Back to index Wheeler Lake Hike
Trip Date:  8/28/2020

Distance: 10 Miles

Vertical Gain: 1300'

Group Size: 4

Hike Rating:  Easy  
Moderate   Hard   Strenuous
Wheeler Lake Hike
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Wheeler Lake Elevation Profile
Start Coordinates:   N 38 30.899, W 119 55.706     End Coordinates:   Same as Start Coordinates
Car Shuttle Req'd:   No Parking Directions:   Take Highway 4 from the east side where it starts at the junction with Highway 89 (at the start of Monitor Pass.)  Follow the highway for about 15 miles until you reach the parking area for the Sandy Meadow trailhead just to the west of Mosquito Lake on the south side of the highway.
Hazards of Note:   Lesser visited trail that will have little to no others on it.  There will be some route finding necessary if taking the 'loop' back out along 19E54.

Crowd Factor:   Minimal.  The Sandy Meadow trail that heads in from the highway, marked as 19E53 might have a hiker or two on the first couple miles, but the old no-longer-maintained trail 19E54 that we took on the way back will have nobody on it.
General Notes:
From the parking area near the campground, head toward the trailhead kiosk and continue west past the gate which blocks vehicle access from this trail.  This was an old jeep trail before the area become part of the Carson-Iceberg wilderness as evidenced by older maps showing this feature.  You will enter the wilderness area almost immediately, passing one of the iconic wooden wildness name signs.  The trail mostly follows a gradual slope up along the way, following the north side of the creek for most of the way.  Much of the first 3 1/2 miles are trekking through the forest in the river canyon, but every once in a while there are nice views toward Mineral Mountain and an unnamed sharp, pointed peak to the south.  
Past the 5 mile mark the trail bends sharply to the right and begins a short, steep climb for about 200 feet, and at the top of this section is an old barbed wire gate that is still intact and able to be easily passed through by slipping the catch off of the gate post.  Once you cross over this the views really open up without as much vegetation lining the trail, and there is a bonus of the Wolf Creek Falls to your left.  There are great views of the multiple level falls down to the south of the trail, including the 30' main section of falls.
As an extra bonus, continue about 6/10 of a mile further, then navigate off the trail about 300' to find yourself at an old, intact metal cabin in the midst of a gorgeous meadow setting.  The cabin is an unusual feature in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness area, and appears to be still in use as a small peek into the structure showed some modern items such as rope, saws, a ladder and even an ice chest.

Look for this kiosk on the side of the parking area for where the trailhead will be just across Highway 4. Trailhead area
Wasn't sure at first if this historic corral near the trailhead was still in use, but judging by the number of grazing cattle passed along the way it definitely still is. Trailhead corral
We were the only vehicle at the parking area both when we arrived and when we left, so this doesn't appear to be one of the heavier use trails in the area. Heading out from the start 
This is the trailhead, just across the highway to the north of the of the information kiosk. At the start
After just about 10 minutes into the hike we were into the Mokelumne Wilderness, and the start of a full 10 mile loop minus any other people the entire day.
Into the wilderness
In the first couple miles you will pass through a number of these 'sandy' meadow areas.  Not sure from the map which of them might be the namesake of the trail, but they were distinctive. Sandy Meadow
At about the 2 mile mark we passed this picturesque unnamed lake which had a number of grazing cows with bells on them on the far side from the trail.  It felt very Swiss along this stretch. Unnamed Lake
The first four miles of the trail were in really good shape, with significant evidence of maintenance during previous seasons.   Forest Trail 
The last mile of trail to the lake, however, looked a lot like this.  At least 10 really large downed trees, but the trail was still easy to follow once past the downfall. Not recently maintained 
The first view of the lake from the trail shows the southern end of the lake, which is a grassy swamp in the early spring and summer but by this time of the year made for a wonderfully soft place to hang out and enjoy our lunch. Wheeler Lake
Looking northeast across the lake from our resting spot. Looking north
As mentioned previously, the southern shore of the lake was a really nice spot to take a break and enjoy the beauty of the surroundings. Lunch break
Picking up the trail south of the lake, we found one of the smallest markers ever for the junction to the trail up and over the southern ridgeline and out to Highway 4 at another location. Woodchuck Basin junction
Heading south along the trail we looked for the rumored junction with the older forest trail (19E54) that was on one of my maps, but we didn't find anything until we headed east across this open area (Avalanche Meadow) and stumbled upon some very unique trail markers which none in our group had ever seen before. Avalanche Meadow
These were the markers we stumbled upon to find the old forest trail that is apparently no longer maintained.  However, with a couple of exceptions we were pretty easily able to follow them all the way back to where they met up with the Sandy Meadow trail only a mile and a half from the start. Old trail markers
Along the old trail we were treated to great views of Wheeler Peak, just above the open Cliff Meadow that was one of the more difficult spots to find the continuation of the trail. Wheeler Peak
The smoke on this day was moderate after a number of fires started in the area, but we could still make out some of the key features to the north such as Round Top, Raymond Peak, e.g. Smokey views
One unfortunate aspect of this trail is that it is clearly marked by this sign, at the end of the hike facing the wrong direction! Back to the start
GPS Track of our out and back hike, starting from the upper right and heading down the canyon to the bottom left before returning the way we came. GPS Track of Hike