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Hiking Mammoth's Duck Pass Trail

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

Duck Pass Trail is a must do for those wanting to spend a day in Mammoth out in the wilderness, with some of the most stunning beauty you can find in the mountains. This experience is better shared, so grab some hiker pals, pack a lunch and get ready for a spectacular day!


Length: 8.1miles roundtrip (3.9 straight to Duck Lake, no turnoffs) | Level: Moderate-to-Hard | Duration: 4-6 hours | Elevation: 10,800

Super easy to find, the Duck Pass trailhead is in the Coldwater Campground parking lot. It's a huge campground, so drive to the way back of the parking lot to park and begin the trail. Since this trail is also on the more strenuous side, it can still be enjoyed for those who aren't hikers or may have issues hiking in high altitude. There are guides that can take yo up on horseback which we saw in passing on our trail. It looked awesome and you can get the information on how to book the trek on horseback here at Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit. This lake is only accessible via hike or horse.

Duck Pass Trail

Welcome to John Muir Wilderness! Thought you were already high up at 9000ft? Get ready for another 1000ft ascent. The Duck Pass trail is 80% uphill all the way to Duck Lake, with the most strenuous switchbacks being at the last mile and a half. Don't give up! It's well worth it, and there are 4 scenic lakes that make great rest stops along the way. Right from the start, you are headed right into the ascent. The Duck Pass trail at first it seems gradual, but it really won't level off until you get to the flat part of the mountain. This trail is a good climb so be wary of the altitude and be sure you have a lot of water!

Duck pass trail

First scenic stop at the 1.7ish mile mark: Skelton Lake, often mistaken as Skeleton Lake. This is just a taste of what you're about to see as you progress! Also a great little place to stop and take a rest which you will see other hikers and horseback riders doing as well.

Quick Trail Tips:

  • Hiking Duck Pass is best spring-winter, until the major snowfalls hit.

  • The altitude is high on this hike, be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks

  • Wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots, there are a lot of rocky areas on the hike where regular gym or tennis shoes might be an issue

  • In summer months, this hike is hot and there is not alot of shade. Bring a hat, sunblock and sunglasses

  • Camping overnight is available at Duck Pass Lake. Be sure to grab your permit here.

  • The lakes are cold, but during the summer you will see people swimming in them so feel free to jump in!

After Skelton Lake, the trail levels out for just a bit as I had mentioned and it's a good thing because once you start the final climb up into Duck Lake, you will appreciate this break. There's another set of switchbacks before you get to the next viewpoint, and from this point on we're getting to all the really good stuff on Duck Pass Trail!

Duck Pass Trail

Your second stop at about the 3 mile point is the next beautiful lake, Barney Lake. This is the view from the bottom. Take a quick rest here and enjoy this, because the last mile up through to Duck Lake is the hardest part of the hike! There is a swimming and a fishing area here so you will see people jumping in the freezing water just to cool off from hiking up the ascent.

After your rest at Barney Lake you'll then begin your second major ascent through the most strenuous part of the Duck Pass Trail. The switchbacks here are totally manageable though and as you make your way up you can start to see your full progress on this trek behind you. Though strenuous, this last stretch of the hike was my favorite part!

Duck Pass Trail

On Duck Pass Trail those switchbacks always have a reward and this section is no different. Once you make your way through the zig zags, you'll arrive at this lookout which is absolutely stunning! It is the full overlook of your hike thus far. In the distance you can see Skelton Lake, Woods Lake, and another lake that is not named that I could find. The colors were truly this green and blue when I visited!

It was just so pretty here, we had to stop and have a photo shoot!

Almost there! Another .8 final strenuous climb up the mountain and you will eventually be greeted with your destination, Duck Lake! And like the previous overlook, this one is just as stunning! This beautiful spot is tucked away and can only be accessed via the hiking trail and on horseback. You'll see many campers, people fishing and on horses around this super clear, crystal blue lake. No filters on any of these shots!

For some, Duck Pass Trail is a great place to pack it all in and camp overnight. With all of this beauty, I can see why someone might want to spend a night or two here. For the rest of us daytrippers, the perfect spot for lunch and a quick nap.The best part about this hike --other than the amazing scenery of course, is the way back. It's all downhill, so you have that to look forward to and snag any pics you may have missed along the way!

Mammoth trail site and other info here. Enjoy your time at Duck Lake!

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