"Shadow Falls"

Inyo National Forest, California, USA

About “Shadow Falls”


Hiking Distance: 6 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 2.5-3 hours

Date first visited: 2010-08-20
Date last visited: 2010-08-20

Waterfall Latitude: 37.69611
Waterfall Longitude: -119.12591

“Shadow Falls” is a name I’ve made up for this surprise cascade that I happened to see during a hike out to the scenic Shadow Lake near the Devil’s Postpile National Monument.

As a matter of fact, this waterfall drains Shadow Lake as it ultimately tumbles mostly unseen down a mini-granite gorge eventually joining the San Joaquin River.

Shadow_Lake_031_08202010 - 'Shadow Falls', which was the cascade draining Shadow Lake
‘Shadow Falls’, which was the cascade draining Shadow Lake

I think of this waterfall as more of a side attraction to Shadow Lake, which is a very attractive lake backed by Mt Ritter and a few other mountains whose names I don’t remember.

The water in the lake seemed to change color from a deep emerald blue towards some slight shades of green around its banks as the sun went higher on the horizon the morning we showed up in late August 2010.

Hiking to “Shadow Falls” and Shadow Lake

The hike itself was not trivial as we had to go about 3 miles from the Agnew Meadow trailhead.

By the way, I believe Thousand Island Lake backpackers start from here as well, which explained why there were so many cars at the trailhead.

Shadow_Lake_018_08202010 - On the trail between Agnew Meadows Trailhead and Shadow Lake, which went through this valley before ascending up alongside Shadow Falls to Shadow Lake
On the trail between Agnew Meadows Trailhead and Shadow Lake, which went through this valley before ascending up alongside Shadow Falls to Shadow Lake

In any case, this hike included a slight decline towards a basin or valley before making the steep climb up to the Shadow Lake on the other side of that basin.

The most visible part of the cascade was about two-thirds of the way up a series of switchbacks as the trail made a steep climb towards the mouth of Shadow Lake.

So if you’ve made it far enough to see the interesting cascade of “Shadow Falls”, you mind as well get all the way to the top to see Shadow Lake.

Beyond Shadow Lake, I was told that this was the trail one would take to get all the way up to the very scenic Thousand Island Lakes.

Shadow_Lake_024_08202010 - Looking down into the basin that we came up from (in Devil's Postpile National Monument) en route to the 'Shadow Falls' and Shadow Lake, which both reside in the Ansel Adams Wilderness administered by the Inyo National Forest
Looking down into the basin that we came up from (in Devil’s Postpile National Monument) en route to the ‘Shadow Falls’ and Shadow Lake, which both reside in the Ansel Adams Wilderness administered by the Inyo National Forest

I had seen photos and heard many stories about that place, but I have yet to make it all the way up there.

We’ve seen lots of backpackers or very fit hikers continue beyond Shadow Lake.

However, “Shadow Falls” on its own provided good enough exercise for a lake excursion done as a day hike.

After all, there aren’t many lakes that you can do comfortably without backcountry backpacking in the Eastern Sierras.

In any case, it did seem like this was either a detour or part of the overall route to the very beautiful Thousand Island Lakes.

Shadow_Lake_058_08202010 - Looking over Shadow Lake towards what I believe was Mt Ritter, which was also on the way to Thousand Island Lakes (a popular backpacking destination)
Looking over Shadow Lake towards what I believe was Mt Ritter, which was also on the way to Thousand Island Lakes (a popular backpacking destination)

So hopefully one of these days, a visit there could be made so I can finally see what the commotion is about.

Authorities

“Shadow Falls” resides in the Ansel Adams Wilderness in the Inyo National Forest near the Mammoth Lakes area in Inyo County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. That said, the trailhead we took resides in Devil’s Postpile National Monument. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit the National Parks website or the National Forest website.

Shadow_Lake_004_08202010 - Early birds tend to get bonus wildlife sightings like this one of a deer near the Agnew Meadow Trailhead
Shadow_Lake_007_08202010 - Approaching the basin within the cool shadow of early morning en route to Shadow Lake
Shadow_Lake_014_08202010 - Olaine Lake, which we saw en route to 'Shadow Falls' and Shadow Lake
Shadow_Lake_026_08202010 - Fighting through the shadows for this brighter look at the Shadow Falls at the expense of washing out the rest of the photo
Shadow_Lake_035_08202010 - The trail ultimately reaches the top of Shadow Falls up ahead, where we could then access the shores of Shadow Lake
Shadow_Lake_042_08202010 - Looking down towards the bottom of the hidden cascade of Shadow Falls and the valley below in the direction of the Devil's Postpile National Monument
Shadow_Lake_049_08202010 - Continuing beyond the top of the Shadow Falls towards the mouth of Shadow Lake
Shadow_Lake_072_08202010 - Some shades of green starting to show up in Shadow Lake as the morning sun continued to rise
Shadow_Lake_078_08202010 - After having our fill of the Shadow Lake, we started the hike back to the Agnew Meadow Trailhead
Shadow_Lake_079_08202010 - Descending from Shadow Lake on the granite trail skirting Shadow Falls

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Since we accessed “Shadow Falls” from the Devil’s Postpile National Monument as we were based in Mammoth, we’ll describe the driving directions from there.

From the intersection of Main St, Minaret Rd, and Lake Mary Rd (there’s a traffic light) in Mammoth Lakes Village, turn right to remain on Minaret Road (Hwy 203) and drive for about 15-20 minutes to the Mammoth Summit Ski Area.

Devils_Postpile_012_08202010 - This was the panorama towards the Minarets while descending the access road between the Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort and the Devil's Postpile National Monument
This was the panorama towards the Minarets while descending the access road between the Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort and the Devil’s Postpile National Monument

Here’s where you pick up the mandatory shuttle ($7 per person; National Parks Pass not accepted).

If you happen to show up before 7am or after 7:30pm, continue driving 2.6 miles beyond the entrance booth along Minaret Rd until you see the turnoff for Agnew Meadows (about 0.6 miles on unsealed road from the paved Minaret Road).

For context, Mammoth Lakes was about 309 miles (5 hours drive) north of Los Angeles.

Top down sweep of the falls ending downstream towards San Joaquin Basin


Semi-circular sweep from right to left of the uppermost portion of the cascade and ending towards some knobs and peaks in the background

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Tagged with: inyo, national forest, mammoth, 395, owens valley, eastern sierra, reds meadow, thousand island lakes, minarets, devils postpile, shadow lake, california, sierra, waterfall, agnew meadow



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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