"Not all those who wander are lost." – J.R.R. Tolkien

Ride Report: Saddlebag Lake Trail near Yosemite, CA

This oft forgotten singletrack trail is not ridden enough.  Most people are unaware that it even exists, much less that it’s open to mountain biking.  It is tucked cleverly between Yosemite National Park and the Hoover Wilderness, butting right next to the Wilderness Boundary in a couple of spots.  It’s only a 45 minute drive from Mammoth. Although the ride is short (only 4 miles), it’s definitely not short on exquisite views!! There’s minimal climbing, but there are some technical sections that will surprise you, and some punchy efforts that will get your heart rate up.  Much of the trail is fairly smooth, but there’s also a fair share of rocks and shale that sneak up on you.  Be ready for it.  We describe this ride as a loop.  Most people do it as a loop.  However, the last section of trail (approx. 1.5 miles) is almost all rock and shale, and not much fun for less skilled riders.  If you’re doing the full loop, full suspension or a fat bike will help.  Most people will have to hike some of the obnoxious sections.  In our opinion, the best part of this ride is the first half.  The best terrain, trail quality, and views are had while riding the the east and north side of the lake, right up until you reach the Forest Service cabin.  Therefore, we’ve written directions for the full loop, but also notated the out and back to the cabin.  Your choice, just wanted to give fair warning.

Also in the area are the Bennettville Ride, Log Cabin Mine Loop, and Moraines and Meadows Ride.  You might want do one or more of those rides to make a great day of riding.  Saddlebag Lake is also a great spot to fish, or just hang out with the family and make a day out of it.

  • Ride Type:  Loop (counter-clockwise is the way we recommend), or out and back to the cabin
  • Difficulty: Moderately technical (some rocks and shale), but pretty easy on the lungs
  • Time of Year: Summer and Fall (sometimes late spring – depending on snow pack)
  • Terrain/Conditions: Almost all singletrack, some smooth, some shale/rock gardens – with gorgeous high alpine scenery and lake views everywhere
  • Access: From the junction of Highway 203 and 395 at Mammoth Lakes, drive north on the 395 for 25 miles.  Exit and go left on Highway 120/ Tioga Pass.  You’ll pass the Mobil Mart on your left.  You might want to stop here later for some great grub and live music depending on time of year you are riding.  Anyhoo, continue driving for 10 miles and turn right at the Saddlebag Lake Sign.  Then drive for another 2.5 miles on a mostly dirt road.  Go to the parking lot at the end of the road and spot the restrooms to the right.  The trail sign is just past the restrooms.
  • Length: 4.1 miles
  • Approx. Time: 45 minutes to 1.5 hours for the loop (shorter for the out and back)
  • Lowest Elevation: 10,055′
  • Highest Elevation: 10,192′
  • Total Elevation Gain: 361′
  • Bike Recommendation:  This can be ridden with pretty much any off-road bike, but full suspension or fat bike is recommended for the western portion of the loop.
  • GPX File: Available by contacting us
  • Other Reference: Hunter’s Saddlebag Lake Trail Blog

Turn by Turn (in miles):

0.0 – Start at the trail sign, heading around the lake to the right (counter-clockwise).  Right off the bat, there are a few sections of rock and shale that will warm you up quickly.
.50 – The trail opens up to smooth flowing singletrack with some great lake views
.75  – Cross a small creek
.85 – Rocky climb.  Once you crest the climb, views of the rest of the lake become apparent.  The trail now strays from the shoreline a bit and meanders through pine trees and stays a little cooler.
2.07 – Arrive at the old cabin on the left

** If you choose to do this ride as an out and back, this is the turn around point.  Simply retrace your steps and go back the way you came. If you’re continuing to complete the loop, keep following the cues below:

2.1 – You reach a Wilderness trail sign to the right.  Do not take this.  Continue straight across the creek bed.
2.25 – You reach another Wilderness trail sign letting you know that you’re about to enter Wilderness.  Do not take it.  Instead a few yards before the sign, there is a singletrack trail to your left.  Take this to continue the loop you are on.
2.35 – There is a small bridge with a couple of logs to your left.  It’s hard to see as it’s surrounded by brush.  Use this bridge to cross the creek.  Don’t miss this turn!! Just after the creek crossing, there are a couple of techy rock gardens and one short climb to navigate.
2.52 – Go left at the junction with another trail.   You’ll now enter the most hateful portion of the ride.  Rocks and shale make for annoying riding all the ay home.
3.69 – Reach the bridge.  Cross the bridge and take the singletrack to your left which will bring you back to the parking lot.
4.1 – Arrive at trail sign and finish ride.

Saddlebag Lake Trail - Map

Saddlebag Lake Trail – Map

Saddlebag Lake Trail - Elevation Profile

Saddlebag Lake Trail – Elevation Profile

Trail sign, and start of the ride

Trail sign, and start of the ride

A sweet section of singletrack going along the east side of the lake

A sweet section of singletrack going along the east side of the lake

View looking back to the south side of the lake

View looking back to the south side of the lake

The old cabin that marks the half way point of the ride

The old cabin that marks the half way point of the ride

The first trail sign you come across marking the route to Lundy Lake.  Do not take this!  No bikes allowed.

The first trail sign you come across marking the route to Lundy Lake. Do not take this! No bikes allowed.

Lots of hikers and equestrians during peak season.  Remember to always yield to other user groups

Lots of hikers and equestrians during peak season. Remember to always yield to other user groups

More great views, more great trail.

More great views, more great trail.

Parked on the bridge

Parked on the bridge.  I forgot to cut my number plate off after the VC race earlier in the week.  Oops.


3 responses

  1. Pingback: Ride Report: Moraines and Meadows Loop – Lee Vining, CA |

  2. jcolton2

    Just rode this today. Did it backwards (clockwise) and started in the shale. Brutal! The shale is in really bad shape as shale goes. Had to walk many many nasty parts, there were a lot of really big boulders knocking my tires all over the place and some too nasty to try and go over. Even took a spill at one point. Petals got bashed by rocks also knocking my bike around. It could be easier form the other direction but I would avoid that side of the lake and just do the out and back (start counterclockwise). The rest of the trail was epic!! The back side of the lake looks nothing like the campground/parking lot. After this tougher than I imagined loop, I stopped for food at the store and it was delicious! Plus everyone wanted to know about my fat bike. Great loop overall if you like a challenge.

    August 17, 2016 at 2:55 am

  3. This ride is kinda brutal! My 6Fattie liked rolling over most of the rock but had some trouble in the gullies where water flows into the lake. Once I got to the wilderness boundary, I got pretty lost. I made a U-turn towards the shore, when it looks like I should have gone straight towards Steelhead Lake, and then left to rejoin the loop. Another rider came upon me and she was quite lost as well. It was nice seeing Greenstone Lake though, and seeing the fish jumping in the water. The shale on the west end is insane. Very slow riding. Still, it was a nice change of pace for a challenge and different terrain.

    I probably rode 80% of it and walked the rest. This would probably be a really good ride for a fatbike. Otherwise, turning around at the green shack may be a good idea for those that don’t like technical rock gardens.

    October 10, 2016 at 6:37 am

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