About Lundy Canyon Waterfalls
The Lundy Canyon Waterfalls page was my homage to the myriad of waterfalls that we’ve seen in the scenic Lundy Canyon. There wasn’t a specific signature waterfall that we targeted on the times that we’ve done this hike, but most of the waterfalls that we did encounter were impressive enough to get their own entry on this website if they weren’t so concentrated in a singular excursion like this one. In fact, the fairly high rating that we gave this excursion was indicative of the quality of the waterfalls in addition to the overall quality of the hiking experience. Indeed, not only we were getting a lot of waterfall action, but we were also getting gorgeous Eastern Sierra scenery that included reflective ponds and a plethora of blooming wildflowers of all sorts of different colors. Overall, this had to have been one of the most compelling waterfalling experiences we’ve done to date, which was really saying something for a hike that didn’t have a signature waterfall as a goal.
Regarding the Lundy Canyon Waterfalls themselves, I generally think of them as belonging to one of two different categories – major waterfalls on Mill Creek (the creek flowing throughout Lundy Canyon) and minor waterfalls or cascades lining the Lundy Canyon walls. Based on this arbitrary classification, we’ve identified at least four permanent waterfalls on Mill Creek and at least a half-dozen minor waterfalls tumbling on Lundy Canyon’s walls. Regarding the waterfalls on Mill Creek, we ultimately turned around at perhaps the tallest and most impressive of the bunch right near the head of Lundy Canyon, where it could be argued that its stream was essentially where Mill Creek started, and therefore should count as the fifth waterfall we encountered on the canyon’s main creek. Further corroborating this notion was that according to the maps, the appropriately-named 20 Lakes Basin was further beyond Lundy Canyon, and it seemed like several of the lakes drained into the creek responsible for that last waterfall.So far, we’ve done this hike a couple of times – once in the late afternoon on a July 4th weekend in 2002 and the most recent time in the early morning of a mid-July 2016 trip. In both instances, we encountered a lot of mosquitos, but the fairly high altitude of the canyon meant that it never really got unbearably hot even if the rest of the Owens Valley and the Mono Basin would be in the mid- to high 90s. That said, when it came to the time of the year to do this hike, July seemed to be the perfect month for a visit since most of the snow obstacles had melted away yet provided enough meltwaters to feed the waterfalls. However, it also seemed to be the month when most of the wildflowers were in bloom. As for the timing during the day, we’ve found that doing the hike in the morning was perfect as well since the sun would be behind us for the best lighting conditions, the temperatures remained cool when we were doing most of the climbing, and the overall experience would be peaceful since we were out there well before most of the day hikers and overnight backpackers would start on this pretty popular hike.
As for the logistics of the Lundy Canyon Waterfalls hike, our book by Ann Marie Brown said it was 4.5 miles round trip. We spent around 3 hours in doing the hike as described by the book on our first visit. However, in our more recent visit in 2016, we wound up spending over 5.5 hours to hike roughly 6 miles as we definitely went further than what was described in Brown’s book. The trail undulated but was generally uphill for much of the way going up to the head of Lundy Canyon, especially towards the end where it was possible to continuing climbing up to the 20 Lakes Basin (something we weren’t able to do for reasons we’ll get to below). This was the primary reason why we’d recommend getting an early start on this hike so there would be more options available without running out of time and energy.From the Lundy Canyon Trailhead (see directions below), we immediately meandered through a fairly dense bush area where after roughly five minutes, we encountered a trail junction. The trail continued to the right where there was an interpretive sign (there used to be a sign saying “Lundy Pass” here). The path going straight ahead went to the edges of a large pond where we managed to get gorgeous views of Lundy Canyon as well as the first main waterfall on Mill Creek, which was a three-segmented cascade partially seen over some trees. From this vantage point, we were also able to see a handful of other waterfalls tumbling down the walls of Lundy Canyon (see the first video below). Meanwhile, as we continued along the main trail, it immediately started to ascend for the next several minutes as we’d eventually get to a bare outcrop giving us a more top down angled view of that first waterfall on Mill Creek as well as a top down view of the pond that the falls drained into. From this vantage point, we noticed one of the waterfalls high up near the head of Lundy Canyon towards our left had a thick shape, and little would we realize that this would be the last waterfall we’d be getting close to (but I’m getting ahead of myself).
The outcrop marked the apex of that initial climb, then the trail descended steeply towards the level of Mill Creek while encountering a few creek crossings with strategically laid-out logs to facilitate such crossings without getting the feet wet. At roughly 45 minutes from the interpretive sign (20 minutes beyond the rock outcrop), we reached another pond area as well as a longer log crossing of Mill Creek (I swore there was a bridge here the first time we did this hike in 2002). Just upstream from that crossing was a mostly hidden waterfall on Mill Creek, which I had dubbed the “second waterfall on Mill Creek.”Beyond this long crossing of Mill Creek, the trail then resumed its climb providing us with a more close-up look at another cascade tumbling high up on Lundy Canyon’s south-facing wall. When the climb petered out and crossed Mill Creek again, we then went into a well-vegetated area where we passed by the remnants of what appeared to be a log cabin. Shortly after this cabin, the vegetation started opening up, and that was when we noticed a pair of cascades on the north-facing wall of Lundy Canyon to our left (perhaps the third and fourth waterfalls in the minor waterfalls category). As we continued hiking further up Lundy Canyon, we started to notice a few more cascades coming down the south-facing wall. At this point, we started losing count on the quantity of the minor cascades as some of them were new while others could by the same ones seen from a more unfamiliar angle. Eventually, the trail would skirt alongside Mill Creek again before rounding a bend and affording us with a look at what I’m dubbing the third Mill Creek Waterfall.
This so-called third waterfall on Mill Creek was our turnaround point of our first experience here back in 2002, and it was also the recommended turnaround point in Ann Marie Brown’s book. It was an attractive three-tiered cascade that we were able to get up close to and even have a picnic over the brink of the first of these three drops. In addition, we noticed at least three or four more cascading waterfalls tumbling down Lundy Canyon’s walls from this spot. Thus, it seemed to make sense why we had also noticed later in the day that quite a few other day hikers would make it up to here before turning back (thereby making this a 4.5-mile round trip hike). However, on our more recent visit, we were a little more ambitious (and curious) and wound up continuing further up Lundy Canyon to see what else this place had to offer day hikers like us.So the trail steeply went up a forested area with plenty of spur paths to get at different tiers of this third waterfall on Mill Creek. Once we got up past the tree-shaded area adjacent to that third waterfall, the scenery opened up once again. This time, we managed to get distant views of what I’m claiming to be the fourth waterfall on Mill Creek. Apparently, there was a spur path to get closer to it, but we didn’t pursue it (though in hindsight, I’m regretting not doing it). Nevertheless, the trail then continued to climb beyond this waterfall while getting closer to the cirque at the head of Lundy Canyon making it appear even tantalizingly within reach. The climb felt pretty relentless as we were approaching the tree line where the scenery shifted from dense forests into more spaced out trees and bush. At roughly 30 minutes beyond the third Mill Creek Waterfall, the trail started to narrow and traverse some loose talus rocks as the path continued to climb higher and closer to the rim of Lundy Canyon.
We’d eventually get up to an area where the trail started to become ill-defined amongst the talus slopes. I suspected that the trail was somehow supposed to ascend the steep and loose talus slope to ultimately make it up to the 20 Lakes Basin, but during our hike, the talus seemed dangerously steep, especially with the unsure footing as well as the presence of a few remaining snow patches. I wondered if over time, erosion would cause the loose talus to bury the trail that was once here, and that this part of the trail wasn’t well-used enough to keep it defined and somewhat less dangerous to follow. So it turned out that there was a different trail of use that left the talus slopes further downhill (close to where the trail started becoming ill-defined) and ultimately reached the last waterfall that we’d be close to, which I’m dubbing the fifth waterfall on Mill Creek (though it’s debatable whether this last waterfall was formally on Mill Creek since some might say Mill Creek doesn’t occur until the streams reach the Lundy Canyon floor). Up at this precarious viewing spot of the falls, we saw a tall dropping tier before it cascaded below past us and ultimately draining down into the foot of Lundy Canyon ultimately becoming Mill Creek (if it hasn’t already).
While we were checking out this last waterfall (as well as a more direct view of a different attractive cascade across the canyon near its head), we observed a couple of backpackers carrying heavy packs identify and take a very steep trail with some loose talus alongside the ridge overlooking the stream carved out by this last waterfall. We didn’t feel comfortable doing that steep scramble for a more direct face-on view of that last waterfall as well as continuing the hike up to the 20 Lakes Basin (which turned out to be another 2.5 miles beyond this spot or 5 miles round trip), but the pair of backpackers didn’t seem terribly fazed by the somewhat potentially hazardous conditions of this ascent (as well as even scarier descent, I’m sure). Anyways, we had spent over 3 hours to get to this point from the start of the Lundy Canyon Hike, and even though the remainder of the hike would be mostly downhill, it still took us nearly 2.5 additional hours to complete (for a grand total of 5.5 hours on the trail).
Although it felt like we were the only ones on the trail when we headed out early in the morning, on the way back, we encountered dozens of hikers and backpackers making their way up the canyon. So clearly, this place was more popular than what we were giving it credit for, but it was a far cry from the crowds at the neighboring Yosemite National Park. That in itself might also be another motivating reason to do this beautiful hike as a respite of the crush at the over-the-top granite paradise of Yosemite.
The nearest town to the Lundy Canyon Waterfalls was Lee Vining to the south near the western shores of Mono Lake as well as the junction of the Hwy 395 and Hwy 120 (the latter leading to the seasonal East Entrance of Yosemite National Park at Tioga Pass). The nearest town to the north was Bridgeport (roughly 25 miles north of Lee Vining). Lee Vining was about 26 miles north of the main Hwy 203 turnoff for Mammoth Lakes along Hwy 395. We’ll pick up the driving directions from Lee Vining.
At the Hwy 120 / Hwy 395 junction just 0.7 miles south of Lee Vining, we drove north for about 7.5 miles towards a four-way junction where the road on the left led towards Lundy Lake while the road on the right was for Hwy 167 heading to Henderson, Nevada. Given the high speed of Hwy 395, this junction comes up quickly so be prepared to get into the passing lane on the left before taking the left-turn only lane as you get within a mile of this turnoff. We turned left onto the road leading to Lundy Lake, and then followed this paved road for the next 5 miles past the man-made Lundy Lake towards the Lundy Lake Resort.
Beyond the resort, the road became unpaved with a few fairly rough spots (though we saw plenty of passenger vehicles do this road with care). This unpaved stretch persisted for a little over the next mile (providing us with some gorgeous views of Lundy Canyon reflected in a neighboring pond adjacent to the rough road) before getting to a one-way clockwise loop where we staked out a claim to one of a handful of parking spots. The Lundy Canyon Trailhead began at the opposite end of this short loop.
Overall, this drive took us about 30 minutes (from the Tioga Gas Mart at the Hwy 395/Hwy 120 to the Lundy Canyon Trailhead).
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