Robinson Lake Hike
Inyo National Forest
From Onion Valley Campground
About 1.5 miles (2.5km) one way
There are sometimes experiences that make us wonder if they’re real. For me that feeling can come from places that are accessible, yet give a feeling of remoteness and peace only expected from destinations requiring days of walking.
Robinson Lake is one such place. Perhaps it was the unexpected beauty, the change of plans from Middle Palisade due to an ill husband, the delight in showing our Aussie friend Jess a classic Sierra lake. No matter what the reasons for enjoying it so much, Robinson Lake is a highly recommended, short hike and would make a great overnight backpack trip for beginners.
The day was sunny and temperatures in the valley far below were forecast to scorch. We packed our campsite and I packed for the walk, giving Dikko time to recover further from his bug. I felt like I was floating with only lunches, a 2L Camelbak and light jackets on my back.
The hike started from the campground and easily crossed a creek. From there it was a steady gain back and forth the slope. A stop or two on the way up to see other trails, waterfalls and faraway walls were worth it. The air was fresh and warm yet crisp, the trail dusty yet crumby with tiny pieces of granite.
Higher up there were boulders to walk amongst, giving perspective to those on the slopes above that the peaks had carefully laid like eggs in sand, as the glacier retreated and created the cirque.
After just over an hour we popped out on a flat spot, where the pine trees seemed to look over their shoulder and huddle secretively, making sure there were no sneak peeks until one gasps at the first full lake view.
We had passed four people walking out as we walked up, and at the lake was a lone guy from New York soaking up the serenity. He kindly offered to snap our photo for us and we left him to enjoy the lake, as we made our way around in search of a nice lunch spot.
The water was stunning, still and crystal clear. Rocks below seemed like illusions of brown under blue and green and the odd fish caused a ripple that fanned out, uninterrupted, to the banks.
Rounding to a small meadowy area we took our shoes off and crossed the inlet, fed from a pass with University Peak beyond. The water was cold and refreshing for warm feet, suddenly freed from socks and shoes and sweat.
This was our miniature paradise, with small patches of shade provided by shrubs. After eating, the three of us went our separate ways in exploration and enjoyment of the surroundings. I walked with barefeet across squishy meadow grass, enjoying the sensation of it cushioning my feet and squelching with cold water.
Before time the reality of driving back to Los Angeles crept up on us. We regathered our gear and I fought with my happy, free feet to confine them in shoes for the hike down.
Standing at the lake before leaving I didn’t want to leave. We watched as fish curiously swam to a safe distance to see us, then disappeared again, my eyesight losing them in the clear water before they were lost to deeper depths. It was so beautiful and we had the entire place to ourselves. Unbelievable considering it was so accessible.
The hike down was a piece of cake, and a lovely way to maintain the relaxed state I found myself in after spending a couple of hours at the lake.
We drove down to Lone Pine and dropped Jess for her onward adventures in the Sierra, Yosemite, San Francisco and then up to Canada. I also learned there is a great little hostel in Lone Pine that offers bunks and showers and has a selection of great brands in climbing and hiking gear. It’s in the main street next to the Dow Villa if you’re interested (watch for the hanging Petzl banner on the second floor balcony).
Of the lakes I’ve enjoyed in the Sierra I have no favorite, but for easy access to pure tranquility, Robinson Lake has no competition.
Note: Some trip reports say the Robinson Lake Trail is unmaintained and very steep. I don’t believe this is the case, if you take your time (easy to do with the views) and accept the altitude plod pace, the trail is lovely.