Saturday, March 26, 2016

Sacatar Trail

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Bird Lists:

Lower Sacatar Trail
Little Lake Canyon
Sacatar Crest

Sunrise on the trail
Before there was a route over Walker Pass, or a road blasted into the rock in Nine Mile Canyon, there was a wagon trail from the Owens Valley to the west side. This "road" was used by the military and others dating back to the 1800's. The Sacatar Trail leaves Rose Valley just a few miles north of Little Lake contouring the edge of Little Lake Canyon finally reaching a low pass in the Sierra at 7,400 feet and entering Sacatar Canyon. Today this historic trail is protected inside the Sacatar Trail Wilderness - created in 1994 with the passage of the California Desert Protection Act. While time and erosion have taken a toll on the trail and it is no longer wide enough for a wagon, it is still very passable on foot. 

The contouring nature of the trail keeps the grade moderate over the 8 trail miles to the crest. In fact, it winds around so much that the straight line distance from the pass back to the trailhead is only about 4 miles, but up nearly 3,500 feet in elevation. As with most east side Sierra trails, there is much climbing to be done!

We got an early start and watched the sun rise over the Coso Mountains to the east. We climbed steadily among outstanding flowers all the way to the Pinyon Pine habitat zone at around 6,500 feet. Birding was good for a dry slope with many Bell's and Black-throated Sparrows singing us along. Chukar and Rock Wrens were represented well. There was even a Lark Sparrow in full song at about 5,000 feet elevation. In the afternoon we had numerous Western Bluebirds and Pinyon Jays cavorting on the hillsides. Over 30 species for the day was impressive for such a dry area. 

The trailhead at the foot of an unnamed canyon north of Little Lake Canyon

North toward Owens Valley

Good flowers abound

South toward Little Lake and the Indian Wells Valley

The trail winds along a gentle contour

Miner's Lettuce

Purple Sage (Salvia Dorrii)

Purple Sage (Salvia Dorrii) 

Traversing toward the edge of Little Lake Canyon


Rose Valley

A 270 degree panorama. The perspective is skewed, but shows the entire view from north to south.


Little Lake Canyon is steep and rugged. As the trail traverses high above, the view down is impressive. 

The steep and rugged Little Lake Canyon

Coreopsis and Scalebud adorn the trail




Not sure on this one yet, working on an ID and will edit in later

Reaching the pinyon pine habitat zone

Pinyons and flowers

The trail levels out substantially at the head of Little Lake Canyon just before crossing the crest. It is so level that views in both directions are essentially blocked by the trees. So after a nice lunch break we picked a rocky knoll to climb for a view. It was worth the effort as all of Sacatar Canyon and many mountain peaks beyond were revealed. 

It was time to go back - down, down, down to the desert floor below. The afternoon light made for outstanding views in all directions and made the return very enjoyable.

The head of Little Lake Canyon

Beetle tracks in a tree that has fallen across the trail

Pass across the Sierra Crest

Sacatar Canyon

Smiling "monster" rock

Looking down Little Lake Canyon from the top

Corepsis and Scalebud

Heading down

Directly across Rose Valley are Red Hill and Volcano Peak. This area is still geologically active with a geothermal plant currently in operation

The captivating smell from these popcorn flowers is intense

Gilia and popcorn flower




  1. One gorgeous photo after another. I hope these blog posting can be archived so that future hikers in this part of the Sierra will have access to your experience and be able to see how much these trails have changed, or not, over the years.

    1. Thanks Steve. This is all posted on the Google Blogger site, so I would assume it is public for a very long time.