Whether you’re a weekend warrior looking for an adventurous, 6-mile day hike, a seasoned Sierra fisherman, or a backpacker wanting to escape the crowds, the Yost and Fern Lake Trail is a pristine choice for a weekend getaway. Ascending out of the June Lake recreation area, this trek is a short but strenuous jaunt up to a stunning alpine cirque that rivals anything else the Sierra has to offer. The best part? Wilderness permits almost never fill up.
The trip documented here is the best order in which to see the twin lakes, first stopping at Yost for a lunch or snack break before continuing on towards Fern Lake. Hikers who want to bag a peak while they’re out have the option of continuing past Fern Lake up to Carson Peak to get a commanding view of the Ansel Adams Wilderness.
Since the trip begins and ends in the Inyo National Forest, anyone intending to camp at Yost or Fern Lake must first reserve and pick up a wilderness permit for backcountry travel. The nearest visitor center for permit pick-up is in Mammoth Lakes. As always, be sure to pack out all trash, only use existing fire rings, and bring a bear bag or canister to lock food away at night. The bear box in the parking lot may be broken, so take extra care and try not to leave food and scented items in your car.
Though Yost Lake is fishless, Fern Lake is a popular location to catch brook trout. Fishing season is generally the last Saturday in April through November 15th, and a separate permit is required for those intending to cast their lines. Fun fact – most lakes in the Sierra Nevada were fish-free until the mid 1800s. Sheep herders, miners, and other early-California settlers began stocking the lakes as a food source and to increase recreational opportunities for all those who visit.
About two miles past Gull Lake, be on the lookout for a small sign marking the trailhead on the left (south) side of the road. Turn in, drive over the small bridge, and park along the bordering logs. There’s a porta-potty here for hikers to use and a bear box that, sadly at the time of writing, was broken.
The trail starts off at a moderate incline before steadily getting steeper as you trek further into the woods. The good news is that you’ll be rewarded for your hard work only half a mile into the hike, as sweeping vistas of Silver Lake and Mt. Wood come into view nearly right away. Be warned, though: Insect repellant will be your friend on this hike, as the trail dips in and out of lakes, creeks, and swampy meadows full of standing water where lots of biting insects like to congregate, so have a bottle ready from the get-go!
One mile into the hike, you will come upon a junction for Yost/Fern Lakes. Hikers who only want a quick but steep trip up to Fern Lake will turn right, while those aiming to see both lakes should turn left. From here, you’ll immediately come across a hair-raising creek crossing on the way up to Yost Lake. In May and June, depending on the snowpack, hikers should take extra caution here, as the current can be incredibly powerful. Shimmy your way across the narrow log bridge and continue your ascent on the other side.
The trail dips into the welcome shade of a pine forest, occasionally veering towards a ledge for more magnificent views of the June Lake area. In June, wildflowers come out full force, with Indian Paintbrushes, Mules Ears, and Sulfur Buckwheat putting on a show. Half a mile from Yost Lake, the path flattens out considerably. Turn right at the small junction with Yost Meadow and then continue on to the lake itself. Yost Lake is lovely and secluded – perfect for those seeking a crowd-free campsite or simply a quiet lunch break.
To continue on towards Fern Lake, return the way you came (careful not to fall in at the creek crossing!) and veer right at the first junction sign you came to. Here, the trail really gets STEEP. In only 0.5 mile, the trail climbs over 600 feet! Use caution, trekking poles, and a healthy dose of courage to make the final push – Fern Lakes is worth the effort.
As you near Fern Lake, the trail levels out, with Carson Peak’s imposing east face coming into view. Continue along the trail until you reach the water’s edge, and take it all in. What was once a glacial valley is now a pristinely carved alpine cirque with this spellbinding gem of a lake tucked perfectly at its center. If you’re bold, why not take a dip in the freezing cold water to sooth your aching joints?
The best campsites here all have well constructed fire rings and are situated just 100 feet north of the lake. If you’re lucky enough to camp here on a new moon, it’s a fantastic spot to check out the Milky Way and her many constellations. Though you may see many day hikers on your way in, Fern Lake is not a popular overnight destination — you’re likely to have the lake to yourself even in summer months.
To conclude your trip, simply return the way you came, heading north along the Fern Lake Trail. Carefully pick your way down the steep bits and boulders, using trekking poles if you have them. Turn left at the junction, avoiding the creek crossing, and wind down a set of two switchbacks before traversing a grassy, creekside forest for 0.1 mile on the way to your vehicle.