Sawmill Pass

Looking into Woods Lake Basin from Sawmill Pass

I had time for a quick three day trip up to the Sierras.  Options are somewhat limited this time of year, so heading up one of the canyons on the eastern side of the range seemed like a good option.  Starting at 4,636′, the Sawmill Pass Trail can be considered fairly brutal since it starts in the desert and climbs to the pass at 11,347′. 

I once again woke early on Friday, and was out the door by 3:30.  I love those early morning drives when there is adventure waiting on the other end.  I made it to the trailhead pretty early and began the long climb towards Sawmill Lake.

The first several miles are in the desert, which makes for some great views, and if you start early, it’s not so bad.  Later in the season, or later in the day could be potentially miserable, since there isn’t any shade for quite a while.

Sawmill Meadows

Eventually the trail does get into the trees, and fairly quickly enters Sawmill Meadows, where you feel like you are truly in the mountains for the first time.  It’s a beautiful place, with a few small campsites.  It was actually fairly dry when I came through, although there was a small creek running just past the meadows.

Sawmill Lake

Sawmill Lake is nice — it seems to have low water in most of the pictures I’ve seen of it, which leaves the bathtub ring around the lake, but it’s still a nice, scenic lake sitting below jagged peaks.


I camped at Sawmill Lake (there are several good campsites around the east and northern sides of the lake).  On the second day I headed up to Sawmill Pass.

 Nice wood textures around Sawmill Lake

A small pond on the way up to Sawmill Pass

Being the end of May, it was still pretty snowy in places.  I made it up most of the way to the pass, but the snow was pretty heavy in the bowl right below the pass.  Trudging through the snow seemed like a bad idea — I decided the better option was to scramble up the ridge to the north of the trail, and I was able to find some light game trails that led me up to the pass.

Looking northwest from Sawmill Pass

 Looking south from the pass

A light snow had started to fall as I climbed up to the pass, and it kept snowing off and on until I made it back down to near Sawmill Lake.  It never accumulated to anything, but it made the walk back down to the lake extra nice!

The last day I walked out, which went pretty fast since it’s pretty much just a drop of 5,500′ back down to the desert floor and the trailhead.