NO VISIT TO GOLD LAKE is complete without walking the Bear Lakes loop which begins right outside our cabin. Over the years we've hiked this trail more than any other in the basin. For maximum scenery from a moderate effort, this is THE ONE!
The entire route is manageable with short distances between lakes, clearly marked by trail signs, dominated by a mountain crest line, and a wide variety of flora and fauna along the way. I've always found interesting attractions along the walk, and not knowing what to expect around the next bend is endlessly entertaining. The granite bedrock exhibits signs of striation on its surfaces that had been smoothed, grooved, and scratched by the ancient glaciers.
The loop is popular and well visited so we occasionally come across others enjoying the wilderness. Everyone is happy to pause on the trail and socialize, stopping to share a greeting, a story, or directions, and a bit of water if necessary. The area has something for everyone. In the winter there's cross country skiing and snowmobiling. In the summer it's swimming, hiking, fishing, boating, camping, cycling, and in the back country.
And in the spring there's a wildflower display encouraged by the previous winter snowfall, with new flowers emerging each week. Maybe I'll visit earlier next year...
For those who are curious about the name origins (i.e. Big Bear, Little Bear and Cub Lakes) there hasn't been a grizzly or black bear sighting in a long time. On rare occasion visitors have discovered bear droppings, but the critters have long since departed well before the winter snow melt. So we can feel very safe and secure on the trail, with the occasional sighting of a deer or mountain marmot.
The lakes were formed as pockets when ancient glaciers scooped bowl-shaped depressions in the mountain granite. The jumbled rock debris we climb across are remnants of glacial moraines that held back the waters as the ice retreated. There are very few outlets and the lakes are fed by rain, snow melt and springs.
To this day, the lakes basin remains disconnected from the rest of the world. It's a self-contained ecosystem that exists apart from neighboring valleys that feed rivers which flow from the Sierras to the sea.
It's truly a peaceful and gentle wilderness - quiet, discreet, and enchanting.