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Exploring Our Backyard: Lakes galore on the Lakes Basin Trail

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Little Bear Lake sits at an elevation of 6,500 feet. (Shannon Kelly/NSN)

In last week’s Exploring Our Backyard, Chris Murray wrote about the Brewing Lair on his family’s recent trip to Graeagle, and coincidentally, I recently went camping there for a few days as well. It was my first time checking out that part of the High Sierra, and I was amazed by how many outdoor activities there are to do in the area and what I’ve been missing out on during my time living in Reno. With so many trails to choose from, we decided to hike the Lakes Basin Trail after some friends recommended it to us. We saw Long Lake, Big Bear Lake, Little Bear Lake and Cub Lake on the trail. This was my first trail where I saw four different lakes.

Getting there

The easiest way to find the trail head is to search “Lakes Basin Trail to Long Lake and Big Bear Lake” on All Trails website or app. The turnoff for the hike is where Highway 89 at Gold Lake Highway meet (next to the Graeagle Meadows Golf Course). From Gold Lake Highway, you’ll the pass turn off at Elwell Lodge Road, which turns into a single-lane road. You'll pass the Lakes Basin Campground and the turnoff for the Elwell Lakes Lodge. Keep following Elwell Lodge Road, and when you reach the dead-end and a parking lot, you’ve reached the start of the trail head.

The hike

Once you see a picture of the sign above, you can either start on the path going left towards Big Bear Lake or on the right towards Long Lake. The entire hike is a 2.3-mile loop. We started the hike going left. It was a little rocky and uphill for the first half mile or so, but shortly after you’ll see the first lake to the left. That’s Big Bear Lake. Sitting at an elevation of 6,475 feet, the lake is 50-feet deep and filled with Rainbow trout. This is the second-to-largest lake you’ll see on the hike. The lake gets its water supply from Little Bear Lake, which, yes, is smaller than Big Bear Lake, hence the name. Big Bear Lake is not too far ahead on the trail, which is the next lake you’ll run into. After that, you’ll see the smallest lake on your hike, Cub Lake.

Another third-of-a-mile into the trail, you’ll run into Long Lake, the largest of the four. There are plenty of rocks to sit down, take a break and soak in the breathtaking scenery. We hiked down to the bottom of the lake where some boats were docked and sat down there for a bit before making the trek back. We saw some people swimming in Long Lake and Big Bear Lake, so you could make either of those your last stop and enjoy a dip in the water.

It's almost impossible to get lost with all of the signs posted throughout the trail, but there are a few different detours you could take to make this hike longer.

We saw some people horseback riding on the trail, so we stopped to let them pass, but we didn’t run into too many people on the path, which was carved out, nicely maintained and spacious at times. While there were some rocky and steep parts at the end, I would recommend this if you hike relatively often and enjoy a slight challenge. I don’t think it’s the easiest hike I’ve been on (All Trails rates it as easy; I would say it’s moderate), so it's probably not the best hike for kids. But, I think anyone (kids included) could hike to Big Bear Lake and back. That seemed like the easiest part of the trail to me, and you can still enjoy a gorgeous view without a strenuous workout.

As Chris Murray mentioned last week, you can’t go to the High Sierra without making a trip to the Brewing Lair, (which was also recommended to us from some friends). We made a stop on the way back to check out the one-of-a-kind brewery in the middle of the forest. I've never seen anything like it, so if you are in the area, it's definitely worth stopping by to check it out.

Shannon Kelly is a Multimedia Journalist for Nevada Sports Net. You can contact her at slkelly@sbgtv.com or via Twitter @shannonkelly_2.

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