Toowa Lakes trip provides scenic views of the Toowa Range, Ninemile Creek watershed, Kern Peak, Three Rocks, and Groundhog Cinder Cone lava flows. The lakes sit at varying elevations at around 10,000 feet. They are on a north facing slope, which will provide cooler temperatures and moisture conditions.
Toowa Lakes trip is not for everyone. Both days are longer and require hikers to continually climb uphill. Once at West Stringer Saddle the trail to the lakes requires cross country navigation. Since the lakes are in the upper portions of a watershed, make sure to travel on a good water/snow year and possibly earlier in the season rather than later. Otherwise users may have to hike down the drainages from the lakes to find water in streams below.
Day 1 – Blackrock Trailhead to Redrock Meadow (8.6 miles)
The trail begins at Blackrock Trailhead on the Sequoia National Forest. A nice parking area is available to leave a vehicle at the end of Forest Service road 21S03. Once on the trail hike for about 300 yards to the Golden Trout Wilderness boundary sign. Here the trail not only enters into the wilderness but crosses into the Inyo National Forest. Continue down the trail for about 2 miles. The trail comes to a junction on the western side of Casa Vieja Meadows.
Continue straight ahead to avoid going down Ninemile Creek to Jordan Hot Springs. About a tenth of a mile take the trail going north (left) away from Casa Vieja Meadows. There is about a 0.75 climb out of small drainage and onto more level ground. The trail continues on for another 1.8 miles and the trail meets at a junction near Long Canyon Creek. Take a left going over the creek and continue north to the next junction (about 0.5 miles).
Once at the trail junction head west (left) towards Redrock Meadows. Bear Keg Meadow is about a half a mile from this point along the trail. The trail continues for another 3.2 miles to Redrock Meadows and Indian Head, a natural rock formation to the south of Redrock Meadows. The trail crosses a few streams and several springs along the way. However, Long Stringer Creek and River Spring may be the best sources of water depending on the time of year. Once at Redrock Meadow, set up camp and relax prior to crossing the creek. The next day’s hike is longer and steeper as the trail goes over West Stringer Saddle Pass west of Kern Peak.
Day 2 – Redrock Meadow to Toowa Lakes (8.3 to 9.1 miles)
The trail starts off with a steep climb from the meadow at 8,220 feet to almost 9,800 feet in 1.8 miles. Cross Redrock Creek and make a left at the first junction. The trail quickly crosses another tributary to Redrock Creek and junctions with another trail. Take right heading uphill in a northwestern direction towards Cold Meadows. This trail isn’t regularly maintained, so keep that in mind as it treks up to 9,800 feet.
Once at 9,800 feet, the trail descends down into Cold Meadows. The first part of the meadow is approximately 0.8 miles downhill. Continue on the trail through the meadow. Refill water bottles as this could be the last source of water till the lakes.
The trail begins to ascend from Cold Meadows (9,200 feet) up to West Stringer Saddle (10,200 feet) in 3.5 miles. However the first mile is the hardest climb to the end of a ridge at 9,900 feet. The remaining 2 to 2.5 miles is a more gradual climb to the saddle.
The crosses over the saddle providing great views of the Jordan Hot Springs area to the south, Toowa Ridge to the east, Three Rocks to the west, and the lava flows from Groundhog Cinder Cone to the north. Continue down the trail (north) for about a tenth of a mile. There is no longer a trail to get to the Toowa Lakes and a cross country trek is needed. Find the safest way eastward and second major draw contains the first set of Lakes. Continue uphill from the second lake and the last set of lakes is there.
Days 3 to 5 – Toowa Lakes to Redrock Meadow then Redrock Meadow to Blackrock Trailhead
Day 3 is an optional day. One could rest at the lakes for a day, hike up and east towards Kern Peak or go back towards the trail and top Three Rocks. Doing so could make your trip last 5 days instead of 4. However, it may be worth it after all that uphill hiking it took to get to these lakes.
Day 4 and 5 simply retrace your steps back to the trail. Return the same way you came using the same areas for campsites. The trek is primarily downhill, so one should be able to gain a lot of ground in a shorter amount of time.