About Sardine Falls
Sardine Falls (also called Sardine Creek Falls) was a high elevation waterfall that definitely took our breath away.
Not only did it feature an attractive 75ft drop (possibly higher due to additional drops and cascades further downstream), but my Mom and I had to go on an adventure to experience it.
Our adventure started at a trailhead that was already in the thin air at 8,000ft.
We also had to get our feet wet in icy cold water while doing a little bit of route finding since the “trail” crossed a high-flowing Sardine Creek, and it was ill-defined in spots.
Indeed, the hike itself was not officially marked, and we had our doubts about whether we were going to be successful.
Fortunately, as you can see in the photo above, our persistence paid off.
Overall, the hike ended up being 2.5 miles round trip, and it took my Mom and I a little over 2 hours to do it.
Our visit just so happened to have been timed for the peak of the snowmelt, which probably explained the marshy and high-water conditions that we had experienced.
But at the end of the day, sometimes it’s the adventure combined with the reward that makes the experience so memorable, and we can definitely attest to that in this case.
Sardine Falls Hike Description –
Sardine Falls was well-positioned enough that we did notice it backed by mountains still clinging to snow from the Sonora Pass Highway.
So we knew we were in the right neighborhood to start hiking towards it.
We started off from an unmarked pullout at Sardine Meadow (see directions below).
The only hints that we could leverage about this starting point were a couple of signs – one saying “No Motorized Vehicles” and another saying “Be Extra Careful With Fire”.
From here, we followed some faint tire tracks probably from a 4wd vehicle that essentially blazed the “trail” here.
The tracks passed through Sardine Meadow with some parts of it depressed enough to form puddles and mud.
Barely 10 minutes into the hike through the meadow, we encountered a crossing of Sardine Creek.
This particular crossing caused us to take off our hiking boots, then wade across the ankle-deep stream in water sandals or just going barefoot.
The water was icy cold, and had the crossing been any longer than it was, then it might not have been doable without inflicting additional pain and possible frost-bite damage.
Beyond the creek crossing, after putting back on our wool socks and hiking boots, we then continued following the tire tracks, which were once again pretty obvious to follow.
At some point, the tracks became dirt trail, and eventually, the “road” stopped near a hill.
By this point, the trail narrowed even more while it was clear that further progress had to have been on foot.
The uphill onto the hill was mild, but since this hike was taking place at 8,000ft, I could see how it could be taxing had we not been acclimated to the altitude.
Anyhow, beyond the hill, we meandered through more conventional trail as it skirted Sardine Creek in spots (even revealing some unnamed informal cascades).
The trail branched where there was some overgrowth (where we had a choice of whether to go through the overgrowth or take the more open path – they both led to the same place).
Throughout this stretch, we were treated to nice views of attractive mountains (some of them with a reddish color) still clinging onto snow while also contrasting with the deep blue skies in morning light.
Roughly 20 minutes or so beyond the hill, we encountered another minor stream crossing before we were finally starting to see Sardine Falls.
In order to improve our views, we had to cross parts of a segmented Sardine Creek, where we managed to keep our feet dry though we needed to find some rocks or fallen trees in the creek to do so.
Eventually, we were able to hike all the way to the base of the main drop of Sardine Falls.
We had to climb up a pretty steep scramble just to get up to a part where the waterfall had cut a slit through a rock at its base.
While we were enjoying the falls, we noticed some refreshingly fragrant mint smells, and it turned out that they came from wild mints that were growing in bunches near the falls.
After having our fill of Sardine Falls from this spot, we scrambled a little more for more direct views of the falls.
The photo you see at the top of this page was the result of that effort.
I’m sure we could have tried to figure out a way to cross another segment of Sardine Creek while keeping dry to get even closer to the waterfall.
That would have yielded a very different (and more direct) perspective of Sardine Falls than earlier, but we were pretty content to not do that.
And so after having our fill of the falls, we returned the way we came.
The return hike was much easier, and we even chose the more overgrown paths that we had avoided earlier on since they were more direct and we knew where we were going now.
Once again, we had to change shoes and wade across the initial Sardine Creek crossing before regaining the faint trail across Sardine Meadow.
But that was the last obstacle we faced before finally regaining our parked car.
Sardine Falls resides in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest near Bridgeport in Mono County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
We visited Sardine Falls during a long drive south along the Hwy 395 from South Lake Tahoe.
However, on a more typical visit, I’d imagine people would be staying around Mammoth Lakes, Lee Vining, or Bridgeport (the latter being perhaps the closest town of any significance).
So we’ll describe the driving directions from Bridgeport.
Heading north from Bridgeport we continued along Hwy 395 for just under 17 miles to its junction with the Sonora Pass Highway (Hwy 108).
Turning left onto Hwy 108, we then drove for about 12 miles as the road passed some kind of military base before climbing steeply eventually leading up to Sardine Meadow at nearly 9,000ft in elevation.
There weren’t any signs indicating Sardine Meadow, but it was roughly 3.5 miles past the turnoff for the Leavitt Falls Vista.
The pullout at Sardine Meadow where we started hiking had a couple of tell-tale signs.
One sign was a short and brown and said “No Motor Vehicles” while the other was a reddish sign that said “Be Extra Careful With Fire”.
You’ll know you’re in the right area if you can see Sardine Falls from the road.
But if you happened to see a sign saying something to the effect of “Elevation 9,000ft”, then you’ve gone too far.
For a geographical frame of reference, Bridgeport was 85 miles (1 hour and 45 minutes) south of South Lake Tahoe via the Hwy 207 and Hwy 395 while it was 54 miles (just under an hour’s drive) north of Mammoth Lakes along Hwy 395. Mammoth was roughly 300 miles or over 5 hours drive from Los Angeles.
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