Robinson Creek Canyon and Lundy Canyon are both prominent U-shaped glacier carved valleys in the Eastern Sierra. Robinson Creek Canyon spills into Twin Lakes outside of Bridgeport while Lundy Canyon is just north of Tioga Pass near Mono Lake. Both are favorite spots for viewing fall color in the Eastern Sierra. Of the two, Lundy Canyon is more well-known for fall color so if searching for more solitude Robinson Canyon would be your choice. When the golden aspen are combined with the dramatic peaks rising above the canyons, the fall color show is tough to beat. Photo album here.
Robinson Canyon is located in one of the most scenic regions of the Sierra. Sawtooth Ridge towers above the canyon, and despite being relatively lower in elevation than peaks to the south, it’s one of the most rugged segments of the High Sierra. The canyon is filled with aspen and the Barney Lake Trail passes through many of the groves between Twin Lakes and Barney Lake. If timed correctly (and timing is everything with fall color), the show is phenomenal and virtually unabated from Twin Lakes all the way to a mile beyond Barney Lake. In all, the Barney Lake Trail provides 5+ miles of hiking or trail running through amazing aspen. What I love about the fall color show here is the exceptionally rugged setting and the fact that the best stuff is not roadside. You’ve got to hike at least a couple miles to find the better groves and it only gets better the farther you go. The result is a peaceful experience without the tourists and without the tripod-toting shooting gallery.
The most mature old-growth aspen stand is just before Barney Lake but some of the best colors can be found in the “fields” of stunted slide aspen. Perhaps my favorite grove is at the base of Little Slide Canyon (first picture below) where one can obtain a nicely framed shot of the aspen and the rugged backdrop of Little Slide Canyon including the Incredible Hulk and Kettle Peak. Access is via the Twin Lakes Road in Bridgeport. Simply drive to the end of the road at Annette’s Mono Village where day use parking is free. Find your way through the maze of campground roads to the Barney Lake Trailhead. After about a mile the trail emerges from conifer forest into the first of many aspen groves!
Lundy Canyon is a well-known fall color hot spot and there are some excellent groves along the access road. On the west side of Lundy Lake the pavement ends and a somewhat rugged dirt road takes one to the trailhead at the end of the road. These last couple miles are slow, particularly if there is any oncoming traffic. There are some rocks and large bumps that require extra caution for low profile vehicles. Consider hiking or running the dirt road if concerned; it’s not very long in terms of mileage, it only FEELS long because it takes so long to drive. The dirt road ends in single lane loop within a beautiful aspen grove that would be even better without the dust of a dirt road and the commotion of a trailhead. The Lundy Canyon Trail departs from here, and from the look of things, most of the visitation to this trailhead occurs during the fall color season. On a peak fall color weekend except to have challenges finding parking and a distinct lack of solitude for the first mile of the trail.
The reward for driving the beat-up road and dealing with a flock of tourists are immediate as the wide trail traverses through an extensive aspen grove. At peak color the immersive experience in this grove is incredible. The trail soon ascends up a rocky hillside to a famous view of the first falls of Mill Creek, only a little over a half mile from the trailhead. This falls is surrounded by aspen cascading down the hillside together with the water. When backlit by afternoon sun it’s as if the entire hillside is on fire. Beyond this falls, the trail ascends to a beaver pond with more aspen and then up to an amazing old growth grove of aspen with unusually large trunk and height. This grove is perfectly situated in a flat spot next to the creek that is sheltered from the hazards of the canyon.
After this mature grove, the aspen beyond become more scrubby and small in nature as the bottom of the canyon is very exposed to avalanches and rockfall. Ultimately the vegetation transitions to willows before petering out entirely at the headwall of the canyon. An unmaintained path switchbacks steeply to the Twenty Lakes Basin next to an impressive waterfall, but at this point the aspen are long in the rearview. Compared to the Barney Lake Trail in Robinson Canyon, the duration of the aspen hike at Lundy Canyon is much shorter as it’s probably only about 2 miles from the trailhead before the aspen end.