Outdoors

Doris Lake an easy trek and rewarding swim

With waters fed by underground hot springs, Doris Lake is an unexpected haven for swimmers.

On the surface, Doris Lake appears no different than any of the hundreds of tiny, picturesque lakes dotting the Sierra Nevada.

It's a different story below the surface. Unlike almost every other alpine lake you'll encounter, the water temperature of Doris Lake actually is quite pleasant for swimming.

You might wonder how this is possible. Doesn't lake water come from snowmelt, and isn't snowmelt inherently cold?

Yes and yes.

Except Doris Lake is unique in that it has no inlets. No creeks or streams flow into the lake.

Instead, Doris Lake is fed by underground springs. And since Mono Hot Springs lies a little more than a mile away, it's safe to assume some of those springs aren't cold at all.

So grab a towel, some sunscreen and one of those inflatable mattresses, and head out for an afternoon of relaxation.

Imagine floating on your back, soaking up sunshine and gazing at the bluest of skies, while the breeze caresses your feet and dragonflies buzz nearby lily pads.

Sound enticing? It is.

Although remote, Doris Lake is not exactly a secret. For centuries, the Mono Indians have believed the water at Mono Hot Springs holds mystical healing powers. Don't expect to have this paradise to yourself, especially on weekends.

The hike itself is fairly inconsequential, provided one knows where to begin. If unsure, ask for directions at Mono Hot Springs.

From the trailhead announcing entry to the Ansel Adams Wilderness, go left toward Doris and Tule lakes and hike through an area of manzanita, sage and boulders. At the next junction, head right up a short climb. Your swimming hole is just around the bend.

The entire walk from Mono Hot Springs shouldn't take more than 30 minutes.

Upon reaching Doris Lake, you'll find the shoreline almost encircled by granite. Several areas are ideal for jumping. (Always check water depth before attempting.) For those wishing to ease into the water, turn right and walk toward the southwest shore.

So effortless and yet so rewarding, you might wonder if you've done enough to deserve this.

If more suffering is required, keep hiking toward Tule Lake (another 1.2 miles), or scramble cross country up to Devils Table, a prehistoric lava formation still dusted with ash. Views of Mono Meadow, backed by the imposing Silver Divide, are astounding.

Originally published in The Fresno Bee and on fresnobee.com on July 3, 2003.

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