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Short and Sweet
Crystal Lake is located above the base of the Mammoth Crest. In fact, more than half of the trail to Crystal Lake is the also the trail to the Mammoth Crest. The trailhead is adjacent to Lake George, the second largest lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. On the map Horseshoe Lake looks bigger, but the lake level is always so low in Horseshoe Lake that the lake is much smaller than the map suggests and is smaller than Lake George.
The trail to Crystal Lake is almost all uphill. The only rest you'll get on this trek will be when you stop to rest or just before you reach Crystal Lake. Most of the climb is under tree cover, so there is lots of shade during the climb. The first few hundred yards is adjacent to rental cabins that overlook Lake George. Soon, the cabins are left behind and it's all forest the rest of the way. The trail switches back and forth along an inclined ridgeline that wraps around the southwest side of Lake George. The higher up the trail you go, the better the views get of Lake George.
At about two-thirds of the way to Crystal Lake the trail leaves the views of Lake George behind. After a long straight section of trail the trail reaches a junction. The last time I hiked this trail the trail sign markers had been removed. To reach Crystal Lake you need to go to the left. Going straight will take you to the Mammoth Crest. Not too long after the trail junction the trail finally begins to level out. Soon after, Crystal Lake comes into view.
The trail descends toward the outflow creek of Crystal Lake. During late spring and early summer there may be a lot of water in the creek which could prevent you from getting very far. By mid-summer the outflow has dried up. The trail then wraps around the northeast side of Crystal Lake, although the trail is now no longer and officially marked NFS trail. To your left is a large rock peak caller Crystal Crag. The Crag offers some pretty hair raising rock climbing opportunities.
The thing I like most about the Crystal Lake hike is that it is strenuous, but short. Therefore, if you want to do another hike before or after this hike, you can do it. In fact, one day I climbed the Sherwin Ridge (Pyramid Peak, but only half way) before finishing the day hiking to Crystal Lake with my family.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.