|Length||17.6 miles round trip|
|+2150, -2150 round trip|
|Time||Very long day|
|Season||December through early May|
|Start||Minaret Road where it is no longer plowed. This point is located about 100 yards west of Mammoth Mountain Ski Lodge and near the base of chairlift 11.|
This tour combines superb views of the Minarets, Mount Ritter, and Banner Peak with options for a soak in Reds Meadow Hot Springs, and visits to Devils Postpile and thundering Rainbow Falls. Note: Before planning to visit the hot springs, contact the Forest Service to ensure that it is open.
The tour to Reds Meadow is entirely on snow-covered roads where the skiing is easy but the distance is long. If you also want to visit Devils Postpile or Rainbow Falls, as described below, you will have to leave the security of the road and navigate with a map and compass.
You can also ski to Reds Meadow via Mammoth Pass as described elsewhere in this guidebook. Although that route is shorter than the route via Minaret Road, it takes you over terrain that is much more difficult to negotiate. The two routes can be combined to make an excellent one-way tour. Regardless of the route, snow-camping at Reds Meadow makes the trip much more leisurely and provides more time to explore the sights.
Waypoint 1 to 2
Miles: 0.0 - 1.1
Elevation change: +250, -50
From the trailhead (1), ski west on Minaret Summit Road for 1.1 miles until you reach a road junction and crest of the road at Minaret Summit (2). At 0.2 mile you will pass a road to the south (left) that is used by downhill skiers. Ski along the edge of the road in this first section to avoid the downhill skiers returning to the lodge.
At Minaret Summit, the road to the northwest (right) leads to Minaret Vista. The tour to Reds Meadow descends to the west on Minaret Summit Road.
From Minaret Summit and from the road for the next 1.5 miles, you will have good views of the Minarets and the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River drainage. The view down into the drainage will give you an idea of the elevation gain on the return trip.
Waypoint 2 to 3
Miles: 1.1 - 2.9
Elevation change: -700
Descend west then north on the road for 1.8 miles until you reach a large, obvious avalanche gully (3) located on the west (left) side of the road. This landmark is a reminder that the slopes which descend from the San Joaquin Ridge and cross Minaret Summit Road are not suitable for skiing when unstable snow conditions exist.
When conditions are very stable, you can descend 250 feet in 0.3 mile down the avalanche gully, the bottom section of which is the steepest, until you intersect Minaret Summit Road (5). This descent shortens the tour by 1.5 miles in each direction. At the bottom of the gully, the tour continues south (left) onto the road.
Continuing on Minaret Summit Road
from the top of the avalanche gully
Waypoint 3 to 4
Miles: 2.9 - 3.8
Elevation change: -150
Ski northwest on Minaret Summit Road for 0.9 mile until the road makes a 180-degree left turn (4) which leaves you heading southeast. Although this turn is located at the turnoff to Agnew Meadows, the road to the meadows will not be visible.
Waypoint 4 to 5
Miles: 3.8 - 4.7
Elevation change: -200
Ski 0.9 mile southeast on the road until you reach the bottom of the avalanche gully shortcut (5).
Waypoint 5 to 6
Miles: 4.7 - 5.1
Elevation change: -100
Continue south on Minaret Summit Road for 0.4 mile until you reach Starkweather Lake (6).
Waypoint 6 to 7
Miles: 5.1 - 7.7
Elevation change: +100, -400
Continue south on Minaret Summit Road for 2.6 miles until you reach the turnoff to Devils Postpile (7).
Excursion to Devils Postpile
Devils Postpile was created almost a million years ago by a basaltic lava flow that cracked into three- to seven-sided columns as it cooled. The flow originated at Mammoth Pass and traveled to a point just beyond Rainbow Falls. Over the years most of the lava flow has eroded away, but Devils Postpile remains a picturesque example.
The excursion to Devils Postpile adds 1.2 miles and +/-300 feet of elevation change round trip.
The turnoff point for the excursion to Devils Postpile is unmarked and has no landmark. Your best bet is to locate the distinct turn in Minaret Summit Road that is just to the south of the Devils Postpile turnoff (7).
Pick an appropriate spot just north of the turn, leave it, and ski southwest for 0.2 mile until you reach some buildings, a meadow, and the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River (10).
Ski across the northeast corner of the meadow, climb about 25 feet up the hillside to the east of the river, and then ski south and parallel to the river for a total of 0.4 mile until you reach Devils Postpile (11).
Continuing on Minaret Summit Road
to Reds Meadow
Waypoint 7 to 8
Miles: 7.7 - 8.8
Elevation change: +50, -150
Ski south on Minaret Summit Road for 1.1 miles until you reach Reds Meadow (8) on the east (left) side of the road.
Excursion to Reds Meadow Hot Springs
The water from Reds Meadow Hot Springs surfaces in a man-made concrete "tub." During the summer months, the tub is covered, and the hot water is diverted 50 yards downstream to the Reds Meadow Bathhouse. During the winter, however, the Forest Service opens the tub for backcountry travelers to use. Confirm with the Forest Service that the tub is open if this is the main reason for your journey.
To locate the hot springs, ski east to the upper end of Reds Meadow; then ski north (left) for a very short distance until you reach Reds Creek. Next to but on the north side of the creek is the bathhouse. Ski up the south side of the creek for 50 yards until you reach the springs. Be aware that the snow bank above the springs can be very steep.
Excursion to Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls is a 140 foot sheer, thundering sight. In winter, unlike in summer, you can have the place entirely to yourself. The excursion to the falls adds 2.8 miles and +/-300 feet of elevation change round trip.
To reach the falls, ski south on Minaret Summit Road to the south end of Reds Meadow and continue a short distance. At an appropriate location (there is no landmark) leave the main road and descend south and then southwest until you near the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. Follow the river until you reach Rainbow Falls (12). Be very careful in steep areas and near overhangs that border the river.
Return to trailhead
Miles: 8.8 - 17.6
Elevation change: +1750, -400
Retrace the route for 8.8 miles back to the trailhead (1).