“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. 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. 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.
The hike itself was not trivial as we had to go about 3 miles from the Agnew Meadow trailhead (I believe Thousand Island Lake backpackers start from here as well, which explained why there were so many cars at the trailhead) with a slight decline towards a basin or valley before making the steep climb up to the lake on the other side of that basin.
The most visible part of the cascade was about 2/3rd 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, 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. 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, but this provided good enough exercise for a lake excursion done as a day hike (there aren’t many you can do comfortably without backcountry backpacking). 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. So hopefully one of these days, a visit there could be made so I can finally see what the commotion is about.
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. 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).
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