Pacific Southwest Region Viewing Area

LOCATION and PHOTOS

Coyote mint.
Coyote mint (Monardella odoratissima). Photo by Kathleen Nelson.

View of Whorled penstemon.
Whorled penstemon (Penstemon heterodoxus). Photo by Gary A. Monroe, USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.

A view of McGee Canyon.
McGee Canyon view. Photo by Gary Milano.

McGee Canyon

Forest: Inyo National Forest

District: White Mountain Ranger District

Description: McGee Canyon, located in the central Sierra Nevada, south of Mammoth Lakes, is a popular entry point for longer trips into the John Muir Wilderness. Intricate patterns of red, white, and grey adorn the metamorphic canyon walls. Camping, fishing, hiking, backpacking, and horseback riding are all popular recreational activities here. Nearby Crowley Lake offers opportunities for boating as well.

Viewing Information: You can walk as little or as long as you like on your venture into this scenic high Sierra canyon. The trail starts at the parking area, and immediately crosses wildflower laden slopes, as it heads up McGee Canyon. The trail leads into the John Muir Wilderness, where the more adventurous travelers spend days or weeks exploring. You can choose to don your backpack and join them, or skip the backpack and put the local mules to work from the nearby McGee pack station. If backcountry travel is not your style, a short stroll up the trail, or even just the view from the parking area, will bring ample rewards.

Mid to late June is normally the best time to visit McGee Canyon to enjoy the wildflowers, though dates can vary depending on weather conditions. At the trailhead, you will immediately find what you are looking for, as the sagebrush covered slopes offer beautiful displays of paintbrush, mule’s ears, lupines, penstemons, and more. A longer walk will take you through changing habitats to subalpine and alpine settings, with corresponding changes in the wildflower species you will find. Mountain pride, red heather, gentians, and columbine are just a few of the treasures you may encounter along the way.

Safety First: Always be prepared for rapid changes in the weather. In the summer months, days are typically warm and sunny, but thundershowers can bring cold rain, hail, and even snow. Carry appropriate clothing, including rain gear. Give yourself time to adjust to the altitude, and be sure to drink plenty of water. Hats and sunscreen are always a good idea.

The McGee Canyon road is quite narrow. Drive slowly, and use extra caution on blind curves.

Directions: From Highway 395, north of the Crowley lake turnoff, turn west onto the McGee Canyon road. Proceed up this road past the pack station, to the end of the road. There is a parking area and trailhead at the road end.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Inyo National Forest, White Mountain Ranger District.

Closest Town: Tom’s Place, approximately 7 miles east, and Mammoth Lakes, approximately 15 miles to the northwest; California.

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