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Rainbow and Ruth Lakes Trail

  3.0 ( 1 ) Favorite


1.8 mile 2.9 kilometer point to point
83% Runnable


Ascent: 562' 171 m
Descent: -111' -34 m
High: 9,369' 2,856 m
Low: 8,900' 2,713 m


Avg Grade: 7% (4°)
Max Grade: 21% (12°)


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Trail shared by Lee Watts

Unmaintained trail winds up ridge with amazing panoramas of surrounding mountains to two more beautiful Sierra lakes.

Lee Watts

Features Commonly Backpacked · Fishing · Lake · Swimming · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Wilderness Permits required. Trailhead quotas (reserved-walking): Norris (6-4), Fernandez (13-8), Walton (5-4). Reservation fee is $5.00 per person, but walk-in permits are free. They can be obtained at the Bass Lake Ranger station in North Fork or the High Sierra Ranger station in Prather.


The primary destination of this trail is Rainbow Lake, but it passes near Flat Lake and has an extension that goes to Ruth Lake. The trail is listed as unmaintained, but someone who knew what they were doing (probably a ranger), put a lot of effort this year in resetting ducks to mark the trail (stacks of 2-5 rocks each).

In some places, there are several stacks within 100 yards of each other, but in other places, they seem to be missing, possibly because those places were covered with snow patches when the work was done. The trail is still a little difficult to follow. I lost it several times and had to consult a detailed topographical map to determine where to go next. Someone in the group should have route-finding skills.

Need to Know

Campfires are allowed at these lakes. All of the Ansel Adams Wilderness rules apply.


The trail branches from the Fernandez Pass Trail about 1 mile from the Lillian Loop Trail. The first 0.5 miles are a meadowy, marshy area with lots of mosquitoes in the early season. After 100-200 yards, you have to climb across a large fallen tree and then cross the stream coming from the lakes. I found a place a little upstream where I could wade across with my waterproof boots. Be sure to come back down the stream to find the trail again.

About 0.5 miles from the start, you pass less than 0.25 miles from Flat Lake. There is no sign, but the ground is fairly level (flat) and it should be easy to find. I let my attention wander and ended up there by accident. It is a nice lake that I might have liked better later in the season, without the mosquitoes.

The trail to Rainbow Lake climbs southwest up a rocky ridge and then swings around to the northeast of pass above the 200-300-foot cliff on the west side of Flat Lake. Follow the ducks as best you can. Along the way, there are amazing 160-degree panoramas of the distant mountains. The trail then drops about 100 feet, crosses the creek from Rainbow Lake, and climbs back up to the lake. There is an excellent campsite when you first reach the lake.

Ruth Lake is only about 100 feet higher than Rainbow Lake. There are remnants of a trail and a few ducks, but you pretty much have to find your own way. Cross the outlet stream and run across the rocks to get around the long southern lobe of the lake. Several small ponds appear to block the way, but there is actually a narrow path between the ponds and the lake. Once around the lobe, head west, gradually climbing towards the sound of the outlet steam from Ruth. When you reach the stream, scramble up the rocks just before the outlet.

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7 Views Last Month
54 Since Jul 24, 2019



A small portion of the 160 degree panorama visible as you climb the ridge to Railbow Lake. The trail avoids this talus.
Jul 24, 2019 near Yosemit…, CA
Flat Lake is an easy 1/4th mile walk from the Rainbow Lake Trail
Jul 24, 2019 near Yosemit…, CA
Rainbow Lake
Jul 24, 2019 near Yosemit…, CA


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