Outdoors

Cliff Lake is a star in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness

In 1984, Congress granted federal protection to 30,000 acres of dense forests, mountain meadows, alpine lakes and granite ridges on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada near Shaver Lake.

And so, the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness was born.

Of the 16 lakes contained within the wilderness area, Cliff Lake is one of the most scenic. But because the most direct route is from Courtright Reservoir instead of the popular Dinkey Lakes Trailhead, it's also one of the least visited.

Hard to beat that combination.

From the parking lot on the west side of Courtright Reservoir, the trail descends about 300 feet to the northwest tip of the lake and crosses Cliff Creek at 1.4 miles. Early-season hikers may be forced to wade.

The trail continues in a northwesterly direction for 1.7 miles, reaching a four-way junction. Continue hiking straight, following the creek through an ever-thickening forest of red and white fir and lodgepole pine.

By the time you reach a moderate set of switchbacks, the views really open up. Behind you is Courtright Reservoir and its surrounding granite domes. Beyond the lake on the eastern horizon lies the hulking giant of Mount Goddard and summits of the Le Conte Divide. To the south, Brown Peak, Nelson Mountain and Eagle Peak sit as granite islands in a sea of green.

The trail levels off at the top of the switchbacks and you get your first view of Cliff Lake. A short spur trail leads to the southeastern shore. Even the fishing here is pretty decent.

While Cliff Lake, named for the 400-foot granite wall that towers above the lake, is a worthwhile destination, more adventurous hikers will want to tackle nearby Three Sisters. At 10,438 feet, it's the loftiest peak in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness and provides more incredible views. Kaiser Peak and even Mount Ritter are visible from its summit.

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