenuous hike, especially during the hottest summer months of June, July, and August. Don’t hike these trails unprepared.
Lower FallsAfter enjoying the scenery and serenity of Rainbow Falls, hikers have the option to continue one more mile down the trail to see Lower Falls. There are fishing and swimming opportunities at this smaller but unique feature. Lower Falls is also typically less visited than the larger, more popular Rainbow Falls, so visitors seeking solitude with the wilderness are more likely to find a more peaceful space here.
Minaret Falls Hike
Sometimes visitors don’t have enough time to make it all the way to Rainbow Falls but still want to see a classic Sierra Nevada waterfall. Minaret Falls is a great option in this case. It is smaller, more secluded, and worth the relatively short hike. Just 1.5 miles one way, the trail to Minaret Falls is moderate and hikers only experience about 125 feet of elevation change. You can access this waterfall by taking the Devils Postpile trail until the junction at the Soda Springs Bridge. After crossing the bridge, continue following signs for Minaret Falls.
The cascade at Minaret Falls is extremely variable depending upon the season. Spring is the best time to watch the snowmelt from the high country gush over the granite that forms the cascade feature. Springtime brings many wildflower species to this area as well. Later into the summer, Minaret Falls can look more like a trickle in anticipation of wintertime snow. Hikers can have a harder time identifying when they have reached Minaret Falls once the cascade dries up. Springtime is definitely the best season to see this feature in all of its glory!
Red’s Meadow Area ActivitiesIf you are looking for a more rustic way to get around to the popular destinations in the Red’s Meadow Valley, the historic Red’s Meadow Resort & Pack Station offers day trips on horseback as well as multi-day pack trips. For a reasonable rate, you can take in classic views of incredible destinations in the Sierra Nevada just as cowboys used to in the old days when the Eastern Sierra was mostly comprised of mining settlements. The day trip destinations range from 2-hour rides to Rainbow Falls up to half and full day rides along the Pacific Crest Trail to Minaret Falls, Red Cones, and Shadow Lake.
While in the area for your hike or pack trip, be sure to visit the General Store for snacks, beverages, and souvenirs. For a heartier option, try the Mule House Cafe at Red’s Meadow Resort for a delicious meal in a charming setting.
Seasonal Access to the Red’s Meadow ValleyBe prepared for various trail conditions and unpredictable weather when hiking in the Sierra Nevada, regardless of the season. For the most part, all of the trails in the Red’s Meadow Valley are composed of well packed pumice, though there are sandier areas on sections of trail that are shared with pack animals. The elevation in the valley ranges from 7,500 to 8,500 feet, so hikers who are unaccustomed to exerting themselves at higher elevations should exercise caution to decrease the possibility of discomfort or illness. There are no water or restroom facilities on the trails in the valley and little to no cellular service. Weather can be unpredictable and extremely variable in the mountains. Hikers should plan ahead and bring adequate supplies for their adventures.
Summer AccessSummer is the best time to visit the Red’s Meadow Valley, as it is typically most accessible between the months May through October, weather permitting. During peak summer months (June through August) you can access the valley for day trips by riding the Red’s Meadow Shuttle, which makes regular departures from the Adventure Center at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s Main Lodge. When the shuttle is not running, you can drive into the valley and pay a fee at the US Forest Service fee station at Minaret Vista.
Spring & Fall AccessDuring the Spring and Fall, when Red’s Meadow Road is often closed to vehicular traffic, access to Devils Postpile, Rainbow Falls, and Minaret Falls can be trickier. Red’s Meadow Pack Station operates only when Red’s Meadow Road is open to traffic, so there are no facilities or shops available throughout the Red’s Meadow Valley when the road is closed for the season. Depending on weather, road, and trail conditions, there are two ways to access the Red’s Meadow Valley in the off-season. If trails and roads are clear, you can either hike into the valley on Red’s Meadow Road or follow the Mammoth Pass Trail from Horseshoe Lake in the Lakes Basin. Mammoth Pass Trail runs approximately 4 miles from Horseshoe Lake to a trail junction in Red’s Meadow, from which you can hike to Rainbow Falls, Devils Postpile, or Minaret Falls. Road and trail conditions are extremely variable depending on the time of the season and the weather. US Forest Service rangers at the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center typically have the most updated information regarding trail conditions. Stop by for up-to-date information about hiking the Mammoth Pass Trail or Red’s Meadow Road if you are unsure!
Winter AccessDuring the winter season, the Red’s Meadow Valley can be an alluring escape from the crowds of Mammoth Mountain, but access is limited. Cross-country skiers are known to ski down Red’s Meadow Road to see the Devils Postpile blanketed in snow, while backcountry skiers typically access the Red’s Meadow Valley from the backside of Mammoth Mountain. Snowmobiles are another common means of transport into the valley and commercial snowmobile tours are offered by local companies. There are restrictions to snowmobile use within Devils Postpile National Monument, so be aware of posted signage when sledding in the area. The Red’s Meadow Valley is an extremely avalanche-prone area, so plan ahead and prepare to keep yourself and your group safe before setting out on your winter adventure.
Stay Local and Play in the Eastern SierraIf you are interested in owning a vacation home in a smaller town with less hustle and bustle than Mammoth Lakes, check out properties available in June Lake through Sierra Crest Real Estate. Situated just 20 miles north of Mammoth Lakes, the town of June Lake is a charming location that boasts plenty of year round recreation opportunities. Living in or owning a vacation property in June Lake offers you the convenience of being a short trip away from Devils Postpile and the Reds Meadow Valley, as well as Yosemite National Park. Call the Sierra Crest Real Estate office to find out more about properties available in June Lake and the surrounding communities and how you can supplement your income by allowing June Lake Accommodations to manage your property as a vacation rental!
This article was written by Leslie Redman, the newest member of the Sierra Crest Real Estate team. She moved to the Eastern Sierra three years ago and has created, written, and edited online content for the National Park Service, the Student Conservation Association, and her own personal travel blogs in the past. For more information about hiking and day trips in the Eastern Sierra, call her today at the Sierra Crest Real Estate office at (760) 648-7304.
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